Saturday, May 31, 2014

Summer Dinner Solutions (a Recipe Swap n' Share Link Up)

Summer Dinner Solutions  (a Recipe Swap n' Share Link Up) 
(please participate so my family doesn't go on a hunger strike this summer!)

If there's one thing I can do, it's feed my family over the winter.   You want a hot from the oven - stove top - crock pot meal, I've got you covered.  But much to my chagrin, I admit I can't be good at everything (rats!) and one of the things I'm not so great at is figuring out what to serve my family for dinner over the summer.  And I'm talking about those days where there is no way in heck we're turning on the oven - the days when it's just. too. hot. - the days when you're already sticky and sweaty but then begin to perspire a little extra when the troops start asking what's for dinner and you know in good conscience you can't serve them a casserole or a chili.

So what do I do?  I turn to you!  I'd love for you to join me and dish out your summer dinner ideas.  Have a blog?  Link up!  Don't have a blog?  Let's chat in the comments!  You can include full-out recipes, or just give us some ideas of what your family eats on sticky summer nights.  I'm personally interested in recipes and ideas that are for "everyday" dinners, not so much the intense and involved weekend smoked-salmon-on-the-grill dinners (though I love those too!)  

Without further ado, here are some of the things I actually DO make throughout the summer... over and over and over again, which is why I need this link-up to be a success :)  My family can only take so much of my two or three summer meals and then I know they'll stage a hunger strike.

"Mexican" Bowls

I put "Mexican" in quotation marks because I don't really know if this is the kind of thing they eat in Mexico, but it does have a lot of beans and rice and cilantro in it :)
This idea was given to me by my good friend, Janelle, who, if she kindly introduces herself in the comments, may take credit for this great dinner idea and may add even add ingredient suggestions and modifications! (Gosh, I hope she reads this or I'll feel pretty foolish for assuming her readership :)  )


box Spanish Rice (Rice-a-Roni)
can diced tomatoes
can black beans, drained, rinsed
can red beans, drained, rinsed
chopped greens (I usually use romaine or a spinach/spring mix)
shredded cheese
fixin's - black olives, chopped fresh cilantro, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips (or Cheddar Sun Chips if you really feel like pleasing the masses at the dinner table)

Cook up the rice according to the package instructions on the stove top.  Add diced tomatoes and beans.  
To serve, spoon rice mixture into bowls, cover with chopped greens and shredded cheese, and let everyone add whatever fixings they want.  I like to add tons of cilantro! 

Chicken Salad with Almonds and Chow Mein Noodles

image from

salad greens and chicken breast (enough to feed your family when a salad is the dinner and not just a side)
1 c. slivered almonds
Chow mein noodles
poppy seeds

dressing: 1 c. oil, 1/2 c, sugar, 1/3 c. vinegar, pepper to taste

Pan fry or grill chicken.  Chop or shred it into the salad greens.  Add almonds, noodles, and poppy seeds.  Dress and serve.  


image from
This salad is so, so wonderful.  (I even wrote about it last summer!)  And it's a fun way to start using your mint from your herb garden!  Check the link above for full recipe and instructions, brought to you courtesy of the best grocery store in the country (and my personal favorite place to shop because of the bakery and cheese shop.  Oh. my. gosh.)

Grilled Mushroom and Corn Salad

Ingredients: 1 red onion, two ears corn, 4 -5 medium-size portabello mushroom crowns, basting oil, bag romaine salad blend, lemon vinaigrette, salt and pepper

Shave the corn off the cob.  Cube the onion and mushroom tops.  
Toss with 2 T of basting oil
Grill (or roast) the mixture until lightly browned
Toss with the salad and approx. 1/2 cup lemon vinaigrette.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

This salad is also from Wegmans. Last Friday, my children and I ate five helpings of it at the veggie tasting station.  We've had it here at home twice since then, it's that good.

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As always, whenever I share recipes, I only share the ones that are husband and children-approved.  I can't guarantee your loved ones will like them, but the odds are in your favor if it's passed the test at my place:)

*   *   *   *   *   *

Ok!  Now link up or comment and help diversify my summer dinner offerings!  Thanks!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Robin Eggs and Chocolate Nests and You Don't Mess With Tradition

The other evening we started out on a family walk after dinner.  It started to thunder and Ruth got spooked.  It started to rain, and I headed back inside.  But... ten minutes later it was sunny and we started off again.  It paid off...

Aaron found the first robin's egg of the season!

He said, "Now we get to make the dessert nests!"  Russ had no idea what he was talking about.  "You know, Dad.  The tradition."  ...  Apparently Russ didn't realized we have a tradition.

Aaron brought the egg shell home.

he says they don't smell too swell  
Dominic put it on his nature plate.  Bickering ensued.  

I got the ingredients for chocolate nests.  Because it's tradition.  But I messed with tradition and got pale greenish-blueish Jelly Belly's instead of bright blue.  An uprising ensued. They almost revoked my title of Chief Tradition Establisher and Maintainer.  Russ didn't realize that was even a title in our family, let alone one of honor...  We need to work on his involvement in fun family things :)

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The 10 *Best* Alphabet Apps for Toddlers

And by *best* I mean my totally subjective list of what's awesome.

Because let's face it, "best of" lists found on a blog like this are reflective only of my classy opinions and inspired whims!   At best.  

But really, I've poked around in a lot of alphabet apps, and I've tested them on my toddler, and these are the best :)

A few words about how I chose:

~ Graphics count.  I like charming and artsy, quirky and creative.  

~ Sounds count.  I can't stand apps that sound like a carnival midway.  Raucous sound effects don't make the cut.  Cute music and minimal sound effects?  Good.

~ The apps I'm recommending are truly for toddlers (1-3 year olds, in my book)  They are simple, easy to navigate, and are (for the most part) just ABC's (flashcard-style) (So, no tracing letters, matching capitals to lower case, find the missing letter, etc..  That's more preschool stuff.)

~ I've included the prices for each app, but note that I got many of them for free with email notifications of "sales" from  Sign up.  It's free. 

~ Finally, you will notice that this list reflects a trend which I neither support nor understand, but it's out there and it cannot be avoided: nearly all alphabet teaching tools for kids are about animals.  WHY IS THIS??????  It drives. me. nuts.  If you are an app developer and you are making a charming, artsy, quirky, creative alphabet app that is not about animals, I love you. Could you hurry up and finish it, though?  I need to give it to my kids before they outgrow their impressionable young years lest they leave childhood with the impression that the only "Q" word worth knowing is quail.

The *Best* Alphabet Apps for Toddlers

(And don't forget to scroll all the way to the end for the absolute best ABC teaching tool yet!)

1. Mini U: Zoo Alphabet, PopArt Factory
My very, very, very favorite ABC app of all!  The retro-style graphics are gorgeous - a real delight for the eyes!  The app's settings allow you to choose whether you'd like the narrator to say the letter name or sound. (bonus!)  She also speaks the animal name, and then you may tap for a simple animation.  Much to my pleasant surprise, some of the animals are different when you go through the alphabet a second and third time!  For instance, when viewing the letter "O" you may see "owl" or "octopus," or "orangutan"!!  If you only have $3 to spend on an alphabet app, spend it on this one.
*this app references quails

2. An Animal Alphabet, Jason Walters

Beautiful artwork.  For each letter you can tap to hear the letter name, a delightful sound effect (for instance, you hear the seashore on the "Crab" page), and the "sentence" that accompanies the graphic.  No animation.
* references quails

3. Funimal Phonics,  School of Happy

Basic letters, sounds, animals flashcards.  Somewhat quirky graphics!  Minimal animation.
* references quails

4. The Lonely Beast ABC, James Kelleher

So simple, yet so fun.  Quirky :)  Have fun playing the drums on the "D" page!  
* makes no mention of quails

5. The Animal Alphabet, Fish the Mouse Media

The artwork in this app looks like expensive ABC wall cards you'd see in a pricey catalog nursery!  It's lovely.  Has the look of an old-time traveling carnival show, delightfully onomatopoeic and alliterative narration, simple animations, and "easy" games to play on each screen.  
* references quails

6. Starfall ABC's, Starfall Education

All the great stuff you're already familiar with from the ABC portion of Starfall's on-line offerings.  Worth the money (I think) to have the info available to my toddler who can use a touch screen but not a mouse pad.

7. Interactive Alphabet, Piikea St.

Lots more here than just ABC flashcards.  You can set this app to "baby mode" and just get the flashcards with some simple animations, or you can play through the more interactive version.  Also has setting for older kids to practice tracing letters and typing words using a QWERTY keyboard.
* no quails were harmed in the making of this app

8. Talking ABC,  Jutiful

Claymation!!  Tap the letters to see them morph into... an animal (Except the "Yeti."  What's that all about?) I have to admit, even though it's more animals, they are cute.  And did I mention  claymation?!?   In addition to the alphabet flashcard setting, there are also a few moderately fun activities/games to play (and an alphabet song that I won't mind if I don't hear ever again.)  
* and then God said, "Let there be quails."

9. Animal Alphabet, Happy Kids/Yabra

Again, so simple, but my two-year old and I both love it.  Sweet music, animals wearing amusing costumes, silly animations.  
* quails...

10. Animal Alphabet BookAnna and Ava, LLC

Sweet illustrations.  No animation or music.  Three different voices to choose from, and three different settings: "A is for...", "Alligator starts with A," or "A".
* and more quails.

*   *   *   *   *   *

What are your favorite apps for toddler learning time?

*   *   *   *   *   *

Clearly, I'm a fan of iPad learning.  

But you want to know the all-time best ABC teaching tool ever??  Good old fashioned time curled up in a parent's lap.  Learning.  Loving.  Cuddling.  No app can replace that. 

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I have tried my best to alert you to all apps in which you will encounter quails.  If quails are against your religion, you have been forewarned... and good luck teaching your kid the alphabet without that word in your vocabulary.  It appears it can't be done ;)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Homeschool Art Doesn't Have to Be Hard (and a look at our Georgia O'Keeffe study)

I loved "art" as a child - both art class at school and drawing with my dad at home. I still enjoy it and I want my kids to have some "art" in their lives too - exposure to great artists and opportunities to develop their own artistic skills and creativity.  So art has been a part of our homschooling the past two years.  It's my hope that the kids will someday take art classes with a professional.  But they're still young-ish and for now I think regular and enjoyable exposure is more important than intense lessons.  I sometimes toy around with idea of plunking down money on an art program that has rave reviews, like Meet the Masters or Child Size Masterpieces.  But I always back off from that because of cost and because... well, let's be honest - I like to do my own thing.  

How we "do art" is sort of like how we "do music."   I gather as much info and as many resources as I can with as little effort as possible and we jump in.  Here's how:

* Calendars.  Yep!  So far, every artist we've studied has been based on which art calendars  I could get on the cheap from  (Summer is the time to get current year calendars for 1/2 off!)  This *trick* is much less expensive than buying real art prints from museums, or wherever you buy art prints, and you can get a nice variety (12 pieces to be exact!) of an artists' work.  Last year, based on calendar availability, we studied impressionists - Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edward Degas, and Vincent VanGogh.  This year we took on American artists Mary Cassat, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Norman Rockwell.   

* Introduction of artist's work with silent observation. I choose about 7 or 8 paintings I like best and set them out on the table.  We all look at each one carefully (in silence, if possible!) and end by standing in front of our favorite.  Then we take turns describing the painting and telling why it's our favorite.

* Visual availability.  We hang up the paintings in our dinging room for the duration of the artist study.  Toward the end of the quarter, it's sometimes replaced with the artwork of the kids.

* I sometimes buy a set of art cards (books of postcards) for an artist we study.  They are for the kids to look at independently and for variety's sake. 

* Picture books. We read and re-read the books that I've found on the artist.  I usually get anything I can find on him/her from the library children's section and then keep what I like and weed out what I don't.  I also usually end up buying one or two that I found Amazon but that our library doesn't carry.  (If I had my way, I'd buy all of them to have in the house all the time, but you know, budget.  *Sigh*)

* I check out the Internet for whatever other resources I can find - documentaries and YouTube videos, mostly.

* Simple projects. I make up art projects to do that coincide with the artists.  Sometimes we attempt to copy our favorites and sometimes we try to create something original that at least follows a favorite theme or technique of the artist.  I always participate, creating my own artwork along with the kids.  It's good for them to see that I'm participating and trying to improve too!

* We usually "do art" when Clare is asleep.  I learned this the hard way the day when I thought, oh sure, it's no big deal to let her use the chalk pastels.  Clean up took longer than the project itself :)

* I usually include Ruth in our "art stuff."     I don't think I'll ever forget the day we were visiting friends - it was a few weeks after our Mary Cassatt study - and she plopped down in their big blue recliner and said, "Mom, look.  I'm like the Little Girl in a Blue Armchair."  I was so proud!

*   *   *   *   *   *

Here's a little look at our Georgia O'Keeffe Study (third quarter)
(please feel free to use these ideas for your own artist study!)

Calendars... from

Art cards...

Introduction to her artwork...

The books we read (over the course of 6 weeks)...

3 part "series' on YouTube of interviews with O'Keeffe!    It was so great to hear about her work straight from her own mouth!

A very short animated movie about O'Keeffe.

There's acutally quite a bit about her on YouTube, but those were the only two things we watched.

The art we did...  

Copying her yellow Squash Flowers using oil pastels.  (This project didn't go quite as I had hoped... We've since been practicing using oil pastels to get better results.)

clockwise from top left - artwork by Aaron, Ruth, Dominic, Georgia :)  
Looking at her shell painting, choosing and drawing our own shells using oil pastels.

by Dominic
by Aaron
Copy using chalk and oil pastels.

from one of the calendars
by Aaron
by Dominic

The rest are copies that the boys worked on independently (of their own free will!  The previous art was "mandatory") during rest time...

by Aaron (chalk pastels)
by Aaron (colored pencil)
by Dominic (colored pencil)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"OK, Google... Can My Readers Stand Another Photo Dump?" (A Mother's Day Photo Album)

"OK, Google."  

Have you heard of this voice search thing ?  Just this past weekend it came into my life via the phones of my sister and brother-in-law, and now I have it in my head that I cannot go on until I have this feature on my phone.  You speak to your phone, "Ok, Google."  Then you ask it whatever you want and the lovely Google lady will speak back to you providing you with the answer.  Pretty awesome, right?  

My ideas for using this phone feature are (1) homeschool (no new curricula needed.  ever.)  and (2) unlimited fabulous dinner table conversation (the lovely Google lady is a fine dinner guest - she's extremely intelligent in a wide range of subject matter, but she doesn't consume any food or contribute to the dirty dishes)  We were having all kinds of fun this past weekend translating Latin, mapping out routes to Timbuktu, learning about the tallest tree in the world (it's name is Hyperion; it's a California Redwood), getting the specs on the tallest player in the NFL, the heaviest player in the NFL, and the statistical probability of the Buffalo Bills getting into the Super Bowl in 2015 (bet I don't have to tell you that it doesn't look good for our boys...).  The boys also asked the Google lady to show them college ball highlights of the Bills draft pick, Sammy Watkins (not "Whopkins" as my kids have latched onto...)   

My own mother was gone for the weekend (missed you, Mom!) visiting her mother in Florida.  Google could tell you exactly how far away.  The only thing Google can't tell me is what my next camera should be.  I'm still in turmoil. I spent this Mother's Day taking pictures with my current camera and a loaner from my sister.  I looked like a crazed tourist on our delightful family walk at the Lake Erie marina with two cameras hanging from my neck and camera phone in hand.  I really like my current camera except that a while back it started get glitchy - the highly irritating glitch being that I can't zoom out once I've zoomed in.  I have to powder down my camera if I want to "negate' the zoom.  It's too annoying for words.  I'm still not closer to finding a new one, though I've tested a few out at a camera shop (where they looked down their noses at my because I wanted a point and shoot) and have been reading tons of reviews on-line.  Having a fully-functioning camera with all the features I want is becoming increasingly important to me - these days are fleeting and my husband's memory is bad...  I want to capture the picture-worthy moments of this life.  Just need to find the right camera.  Ok, Google?

(I haven't *doctored* any of these pictures, except where noted.  It really was that gorgeous of a day!)

investigating stuff with Papa :)

I "brightened" this photo a little to get some blue in there.  It was quite a hazy day. 
My gorgeous sister!!
...and here's her handsome son, Miles.  Remember when James wrote a letter to Miles??
I added some color saturation to this one.  It was the only pic here from my sister's camera, which seems a little less vibrant on color than mine.

And the one picture of me from Mother's Day...

thanks for taking it, sis!
I'm never in any cause I'm always the one holding the camera :)
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