Winter Fun: Snowshoeing with Kids

The weather broke here, for a minute, and instead of highs in the 10s we had a high of 40 degrees on Friday.  We grabbed our opportunity to go try out snowshoeing.  A local town has arranged a yurt in a canyon park to rent snowshoes, and there are several miles of groomed trails to try out.  This was my first experience with snowshoeing.  Aside from re-doing Max’s straps every 5 minutes, it was great fun, and so WONDERFUL to be outside in clear air after several weeks stuck indoors.



lulu in snow Eden snowshoeing

resting Max

Snowshoeing is hot work.  My one word of advice (since I am truly not an expert!) is don’t dress too warmly!  The kids took breaks laying in the snow to cool off.

taking a breakWe were the only people enjoying this park in the middle of Friday afternoon (yay, homeschool!) So the quiet was wonderful, and although we didn’t see any animals or birds, really, it was just great too be listening to the quiet.

wintertime creek

snowy rock

Howdy to everyone, and hope you’re enjoying your winter.

mitten salute


Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!

Snacking and the Homeschool Family (How to Feed the Horde)

egg quesadilla

For those of you who, like me, are home with the kids all the time, you know that their appetites are bottomless.  After breakfast, and second breakfast, and lunch, and afternoon snack, and dinner and dessert, you may feel like you never get out of the kitchen!  Although I love to bake, I have nutritional qualms about feeding cookies and sweets for all the snacks my family wants during the week.  This started me working on some snack ideas which are not sweets, but would contribute to a positive nutritious balance to the day’s meals.

While I enjoy a bell pepper or a sweet potato for a snack, that is not something that flies for the kids.  They usually eat either fresh or home-canned fruit (peaches, pears or apricots) for one snack per day.  They complain if that is ALL there is for snack in the house, though.  While snacks like  crackers and peanut butter or popcorn are okay occasionally, I usually prefer to save the peanut butter for lunch (!) and crackers always seem like a waste of money to me.  There are enough cooks in our house to make cookies every day, but that could hardly be said to be nutritious.

Here are some quick foods we have eaten this week for snack.  Try out these “regular” foods at snack time, and see how they leave your horde feeling.

1.  Egg “quesadillas”.  This is not truly a quesadilla, since queso implies cheese.  Instead, I melt a tiny bit of butter in a skillet, add a scrambled egg, and swirl to spread.

scrambled eggAs the egg begins to set on the bottom, top it with a corn tortilla and another tiny pat of butter.  After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, flip the egg over so the tortilla side is down.  Allow to fry for another 30 seconds or so, until the egg is mostly cooked.  Fold in half.

folded egg quesadilla

Allow to brown slightly on each side before serving.  This would also work with a little cheese sprinkled over the egg so that you could have a real “quesadilla.”  We sometimes eat these for breakfast or lunch, 2 or 3 at a time.  Just one makes a nice quick mid-morning snack with a good protein boost to stave off hunger pangs.

2.  Tuna salad.  Lucy loves tuna.  When we make tuna sandwiches, she often asks for some more tuna salad “on the side.”  With this in mind, I mixed up a can of tuna with a little mayo, salt and homemade zucchini relish.  She ate the whole thing with gusto.  Another snack problem solved.

lulu eating tuna

3. Hard boiled eggs or egg salad.  This is another idea we often reserve for lunch, but everyone likes these by themselves or with a slice of bread.

Some other snack ideas I am exploring:  homemade pudding (tapioca, anyone?), fresh bread, homemade tortillas.  Obviously, I must love to cook!  What are some of your favorite ideas for snacky kids?  Please leave a comment below.

Try This Now: Caramel Popcorn

I finally broke down and bought myself a hot-air popcorn popper.  I’ve wanted one for a while:  I’ve heard many dieticians recommend popcorn as a whole grain, and while I don’t really like it myself, I thought it would be a good snack for the kids.  I don’t like to offer microwave popcorn because of all the additives involved, so when I replaced my Crock-Pot (I broke the pot!), I bought a popcorn popper as well.  The kids have enjoyed popcorn with butter and salt, butter and Parmesan, and butter and cinnamon-sugar.

In an upcoming post, I’ll let you in on a few things I’ve found out about snacking and home schoolers.  But for right now, I just want to share my sister-in-law’s wonderful recipe for homemade Caramel Popcorn.

Start with a big bowl of hot popcorn.  (My popper uses 1/2 cup kernels to make a big bowl, just right for this recipe.)

In a large saucepan, boil together:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

3 Tablespoons corn syrup or pancake syrup (I haven’t tried this variation)

When the butter is completely melted and boiling, add:

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

This is what it will look like:

carmel for popcornImmediately pour over hot popcorn and stir with a big spoon.  I thought I could use my hands for this, but it was just too hot!

Here’s the finished product:

carmel popcorn


And this is what you will look like eating it:


Start to finish:  15 minutes.  Enjoy those happy faces!

What is your favorite addition to popcorn?  Please leave a comment below.


Kids in the Kitchen: Basic Beans and Rice

One my goals for my kids in the kitchen is that they be capable of making all basic dishes that are needed for healthy, economical living.  Two of those basics are beans and rice.  I thought everyone knew how to cook beans, until my sister-in-law told me a few years ago that she had never made beans “from scratch!”  Now I know that cooking dried beans is an art — not!

Max had his first lesson making beans and rice for us this week, and we turned his hard work into a delicious meal:  black bean soup with rice.

Here are the basics for cooking dried beans.

Step 1:  wash the beans.

washing black beans

Step 2:  Put in a pot with water to cover plus about 2 inches, and add salt (I usually add at least a teaspoon.)  The salt is not necessary, but helps the beans to be salted enough at the end of cooking.

add salt best

Step 3:  Bring to a boil and then turn pot to low.  Cover tightly, but keep an eye on the water level so the beans stay covered at all times.  Cook until soft, usually around 2 hours.  Taste and season as needed.

My kid-proof rice recipe is similar.

1 cup rice

2 cups water

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil in a medium saucepan, turn to low and set a timer for 20 minutes.  Turn rice off after 20 minutes and fluff with a fork.  The same method works for brown rice, just cook for 40 minutes.

black bean soup with rice

To finish this meal, we chopped 2 onions and 2 bell peppers and sauteed them in a LOT of olive oil (3/4 cup.)  Stir those into your pot of cooked black beans, and serve over rice with a homemade roll on the side — now that’s what I call YUMMY!  Cheap, healthy, good food, made by a 7 year old.

What basics do you think are necessary to teach your kids?  Please leave me a comment below.

Pie of the Month: Honey Pecan Pie

lovely pecan pie slice


Well, I promised you a pie challenge, and this pie was quite challenging for me.  First of all, I had trouble choosing a recipe for pecan pie.  I was certain this pie could be made with honey, because corn syrup seems like it must be a relatively new invention.  Also, since corn syrup is not a “real” food (it is made through high-level processing) it is persona non grata at our house.  It was troubling as well because most pecan pie seem to me to be too thin: they leave me wanting a little more.  My solution was to add extra pecans to the recipe.  The third problem I had in making this pie was the baking instructions.  The recipe I finally settled on called for baking the pie for a total of 40 minutes, steadily lowering the baking temperature.  However, after the 2nd temperature change (from 400 to 300 degrees) and 20 minutes, the pie was not set at all.  With only 10 minutes left on the original timer, I scoured my cookbooks and reset the oven to 350 degrees.  This resulted in a slightly carmelized top as the top element in the oven came on to bring the oven up to that temperature.

Well, I guess it’s enough to say we ate this pie in one sitting.  The honey taste was not too strong for my dissenter (Max isn’t into honey,) and everyone loved the nuts.  Even the carmelized top was a nice addition, and the (Crisco-based) pie crust was the best I’ve made in months!

unbaked pecan pie

Here’s the recipe:

Unbaked pie shell

3 eggs, beaten until light

1 cup honey

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Beat eggs until very light and frothy.  Add honey and melted butter in a steady stream.  When thoroughly combined, add vanilla, salt and pecan and mix well.  Pour into pie shell.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake about 30 minutes more, until filling is set.  Cool completely before serving.

I hope you are having your own pie adventure this month.  Please leave a link or a recipe in the comments below!

Some of My Favorite Things January are . . .

This post is just a hodgepodge of a few things I think you will enjoy . . . things I enjoy.

  • Follow this hiker as she rambles across the United States and Canada in her tiny trailer, taking wonderful pictures along the way.  Her courage is amazing.
  • While you wait for Downton Abbey Season 3 to come out in a form you can watch, try out the series Land Girls (the first series at least is available from Netflix.)  The characters are engaging and the scenery is beautiful.
  • I finished reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey.  Truthfully, the adjective I most want to apply to this book is cinematic, but when I tried to watch the movie, I was disappointed.  I love Paul Newman, and the logging scenes seemed wonderful, but they just did not do justice to the complicated character interactions of this book.  It was a difficult read — the kind of book you have to start over the minute you finish it to figure out what really happened– but well worth the endeavor.
  • I am so excited about higher level courses being offered over Internet.  Coursera has a wonderful list of courses starting soon.  Eden and I took a course about World Music earlier this year, and while we were not able to finish all the assignments and get a certificate, we have since explored in more detail many of the things we learned.  Starting in January, I will be taking a Nutrition for Health Promotion class that promises to be very interesting.
  • Just finished Gretchen Rubin’s book Happier at Home.  It was a great follow-up to her first, Happiness Project, with many ideas to put to work.  One of the things I have put to work already is her plan to “suffer for 15 minutes” to accomplish a project she had been putting off.  It’s hardly suffering for me to quilt, but I have been working on quilting in 15 minute intervals, and have gotten a lot closer to finishing the quilt I’ve been working on all year.

Do you have some great recommendations to share?  Please leave a comment below.

Math Out Loud (the Easy Way)

For those of you who are familiar with Saxon Math, you know that each lesson involves lots of practice, both on new skills and review.  This is both a wonderful thing — old skills are not forgotten as kids work on developing new ones– and a difficult thing –very time consuming.

Saxon Math lessons are structured in 3 parts:  mental math, lesson practice and problem set.  The mental math section teaches kids to do increasingly difficult math in their heads, without any written practice.  This is one of my favorite parts of Saxon math, because I have seen so many adults who are unable to do even simple multiplication without writing something down.  As I tell my kids, you won’t always have a calculator with you, and who wants to be cheated at the store because you can’t do some mental math!  The lesson practice comes immediately after the new skills for the lesson are explained, and practices that skill in progressively more difficult problems.  Then comes the problem set, usually about 30 problems of review.  For my kids, that averaged to about an hour of math each lesson day.  While not terrible, it did cause lots of grumbling.

In the past, I have tried several different methods of shortening math time while maintaining quality.  Sometimes I would have the kids do only odds on the problem set.  Other times, I would do two lessons on the same day, and allow them to do only one of the problem sets.  Unfortunately, as I tried these strategies with Brett, I realized that the lack of practice was really robbing him of confidence.  He would come back to problems a few lessons later with very little idea how to solve them.  After struggling with him for math comprehension, I realized that, at least in our family, every single problem of math needed to be worked, even if it took a lot of time.  While we only do math 3 days a week, I still was seeking some way to cut down the time spent on math and still have great comprehension.

This year, we found a new way for me to be content that they have done enough practice while cutting down on the time of the lesson.  I take an extra ten or fifteen minutes after their lesson for them to do any of the problems they can mentally and orally without writing down either the problems or the answers.  Max is usually able to save himself about 15 problems of written work this way, and Lucy 10-12 problems.  This has been a great way to give them a boost toward finishing their math quickly.  I write orally next to the problems I have heard the answers to, and mark them in the book, so that I know when I correct papers later that those problems were done already.


max doing math

This has led to lots more smiles during math time!  Do you allow your kids to do any of their math work orally?  What strategies do you use to keep progressing in math skills while maintaining interest?  Please leave me a comment below.