Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homeschooling with the Workbox System

One of the great things about being online is that you often stumble across something, follow a rabbit trail somewhere else, and never quite know where you will end up. So it was that I discovered Sue Patrick and her workbox homeschool system. There probably was a bit of divine intervention at work as well.

I have found that once you have moved on to your fourth child to homeschool, sometimes the initiative just isn't there. You've been down the road a few times already and it feels as if you've just finished teaching at that level. What I needed was a little inspiration and a new approach, not to mention that my normally born-organized self had become a little sloppy as of late.

My first exposure to the work box system was through a system of blogging homeschool mothers. Here are a few of the sites that I learned so much from:




Their blog comments were so inspiring to me that I just had to find out for myself if this was a system that work with my two children still schooling at home, Goat Princess - 12 and H-Bob - 7. I was especially intrigued in that she recommended this system for children with self-control issues which we often deal with. After delving around Sue's site www.workboxsystem.com for awhile, I ordered her ebook and set about to read it.

What I found was that Sue's words were little gems to be treasured. She reminded me of why I was homeschooling and that not every system or curriculum will meet each child's need. She reminded me of the resources I have tucked away here and there that would be better utilized through this system.

What is the system? Well, I'd love for you to check out the details straight from her site, but in short order, each child's individual curriculum item is stored in a clear plastic shoebox that is stored on a shoe rack holding these twelve boxes. When each school item is completed, it is removed from the rack leaving a very visual reminder of what is left to accomplish. This has done wonders for both of my daughters and volumes for me. As a very visual learner myself, I can now see what we have left to do and am more motivated to fill up those boxes with possibilities for us each day. There is so much more to Sue's philosophy as well that just made perfect sense to me.

If you're feeling a little down about your homeschooling efforts or need a little boost or spark of creativity in your homeschool, check out Sue's sytem and the blogs of other homeschoolers who have found her to be a blessing to us all. I'd love to hear if you've heard of her work, and if so, if it has changed your approach to schooling as well.

Wii Fit Yoga Benefits

About one month ago, I became inspired by other mom blogger's success with their Wii gaming systems by using virtual fitness programs like Wii Fit. I did some research and put out feelers as to whether this was a passing fad or something that someone would stick with. As we already had a Wii system with the Wii Sports and Wii Play, I was familiar with how the system works and how it possibly could be an effective workout system. Short story, we purchased Wii Fit and launched into it full swing. All family members and a few friends quickly started their Mii profiles. As I had hoped, I am still sticking with the system and trying to be consistent with my exercise.

The Wii Fit has four aspects: yoga, strength training, balance, and aerobic activities. Although I have played around in all four arenas, my goal is to do the Wii Fit yoga every morning. I lead a fairly busy lifestyle but know the importance of adding aerobic activity. As my schedule allows, I have been trying to work into those activities. More often than not though, I haven't found the time. I would ideally like to alternate the aerobic activity days with the strength training which is equally important.

I am surprised that I have found the Yoga to be so worthwhile. To be honest, I could have told you zero about what benefits one would derive through yoga, and I am still learning. My intial reaction was that I was getting in some good stretching although my Wii trainer talks about body balance and control as well.

What I just read in the April 1, 2009, issue of Woman's Day about yoga was still more new news to me. A recent study of 120 women showed that of those women who practiced yoga were less likely to have symptons of perimenopause and menopause. Sounds like a good incentive to me. They were talking about just 2-3 yoga poses a day for five days a week. The recommended pose time was five minutes which I don't think the Wii holds you to. Something else to investigate.

As my knowledge of yoga is so basic, I plan to check out yogatic.com more thoroughly. The site has YouTube videos demonstrating yoga poses for specific needs that you might have: a bad headcold, neck pain, weight loss, and even a bad day. Womansday.com also has an excellent photographic sequence that shows 32 different yoga poses and breaks them down into four basic types: Sun Salutation Sequences, Energizing Sequences, Yoga for Hips, and Relaxing/Decompression. I was glad to see that the Wii Fit yoga poses follow these moves as well ensuring that I am getting a well rounded yoga workout.

Perhaps as my knowledge of yoga grows, I will be able to more fully appreciate the workout I'm getting through the Wii Fit. I have no plans to abandon Wii Fit for a more traditional yoga workout as I love the accountability that the Wii gives me. But as in everything in life, a little extra knowledge can go a long way to providing a more balanced approach to your endeavors.

Go turn on your Wii Fit, hold a few yoga poses, and make your Mii and yourself a little happier.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Frugal and Healthy Kitchen Tips

In my search to bring a frugal approach to my kitchen, I've started a few practices that I find most helpful. Not only do these little tasks save money at the grocery store, they save me time and just so happen encourage healthier eating habits. Here's how:

We all like to grab those little bags of carrots on the produce shelves because they've convenient. Let's face it, you normally don't wash them, they're bite sized, they're prepackaged and ready to take out the door. What's not to like? As I stood looking at them one day, I realized how much more expensive those bags were compared to a 5 pounder of carrots straight from the field with minimal processing. Price per pound, a 5 lb bag of carrots works out to .60 per pound while the prepacked minis are $2.72 per pound. I just couldn't do it any more. So with that in mind, my carrots come home with me and are peeled and cut up into sticks the same day. I store them with cut up celery in a gallon zip lock where they keep for the week. Few minutes trouble, but great savings. Bonus is that it is so easy to reach in there for a few when you get the munchies but don't really want to invest your daily calories in something non nutritious.

Along those lines, I've also started washing and cutting up broccoli, green onions, mushrooms, bell peppers and the like when I get the produce home, so that they are ready to throw into just about anything in order to up my vegetable consumption every day. Bonus is that the veggies you buy at the store are actually being used by the end of the week, and you're not throwing away expensive produce. I have a covered party tray that I use that truthfully is a little large for the refrigerator but is convenient for me. Baggies or symmetrical food storage containers would work just as well too.

Wondering what bacon is doing here when I'm referring to healthy foods? Well, I've been known to purchase the precooked bacon on the deli aisle because it is ready to throw into a sandwich for the kids lunch or garnish a soup. The mess of cleaning up a frying pan and finding a container for the fat was a pain. Of course, super healthy eating would dictate not even bringing the bacon home. However, all things in moderation are OK, right? Once again, the precooked bacon runs anywhere from $18-26 per pound. You only pay $2.50 or so but are just getting 2 or 3 ounces of finished product. Bacon on sale usually doesn't cost more the $2.50 a pound. Tell me, that's the more frugal way. But how to make it easy on the cook?

Take a microwave safe plate and two paper towels. Stack the paper towels and then fold them in half and lay across the plate. Place your bacon strips quite close to each other on the towel. Cover with another single paper towel that has been folded in half. I microwave these 6 or so pieces of bacon for about 4 minutes. The fat is absorbed by the towels, the bacon comes out nice and flat, and they slide right into a zip lock bag for what you might need them that week. Not a bad idea.

So there you have it. Cut up veggies. Precooked bacon. A few ways that I find helpful to save money and time in the kitchen. What simple ideas do you find helpful to trim a few dollars off your grocery bill in the way of preparation secrets? Do you have ideas that not only help save money but also time? Leave me a note. I'd love to hear what you've found helpful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pinto Bean and Ham Bone Soup

Week number three of our commitment to include a weekly dinner based on good ol' frugal and healthy beans focuses on pinto beans. As I had a lovely ham bone with trimmings still hanging on it from Easter dinner, this was the perfect marriage of extracting that ham flavor and infusing it into this lovely bean dish.

soaking pinto beans

Pinto Bean and Ham Bone Soup
1 ham bone with some meat left on
2 cups dried pinto beans
8 cups water to soak dried beans in overnight
6-8 cups water for cooking beans in; alternatively use chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup green enchilada sauce

Using overnight soak method, place dried beans and 8 cups water in large stockpot to soak over night. Drain beans in the morning and prepare to cook them either on stove top or in a crock pot.

soaked and drained pinto beans

If using a crock pot, place ham bone, beans, 6 cups water, garlic, and onion in crock pot. Cover and let the crock pot do its magic. If cooking on the stove top, add ham bone, beans, garlic, and onion to 8 cups of water. (Crock pot method uses slightly less water as there is no steam evaporation during cooking.)

pinto beans with ham bone in crock pot

Check after three to four hours if using the crock pot or after two hours on the stove top to determine tenderness of beans. Also, add additional water if beans begin to dry out. Once they have softened and are finally cooked through, remove ham bone. Carefully cut off any ham remaining on the bone. Finely chop the ham and return it to the soup. Stir in green enchilada sauce and top with chopped cilantro. Check for taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

cooked pinto beans

Add some vegetable sticks or a salad along with some cornbread, and dinner is served.

finished pinto beans and ham bone soup (without cilantro)

This was especially good served over tortilla chips. You could also mash the leftovers and reheat them in a skillet to make awesome re fried beans.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Organizing and Planning Holiday Dinners

Well another Easter dinner has come and gone at our household. I don't end up cooking for a large group...just the six of us in our immediate family plus my mother usually.

As every holiday dinner approaches, I generally try to come up with something new or different, in other words, try to reinvent the wheel for some reason. But as of the last few seasons, I have taken another approach. Using a computer generated recipe program (I happen to have Big Oven) I have started to print out the recipes that I generally use for each holiday meal...Thanksgiving's turkey recipe, Christmas with its Egg Nog, and now Easter with the Crown Jewel Jello Salad and so forth. Now rather than drag myself down trying to come up with something new, it is far easier to pull out the folder with last year's holiday dinner menu and recipes and start there. I might also have put some notes down onto the hard copy of the recipe such as "too salty" or "be sure to make a double batch" so those tidbits of information won't be forgotten by the following year.

Sad to say, but our immediate family has never had certain "traditional" foods that the family could expect on any given holiday until recently. I decided I wanted our kids to remember our dinners and to even be able to look forward to them the next year knowing that there will be Mia's Potatoes or that wonderful Berry Trifle. There doesn't have to be something new served all the time, and this way memories and our own traditions will be formed.

I think it's working. I heard our oldest tell a friend that there were two pans of Mia's Potatoes! She was anticipating the leftovers already.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Basic Frugal Black Beans and Rice

So far so good, as this is week number two and our second 'beans and rice' dinner. Tonight I decided to experiment with black beans. As per recommendations, the beans were placed in my stock pot with about 4" of water to cover them. Lid was put on top and they were left to sit all night. Once I got around to it in the morning, I rinsed them thoroughly and then put them back into the pot with another 3 to 4 inches of water and set them to boil. Once they were boiling, I reduced the heat, covered the pot, and let them simmer for the next couple of hours until they seemed almost tender. At this point I drained the excess liquid from the beans and let them set until the rest of the ingredients were ready.

This is the point where your customization can take place. I morphed several recipes I had lying around into one based on the ingredients I had on hand. Remember, beans and rice are supposed to be easy on your budget and flexible. Once the beans have nearly cooked, you simmer together a few ingredients, stir them back into the beans to simmer together until beans are thoroughly cooked and you're ready to eat.

Basic Frugal Black Beans and Rice

3 cups dry-packaged black beans, cooked

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced bell peppers - I had green peppers on hand
1 diced onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 can diced stewed tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth

Precooked rice - preferably brown rice

After preparing the black beans by soaking overnight, rinsing, and simmering for several hours, let excess liquid drain off by placing beans in colander.

In same stockpot, heat olive oil and add sliced peppers, onions, and garlic. Saute for several minutes until peppers begin to soften being careful not to burn garlic. Stir in canned tomatoes and chicken broth and let everything return to a simmer. Return beans to pot and simmer until beans are thoroughly cooked through. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

At this point you can top your beans with chopped cilantro, sliced green onions, or red pepper flakes depending on your taste. Serve up your rice in bowls, and top with the savory beans. Beans and rice at their best.

If you wished to amp up the flavor and you had any of the following on hand, any of these would be nice additions to the bell pepper slices:

corn kernels
finely chopped carrots
diced polish sausage (as you will note, I added sausage in the batch photographed above)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Are You Too Busy?

Have you ever run across something that strikes at your heart? Something that you realize is so true that you need to address it immediately? The following devotional was read a during prayer at a homeschool support group I participated in when my children were young. I have kept a copy of it ever since in my tickler file that I go through weekly to pull papers and notices from for the coming week. I never want to loose sight of its message.

Satan's Meeting

Satan called a worldwide convention of demons. In his opening address he said, "We can't keep Christians from going to church." We can't keep them from reading their Bibles and knowing the truth." "We can't even keep them from forming an intimate relationship with their savior." "Once they gain that connection with Jesus, our power over them is broken." "So let them go to their churches; let them have their covered dish dinners, but steal their time, so they don't have time to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ."

"This is what I want you to do", said the devil: "Distract them from gaining hold of their Savior and maintaining that vital connection throughout their day!"

"How shall we do this?" his demons shouted.

"Keep them busy in the nonessentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds," he answered. "Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow."

"Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6-7 days each week, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their empty lifestyles."

"Keep them from spending time with their children." "As their families fragment, soon, their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work!"

"Over-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear that still, small voice." "Entice them to play the radio or cassette player whenever they drive." "To keep the TV, VCR, CDs and their PCs going constantly in their home and see to it that every store and restaurant in the world plays non-biblical music constantly." "This will jam their minds and break that union with Christ."

"Fill the coffee tables with magazines and newspapers." "Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day." "Invade their driving moments with billboards." "Flood their mailboxes with junk mail, mail order catalogs, sweepstakes, and every kind of newsletter and promotional offering free products, services and false hopes."

"Keep skinny, beautiful models on the magazines and TV so their husbands will believe that outward beauty is what's important, and they'll become dissatisfied with their wives."

"Keep the wives too tired to love their husbands at night." "Give them headaches too!" "If they don't give their husbands the love they need, they will begin to look elsewhere."

"That will fragment their families quickly!"

"Even in their recreation, let them be excessive." "Have them return from their recreation exhausted." "Keep them too busy to go out in nature and reflect on God’s creation." "Send them to amusement parks, sporting events, plays, concerts, and movies instead."

"Keep them busy, busy, busy!"

"And when they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled consciences."

"Crowd their lives with so many good causes they have no time to seek power from Jesus." "Soon they will be working in their own strength, sacrificing their health and family for the good of the cause."

"It will work!" 'It will work!"

It was quite a plan! The demons went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get more busy and more rushed, going here and there...having little time for their God or their families... having no time to tell others about the power of Jesus to change lives.

I guess the question is, has the devil been successful at his scheme?

You be the judge! Does "busy" mean:

- Author Unknown

Have you ever felt this way? Perhaps you too have heard this message read at a woman's retreat or group somewhere along the line. Did it change your life? Do you think before committing to something or plugging-in to relax as to what affect it will have your your life, your families', your eternity? Leave me a comment. I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Getting the Garden Ready for Spring

Yes folks, these are shots of my garden as of March 2009. Not much to write home about. Pretty hard to believe any produce came out of this mess. Winter is hard on gardens who weren't properly put to bed in the fall, and now I have to pay the price.

Today the temps are in the 70's which is a treat around the northwest for this time of year, so I spent some time trying to remedy the garden.

I trimmed back my everbearing raspberries that should have been cut to the ground last fall after they finished fruiting. I didn't take them all the way to the ground as they had already started some growth...don't want to shock them too much. The lower part of the canes will fruit some in July which will be welcome with the majority of the fruit coming at the top of the canes in September, an even bigger treat.

The marionberry canes were a tumbled and tangled mess. Many, many scratches later I sorted them out, tied them into clumps, and then wove them in a circular fasion on my horizontal wires so that the end of the canes are off of the ground. There were already plenty of them that had started to tip root. That would have been okay, but they had chosen to take root in the pathway.

The black raspberries never seem to produce juicy berries. They are always a little dried out. Perhaps I don't give them enough water, so this year I plan to focus on that a little more carefully. Their long gangly canes were cut back to about 5' and the dead canes from last year's fruiting were removed.

I took a look through the strawberries and was glad to see that they had about doubled their space from last year. Awaiting the first ripe strawberry is probably one of my most anticipated garden events each year.


Keep tuned and see how this mess rights itself and starts producing the berries and vegetables we so look forward to.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Goats Kids Born at Abernethy Creek Farm

Head on over to our hobby farm site Abernethy Creek Farm to read about the seven goat kids our miniature dairy goat does had in the past two days. There are sidebar posts with photo slide shows as well. These kids are little munchkins for sure.

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