Ora et labora
~St. Benedict

Friday, November 21, 2014

Flexible Homeschooling Moment

Have you ever had one of those days where your energy is depleted and you just can not seem to get things done to your satisfaction? I'm assuming we have all felt this way a time or two or three, unless you are actually a robot.

What about those days where you are in the mommy zone? Yes, everything comes together without a hitch!

I thought I was experiencing the latter of the two: boys up early, animals and people fed, & out of the door with everyone feeling contented and time to spare.

We pull up to sewing class and I get a prime parking spot, but wait where are all the other cars?  Uhm, where are the other people?

I was so on top of it all that I got us to class one day early! After a minute of regrouping, we decided to grab some hot beverages and go on a sculpture walk through town.

We discovered that this little girl is actually reading a story that looks a lot like "Charlotte's Web."

Hey Diddle Diddle, it's amazing what one can find when not looking from a car window. We have passed by some of these sculptures a million times and did not notice the "details." Ha, we got a kick out of the sneakers on the armadillo's back feet!

"Rock, Paper, Scissors" happened to be their favorite!

We couldn't figure out why this guy was deemed the statue of "Knowledge." His fingers were doing a weird thing, but Big T made it work.

Hands down, the best impromptu day!

My hams and their new friends.

My favorite...these pieces are so beautiful, notice the face at the top of Little T's instrument.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Freezer Cooking Pointers

By: Guest Blogger Anne Jefferson

Freezer cooking changed the lives of my family members over ten years ago.  When I take the time to create the menu, grocery list and devote the time to preparing my meals ahead, we eat better and I have less stress.  As you can see, it’s a Win-Win! 

When I began freezer cooking there were very few resources available but I purchased a book to learn how to do this and get recipes that freeze well.  I purchased “Once A Month Cooking” by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg from Amazon.com.  That book is stained and sad looking due to much use.  

However, today a quick Google or Pinterest search will provide more recipes and ideas than you will know what to do with. My suggestion is to see if any of the recipes I have shared here appeal to you and your family.  If not, look at the repertoire of recipes you have and see how you can adapt them to be plan-ahead, make-ahead freezer meals.  You have to find what your family likes and tailor your plan to your needs.  

Along the way, I found many other things that freeze well.  The only foods I have found that froze poorly were fresh mushrooms.  YUCK!  Canned mushrooms freeze fine but I still prefer to add mushrooms while actually preparing my meals for the table or leave them out entirely.  

Easiest way to start: Marinades

When you are starting on this adventure you want the cooking day and the prep day to be balanced between things that take very little work and things that take a lot of work.  Marinades are super easy.  Place meat in a Ziploc bag, add veggies and other marinade ingredients as per recipe, zip shut and freeze!

Buy your meat in bulk at Sam’s Club, Costco or the grocery store(Unfrozen).  Large packages of chicken breasts and thighs can be purchased and then packaged together for families who have members who prefer white or dark meat.  

Examples of marinated meats:

Teriyaki Chicken (Once A Month Cooking) 
½ Cup Soy Sauce
¼ Cup Sugar
1 ½ Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Vegetable Oil
1 Small Clove Minced Garlic
¾ Teaspoon Ground Ginger 

Chicken Breasts
Uncooked Rice 

Mix soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, oil, garlic and ginger. Freeze chicken in marinade in 1- gallon zip top bag. When preparing to serve, thaw chicken. Pour chicken and marinade into baking dish. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Prepare rice according to package directions. Serve with chicken. 

Lemon Chicken(Once A Month Cooking)
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme Leaves
1 Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon Pepper
1/8 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/3 Cup Lemon Juice
1 Pound Chicken Pieces
1 Cup uncooked rice 

Mix all spices and lemon juice in 1-gallon zip top bag.  Add chicken pieces and freeze.

When thawed, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Arrange chicken in 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking dish treated with non-stick spray. Pour liquid over chicken. Bake 20 minutes. Turn chicken over and baste it. Bake 15-20 minutes longer or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Prepare rice according to package directions. Serve chicken over rice. 

Marinated Flank Steak(Once A Month Cooking)
½ Cup Vegetable Oil
¼ Cup Soy Sauce
¼ Cup Sherry
2 Teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
½ Teaspoon Ginger
1 Clove Minced Garlic
1 ½ Pounds Flank Steak 

Mix first six ingredients for marinade. Put flank steak in a freezer bag, pour marinade over it,seal bag and freeze. To prepare for serving,thaw flank steak,remove from marinade. Barbecue 8 to 10 minutes per side; or set oven to broil and/or 550 degrees. Broil steak six inches from heat until brown, turning once,about six minutes on one side and four minutes on the other. Cut steak across grain at slanted angle into thin slices.  

Easy Marinated Pork Tenderloin (allrecipes.com)
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/4 cup soy sauce 
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons dijon honey mustard
salt and pepper to taste 

1(2 pound)boneless pork loin roast 

Whisk together the olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Place the pork loin in a large sealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Transfer the pork loin to a baking dish; pour marinade over the pork. Cook in the preheated oven until the pork is no longer pink in the center, 45 to 60 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F (63 degrees C). 


Purchase ground meat in preparation for the following meals: Meatloaf or meat balls, sloppy Joes, Tacos and Spaghetti. Use your favorite meatloaf/meat ball recipe or use the one below.  Prepare according to recipe and instead of placing meat into the oven, wrap it in foil, place in a Ziploc bag and place it into the freezer. I do not use a loaf pan. I freeze it in the shape of a loaf and then bake in a 9 X 13 baking dish when defrosted.  Meatloaf needs to be put in the refrigerator to defrost the day before you plan to eat it.

Swedish Meatloaf Supper (Pampered Chef) 
1 can (4 oz) mushroom pieces and stems, drained and finely chopped 
1/2 c onion, finely chopped
1/4 c fresh parsley,snipped 
1 c fresh rye or white bread crumbs 
2/3 c milk 
1 egg 
1 1/4 tsp salt 
1/4 tsp pepper 
1/4 tsp ground all spice or nutmeg 
1 pound lean ground beef 
1 pound lean ground pork 

1 jar (12 oz) mushroom or beef gravy
2 Tbsp milk 
1/4 c sour cream 

Preheat oven to 350. Mix mushrooms and onion in large bowl. Add parsley, bread crumbs, milk, egg, and seasonings to bowl; mix well. Crumble ground beef and pork into bowl; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meat into loaf pan.  *At this point, I shape the meat, wrap in foil and then place in a zip top freezer bag. Bake 1 hour and 15-20 minutes or until meat is no longer pink in the center of the loaf and internal temperature of meat loaf reaches 160 degrees. Remove meat loaf to serving plate; let stand 10 minutes Meanwhile, heat gravy with milk in saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally with whisk. Whisk in sour cream; remove from heat. Cut meat loaf crosswise in half. Cut one half into 8 slices and serve with gravy. 
Serve with egg noodles and gravy. 

Brown the remaining ground meat with chopped onion to prepare for Sloppy Joes (1.5 lb), Taco meat (1.5 lb) and spaghetti sauce(1 lb). Once browned, divide into three portions and season according to recipes below.

Sloppy Joes
1.5 Pounds Ground Beef/Turkey/Pork
1 Medium onion
¼ C. Brown Sugar 
2 Tablespoons Mustard
½ Cup Barbecue Sauce
½ Cup Ketchup 

Mix ingredients into the meat, stir.  Allow to cool and place in freezer bag. 

Taco Meat
1.5 Pounds of Ground Meat
Your favorite taco seasoning. I use Wildtree Taco Seasoning as it is organic and has no preservatives. All you do is mix your meat with the seasoning of your choice, place into zip top bag and freeze. 

Spaghetti Sauce
Ground Meat
Crushed tomatoes, two 26 oz cans
Italian seasoning (Again, I use Wildtree Hearty Spaghetti Blend)
4 Cloves Minced Garlic

Place crushed tomatoes in saucepan, add seasonings and simmer for 30 minutes. Season to taste, add meat. Place in two re-sealable plastic containers and freeze.  Serve with spaghetti or other pasta.  

Casseroles can usually be prepared up to the point of putting into the oven.  Below are a couple of my favorites. 
Heavenly Chicken (Once A Month Cooking)
1 10-oz package of Frozen Spinach
½ C. Sliced Green Onions
2 Tablespoons Margarine/Butter
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Milk
1 Cup Cracker Crumbs
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
8 Boneless Chicken Breast halves, skinned
1 Cup Cooked, Cubed Ham 

In a small saucepan, cook spinach according to package directions; drain well. In a medium saucepan, make white sauce; sauté onions in butter over low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and add milk all at once. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until bubbly.  Boil and stir one minute more until smooth and thickened.  Combine cracker crumbs and cheese. Dip chicken breasts into crumbs/cheese mixture to coat lightly.  place in 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish.  Stir spinach and ham into white sauce; spoon sauce over chicken.  Allow to cool and cover completely with foil.  
To prepare for serving, thaw dish and bake covered in a preheated 350-degree oven for 60-75 minutes.  Uncover and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake 10 minutes more. 

Vegetable Lasagna (Once A Month Cooking with my adaptions) 

1 8-ounce package of Lasagna
1 Cup Finely Shredded Zucchini
1 Cup Finely Chopped Broccoli
1 16-ounce carton Low-Fat Ricotta or Cottage Cheese
1 Cup Grated Mozzarella Cheese
2 Chopped Green Onions
1 Cup shredded Carrots
1 Large Can Spaghetti Sauce or 28 oz Can Crushed Tomatoes with seasoning
Dash Freshly Ground Black Pepper 

Prepare lasagna noodles as per package directions until Al Dente. Drain and rinse in cool water. Cook Broccoli 5 minutes in boiling water. Prepare remaining vegetables. 
Combine cheeses, vegetables, pepper in a medium bowl. In a 13 x 9 x 2 baking dish, layer lasagna noodles, half of cheese mixture, half of tomato sauce. Repeat the process topping with noodles and covering with sauce. Wrap dish in foil and freeze.

To prepare: Thaw the dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake covered for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. 


If you have a favorite soup, prepare it as you normally would but do not add noodles or rice until you are preparing to eat.  Freeze in large re-sealable containers.  

Hearty Hamburger Stew (Once A Month Cooking)
1 Pound Lean Ground Beef or Turkey
1 ¼ Cup Chopped Onion
2 Cups Peeled and Sliced Carrots
1 Cup Chopped Green Bell Pepper
1 Cup Sliced Fresh Mushrooms (I reserve these until preparing for table)
1 16-oz can Green Beans, drained
1 16-oz can Corn, drained
3 Stalks Celery, sliced
1 46-oz Can Tomato Juice (I prefer V-8) 
2 Teaspoons Sugar
1 Teaspoon Celery Seed
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Cook ground meat in large saucepan until brown. Drain fat. Add in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer 10 minutes. Cool and freeze in re-sealable container.
To prepare for serving, thaw stew. Bring to a boil; reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tips to organize your homeschool life

By: guest blogger Jennifer Jones

I have eight children...yes, eight. I homeschool them all. That's right. It's totally possible with just a little organization and a lot of flexibility. Homeschooling eight kids can definitely be a challenge so organization is key to making it through our day! We are eclectic homeschoolers and have a pretty loose schooling schedule, but being able to be flexible in a family of ten means there has to be some kind of underlying system in place that works for all of our varied personalities. Through much trial and error over the years I found that I keep coming back to four simple ideas that really work for us and hope that they can help your family too.

*Set Goals! - Goals may not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you're considering how to organize your homeschooling supplies or your child's weekly schedule - but setting goals is truly the basis for how I organize everything we do, goals give me a path. I am constantly touching base with my kids to find out what their personal goals are and meshing those ideas with mom and dads ideas. We have weekly family meetings and we even have individual meetings with each child every six months or so with the primary purpose of discussing their short and long term goals and coming up with concrete plans for those goals. We have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly...and long-term goals. On rough days we even have hourly goals. I may not always call them "goals" but that's what we are doing when we set our schedule for the day or decide what activities to attend each week.

*Weekly Schoolwork - Having eight kids means eight individual academic levels and needs to be met and kept track of. This is the area that I have had the most trial and error in, so much error! But after a lot of research and patience I found a system that works well for us and I think it would be useful for a smaller family too. One of my personal goals for homeschooling my children is for them to become independent learners so they are able to teach themselves about anything they become interested in. So I approached organizing our schoolwork in a way that would allow them each the most independence and freedom of choice, from the oldest to the youngest child. The checklist is different for every child and includes their educational and personal goals for the week. Here are a few examples:


As you can see, the lists vary based on age and interests. All the lists are posted on a bulletin board at the beginning of the week and the goal is to complete the list. They have freedom of choice over when to accomplish the items on the list - depending on their personalities, some of mine finish it all in one day, some stretch it out and a few procrastinate and do it all at the last moment. Each of them are learning about their own style of learning through this process as well. For the youngest kids (6 & 7) I give them a daily checklist so that it is presented to them in smaller chunks. I am able to be more in control of their choices this way, but they still feel that they have the same freedom as the older kids when they choose which task they want to do first, etc. 

My big job to support this system each week is to fill up their individual folders with everything they need to accomplish their weekly goals on the checklist. Each one has a pocket folder with sections labeled according to what they are working on. If a child has a goal of completing 4 phonics lessons for the week, I make sure those are all in the right place in their folder when the week begins so they can easily do them whenever they are ready. And so on for all the subjects. I also double check at the beginning of the week to make sure that any items that don't fit in their folders (books, etc.) are readily available on the bookshelf. It takes me some time each Sunday to get all of this ready, but once I have it done I don't have to spend time at all the rest of the week looking for items the kids need. This frees up my time to be accessible to the kids as they work on their goals during the week.

*Project Books - Two years ago I started looking into project based learning and found out that it really fit our family's homeschooling style. If you haven't already heard about project based learning I definitely suggest researching it more yourself! One of the things we added to our schooling is another great organizational tool for the kids - project books. Basically, each child keeps a journal of sorts of all the things they want to do and learn about - their "project" ideas. They jot down notes about how to accomplish those project goals, what they need to purchase, who they need to help them, what to research, etc. For the younger kids they will draw pictures of what they want to do (lately it has been a lot of project ideas for Minecraft builds) and tell me words to write down concerning how they will do it. The project books are kept in the kids' pocket folders so that they can add to them each week, look through them to help remember any goals and take steps as needed to reach those. I love this! It is very personal for each child and extremely empowering for them to know they can follow their passions. And the project book itself is an excellent peek at what is going on in their minds. This can be a great tool for any style of homeschooling!

*Curriculum Organization - Homeschool families LOVE books, right? And despite all our best efforts, curriculum keeps piling up around the house. With a large family and many levels of study this is even more true. From the beginning of our journey I needed a way to be able to get the most out of all the curriculum I collected so I did something that a lot of people wouldn't do. I tore up the books. Even those expensive Saxon math books. All of my curriculum - free, purchased, downloaded and printed - has been taken out of their original binding and placed into large binder notebooks. Why? So I can reuse it and reuse it and reuse it...and share with friends too. In addition to taking packaged curriculum apart, I use the same system to create my own unit studies. I have binders on many, many topics - from Egypt, to birds and the Grand Canyon to robots. In each binder I include everything that I have gathered to study about that subject. It's all there in one spot so I can reuse it as younger kids get older and also share with friends studying those topics. Saving so much time, energy and money along the way!

These are my four favorite tips for organizing your homeschooling family! Of course there are many other things we do at our house to organize on a daily basis - like joint Google calendars and bags/baskets ready to go for various activities out of the house, but these tips I have shared with your are the ones that have the biggest impact on our crazy family. I hope that they are helpful for you too. Have fun setting your goals!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Organized homeschooling with your heart in mind

Meant to inspire mamas to get where 
they need to be and let go of the rest.

What does being organized mean to you? I ask this because so many homeschooling moms are in a quandary regarding organization. Sub-topics can include, but are not limited to: scheduling, managing a household while teaching, meal planning, coordinating materials and supplies, and so on and so forth.

I used to feel very overwhelmed when thinking about everything I had to do in a day, let alone the things I thought I ought to be doing, and let's just throw in there the things I thought I couldn't do. I would wake up in the morning feeling like I was behind and then forced my depleted self to bed feeling like I didn't accomplish nearly enough.

I had set myself up for defeat, but how?

Surely, organizing a home and school can be recognized as a type of physical discipline. Well let's back up a step, although the practical applications are there - consider the attitude of such an undertaking. Have you ever tried new organizational methods or products to find that they only worked for a while, before you ventured right back to your old ways? It reminds me of a diet of sorts, the Organizing Diet would go something like this, for 3 easy installments of $19.95 "Get yourself in order, stay in order, & never fear clutter again!"

Organizing may not come easy to you for several reasons, like you are needing 36 hours in a day rather than a mere 24, you are wrangling wild animals and kids as a side job, you are stressing and eating Nutella from a jar, you are planning curriculum and cool field trips, or just too busy being social with other homeschoolers. Whatever the case, you want it done, but would rather not, or don't know how.  

Perhaps you just need a push in the right direction! Our homeschooling universe is quite unique and savvy. We are not separating learning from our lives, but embracing it as a way of life. Home educators in general are very giving and forthcoming when it comes to sharing information and even valuable time with each other.

If you have tried organizing yourself before and failed, then I encourage you to drop your current attitude. Yup, perspective is everything! Let go of your fears, be positive by not uttering the negative, pray, and breathe in and out. Do whatever is necessary to release any tension that may be lingering in your life. Surround yourself with other homeschool parents outside of your home that are positive and upbeat. Get out of your house and attend a homeschool activity, even if only once a month, but preferably more. You will find that support comes in many forms and can be extremely motivating. You may even discover that your idea of organizing changes or evolves over time.

Okay, so what about some practical ways to get your house and school in order? Big or small, there's always someone in our amazing community that has clever ideas to share. I'm excited to join forces with some local HS mamas to see just how they structure their family and school lives.

Join me in welcoming veteran homeschooler, Jennifer Jones, in our next weekly post. She will be guest blogging and sharing some of her favorite organizational tips that she uses with her sizable and charismatic family.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Mexico roadschooling notebook deconstructed

One of the perks of homeschooling is that we get to visit places when everyone else is at school and work.  So, in the middle of last March we packed up the kids and drove from Texas to New Mexico to try snow skiing for the first time.

Our goal was to get to Roswell, approximately 8 hours away with a nursing baby in tow.  Although our trip took a little longer, we made it to the little city by dark & then enjoyed all the aliens and UFO's it had to offer the next morning. Our final destination to Sipapu was only 4 hours further.

The boys did not rely on a bunch of movies or video games for entertainment.  In fact, we did a little prep before hitting the road & made some roadschooling notebooks to keep occupied. We included items like tape, pencils, map pencils, glue, sketch books, & magnifying glasses. They also brought along books to read and we played car games.

Here's our notebooks at a glance: 

Little T's notebook
I put together some facts and pictures regarding New Mexico, so the boys could familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. Even though we have things like Yucca plants in Texas, they still had fun pointing various ones out on the trip. 

I also mapquest our destination and printed out the map for them, along with the Sipapu trails they would encounter later.

Little T had "The Snowman" and "The Snow Queen" stories in his binder. I read them aloud to him, so he could close his eyes and visualize the stories. This helped him to unwind and relax. You can find these short stories on OMazing Kids.

Large manila envelopes are wonderful to punch holes into and add to 3 ring binders. They not only hold stuff (wonderful stuff), but add a sense of mystery and excitement. I found these neat little puzzles that I added into one pouch, along with a design your own snowflake worksheet.  The other envelope housed a design your own alien comic strip with crazy clipart included.

Building upon the skiing excitement, a short story called "Learning to Ski" from Have Fun Teaching was an attention grabber for Little T. Big T had ski slang definitions added to his book and we all had a great laugh. Plus they acquainted themselves with various parts of the ski gear they would soon be using from a simple Google search. 

Another resource I liked using and will be using again is called Printable Paper. They have every type of paper form imaginable that you get to print for free. I used some of the storyboard templates for the loose comic strip designs.  The snow globe worksheet came from OMazing Kids.

Our last secret manila envelope consisted of the "Pipe-cleaner Masterpiece." My handwritten instructions: Design a buddy, sculpture, or work of art! You can hang them around for fun. 

We had tons of "art" that was made and then scrapped and then made again.

My God-daughter and Little T with their pipecleaner art crowns.

Other items that lived in the binders were gallon sized bags with holes punched into the bottoms. A hand written index card let the boys know to collect items like pamphlets and post cards along the way. We even found some cotton in a field that made its way into one of the bags.

The favorites out of the notebooks were probably the games. We had two that kept all the kids and adults busy both ways on the trip. We played the license plate game, collecting one from each state and had a pretty decent travel scavenger list going.

The boys also worked on Boy Scout and Cub Scout badges and pins.  Little T was able to complete his Snow Ski and Board Sports activities, so earned the pin.  Big T worked really hard on his, but still needs to master those moguls. He'll have another opportunity at the beginning of the year. 

I don't think that TnT even finished everything in their notebooks, and that's okay with me. They learned a ton and were active participants in family discussions and knew what was going on around them at any given time. The important thing is that they were connected with us and the world around them and not buried in a video game or other electronic device.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Made-up pumpkin cakes

Blog entry by:  Big T

My little brother really wanted some pancakes, but we discovered that alas, there were no eggs to be found. 

In my brilliance, however, I had the amazing idea of using pumpkin as a substitute.

Fantabulousness ensued...

We added homemade granola.

Awkward photo moment. I couldn't stop laughing.

Our made up on the spot Pumpkin Cake Recipe:

1 Cup Pioneer Brand Pancake & Waffle Mix
3/4 Cup Milk
1.5 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
Butterscotch Chips (as many as you desire)
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
3 Dashes (to taste) Cinnamon
1/2 Can Pumpkin Puree 
1/4 Cup Homemade Granola

Mix everything together, but don't add the granola or butterscotch chips yet. Preheat your pan & lightly spray with cooking spray or drizzle some olive oil onto the surface. Use a tablespoon to form your circular medallion cakes. Sprinkle granola and butterscotch chips onto the top of each little cake. There will be no air bubbles visible, so flip cake when it holds together & lightly brown other side. Be careful and don't burn the scotchy chips. 

No syrup needed, although we added a dollop of real cream! Eat up and enjoy!

Happy customer!

Even Baby T enjoyed it! We left the granola & chips out of his.

                        Nom Nom, sticky finger licking good!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Homeschoolers are engaging and fun

Sometimes it's hard putting "homeschooling" into words. After all, we do so much! Here's part of our year in a nutshell. Yes, this is only a snippet of what my family is involved in, but it's a pretty good sneak peek into our world.

If you are on the fence about homeschooling, I hope this motivates your family in the right direction.