Thursday, December 1, 2011

Smiling's My Favorite

Today is December 1. Two fun Christmas things happen on December 1: advent calendars and Buddy the Elf. Oh, and Muddy Buddies, but I guess that would make it three things.

I asked the kids the other day what their favorite family Christmas tradition is. Surprisingly, they said it was the advent calendars with the little pieces of chocolate behind each window. Thankfully, I had four advent calendars with the little pieces of chocolate behind each window stashed away upstairs. I wrapped them last night and placed them under the tree.

We've had a little bit of a problem getting the children out of bed every morning. This morning all I had to do was tell them there was a present for each of them under the tree, and they all hopped out of bed. No pleading. No cajoling.

The advent calendars may be the kids' favorite part of the year. My favorite part? Or at least one of my favorite things? Watching Elf with the kids. It doesn't matter that we've watched it every year since it came out. It's still hilarious to us.

Of course the best complement to the movie are Muddy Buddies. A yummy snack! They may not be all that Christmasy, but they're tradition, so they stay on the menu.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Her Precious Heart

Bedtime for Audrey is still very much a routine. She does not go to sleep without her bedtime prayer. And that prayer must contain two requests: that she not be scared and that she have good dreams, not bad.

Last night, I was taken by surprise when, after my prayer, she asked, "Mommy, what does 'asking Jesus into your heart' mean?"

I explained it to her after which she asked, "How do I ask Jesus into my heart?"

Of course I explained that to her as well. It's a hard concept to understand having Somebody in your little heart! After I put it into six-year-old terms, I asked her if she understood and wanted to ask Jesus into her heart.

She smiled and nodded.

And she prayed a prayer along with me admitting she, like all of us, is a sinner; asking for forgiveness; and asking Jesus to be Lord of her life.

We talked a bit about what it means to have Jesus as Lord of your life.

And I walked out of the room with my heart VERY full.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Day After Thanksgiving

One of my favorite days of the year is the day after Thanksgiving. It's the day I get to unbox all of the Christmas memories. The day everyone humors me and lets me blast my Trans Siberian Orchestra and - dare I say it? - my Kenny G holiday tunes. And the day whose end finds our home decked out in all sorts of Christmas regalia. Most importantly, it's the day I get to hang out with my family, fulfilling all kinds of traditional rituals.

First, there are the annual ornament gifts.
ornament gifts

I try to select a meaningful ornament for each child that captures some memory from the year. For example, this year Audrey received a replica of one of her favorite books of the year.
ornament Wild Things

Naturally, the decorating comes next. As usual, the Princess is the only one who ever cooperates for any photos.

Audrey decorating

Santa Audrey

Audrey decorating2

After decorating is the all-important hot chocolate. It must be thick. It must be chocolaty. And it must have a maximum number of marshmallows topped by gobs of whipped cream.
hot chocolate

hot chocolate Jacob

hot chocolate Michael

hot chocolate Alex

I was surprised that my favorite part of the Day After Thanksgiving this year was the reading of A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree.
A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree

I was worried there would be some eye rolling, some snickering, and some "Are we really going to read this baby book again?" comments. But there weren't. Everyone sat expectantly while I retrieved the book. And they listened with rapt attention.

I hope they never get too old for the reading of A Wish to Be a Christmas Tree.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Spirit

I have to admit. I wasn't feeling an ounce of holiday spirit when Thanksgiving day dawned this year. This is the first Thanksgiving we have celebrated with just the six of us. I started the day with the thought that if I don't have 30 people sitting down to share our meal, it is not Thanksgiving. But, you know what? It turned out OK, and I would venture to say the day turned on the holiday spirit more than any other Thanksgiving past.

We started our day in a relaxed sort of way. I didn't have to worry about cleaning the bathrooms or vacuuming the floors. We weren't rushing around trying to get turkeys basted and casseroles heated on a timetable. In fact, we didn't even have turkey. The kids helped us make our family menu, and they chose chicken over turkey. Mark threw in a pork roast too, just to spice things up a bit.

We had a lovely dinner together after which we settled down to watch our first Christmas movie of the season. It started to feel a whole lot like Christmas! Watching Charlie Brown sit down to a dinner of toast and jelly beans added to the festive feeling in the air.

And of course nothing says holidays better than Black Friday. Ever since we got married, Mark and I have made Black Friday an almost-all-night date night. Our move to the Arctic kind of threw a wrench in that tradition since we do not have family to spend the night with the kids. Last year the tradition was saved by a friend who graciously agreed to be just crazy enough to attack the huge New York mall with me. She couldn't make it this year, though. I was bummed. Then on a whim, I asked my oldest if she wanted to go. Of course she did! Sometimes I forget she isn't five anymore.

Unfortunately, despite the addition of a new partner in crime, this year may have marked the end of my 17 year run on Black Friday. I'm sure the retailers are kicking themselves for not coming up with the brilliant idea of opening the stores late Thursday instead of in the wee hours of Friday. Staying up late instead of dragging oneself out of bed? Much easier on this night owl. And apparently much easier on, like, 10 million of my closest shopping buddies.

You know I despise crowds. So we only made it to two stores. BUT I had an awesome time with my girl. Great time with someone you love...that's what makes an experience worthwhile, so it certainly was worth the hassle to venture out last night.

With all this holiday spirit coursing through my veins, I'd say it's time to corral the family and get out the door to find a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You can't live on bread alone, but some sure is nice.

(Note: This post is all about wheat and breadmaking. If you don't mill your own wheat, no worries. You can still follow the recipe and just use whole wheat flour from the store. I recommend King Arthur's. But do still read about milling your own.)

I have a lot of friends who mill their own wheat and make bread. A couple of years ago, I just didn't get it. "They sell bread at the grocery store, you know," I would say to them. They would tell me about the many health benefits of milling your own wheat, but I ignored the growing desire to follow them into the world of Make-Your-Own-Bread. Quite honestly, I was more intimidated than skeptical. (I would go into the health benefits of using the freshly milled WHOLE grain vs. what flour manufacturers do, but it is so lengthy. Google it.)

Finally, I decided to make my own bread. But I would do it my way. I still didn't fully understand what processes a bag of store flour goes through, so I decided I would just use the whole wheat flour from the store. And I bought a breadmaker.

I was so excited. I was going to do this. But I had found a short cut. The breadmaker did make things easy. About 10 minutes to throw the ingredients in, and then it did the rest. And the house filled with a wonderful bread-baking smell. And when it came out, though it was an odd square shape, it did look good. "Fresh bread!" I called to the kids. They came running...and devoured the whole loaf in 10 seconds flat.

Yeah. 1 loaf of bread for a family of 6. Not brilliant. I must note, though, that I hang on to my breadmaker for one single use on one single special night of the year: on Christmas Eve the bread machine makes perfect dough for my Clone of a Cinnabon recipe which makes a DELICIOUS addition to Christmas morning breakfast. I'm not so sure I can healthify those yummy rolls; however, I do have 85 days to figure it out. I'll consider that my challenge.

Anyway, we were visiting some dear friends in MO, and Kim is a wheat grinder, bread maker (don't you love the titles I so lovingly bestow upon people?). While we were there, she made bread for us, and I was able to not only taste how delicious WHOLE bread is, but also observe how very easy it is!

So then I had to decide - with my husband's help and wisdom - if we wanted to do this or not. It is about a $600 initial investment, but when you look at it as an investment in your health...well, I had my husband sold on that part. What he was skeptical about was if I would purchase all this stuff and then add it to my Shelf of Unused Appliances after a week or two. (It's not like he didn't have a good argument. Exhibit A: The Bread Machine (though I had to argue that the Christmas Cinnabon Rolls totally make that worth it)). But in the end, we decided to take the plunge, and I'm happy to say that my mill and mixer get much more than just a once-a-year workout.

Anyway, this is the equipment I use:
mill & mixer

On the left is my Wondermill, and on the right is my Bosch mixer, which can mix enough dough to make like 10 loaves of bread. I only make 6 at a time, so I don't exactly remember its capacity, but it's adequate for our family. I got all of my start-up equipment and bulk ingredients like yeast and dough enhancer from Urban Homemaker.

Then of course you need the wheat. Hard red will give you that very unique "whole wheat" taste. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I only use hard red for bread. I use hard white for everything else. (Again, if you are not ready to take the plunge into the fun world of wheat and milling, use King Arthur's whole wheat flour.) You can also get soft white which is recommended for cookies and cakes. I had some for awhile, but I really didn't notice a difference between the two, and I found the soft wheat harder to work with because it didn't always measure 1:1. Perhaps if I was doing pastries, I would opt for the soft wheat. I keep my bulk hard red and hard white in big buckets like this that will store grain forever!
buckets of wheat

wheat berries

I used to always get my grain at Bread Beckers. That's because they are located in GA. Even to ship a 50lb. bucket of wheat to my home an hour away in GA was only $14. To CT? Shipping is about $47! It looked like my wheat milling, bread making days were over because I could find NOTHING like Bread Beckers up here. THEN I found Honeyville Grain. They ship for a flat $4.49. Yes, that's four dollars and forty-nine cents! So I recently got a 50lb. bag of hard white wheat shipped to me from California for $4.49!

So anyway, let's get on with making the bread. This is such an easy recipe. I
heard got it from my MO friend who heard got it from a friend who...(I'm hearing REO Speedwagon right now for some reason). It's actually Marilyn Moll's recipe (from Urban Homemaker).

Mill enough wheat berries to get 10-12 c. flour

Warm together:
6 c. water (or 5 c. water + 1 c. plain yogurt)
2 c. of the flour
3 T. yeast
Sponge mixture for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat together 2/3 c. honey and 2/3 c. oil

Mix together:
remaining flour
1 1/2 T. salt
3 T. dough enhancer (lecithin)
1/4-1/2 c. wheat gluten (optional)

Add honey mixture to yeast mixture and stir; while mixing, gradually add flour mixture.

Knead in mixer for 8 minutes. Turn out on to oiled surface and dividein to 6 loaves. Place in oiled pans and let rise 30 minutes. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

So I start by milling my wheat. I don't know how it works, but you get more flour than you use wheat (ex: 1 cup of wheat berries generally yields about 1 1/4 c. flour). I know there's an explanation for this, but it probably involves math, so I'll leave it alone.
grinding the wheat

Anyway, in GA I had to only use 8 cups of wheat berries to get the right dough consistency. Up here for some reason, I have to use 9 (everything costs more here, so that must be why). So I mill 9 cups of wheat berries.

Then I put 5 cups of the hottest tap water possible into my bowl. I then add 1 cup of yogurt. The cold of the yogurt makes the hot water cool to lukewarm which is perfect for yeast. Add the flour and yeast and pour into your mixer.

Then you have 15 minutes to do whatever you want to. My 15 minutes included administering a grammar test to 2 wiggly boys. And cleaning up my mess so far (I am obnoxiously meticulous about cleaning as I go - ask my husband. I make him so mad because he'll call us for dinner, and I'll immediately clean up the mess before sitting down for dinner; I just can't enjoy a meal with a messy kitchen). And preparing for the next step: I put the lecithin and salt in the remaining flour. I also grind up some flax seed which I also add to the flour. Finally, I combine and then heat up the honey and oil for about 45 minutes in the microwave. This blends it better and adds a little more heat for that yeast.

When my 15 is up, I start the mixer, swirl the oil/honey in, and then start adding flour. This is very important. The mistake many people make with bread is making the dough too stiff. You don't want a consistency like pizza dough. You want a soft dough. The way you know it is right is when the dough just begins to pull off the side of the mixer NOT when it is cleanly swept off the sides like with pizza dough.

So get the right amount of flour and then run the mixer for another 8 minutes to knead the dough. Then - and here's a great trick I learned from my MO friend - you know how usually when you throw some dough on the counter you sprinkle some flour down first so the dough won't stick? Well, that flour always ends up drying out your dough. So instead, spread some oil over your countertop. Get lots on your fingers and hands too so YOU won't stick to the dough!

OK, so at this point occasionally I will use a scale to get uniform loaves but usually I do not have the time to give in to such compulsions, so I just eyeball it. I cut it into 6 "equal" pieces and form loaves with 5 of them. With the 6th one, I spread it out, sprinkle a Sucanat/cinnamon mixture on it, roll it up, form it into a loaf, and plop it into a pan.

Oh, and my pans - I got them from Urban Homemaker too. They are on the smaller side (8" maybe vs. 10"??), so I get 6 loaves. If you use larger pans, you might only get 5 loaves.

Then the loaves rise for 30 minutes (time to do school with the littles one, clean up, start this post).
risen dough

Then in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes. And done!

Once they're all cooled off, into my professional bread bags - you can buy them by the 100 from Bread Beckers or Urban Homemaker (or you could just save some from the store bought bread you used to buy).

That's it! It really is an easy process, especially once you've done it a couple times. I mean, I taught my kids some school and cleaned my kitchen and baked bread all in an hour and half!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Peanut Butter, Brownies, and Pizza...Wholeness. Oh yeah!

I learned two things today. First when I'm not lazy, there are more hours in the day. And second, my food processor is my best friend.

After school, I attacked my planned whole living experiences for the day: homemade peanut butter (I actually made the PB yesterday, but it's easier just to lump it in to today), Rich Peanut Butter Bars (aka, brownies), and whole wheat pizza with "special" sauce.

Homemade Peanut Butter
We have been pretty good about buying "natural" peanut butter over the last couple years; however, those jars of "natural" peanut butter still include a lot of sugar and are still somewhat processed to increase shelf life. So I figured...what do I have to lose giving it a try?

It was SO easy.

I dumped a pound of peanuts into the food processor and turned it on. After the peanuts started to break up, I dribbled a bit of oil over the mixture through the little hole thingy at the top. I let the food processor keep going until the peanuts turned to paste. The kids thought that was pretty cool. Then I dribbled a couple teaspoons of the delicious honey I got at the farm yesterday on to the paste.

peanut butter

That was it. And it's good! Michael even said it tastes better than the "normal" peanut butter. The only one who doesn't like it, surprisingly, is my best eater, Audrey. She's not so fond of the straight peanut taste. But 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

Rich Peanut Butter Bars (aka, Brownies)
I decided I needed to put the homemade peanut butter into some sort of snack for the kids today. I still don't have my honey granules from Bread Beckers, so I went to the Bread Beckers cookbook for help. I have a bucket of Sucanat which came with us from Georgia, so I found a recipe that called for it. Sucanat is evaporated cane juice. Regular Sucanat has a rather strong flavor, so it cannot always be substituted for refined sugar. It can almost always be substituted for brown sugar, however. If you don't have Sucanat, use regular sugar or even light brown sugar.

Anyway, this recipe from the Bread Beckers cookbook already calls for Sucanat, and the end product turns out very brownie-esque...which the kids really liked (with the exception of the Princess who still had an issue with that peanutty peanut butter). They were very quick and easy too!

Rich Peanut Butter Bars
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter
1 1/2 c. Sucanat
2 eggs
1 c. whole wheat flour (I used hard white)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. cocoa
1 t. vanilla

Melt butter and peanut butter together. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Press into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake in preheated 350 oven for 25-30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

So I got stuck with dinner duty tonight. Ugh! Even though I am only at this time focusing on healthifying snacks, I thought I'd take the challenge and make dinner worth it too. And all I had to work with was some ground beef. So I decided on pizza.

The kids always opt for cheese pizza, sometimes with some kind of meat. They don't opt for pizza with green peppers, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, or onions. So I waited until they went outside to play, and I dumped big hunks of green pepper, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, and onion into my food processor and pureed it a la Deceptively Delicious style.


I then added tomato sauce (someday I am going to try my hand at making my own tomato sauce) and threw it in a saucepan. I added seasoning, a couple of bay leaves, and some molasses. Molasses takes away some of the acidity of the tomato sauce and enhances the flavors.

OK, so I don't really know if that's what it does, but my mom used to always add it to her sauces. Plus I wanted to sound all Food Network-y. But here is something I do know about molasses (I read it anyway): Blackstrap molasses is the only kind that has any nutritionl value.

Anyway. Then the crust. This recipe comes from Marilyn Moll who owns Urban Homemakers, which is where I purchased my grain mill, Bosch mixer, and other start-up bread making stuff. This is quite possibly the easiest pizza crust I've ever made.

I had a sudden panic attack at 4:00 this afternoon because I hadn't yet looked over the pizza dough recipe, and I worried that I wouldn't have enough time to make it, let it rise, shape it, let it rise again...BUT this dough does not need to rise! Here is the recipe:

Basic Pizza Crust
4 c. whole wheat flour (I used hard white)
1 T. yeast
1 T. olive oil
1 T. honey
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. warm water

If you have a pizza stone, preheat it now. If you don't have a pizza stone, get one; pizzas are so much better from a stone! I only have one and need to get another one because 1 pizza doesn't feed all these growing children anymore.

OK, so put the warm water in your mixer bowl and then add the rest of the ingredients (maybe go easy on the flour at first - not all at once). With your dough hook, mix ingredients and add enough flour to make a stiff dough that pulls cleanly from the side of the bowl. Continue to knead with the dough hook for 3-5 minutes until dough is elastic.

Roll out pizza dough on cornmeal and then place on heated stone. Brush with olive oil and prick with a fork. Pre-bake in 400 oven for 5-8 minutes.

Remove and add sauce, toppings, and cheese. Bake about 10-15 minutes.

So why no photos of my masterpiece pizzas? Well, if you know me, you know cooking is really not my thing. My pizzas did not look all that pretty. But they sure tasted good!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Whole Food Living - Week 1 - Snacks, Banana Bread

Today was a busy day. For one, last night the moment Irene made her exit, our power went out, prompting us to take our frozen and refrigerated food to a friend's house. Our power was only out for a couple of hours, but I waited until this morning to go get our food.

While I was retrieving our food, I stopped by a farm. I've said before how much I love all of the farms around here; you don't see this in the south. We have 3 or 4 of them within a mile or two of our house. If you remember, I visited one last year at the end of the season. All I got was some not-so-good end-of-the-season corn. Today, though, I was seeking two specific things: farm fresh eggs and local honey. I got both at one stop...eggs only a couple hours old and honey from hives right there on the property. ("They" say consuming local honey can help if you have allergies; we'll see if "they" are correct.)
eggs & honey

I also had other things to do like teach the kids school, sign Michael up for swim team, and find some new running shoes for me that will hopefully help my painful ankles. As expensive as they are, they ought to enable me to comfortably run a marathon.

All this to say, today was more of a prep day than a day to focus on making elaborate new and healthy snacks for the kids. I did, however, have some yummy banana bread on hand that I had made the day before Irene visited so we would have a ready-made breakfast.

In college I had this yellow cookbook that, though lost, I can still picture in my mind. I also still use some of the recipes from it, like the banana bread recipe. Here it is:

Sift together:
1 3/4 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

In separate bowl, eat until frothy:
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs

1 c. mashed banana

Add wet ingredients to dry and fold. Bake at 325 for about an hour.

I used freshly milled flour in this - hard white wheat. I only use my hard red wheat in bread as it does definitely have a stronger whole wheat taste. Honestly, you really can't taste that much of a difference between the processed white flour you'd find in the store and freshly milled hard white wheat, but the health benefits for the freshly milled flour are plentiful! Don't be fooled by "whole wheat" flour in the store either; it is still processed in order to allow for a long shelf life. I will tell you more about fresh milled wheat later this week when I make bread.

Anyway...for the sugar, I used the last of my honey granules; thankfully, I have my new bucket arriving sometime this week from Bread Beckers. I didn't quite have enough bananas to make a cup, so I filled the rest of the cup with organic plain yogurt, which I actually think made the bread more fluffy; I may make yogurt a regular add-in!

I meant to add some ground flaxseed because, honestly, that can be added to ANYTHING, and it's so healthful! But I forgot. I also often add chocolate chips and/or finely ground nuts of some kind (the kids don't like big pieces of nuts in bread or cookies).

So that was their snack today - whole, real food, just leftover whole, real food! Tomorrow hopefully there will be less running around so I can get more creative.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Which I Ramble On and On About My Latest Health Kick

Have you seen that commercial for multi-grain Eggo waffles? A geeky looking mom dressed in sweats power-walks into the kitchen, passing her two children who are preparing for school, and then calling out, "Kids! Time for breakfast." With an alarmed look on his face, the boy turns to his sister and says something to the effect of, "Mom is on another one of her health kicks. We need to get out of here before she tries to feed us breakfast!"

That's kind of the reaction I get from my family each time. And, yes, I am on another health kick, inspired by the lead Yahoo story I saw the other day about the family who took on the challenge of 100 Days of Real Food. I am completely aware of the fact that my "kicks" are a bit cyclical; however, I do learn something new everytime, and I do typically pick up at least one new good habit. For example, I now mill my own wheat and use that fresh, whole grain flour for bread, baked goods, and breakfast foods like waffles and pancakes. I also often substitute honey granules for refined sugar.

But I do have a long way to go. I would like to get to a point where I don't use refined sugar at all. My one big obstacle is that my source of honey granules, Bread Beckers, is now 16 hours away rather than 1, and the shipping costs are a bit hard to swallow. But I did go ahead and swallow it and placed an order for a new 5lb. container of honey granules and some flaxseed, which I grind and put in smoothies and baked goods. There are of course many, many other things I can work on like getting rid of all of the terrible foods that come in a box.

I just ordered Jordan Rubin's book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living, and as the author notes in the brief preview Amazon permitted me to read, we are indeed "fearfully and wonderfully made". Why shouldn't we focus on eating what God provided for us to eat? As much as I have tried, I have not yet located the rare to non-existent Oreo tree, so perhaps we should not be eating Oreos and the like.

So I'm going to try very hard to eliminate all of those processed foods. It's tough. I'm a veeery lazy cook, so those pre-packaged, processed foods are awfully tempting. Because going cold turkey and rashly removing all of the junk food from the pantry at one time is just setting me up for failure, I'm going to take this in stages. For the first week, I'm going to focus on snacks. When the kids ask for a snack, instead of telling them to dive into a box of Cheez-Its, I am going to provide some whole, natural options instead. Some will take some work - like making my own cheese crackers - but our health is worth it, right?

Of course, I chose the very worst weekend to decide to be healthy. I just went to the grocery store day before yesterday - along with every other resident of Connecticut - to stock up on non-perishables in the event that Irene steals our electricity. So I will start our Snack Reformation after Irene has departed and our power has been restored. At that point, we can take the yet unopened boxes of Cheez-Its and Oreos and donate them to the local food bank.

Until then, I will continue to exercise. Very surprisingly, I have been very committed to exercising daily. I work out every morning on the treadmill - working on building up my endurance so that eventually I can run a 5K. A huge goal for a non-runner like me, especially since, aside from high school sports, I have never before been consistent in any exercise program.

Thankfully, I'm not alone in exercising...we have had some great family times over the last month hiking some of the many trails that traverse the New England landscape and biking. Mark and I splurged and bought bikes so we could join the kids. In addition, we got a bike attachment that turns Mark's bike into a tandem bike thus allowing Audrey to keep up with our pace.

Is she cute or what?
Mark & Audrey biking

Unfortunately for me, I had to cut my workout today short and will take tomorrow off as well. My ankle is killing me. For no reason. That happens a lot with fibromyalgia - pain for no reason. Which is why I'm on a new health kick. I refuse to take any of the medications that fight fibromyalgia with side effects like "thoughts of suicide". I am confident that if I learn to eat healthy and stick with it, I won't be so tired all the time, and I won't have a Pain du Jour.

So raise your healthy's to getting healthy.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pool Party!!

It was a tough call for her to make. A pool party or a gymnastics party? Ultimately, she chose the pool, which I think is a winning choice since it appeals to more guests. And guests? I am feeling very blessed that my sweet little girl had 13 kids with whom to celebrate; I have had fleeting worries that, since we are new up here, there wouldn't be any party guests.

I think they all had a good time at the YMCA pool. We started in the pool where the kids had 45 minutes to splash around and play various pool games.
pool Audrey

boys under the water

towel Audrey2

Following the pool fun, the kids were led to the gym for game time. Audrey chose Minnows & Sharks and Duck, Duck, Goose and was promptly appointed a shark.
games Audrey

Duck Duck Goose 2

After the kids were worn out running around the gym,it was time for the PARTY! Audrey had to wait a bit for her favorite part so we could have pizza. THEN she got to have cake.
cake close-up

blowing candles1

Of course, the presents were what she really wanted to get to, and she wasted no time tearing into them.

Her friends were terribly creative and knew exactly what delights her sweet little Princess heart...Polly Pockets, crafts, books. Our dining room currently looks like a Michael's craft store, and since we got home from the party, she has kept herself busy NON-STOP with her new Polly's, her Play-Doh, and one craft after the other!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to Clubbing

I'm a very enthusiastic starter of stuff. I'm not that good of a finisher of stuff. I'm trying to do better. One thing I've picked back up are the Contenders of the Faith/Keepers of the Home clubs. I started these clubs in our home at the beginning of last year, and we really did accomplish a few things with the materials.

This year, I decided to bring back the clubs for a couple of reasons. First of all, earning the badges does force the children to LEARN. And in a really fun way. Secondly, we've decided not to do the mid-week church activities for the younger three. Since Alex is now in middle school, she has moved up to the youth group which meets on a different night than the younger kids' programming. I decided that, for my sanity, we are going to do just one night out at church during the week, and since I think youth group more valuable than elementary age programming, Alex gets the night. So anyway, now the kids still get clubs, and I get to slow down my Carschooling lesson plans.

Our first order of business for this session of clubs was, of course, learning how to make something delicious to eat: doughnuts! This week we learned about the different kinds of doughnuts, and we made baked mini-donuts; we will leave the more delicious, more fattening deep-fried treats for next week.

Our baked doughnuts didn't come out all that great looking, but they did sure taste good.

cake donuts

What was even more fun is that the kids remembered that the last time we made doughnuts, we read Homer Price and his adventure with the broken donut machine. Love that childhood story! So we read half of the tale this week and will finish it up next week.

Not a bad way to spend an evening...and certainly a tasty way to earn a badge!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Birthday Girl

She is...



full of life,






just a little bit mischievous,




absolutely PRECIOUS.



And today is her birthday! What a blessing that she has brought joy to our lives for SIX years!

Although the festivities will continue on Saturday when she celebrates with friends, today she enjoyed some birthday fun at home with her family. She woke up to find a couple of presents waiting on the counter for her.

She wasted no time!
opening gifts 1

More Polly Pockets. Not what she needs but what she wanted. That's what birthdays are all about anyway, right?
opening gifts 2

And the sweetest part? Her big sister playing Pollys with her.
girls playing

Of course her birthday treat at her birthday lunch at Chili's was pretty sweet too.

The rest of the day held some special birthday girl events: a little girl time at the nail salon, an afternoon movie featuring a birthday gift movie, and lots of time to play with new toys.

I hope she felt loved...because we sure do love her!

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Day

The Northerners all think I'm crazy. Schools around here don't start for a few weeks, and I'm already a couple weeks behind my normal schedule. Traditionally, we start our academics the first Monday of August (excepting last year when our lives were in the midst of being turned upside down). Because an early start affords more flexibility in the middle, I was going to return to tradition this year, but with our guest and my general disorganization, that did not happen. A couple weeks tardy is not too bad, though. And, honestly, the kids were bored so school is something to do.

It was a good day. Everyone fell right back into a school routine, and we got a lot accomplished. It's hard to believe we have a middle schooler now!
first day of school Alex

She was introduced to Bob Jones math and English and also continues to work on her One Year Adventure Novel course which she started at the end of last year. She also informed me that she wants to learn "CSI stuff", so I found an e-book on Currclick which I will attempt to implement at some point during the year.

Our fifth grader, Michael, maintained a wonderfully positive attitude today about all of his studies, a very welcome change. I hope to find him a good outlet for building and sharing Lego creations.
first day of school Michael

Jacob is in fourth grade this year and is plugging right along with Bob Jones as well. He never exhibits whole-hearted enthusiasm for any of his studies, but he always does a good, thorough job in completing each task.
first day of school Jacob

Perhaps the one for whom this year will bring the greatest change is my little first grader.
first day school Audrey

Although she got a taste of academia in Kindergarten, this will be her first year of really being thrown into the mix. She did great today and was excited to have a spelling book just like her brothers and sister.

We are taking it slow as we jump back into school. Part of that is because a friend with whom I am co-op'ing for History, Science, and a Northerner, so I did not want to force her to start against her will. We will begin those subjects in September. Until then, we will get completely familiar with our subjects at hand. One of those subjects includes French. I am so happy I purchased Rosetta Stone this year and wonder why I waited this long; hearing the kids repeat French phrases into their headset is perhaps the cutest thing EVER!

(Note: The kids came up with their own staging for the photos. They may or may not have been bribed to do so cooperatively. That bribe may or may not have included a piece of licorice and a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup.)