Monday, August 15, 2016

Easy Roasted Tomato Sauce (low fat and sugar free)

It's almost tomato time...  So far, we've gotten a dozen here and there from our CSA, but soon we'll be getting tons and tons and tons of tomatoes.  So I thought it was time to dig out this recipe again...  

My family doesn't eat a lot of tomatoes.  I'm not a super-fan myself, but I can handle them in salads and on sandwiches.  The rest of my family pretty much only consumes tomatoes when they're deep inside an egg frittata and overpowered by cheddar cheese and sausage, or when they're on a BLT.  So you can imagine how worried I was when we started receiving bushels of tomatoes week after week from our CSA last summer.  I knew I'd have to come up with a plan quick so that they wouldn't go to waste.

I hopped on Pinterest and found an "easy" recipe for tomato sauce that turned out to be not my kind of easy.  I spend an entire day boiling, ice-bathing, and skinning tomatoes... The sauce turned out well, but at the end of the day my kitchen was a wreck, my kids had been totally ignored for 8 hours, and I had a very. short. fuse.  

Blessedly, the social network came to my rescue.  Charlotte witnessed my fiasco via Instagram, contacted me via email, and sent me a recipe from another blog.  Bam.  Problem solved.  Thank you, Charlotte!  Had you not sent Elizabeth's recipe, I might have drown myself, along with my sorrows, in the vegetable juices covering my kitchen counters, cupboards, and floors.  

I tweaked the recipe and added a few "extras" but it's still super easy and very delicious.  Click on over to In the Heart of My Home for the original recipe, and then you can check back here to see what I did a little differently :)

When roasting my tomatoes, I added some chopped onion and omitted the olive oil.  I actually forgot the oil one time and liked the results, so after that I just left it out so that this would be sauce with no fat besides the negligible amount found in tomatoes.  

I used my heavy duty Ninja blender to blend up the tomatoes, juices, onions, garlic, and basil.  I also added other fresh herbs from our garden - parsley, thyme, and oregano, as well as fresh-squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. 

For the sauce that I was planning to keep in the fridge to use right away, I whisked in a few shakes of xanthan gum to thicken it up.  For the sauce that I bagged for the freezer, I left out the xanthan gum, and I added it when I defrosted and heated the sauce.  

I ended up freezing enough sauce last summer that it almost lasted us all year, but not quite.   I wasn't sure if my kiddos would love it, but it turns out they did.  They don't even mind the seeds one bit.  If you think the seeds are going to be a major problem with your family, you might consider using a food mill to process it as opposed to a blender.  The blender is so quick (and relatively clean, compared to a food mill), it's my first choice for this sauce :) 

So what are you doing with your tomatoes this year??

Bon appetite!  

Friday, August 12, 2016

A Back-to-(Home)School Post Roundup

I've had a handful of people ask me about our school plans for this upcoming year.  


I'm lacking my usual back-to-school enthusiasm, but I've got the back-to-school anxiety aplenty.  

Our plans are made, most of the materials and supplies are bought.  I did all my supply shopping on Amazon for the first time.  I think it probably cost more, but it saved me a panic attack in the back-to-school department of Target.  And we get to see our friendly UPS guy - Brian -  more....   I'm sure he thinks I'm a shopaholic.  I want to say to him, "I'm not!!  I swear!  It's just scotch tape and glue sticks and No 2 pencils and flashcards.  And for whatever reason, Amazon sends them all in separate, but gigantic, boxes.  So I know it looks like you just delivered the latest fashion trend in every different color, but it's really just crayons.  And maybe baby powder..."  

I don't have anything new to offer this year by way of awesome curriculum options or fabulous new supplies, but I did want to gather some of my past homeschool posts for your perusal.  We're sticking with our tried and true favorite books, programs, and methods.  Even though I'm having trouble uncovering my usual enthusiasm for school, I am still heartily enthusiastic about the resources we've come to love :)  If you have any questions or suggestions, let's chat!  Maybe talking about books and plans will help kindle my excitement for the new year!  

****** Posts about Homeschool Curriculum, Supplies, and Resources ******

****** Posts on How We Homeschool ******

****** Other Posts With Thoughts on Homeschooling ******

Education in the Hands of Amateurs

I do love to chat books, supplies, and curriculum, so let's talk!  Got any questions about the stuff we use and love?  What are you using this year?  Happy planning!  

Monday, May 16, 2016

In Remembrance of Our Children Who Have Attained the Prize of Heaven

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I doforgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

This past Saturday was the due date of the baby we lost in October.  Russ and I were talking over the weekend about the honor of having two babies who have already attained the prize of Heaven.  We personally still have so much reaching and striving through sin and its effects to do, so much to press on through.  And we witness, every day, that same struggle and striving in our children on Earth.  

To be responsible for forming our children's hearts for Christ, while simultaneously working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, is an overwhelming and humbling thing for a parent.  I admit there are days that the earthly toil is so exasperating, I hardly give a thought to my heavenly home.  Even as I was trying to take a quiet and somewhat emotional moment to write this, Ruth came down from her afternoon rest time.  She was in tears.  And there was a large round hairbrush stuck in her hair.   Like really stuck.  The cycle of disobedient child (she knows not to go in my drawers), exasperated parent, earthy consequence (ten minutes worth of tugging and detangling), and apology and reconciliation, is a familiar one.  

I'm no fool.  I know that this is my relationship with my Heavenly Father as well.  But I have two children that haven't known this struggle.  They only know the prize!  

What an emotional dichotomy it is to be a Christian parent mourning a child.  I long to hold my child, to know what she looks like, to smell her baby skin.  But she's in Heaven. I wish I could see my other children hold her and kiss her and snuggle her so excessvely that I have to say, "Ok, enough for now!  You'll smother her!"  But she's in Heaven.  I want to introduce her to our friends.  I want her to be in our family photos.  I want to hear her cry and hold her close to nurse.  I want to see her personality develop, her loveliness bloom, her love for her siblings deepen.  These are all the things I want for me.  But she's in Heaven!!!!   And there is nothing more I want for her.  

Russ and I have talked about finally naming the two babies that we have lost to miscarriage.  The fact that we're having some, ahem, arguments about the names themselves, is a good indication that we've truly embraced these little ones as our own and are not taking the honor of naming them lightly ;)  Among other reasons, we think naming these dear children will help make them more relatable in conversation, and approachable in prayer, to their siblings here on Earth.  To refer to a brother or sister by name, one who is truly living in the arms of our Lord in the company of Our Lady and the angels and saints, is a reminder that their home is also our home.  There are two Blackstones already home.  I pray that those of us still striving will live this life - the daily struggles, the times of immense joy, the crazy loud fun of wrestling in the basement or splashing in the creek, the quiet moments of sadness, and life's little hairbrush dramas - so as to lay hold of the prize - eternal life in the presence of the living God.  Laying hold of that prize will also mean a reunion with our babies in the true home of the Blackstone family.  


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Easy Egg Bake -or- Busy Ladies, Get Your Morning Protein. Every Day!!

This post was written in response to, and in honor of, 69 cent/dozen egg week at Aldi.  Seriously, if you're not one of those people who has backyard chickens that deposit fresh eggs onto your plate every morning, rush to Aldi.  Rush.  But remember, limit four per person.  (so I'll be going back a few more times this week ;) ) 

I love to start my day with a pretty big breakfast.  I once read an article that said people that eat the majority of their daily calories at breakfast are healthier that those who save their calorie-packing for later in the day, so I feel justified.  I also try to get a hearty dose of protein in the morning.  My ideal breakfast is... only available at all you can eat Sunday brunches at swanky restaurants.  It involves fluffy omelettes, bacon, breakfast potatoes, fruit, waffles, whipped cream, and coffee.  And mimosas.  

Such as it is, I have to make due with breakfast at home most days.  Actually, all days.  And since all days are busy days, I don't usually have the time for making giant, fluffy , swanky restaurant omelettes.  

So I get my morning protein the busy mom way - I make a big egg bake on Monday and eat it all week long.  It works.  It's easy.  And I get my big breakfast.  And protein.  

I highly recommend this method if you're committed to starting your day with protein and veggies but don't have time for omelettes.  

Your egg bake can have any combination of veggies, seasonings, or cheese.   But here's what I recommend (complete with very helpful pictures to guide you through the most difficult of steps ;) ) 

Saute mushrooms and onions in butter until they're tender.  

Add a hefty helping of spinach.  I usually add two cups or more because it cooks down so much.  

Continue to cook until spinach is wilted.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 10 - 12 large eggs, a dash of heavy cream, salt, and pepper.  If I don't have any onions to add to the veggies, I'll throw some onion powder in the mix as well.

Add veggie mixture and cheese of your choice.  I typically use feta, but will happily use cheddar if we happen to be out of the good stuff ;) 

Pour into a greased 2 quart baking dish.  

Bake at 35o degrees for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.  Allow to cool before refrigerating.   Enjoy large slices throughout the rest of the week.  Or share it with your family; my kids love stealing mine!  

Enjoy!  And maybe I'll bump into at the egg cooler at Aldi.  I'll even share with you if there are only four dozen eggs left ;) 

If you're eating according to the Trim Healthy Mama plan, this is a fabulous S breakfast.  I love to have it with couple pieces of bacon and a small handful of berries on the side. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One Week Post Car Accident (and the Giveaway Winner!)

Hi friends!!  The giveaway winner is....

... at the end of the post!  Hehe :) 
(you can skip down to there or you can read a few ramblings first to build suspense...)

So last Wednesday morning I wrote my first blog post (the book reviews and giveaway) in ages.  Then the two little kids and I hopped in the van to go pick up Ruth from the Study Center.  On the way home we were in a car accident that wasn't horrific, but wasn't a fender bender either.  I could give you my version of the story which would involve phrases like what the hell was the other driver thinking and why in God's name do they make airbags smell like the smoldering pits of Hell... but instead I'll give you little James' narrative of the incident:

Car crash, bang.  Scary.  Lunch flying everywhere, bang.  Jesus watching over us.
This is surprisingly accurate for a two year old who really just started talking a few weeks ago.  

It was scary.  We are still thanking God every day that we are fine and that the other driver was also fine.  And he accepted full responsibility.  And there were witnesses to speak to that effect.  So, thank you Jesus!  

I have a minor fracture in my right arm as a result of the accident.  But I have no cast (Alleluia!!) and am starting to use my arm a little more each day.  This means, yay!  I'll be able to crochet again!  But it also means no more milking the "I have a broken arm" excuse for not folding laundry, checking Aaron's blood at night, or getting myself a glass of water (which technically I could do entirely with my left hand, but you know...)  

Anyway, we were very generously helped by friends who brought us meals (and one who even did Clare's hair for me while she was here <3)  Thank you!), and my parents who've brought meals and helped us with transportation while we *gulp* shop around for a new van ("new" meaning a used, inexpensive vehicle that doesn't have dried vomit or rat poop in it - both exclusions making it an upgrade from our previous van....)  We currently have a gorgeous, shiny, glittery, pimped-out** rental Town and Country in our driveway (the kids still haven't realized there's a DVD player in there.........) but I'm too nervous to drive it.  Not because I'm afraid of reliving the crash or anything, but because it's just too fancy for my crew and me.  I mean, we don't really feel at home in a car unless there's a 1/2" of debris on the floor, grime on the steering wheel, and crusty old string cheese in the cup holders. 

Thank you to everyone who offered a prayer for us in the wake of my Facebook-ing and Instagram-ing about the accident.  I appreciate it so much!  Any additional prayers are welcome as we replace our van and navigate insurance issues for my arm -- it's a little surreal to have someone try to estimate what a healthy arm is worth to a stay at home, homeschooling mom whose only "wages lost" are perhaps the missed sale of a crocheted hat (and probably not even that ;) )

** The phrase "pimped out" refers specifically to a car, but sometimes a truck or SUV, that has been extensively modified, giving it a very expensive and extravagant look, or the "pimp car look" hence the term. This phrase is used very frequently in the Western New York State region. Examples of a "pimped out" car would be: Ground effects, neon lights, shiny or large rims, and very dark, or varied coloring of window tints in addition to many other things that would make an automobile look like it belongs in the movie "The Fast and the Furious."
Yo that ride is pimped out!
source: The OSD (that stands for Online Slang Dictionary.  Obviously.)  

*   *   *   *   *   *

AND NOW... the winner of Greetings from Somewhere: the Mystery of the Gold Coin is....

Sarah O!!

Congratulations, Sarah!  Why don't you FB message me your mailing address and I'll have this book off to you!  Hope your guys enjoy it! 

Monday, April 25, 2016

How We Homeschool Without a School Room

*but first* There is just one day left to enter for the Greetings from Somewhere: the Mystery of the Gold Coin giveaway!  So go take care of that and then come back here to read about how I homeschool in the heart of my home.  Or is it in the trenches?  Sometimes it's hard to tell ;)

This past August was the first time we started a new school year after I had joined several homeschool-related Facebook groups.  Want to know what you see a lot of in August and September from homeschool moms?  School rooms.  Bright, organized, spacious, packed-full-of-educational-goodness, drool-worthy school rooms.  I confess, I spent many an afternoon coveting the in-home school rooms I saw on Facebook last August.  

As much as I would love a designated space for us to conduct our lessons, display our school work, and corral our school books and materials, it's just not an option in our current home.  

And to make matters even a little trickier, we only have one table -- one table that serves as our gathering place at meal times and as our primary school-work area.  Things might look a little different at our house if we had a kitchen table for meals and a dining room table we'd primarily use for school.  But as it is, the dining room table is it.   It's definitely not a cozy, out-of-the-way educational nook. The room gets lots of traffic and it's used for meals, school, crafts, sanctioned and unsanctioned science experiments, play time, time outs (the disciplinary kind ;) ), game night, and basically... everything.   It's pretty much the heart of our home. 

The two main "issues" we have to take into account are (1) it's a multi-purpose space and (2) there's only so much room to store our designated school stuff.  Here's how we make it work...

* Clean up every morning, pick up all day long.  The dining room gets a good once over every morning after breakfast - wash the table and chairs, pick up everything off the floor, vacuum.  I will not start the school day walking around on crumbs.

* Only keep books/materials currently in use, or as much as can fit on our one shelf.  The is tricky for me, as I'd love to have all our materials at arm's length.  But it cannot be so.  So texts, reference books, and workbooks that we're not specifically using for a designated subject this year usually find a home in a cardboard box in the attic.  If we must have them, we can get them.  Note: we have a couple books shelves in the adjacent living room where we keep some educational picture books, our lives of the saints picture books, and our readers and series books.  I keep the "school shelf" in the dining room for curriculum materials, workbooks, texts, etc...

* We can't save everything for every kid.  It's so satisfying at the end of the year to look back through all the work that we accomplished, so I look through it and then toss most of it.  I can not not save all the finished workbooks and tests and artwork from everyone.  Instead of keeping it all, I keep a binder for each child and use it to save important stuff, like letters, etc... from our school district, our IHIP's, my own quarterly reports as well as those from the study center my kids attend, and standardized test scores/reports.  I may also save stuff like unit math tests or especially well done writing assignments.  At the end of the year though, it's best to go back through last year's work and purge again.  For example, last year's math tests will have lost their emotional significance in the light of this year's math successes, so they can go.  

* Each student has a bin for his/her current school year books and must use it :)  I have found it much easier on the kids and me if each student has a place to keep their consumable (and sometimes non-consumable) books in one place.  So instead of keeping all the math stuff in one spot and all the spelling stuff in another, each child has his current math or spelling level materials in his own canvas drawer/bin.  This makes it simple for the kids to retrieve and put away their books and materials each day.  Hopefully then, books and materials aren't lying out all day long only to blindside us when it's time to set the table for dinner  (sometimes happens... but it's not supposed to ;) )

* Use baskets to corral stuff.  We have one primary "school" shelf in the dining room.  I use baskets to keep similar stuff together on that shelf -- I have a basket for flashcards and math manipulatives, a basket for the All About Spelling and All About Reading cards, a basket for art and music stuff.  I love these baskets from JoAnn's because they happen to fit perfectly on our shelves and you can see what's in them.  I actually once wrote a post about how much I love these baskets... it's a lot.  

* Konmari the art supplies.  And other supplies, for that matter.  I have a definite weakness for art supplies.  But we got to a point where we needed the extra space for actual school books, so I had to give up some of my art supply storage shelves for the greater academic good.  I tossed all the sub-par colored pencils and crayons and markers, and try to keep what remains in good shape and all in one place.  

* Stop buying books and workbooks on a whim.  I remember buying several cute reusable dry-erase marker books at a discount store several years ago.  They were going to be for fun math, spelling, and phonics practice!!  They were so appealing to look at!  I kept imagining my kids having lots of educational fun writing in answers and wiping them away!  But the books didn't follow the math and spelling methods we were using and we never ever took them off the shelf.  They, and other similar purchases early on in our homeschooling days, turned out to be wasted money.  And they wasted shelf space.  Time to move them along...

* Forgo a lot of school-ish wall displays.  This is a personal preference for me.  If we had a school room it would have wall maps and giant historical time lines, vocabulary and site words, memory work, Latin conjugation and declension charts, multiplication tables, artwork, and more on it.  But I prefer that our dining room keep a "family dining" feel to it.  It's ok for us to do school work in the dining room, but I don't want to feel like I'm eating dinner in the school room.  So, school stuff on the walls is very limited.

* Use all the rooms as school rooms.  We actually don't just "do school" in the dining room.  There's often a kid at the computer in the living room (visible from the dining room), and out of habit, the boys and I almost always do our afternoon science, history, and Latin on the couch.  The kitchen floor works just fine for math fact drills.  I give vocabulary quizzes while I'm changing the baby in his upstairs bedroom.  The boys often choose to do their silent reading in my bed or on cold days, they'll go sit on the floor next to the heater vent in their bedroom.  Now that the weather is warming up, the kids will have the option of working outside.  I actually love it this way, and often wonder how much we would actually use a school room even if we had one.  

* Other :)  A few other things that help make it work are noise cancelling earphones.  These are a must when kids are "doing school" in a main area of the house and there are other people doing other things in those main areas.  We also have a small kids table and shelf with little kids' "school-ish" activities adjacent to the dining room.  Often the younger ones will do drawing, stickers, puzzles, etc... at the little table while the bigger kids are working.  They're nearby and I can see them.  Bonus.  

Our systems are not perfect.  Often the dining room buffet looks like this (or worse)...

... and we might not always pick up everything before lunch time and the table looks like this (or worse)...

... but we make it work because we have to.  And it works because we've developed an attitude of school happens in and among the day to day rhythms and craziness of family life, and in general, it's hard to distinguish between the two!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

3 Great "Travel" Series for Elementary and Middle School Readers (AND A BOOK GIVEAWAY!)

I'm always on the lookout for books that are appropriate for early readers, and it seems especially hard to find ones that are interesting for boys.  There are so many series written for girls (most of them about horses, friends who have horses, friends who are horses, horses who are friends, and horse camps.  Judging by early reader series books, 8 - 12 year old girls are only interested in horses, and they all go to horse camp.  Who knew there were so many horse camps???)   

Anyway, good books for young boys are hard to find.  It's partly because I'm pretty picky (like we don't read books about underwear and boogers, and we try to avoid books with snarky kids, bickering siblings, or pushover parents.)  And partly because, in my experience, boys don't really want to read about all the female tween drama that takes place at sleep away horse camp.  

So, we're left with very little.  

In my post on all the books we got for Christmas I mentioned that we have even more new books floating around the house.  I've recently discovered three new series of books that I knew would be just perfect for my boys!!!!  (They're actually totally appropriate for girls, too!)  And of course, I'm going to share them with you!

Greetings from Somewhere
(I "rate" this for early to mid Elementary level readers) 


This series initially caught my eye because it's about a brother and sister who are homeschooled as their family travels the world. (Their mother is a travel writer for a newspaper.)   Before they leave (first book in the series, The Mystery of the Gold Coin), their grandfather gives twins Ethan and Ella a journal for taking travel notes and "solving mysteries," and the twins find plenty of "mysteries" to record and solve as they travel to China, to India, to Australia, Paris, and more.  

These books have at least one illustration per page spread, so it's appealing to younger readers and helps an early reader progress quickly through the book (b/c there aren't two full pages of text together.)  These homeschooled twins learn plenty throughout the world that is their school room - there are lots of language, cultural, and historical tidbits throughout the books.  

I think there are currently eight books in this series.  

Race the Wild
(I "rate" this for mid to late Elementary level readers) 


Russell enters an event which can best be described as The Amazing Race for kids.  He's hoping to participate with his friends, but instead gets placed on a team with four strangers.  Russell and his teammates use clues and their knowledge of the area in which they're adventuring (Amazon rain forest, the Arctic tundra, the Savanna, etc...) to advance to the next location and level of the race.  While the kids have to rely on their own knowledge, planning, and execution of challenges to succeed, there are adult supervisors.  So you can rest easy ;)

I've read the first two books in the series and haven't found anything I'd label objectionable.  One of the features that make these books interesting and a little different is that there are "extras" throughout  - additional information on animals, habitats, or concepts regarding ecosystems and the natural world mentioned in the text.  

There are currently four books in this series, with two more set to come out later this year.  

(I "rate" this for middle school level readers) 


These books also happen to be about homeschooled twins.  Brothers Gannon and Wyatt, and their escapades in the worldwide classroom, are based on the author's own real life twins, who were similarly homeschooled and well-traveled.  The books are written as if they were the journal of the brothers, who record their discoveries and adventures as they travel from Botswana and Egypt in Africa, to Ireland, Greenland, and Canada.  Though the brothers have very different personalities (which come through in their individual journal entries) they share a love of exploration, excitement, and travel!  Kids who enjoy the books will also enjoy the website with supplemental travel photos and video.  

The books contain maps and photographs of animals, land forms, etc... from the story.  Each book also includes a photo of the real life Gannon and Wyatt on location, which was cool for my son, who was super into the fact that they were actual adventure-loving boys :)  

There are currently five books in this series.  


OK, so now for the giveaway part!!  I have a copy of the first book in the Greetings from Somewhere series, The Mystery of the Gold Coin, to give away!  To enter, leave a comment here telling us about a series that your early readers have enjoyed (it's even cool if it's about horse camp!!).  Also,  stop by the Ordinary Lovely facebook page, and visit the Ordinary Lovely Instagram account and tag a friend in the the book giveaway post.  The more book-loving friends here, the merrier!  

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