Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Inexpensive Toddler Activities You Can Make (with old coffee cans....)

People are always asking me how I homeschool with a toddler around.  This post does not address that question nor the lack of an adequate answer.  

But this post will give you a few ideas on how to inexpensively keep a toddler occupied for ten minutes.  What you do during that time is up to you (homeschooling or otherwise...)  

Several years ago I made a whole bunch of busy-bag-type, quiet, manipulative activities for Ruth.  All of the kids enjoyed them and eventually the pieces were scattered to the four winds.  It recently occurred to me that James would probably like something similar and I pulled some supplies together and did these while Russ had the kids out for a morning.  

These activities are so simple it hardly seems worth typing out actual instructions. Consider this post more of an invitation for you to take a look at what I've done and to use (and probably improve upon) these ideas.  I'll give you a couple ideas on supplies and how-to's, but I'm pretty certain the photos will mostly speak for themselves here :)

Collect and wash out food storage cans - the kind that have a rubber lid 
(Like the cans from ground coffee, cocoa mix, and mixed nuts.  I even let my kids share a mini can of Pringles because I wanted that size can...)

Cover in colored paper, contact paper, craft felt, or fleece using a glue gun.  I love using fleece because it's a fun texture for little hands to hold :)

For a pompom push activity, use Dollar Tree pompoms and cut a hole in the plastic lid slightly smaller than the pompoms. (I used a craft knife.)  There is immense satisfaction in setting those pompoms on the hole and popping them down :)

This "tweezers" and bow ties activity is, hands down, everyone's favorite.  To make the ties, I cut two strips of craft felt, lay them one on the other, tie them in a knot, and trim the ends.  Doubling up the strips just gives them a little more body and they're easier for little hands to grab with the tweezers.  They are actually wooden toaster tongs, but they're perfect for little hands learning to pinch and grasp things :) 

To make a craft stick color sorter, I used colored sticks from the dollar store and coordinating Sharpie markers.  I used the craft knife to cut slits in the lid (again, not so big that the sticks slide right through, but a little tight so that there's some tension and the sticks have to be pushed nearly all the way).  Then I colored around the openings on both the top and underside of the lid. 

This button drop activity is self explanatory.  My only suggestions are that you use chunky buttons (easier for little fingers to pick up and are less of a choking hazard) and line the bottom of your can with fleece or other fabric to absorb the sound of the falling buttons.  Otherwise, that repetitive clanking sound can get very... repetitive.  And awful.

So, there you go!  Four super simple ideas that may not keep the toddler busy during all the homeschool lessons, but it will probably keep him busy and quiet for a few minutes when you really, really need it.  In my experience, it's best to keep things like these packed away (not on the regular toy shelf) because then when they come out they're more "novel."  And also - maybe only use one at a time.  Otherwise, there will be buttons and pompoms and bow ties and craft sticks all mixed up all over your my floor.  Ok?  Don't forget!

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. 

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