Fall Has Arrived! Time for Baking!

Baking

It is officially Fall as of September 22. I love this season. Actually, I love all the seasons! I am always ready for the next one just about the time it starts to arrive. In the Spring I can’t wait for the warm weather of Summer. The time when I can finally open my windows and leave them open for the next several months. Then at the end of Summer I am ready for cooler temperatures, crunchy leaves and I get in the mood to do some baking…pumpkin muffins…apple pie. By the time Thanksgiving comes around I am excited about seeing the first snowflake. And of course, by the end of Winter I am really ready for Spring.  The seasons change and I have learned to just anticipate the good things about each one.

With cooler temperatures just around the corner, I have already had my cookbooks out looking for some new recipes. I found a really interesting book about the Amish that has recipes that follow a seasonal theme. The book is simply called The Amish Cook at Home and is written by Lovina Eicher, an Amish woman with 8 children, so her recipes are just right for my family. The book is divided into seasons and she talks about the family’s traditions for each time of year. She shares about gardening in the spring and summer and about harvesting and canning in the fall. She also talks about how they celebrate each holiday with special activities and recipes. In between the recipes she tells about the everyday life of her family and includes historical information about the Amish life.

Another good book for fall baking is The Pillsbury Healthy Baking Book.  It contains some great recipes for making muffins, quick breads and yeast breads. I like this cookbook because the recipes are designed to be lower if fat than the traditional ones. The book contains more than 200 recipes and each one has nutritional information included. The first section is cookie recipes and when I was looking at it yesterday, my youngest son came and looked over my shoulder. His first words were “Ohhh, cookies!” So I guess we will be trying some of those recipes soon!

Enjoy!

Happy baking,

–Sheryl

My Little Apron

My Little Apron

I recently finished a fun project for my granddaughter. She turned three in May and, as has been my tradition-for three years anyway, I try to think of a gift I can make for her. So far I have made a rag doll and doll sized quilt and puppets.  At Christmas last year I made her an apron because she always wants to be in the kitchen when her daddy is cooking and Daddy has an apron. Lately I’ve noticed that aprons are becoming more popular again. There are many websites with information about making a variety of styles for children and adults.   Here are just a few:

http://tipnut.com/56-free-apron-patterns-you-can-make/

http://everythingyourmamamade.com/2008/07/22/139-free-apron-tutorials-patterns/ (some of these are repeats of the first website)

http://www.freeneedle.com/directory.php?directory=3

The pattern I used was one I actually bought:  Simplicity 3949.

As my granddaughter’s birthday approached I was thinking about what I would make for her and decided on a chef’s hat to go with her apron. I just used some of the scraps from the apron and white fabric to make the rest. I found the pattern here.

It was a simple gift but I think she liked it. If you look at her photo you’ll see what I mean.

Her little sister is about to have a birthday. I’ve been busily working on her gift but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see it. It’s a surprise!

Happy sewing!

–Sheryl

Make Summer Memories — for $20 or Less!

In the Pool

Well, summer is slipping away. If you are like me, you start the summer with the goal to have a great summer, full of activities that will leave your kids with lasting memories. But now, with the summer more than half over, you are still looking for the time and the money to create these special moments.

I am here to tell you that there is still time and you don’t need a lot of money to make it happen. Remember back to your own childhood summers. It’s probably not the expensive vacations that you remember. It’s more likely the simple things that bring you the fondest memories. For me, some of my greatest memories are included in this list of things I’ve also done with my kids or still plan to do.

So take a few minutes to plan a little and then start making some memories. And be sure to have your camera ready!

1. Have an Ice Cream Party. Buy a gallon of ice cream, a bunch of bananas, and some toppings like chocolate syrup or whipped cream. Invite the neighborhood kids over and have fun creating amazing sundaes.

2. Host a Water Balloon fight. Buy several packages of water balloons and…well, you know the rest!

3. Go on a Nature Adventure. Plan a simple picnic and take a walk at a nature park. Bring along your insect, tree and bird identification books. You could also bring sketch books and colored pencils to capture what you discover.

Sidewalk Chalk

4. Host a Sidewalk Art Show.  Purchase a couple of large boxes of sidewalk chalk.  If you have sidewalks, have each child choose a square ( it’s a good idea to leave empty squares in between so the artists have room to work without stepping on each others masterpieces). No sidewalks? A paved driveway can be divided into squares too. If you live in the country you’ll have to find a friend in town with sidewalks! When the artists have finished their work invite the neighbors to visit your outdoor gallery.

5. Make some homemade bubbles. There are tons of websites with ideas for this activity. Here are just a couple to check out:

http://www.sabine.k12.la.us/ZES/bubbles/

http://www.tooter4kids.com/Bubbles/Activities_Recipes.htm

You can also just do a search for bubbles and bubble wands and find many more.  Cool humid days with little wind are the best days for bubbles.

6. Create a Photo Album of summer friends.  Buy an inexpensive miniature photo album and have your kids take picturse of all their friends. Print the pictures on photo paper on your home computer or take them to a quick print photo lab like those at Target or Walmart. Add captions and decorate the albums with stickers or other art supplies that you might have on hand. You could make this an annual event and years from now your kids will have lasting memories of their summer friendships.

7. Plan an outdoor games event. Invite some friends and play games like relays, tests of skill and other old-fashioned birthday party type games.  Who needs a birthday in order to have some fun?  For most games you can use various household items. A great book called Play with Us: 100 Games from Around the World is a great resource. Many of the games will be new to your kids. Most require a few props and those can usually be found or made at home. This book may be available at your public library. It is also available new or used at Amazon.com.  you can also check out this website for some fun, easy games.

8. Build an outdoor tent village.  Using old sheets and blankets, a few deck chairs or folding chairs and some clothes pins you can creat a small city of tent dwellings. Hours of imaginative fun can be found inside these temporary dwellings.  Think about the indoor tents you have made in the winter and adapt it the great outdoors.

For even more ideas for inexpensive activities to do with your family, click here.

Go have some fun!

–Sheryl

Sometimes Life Gets Messy

LaundrySometimes my life gets messy. I’m not talking about issues, emotional stress, challenging relationships. Not that kind of mess. I’m talking about the really physical mess that happens in households where kids are being trained.  For years I have had trouble finding the line between training my children to be responsible and keeping my household up to the standards I would like it to be.  When you are training children there is always that learning curve that inevitably leaves pot holes in the road.

This morning there was a pretty impressive pot hole.  We are in the process of training our boys to do laundry. Not just to learn the mechanics of running the washer and dryer. The whole process is of course, much more involved than that. At our house it involves the following steps:

  1. Finding the laundry (search the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms and sometimes the front steps, please)
  2. Sorting (no, that new black shirt doesn’t go in with the load of white socks and underwear)
  3. Loading the washer (you cannot wash 25 bath towels at once, that would be at least TWO loads — and don’t forget the detergent!)
  4. Remembering that there is laundry in the washer before the sour smell gives it away
  5. Putting the laundry in the dryer (that little door with the fuzzy stuff coming out all over is supposed to be emptied EVERY time you load the dryer)
  6. Taking the clean clothes out of the dryer ( were the clothes in the bottom of that basket you just dumped clean clothes into, clean or dirty?)
  7. Bringing the clean clothes upstairs
  8. Sorting
  9. Folding
  10. Putting it away where it belongs

And that still isn’t the end of it. There is also the aspect that the laundry person needs to stay on top of the job. It is not acceptable to leave a zillion loads in the laundry bin and expect it to just  some how wash itself. The other thing is, since we have more than one trainee there is that issue of expecting that “someone else” will do it.  I often find myself saying,”someone needs to change the laundry” to which my husband can be heard saying frequently “someone doesn’t live here.”

So this morning, when my husband got up to go to work the clothes he needed hadn’t been put in the dryer the night before and now he was scrambling to find something to wear. It should never get to this point but when you are training children to be responsible there will be times when the system fails. They won’t always get it right and knowing that, we sometimes have the tendency to “just do it ourselves” so we avoid any issues. Whether we know it or not, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we choose to avoid the possibility of failure.

What we can do is keep working with our kids. They will eventually learn if we don’t give up. They will become responsible adults, eventually.  So just keep trying, keep training…and retraining. Keep encouraging them and keep praising them when they get closer to the goal. When the trash is overflowing and no one but you seems to notice, when the dog’s water bowls are empty…again, when the laundry smells funny because it sat in the washer too long, just remember that you main goal right now is training your kids, not having a flawlessly run household. It might be tempting to just do everything yourself but your kids will be the better for it if you just persevere.  One day they will be grown and gone and you will have your house in order. You will be proud of who they have become and you might even miss these chaotic days just a little.

Keep pressing on!

–Sheryl

Ways to Avoid Summer Brain Drain

Summer ActivitiesI know a lot of homeschoolers do some sort of formal schooling all year round. For a long time I started each year with the intention of continuing through the summer but as April rolled around and then we got into May, my resolve always crumbled — by then we all needed a break.

The research is plentiful if you want some proof that learners actually lose some of what they learned if they take a long break from the learning process. I had plenty of evidence in my own house, I didn’t need convincing.

What I did need was a way to take a much needed break from the more structured education process that we follow most of the year without losing too much ground. I’m really not worried about “getting behind” (click here to find out more about why this doesn’t have to be a concern).  I just didn’t want to spend unnecessary time “relearning” before we could move on.

What I’ve found with my own kids is that it isn’t always that important what they think about during the summer. In other words, they don’t always need to be progressing in the usual subjects like math lessons and spelling lists. I’ve found that a little review now and then, coupled with a variety of activities that keep their brains from collecting cobwebs is enough to prevent the sort of information dump that we are constantly being warned about.

If your family is anything like mine, then you are learning new things all the time. We have never considered summer as a break from learning, just as a break from the routine of the rest of the year. We are always looking for new things to explore. So what we do now is try to be a little more intentional about learning but we mostly just have fun!

Here is a list of  some of the things we do in the summer that help us keep our brains engaged:

  • Reading lots of books for the library reading program.
  • Reading magazines –  click here for a list of great magazines for kids
  • Watching nature or travel DVD’s
  • Keeping identification books for bugs, birds, wildflowers, trees, weather, etc. handy so we can look up anything that happens to come across our path
  • Drawing and art projects
  • Board games
  • Hobbies like stamp collecting and coin collecting, kites, rockets, model cars, fishing, woodworking — all these things require learning new vocabulary and new skills

Aside from those activities, camping trips and family vacations offer tremendous opportunities for learning.  The thing I always try to remember is that my main goal is not to fill my kids heads with a bunch of facts but to teach them to love the process of learning and I think the summer months are the perfect time to do that. So enjoy your summer and learn some new things right along with your kids.

Happy learning,

–Sheryl

A Boxful of Memories

Soldier

I’ve spent the past several weeks sorting through boxes of keepsakes. I can’t believe some of the stuff I’ve kept over the years. When we moved three and a half years ago we made fewer and fewer decisions about what to pack as the days drew nearer to moving day.  Finally, at the end we just packed without much sorting—we were out of time.  When you have lived in the same house, raising seven boys for nearly twenty years, you accumulate a lot of stuff!

Then there’s the other issue – my mother died quiet a few years ago and my father remarried and moved into his bride’s home.  Much of my mother’s belongings came to me since I was the only daughter and also the oldest. Some of her things were items she’d inherited from her own mother when she died nearly thirty years ago.

So now, I have all this stuff—photos, old glassware, postcards, newspaper clippings…the list goes on and on. Some of the items are quite valuable I would imagine, but since I’m not really interested in selling, I’m not compelled to have any of it appraised right now.  No, at this point I just need to figure out where to put everything. With a house full of active boys I don’t  dare display the hundred year old ceramic plate but keeping everything in a box in a closet somewhere isn’t  the best way to really enjoy these keepsakes either.

What I have finally decided to do with at least some of  my treasures  is to design shadow boxes. I think I’ll make one in memory of my mother first. My husband can build the boxes and I’ll choose some of her things that hold memories  for me. I might include her nurse’s pin and her picture  in her uniform.  I’ll probably include some of her jewelry, nothing terrible expensive, just items I remember were her favorites.

For my grandmother’s box I already know I’ll include a pair of her glasses. Back in the 60’s she was quite stylish and wore those pointed rims with rhinestone decorations.  She also had a sequinned purse. I’ll probably do another box of items my grandfather brought home from his tour in Japan during WWII.

By making all of these boxes I can display at least some of the things that remind me of my family and what each person meant to me. I’m excited to get started on this project. I’ve found a few websites and books (listed below) to help get the creative  juices flowing. Now all I have to do is get my husband to build those boxes… a pan of brownies should do the trick!

http://www.scrapjazz.com/topics/Miscellaneous/Gifts_and_Craft_Projects/559.php

http://www.ehow.com/how_4781466_keepsake-shadow-box.html

http://www.home-museum.com/How-To-Arts/Shadow/shadow_boxes.htm

This site has several videos that give ideas about how to create a shadow box.

Box Frame MagicBox Frame Magic explains how to make the actual boxes to put your momentos in.

Making Memory Boxes has some great ideas for creating decorated boxes to keep the things you don’t choose to put in your shadow boxes.

Memory Keepsakes contains 43 different projects to make that help you preserve your memories.

The Proof is in the Pudding

We’ve all heard the saying.  “The proof is in the pudding” is actually a shortened version of an old English saying dating from around the 17th century. Some sources date it as far back as the 14th century but it first appears in writing much later. The entire quote actually went like this: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which meant that the results of your efforts would only be seen when you put it into practice or to the test.

Report CardToday I have reason to apply that old saying to our homeschool. We have put untold hours into our children’s education for these last 18 years and while we have seen excellent results with each of our boys we had never put our results to the “test” of higher education. My oldest two boys didn’t choose to further their education at a college level and that was fine with us. One is in a high-level information technology position and the other is in the retail business. We want them to pursue what interests them and not just follow the crowd, which seems to think that the only way to succeed  is with a college degree.

It wasn’t until our third child finished his homeschooling  and expressed an interest in a field that required a degree that we had the opportunity to see if the “pudding” was up to the test. We found out yesterday that in his case it definitely passed the test.  He just finished his second semester of  the classes he is required to take to obtain a degree in Criminal Justice.  He took 4 classes and yesterday received his grades…straight A’s.  Combined with last semester he finishes his first year with a 3.95 grade point average.

Okay, now I’m done bragging.  But I am not done encouraging you to stick with it!  There are many areas in life that require a long wait to see if your efforts will pay off. In the case of homeschooling, our son’s college accomplishments have been a source of encouragement to me. I feel like I can breathe a little. I really am accomplishing something with all this time and energy!

Of course you don’t need to homeschool to have these same feelings. While you are raising your children you often wonder what your kids will be like when you finally get to the end of the road. When  you release your grown children to live on their own in the world will they make it?  All parents wonder if they are doing the right things in the day-to-day parenting decisions they make, regardless of which educational method they choose.  My hope today is that you will use my experience to give you the courage to keep going!   Whether they are homeschooled or not, whether they go to college or not, the time and energy you put into your children is worth it.

Be encouraged!

–Sheryl