Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bone Broth - Step #1 in Nourishing Traditions

I've been reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. It makes sense to me, it really does. But being a product of the 90s "low fat" diet mentality, it's hard to really come full circle and embrace "healthy fat is good" camp. And frankly, some of it sounds kind of gross to me. Raw dairy? Fermented vegetables? Kombucha? Blech.

And so I come to baby steps.
Bone broth is supposed to be so healthy. And since I'm convinced I'm mineral deficient in a lot of ways, I think it's a good first step for me.

I already order grass fed beef once a month, so I just ordered those parts I couldn't imagine that people actually buy: marrow bones, soup bones, oxtail. Actually, they were out of oxtail, so I had to make due with just the marrow and soup bones for this batch.
I followed Sally's recipe pretty much to a T. And after 30 hours of cooking and an overnight chill, I scooped off the fat on the top and was left with a huge bowl of gelatinous brown gravy looking stuff.

Some people say to save the fat and use it to cook with. Can't go there quite yet.
So I froze my finished product and it's all ready to be used in my next pot of soup. Which, judging by our 105 degree weather, might be just a little ways down the road.

Baby steps. Excellence doesn't come in a day.

Next up maybe chicken broth or fermented carrots?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Putting Up Lots of Peaches!

Have you ever had peaches picked straight off the tree? Ripe?
It was the year for peaches at my parent's house, let me tell you. This is 2 days worth of peaches off of one of their 4 peach trees. No worms this year and amazing flavor! I've been busy using up these beautiful luscious pieces of fruit so that we can enjoy their yumminess all year long.

But before I started that I had to get a peach cobbler on my cabinet.
 I couldn't concentrate without that important step under my belt. It wasn't as good as my mom's, but it was just one teeny step shy of divine. Especially warm with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream on top.
I had to go buy a new water bath pot for this project. It was either that or try to can in the pot sitting next to it. I was kind of intimidated when it showed up. Definitely a smart purchase.
Here's what it did for me -- 6 quarts of peach jam and 5 pints of honey-almond peach syrup. Would you believe these peaches are so sweet I actually didn't need at add any sugar to the syrup? Just about 1/4 cup honey for some flavor and so I could officially call it 'syrup' instead of 'puree'.
I tried two different kinds of muffins. We were divided in the house as to which recipe we liked better. The boys preferred this first one.
The girls thought this recipe by Emeril was better. It had a more spongy texture than the first set, and wasn't quite as sweet. (By the way, there is an error on that recipe -- it calls for 1/4 cup butter or 1 stick. I opted to use the whole stick because what's not better with more butter? I think it was the right call.)

But honestly, in the end I decided peach muffins weren't a good use of these gems. It just didn't highlight the actual fruit enough for my liking. But, again, I'm comparing everything to the standard of a peach cobbler. 
Most of them ended up getting cut into slices and frozen individually. After they were solid I stuck them in freezer bags. We ended up with a few bags...
We'll definitely use these in our green smoothies that we have each morning.

Mom sent me home with several pie and cobbler fillings, so I didn't have to make any more of those.

And as you can see, we still have a few left to eat...
Straight and unaltered has been our favorite method of consuming!
I think my 2-year old has eaten his weight in peaches.

Thanks for stopping in to see what is making me feel so accomplished this week. These peaches will taste extra good this year knowing what went into preserving and preparing them!

Linking to:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


We love our timeline! It helps us tie what we're currently studying to things we have previously studied and bridge relationships between them. After seeing lots of examples that I really loved, and then making various attempts resulting in inconsistency, I finally tweaked something that works for us in keeping up with our family timeline.
We use a 9x12 sketch pad with spiral rings on top so when opened we have a continuous linear flow. The span of each page spread is a little different depending on the era of history. Ancient history has a lot less detail than modern history, so a 2-page spread may cover 200 years instead of 25. The general rule I used per 2-page spread was:
Creation to AD 400: 200 years
AD 400 to AD 1600: 100 years
AD 1600 to AD 1850: 25 years
AD 1850 to Current: 10 years
As we're reading through our history books, or studying a significant person, I jot down the names or events that we will add to our timeline. We add figures and events from our history, composer studies, artist studies, biographies, poetry studies, Bible readings...you name it. I love tying these relations across the breadth of our education.
Once a week, usually on Friday, we add these names and events to our timeline book. This ends up also being a natural review of what we covered that week, plus a review of any other previously recorded events that correspond with our weekly addition. For example, when we added in Ivan the Terrible a couple weeks ago, we found that he somewhat aligned chronologically with Michelangelo, one of our artists we studied a few semesters back. It was fun to tie the connections of these two individuals who were living and impacting at somewhat the same point historically, but in very different parts of the world.
I think Mom may enjoy these connections as much or more than the kids.
We love the History Through the Ages timeline figures. I purchased the CD so I can print whatever figures we need. I keep my own timeline book as well for my own readings, so this way I can also print copies for me. I'm telling you, I'm getting the education of my life through schooling these kids! I printed off all the pages from the CD and put them in page protectors in a binder. This way I can see all the figures that we have through that program without having to load up the disk every time.
When we use one or two figures from a page but haven't encountered others yet, I just slip those extra figures into the page protector until we need them.
Sometimes when we don't find an event in the History Through the Ages pack, we'll just shrink down an image we find in our Story of the World Activity Book or just draw our own.
The only regret I have is not keeping a separate book for each of my older kids. (They are ages 9 and 10.) It works well right now to keep a family book, but I think as they get a bit older and start to own their education a little more they will want their individual books to continue to add to. Maybe I'm projecting!

Do you have a way to keep a timeline that works really well for your family? I'd love to hear.

Linking to:
Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Friday, June 1, 2012


Not from my trees, unfortunately! These are from my parents' tree. This is a teeny tiny fraction of what they have produced in apricots this year. And they are so sweet and flavorful.

I peeled and pitted and froze a pie filling.

Some pieces were too ripe and not firm enough to hold together in a pie, so I froze those individually on a wax paper coated cookie tray, then put them in a bag to save for smoothies.

Maybe one day my baby trees will produce, too! I'd love to have enough to try my hand at dehydrating.

Linking to:

Solutions for 2012-13

I've been reflecting on the past year and evaluating what changes need to be made for a more effective learning atmosphere as we come to the close of this spring term. I have solutions....and still a few Iingering issues.

  • I made a decisions on our math problem for my daughter! Can you believe I found this for $5 at our local used book sale? All clean pages, too. Score!

  • I mentioned copywork has been inconsistent. That falls on me. Here's what I've been doing for the past several years for copywork: I like to cater the assignment day-to-day, so I can focus on a passage from a book they have been reading, a character trait we need to work on, or just lots of practice with a particular letter that seems to be troubling to them. But, that falls on me to have lessons prepared and to keep a stash of lined manuscript paper available, or to make sure the daily assignment had been printed from a copywork generator. I was at a book fair a couple weekends ago and ran across this from Simply Charlotte Mason. I'm using only the copywork book. I love that the size of the font becomes smaller as they gain experience. Yay, done.

  • Written narrations: it's simply just going to have to be scheduled. That's just the only way to make it happen. My oldest son will be "5th grade" and my daughter "4th grade". We'll schedule him for 2 written narrations per week, and from her 1. My plan is to pick one narration for each kid every couple of weeks to edit and revise together.
  • We're picking Latin back up. We did Prima Latina a couple years ago, but did nothing this past year for this language. I picked up Latina Christiana I for my son and my daughter will repeat Prima Latina in the fall. She was less than enthusiastic her first time through Prima Latina, so by about mid-way through she was going through motions at best. Repeating it will not be a bad thing.
  • At the book fair I picked up sketch books for all three of us. This summer we're breaking out Drawing With Children and focusing on sketching simple things we find outside. Maybe we'll get adventurous and dabble in dry brushing. Hopefully this will get them started with their own notebook that they will be motivated to continue with indefinitely. Who knows, maybe I'll take a liking to it, too.
I'm still contemplating math for my son. That one has been a difficult decision for me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Contemplating Next Year Part 2: What I'm Keeping

I hit the high points of the things that need to be tweaked, or just aren't working for us altogether. There are several things that I absolutely love or have crafted to the point that I think they're working optimally for our household for the stage we are in right now. These practices will be staples for the next term - at least a few items I don't have to make decisions on. Have you noticed that making decisions requires more mental effort than almost anything else in the day?

Some of the great things to our days:

  • Our picture study. I just love it. It couldn't get any better or any easier.

  • Our Fine Arts Co-op that we belong to. My words just cannot do justice to the blessing this group has been on our homeschool. No longer do subjects like composer study or Shakespeare or Folk Songs get tossed aside from lack of time and know-how by mom. This group is made of like-minded mamas who each take one of Charlotte's Fine Arts subjects they would like to teach and then we meet every other Friday and get it all done. A blessing many times over.
  • Our Bible study. We've settled into a fabulous routine incorporating self study, narrations and family sharing.
  • Our timeline. Everything we study gets put on here and it has been so fun to start to see things overlap. The other day we were reading about Ivan the Terrible and as we put him on our timeline we realized that he was a contemporary of our term's artist, Michelangelo. Love the connections!

  • Our literature and history readings. Love them so much that I won't change a thing about them! We're finishing up our Medieval study this term and will be on to the Renaissance next.
  • Of course, narrations, which are at the heart of the CM way. Whatever your educational methodology may be, if you are not doing them, narrations are the absolute most valuable tool you can use with your kids. We've seen invaluable payoffs from being diligent with our narrations.
There are many other things that work pretty well, and a few other things that are OK, but these are the absolute "I will keep no matter what" practices in our home for the next year.

Next on to the changes to be made.

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Contemplating Changes for Next Year

It's that time of the homeschool year...any frustrations that have been realized through this year's curriculum choices are now at their peak and I start looking ahead to our next term, boldly slashing, analyzing and adding to make our homeschool machine run a bit more smoothly next time around.

We're a Charlotte Mason family. We read...A LOT. It's what I love about homeschooling. It captures my children. They make connections on their own that I could never put together for them. Their eyes light up when they recall historical characters from one novel that exhibit similar character traits to a current novel. They can tell the story of history on their own in one fluid story.

And HELLO, I'm getting the education of my life.

So, as I contemplate what needs to change for next year, I also bear in mind what has especially worked for us this year. So much of what we have is wonderful. So much of what isn't working is because of my own failure to have our household run in the smooth efficient manner that is should.

To help my jumbled mind out, I'm focusing first on the things that need to change, or "opportunities for improvement" (said in my best boss-mimicking way). These are things I need to find solutions for and be intentional about implementing for the next year. Random reflections:
  • Math for my daughter is NOT working for the family. Tears abound almost daily. A change must be made. Have I ever mentioned that I have a degree in math? You can imagine this is rather alarming to have a child that isn't thrilled at the prospect of a daily rap session with mom on the beauty of Fibonacci numbers and the joyful mysteries of the integer '9'. We have been happy users of RightStart Math for 4 years now. This is a rock solid math curriculum. However, it's taking a lot out of me right now because it is extremely teacher intensive and quite frankly, I think she would perform better if Mom wasn't driving every step of the lesson. I could go on and on about my thoughts surrounding RightStart, but the bottom line for my planning is that for her I need a different curriculum. I'm currently leaning towards MathUSee for a variety of reasons.
  • My son, on the other hand, delights in math! He begs to watch "The Joy of Mathematics" from The Great Courses as a reward for finishing school. Be still my heart! He's thriving with RightStart. I'm trying to decide if I stick to that one for his last year (Level E), or switch him over, too. I would really love to use a curriculum that is a little (OK, a lot) less teacher dependent...
  • Over the past year I have been delegating subjects to the children for independent work. This has been mostly readings. I recently went to a lecture by Andrew Pudewa where he exhorted the audience to NOT cut back on reading out loud to your children especially after they begin to read for themselves. It was quite convicting. Hence, why I am looking to move to more independence in math and take back some of the delegation I have given in literature.
  • Written narrations have been inconsistent at best. We are very diligent with verbal narrations after every single reading. It's time to start easing into writing.
  • Copywork has also been sporadic. This is something that we should be doing every single day. Why haven't we? Because half the time the child cannot find the copywork book, or we're out of lined manuscript paper, or Mom hasn't written out the words and sentences to be copied for the day. See how it stems to me not having it together?
  • Latin has completely dropped off the spectrum. Time to get that going again.
  • Nature study hasn't happened. Not a formal nature study where we take sketch books outside and learn dry brushing and other ways of preserving our observations. Since we are dabbling in our own garden growing, that at least has provided some non-formal studies for the kids to learn what grows when, watching for progress on their sown seeds, harvesting fruits and greens, collecting seeds for future sowing after a plant has gone through the bolting process. Better than nothing, but I'd still love to add in the sketching component as Charlotte recommends.
Whew! Solutions (the ones I have come up with, that is) and what is working for us to follow.

Thanks for indulging my thinking out loud!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Picture Study / Art Gallery

I LOVE that my children are getting a fine arts education. I love that by default I am getting a fine arts education. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that that might be a large part of my enthusiasm behind homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason was very particular about the manner in which pictures are studied in school. And it is so non-invasive and so influential it is almost unbelievable. For just 15 minutes a week you and your child can imprint hundreds of beautiful art works in the "mind's eye", imparting ideas on which to draw future experiences forevermore.

I recently stumbled upon this picture study help at Simply Charlotte Mason. I am in love. It couldn't get easier. I no longer have to download pictures and have them printed at Wal-mart, find a living biography of the artist, and do a little research on the piece of art we study that week. It's all put together for me in these packets, and the print quality is EXCELLENT on very sturdy picture paper.

Each packet comes with about 8 prints of 8 different pieces of art that the particular artist created. Like I said, high quality prints here. There is also a booklet that has a short living biography of the artist.

There's also information about each work for the teacher to help guide conversation with. We aim to study one print each week, which gives us a little wiggle room in each term to fully cover an artist well.

And here's what I've done with these gorgeous prints!

I frame them as we study them and then hang them in the dining room so we can have our own gallery of our term's art.

It also gives us good dinner conversation. Daddy notices when we sit down for dinner that a new print has been added to the wall. He will typically ask what it is and then the kids narrate back to him everything they remember from the art.

It's a nice reminder of the pieces we have appreciated over the term. And I also get to say that I have art up on my walls! Bonus!

Thanks for stopping in to visit!
Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Plato Project

mentioned I am working at working my way through "the classics". And it is slow going, let me tell you.

The Republic by Plato has been my pet project for, oh, a year. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that.

But, I think I'm doing it well! Or rather, to keep with my theme, doing it excellently. It has been a lonely adventure because I haven't found anyone who was up for forging ahead on this project with me. Can you imagine?

I'm just starting Book 9, so it's finally all starting to come together for me. Can you believe that I am actually curious to find out how Plato is going to resolve the logistics of establishing of this theoretical 'just' city? I tell ya, 15 years ago this would have been the slowest and cruelest form of torture I would have been able to fathom.

Resources I've used in "Kelly Learns Plato 101":

Obviously the text.

The translation I used was the one in the Great Books of the Western World collection. Oh be still my heart, that collection is a book list in itself. I very possibly love book lists more than the books themselves. Combine that with a collector personality....and you have yourself a lifelong project.

Actually, I'm not crazy about this translation. I have peeked into Allan Bloom's and I think I might be inclined to go with if I were picking a stand-alone volume. But of course that one doesn't look as good on the shelf with dozens of other volumes standing right next to it.

And I recognized I needed a helper, so I turned to Good 'Ole:

At one point in my life I would have been embarrassed to admit that. 

It's actually helped me a lot. But not as much as:

These courses are true gems! And you know I want to study through them all. They have a ton of courses. Tip: never ever ever pay full price. You can get them very steeply discounted. They rotate what is on sale, and you can also usually find a large collection of them at the library.

But, as excellent as these resources have been, they have not taken the place of a reading companion who will sit down and hash out the questions that inevitably arise with a careful study of a work of this magnitude. Perhaps if I pick a book a little more....universally enjoyable.... for the next project I can convince someone to plunge in with me!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Our Move and Our Gardening Motivation

It's been about 9 months since we moved about 15 miles from where we previously lived. Can I even begin to describe how much 15 miles has been a disruption to schedules and sanity? Ha. In all seriousness, this move has been great for us. We have to drive further into town to get groceries or to run to Home Depot, but we have a bigger area outside to run around on.

I guess this was my ultimate step in truly embracing and marrying up Charlotte Mason's saying "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life" with her strong urging to spend much time outside learning about nature. We can now get outside and study nature in our own backyard. We can grow a garden and appreciate how God gives us food right from our very ground from teeny tiny seeds. We can learn a little bit about life cycles and become somewhat closer to our food rather than just depending that the grocery store will always magically have whatever our palates crave.

Don't get me wrong, I know we didn't *have* to move to achieve all this. There are ways to make any of these things work without uprooting the family and dragging all your possessions across city.

But I also desired to have some space to grow some food. I know I'm in for an uphill battle with my black thumb, but all this business with GMOs and pesticide laden produce really creeps me out! How cool would it be to just merely grow, say, blueberries for the family. Fully organic, completely fresh and straight off the vine antioxidants. Or tomatoes, fresh from the vine and even canned at home in jars as opposed to relying on the BPA-laden cans and who knows what else that I don't know about from the grocery store.

Hence, another venue of my life to pursue excellence in. The family's gotta eat - I might as well feed them excellently and make myself studied in the arena of nourishment and health. One step at a time!

So without further ado, I present our first blackberry pickings! Can you hear the pride beaming from my fingers?

Hopefully there are many more to follow, but my plans for the bulk of my crop (should we be so blessed) will be to freeze individually and keep for our morning green smoothies. Ooh, OK, maybe a blackberry cobbler, too. Warm. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Here are my baby grapes. These vines came with the house, so I have no idea what variety they are nor how sweet to expect them to be. They give me hope, though!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Used Book Sales

I have been looking forward to this time of year since this time last year - the season of used book sales hosted by local homeschool support groups. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

My girlfriends and I make an evening of waiting outside in line for the sale to open, rushing in to shop all the great deals, then heading out for girl talk over margaritas and Mexican food. Of course we have to follow all of this up with a coffee trip. What's not to like about used book sales?

I no longer really shop for "curricula", but I still find lots of helps and a ton of books. Check out my finds this weekend - $30!

If you homeschool, you absolutely must find used curriculum and book sales going on in your area. Check with local homeschool support groups to see if they have annual sales. You absolutely will not find better deals than straight from homeschool families needing to empty their shelves to make room for the next year's treasures.

Happy book shopping.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

(Wishful) Excellence in the Garden

My very first homegrown tomato!

This is a really big deal. I have the darkest black thumb you can fathom. And coming from my grow-and-make-everything-yourself family, that's a bit of an embarrassment.

You can imagine my surprise as I went out to the garden to water and found this little guy waiting for me on the ground. And the birds didn't even get to it before me.

He's a Supersweet 100 variety. I haven't eaten him yet. He's sitting on my counter top as my trophy.

Here's a few others that look to be showing potential of developing into something.

This guy's an Amelia. All the other blooms have fallen off this plant. Looks like everything it has is going into this one fruit. He may be a one fruit wonder.

Here are my Celebrities. I'd say potential for excellence, no?

And in other parts of the garden...my baby blueberries! No blooms yet.

And this guy just popped up from where I dumped my compost bucket. Considering the little I know about angiosperms, and the types of foods I prepare for dinner, I'd call him something of a squash or a melon. It'll be a nice little surprise for the family!

I truly have only wishful excellence in the garden. It's my very first one, so it's a learning year. Maybe year-by-year my black thumb will eventually fade to green.