Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts (grain-free : gluten-free : Primal)

Brussels sprouts: people seem to either love them or hate them. In our house, we are split evenly between these two extremes.  My daughter and husband don't eat Brussels sprouts, but my son and I love them. 

Anytime my son sees Brussels sprouts at the store, he begs me to buy them. Once we are home, I prepare them simply into Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts. We devour them until every last bit is gone.

Maple Butter Brussels Sprouts
Serves 2
  1. Prepare the Brussles sprouts for cooking by removing any withered or damaged leaves. Trim off the ends if they look dried out. Then cut the Brussels sprouts into halves (or quarters if they are especially large).  Place them into a
    small pot.
  2. Add enough filtered water to cover the bottom of the pot. In my small pot, I add water until it comes up to about 1/3-inch from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Put a lid on the pot, but leave it cracked a bit for steam to escape. Cook the Brussels sprouts on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes.
  4. Take the lid off the pot and crank up the heat to high. Add the butter and a generous sprinkle of salt.
  5. Let any remaining water cook off, then caramelize the Brussels sprouts for about 5 minutes by letting them get a little color. Of course you don't want to burn them, but do let the Brussels sprouts develop some brown color. Don't walk away during this step; rather watch to see when you need to stir so the sprouts don't get burned.
  6. Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir to coat the Brussels sprouts. Sizzle for a minute or so, and then remove from heat.
  7. Spoon into bowls and enjoy!.

Do you love Brussels sprouts, or hate them?  What is your favorite way to eat them?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Our Circle Time

Circle Time was introduced as a part of our home school back in August, and it has quickly become one of my most cherished parts of our school routine. Our Circle Time combines music, poetry, and movement. It gives us a regular time to sing, giggle, and play together.

Our Circle Time Routine

My children and I have Circle Time once a week in our living room. It lasts 20-30 minutes. Our routine is as follows:

  • Light Candles - We begin by lighting candles, one for each child.  My children particularly enjoy having candles as part of our Circle Time, and I feel like the candles add an element of reverence to our time together. (Obviously, the candles need to be placed in a safe location where they will not be in the way of the Circle Time activities.)
  • Sing Hello Song - After lighting the candles, the children and I sit in a circle and sing our Hello Song. This is a song that my children remember from years ago when my daughter was taking a Kindermusik class. This particular song includes singing hello to each person present and incorporates the weather of the day.  The lyrics are:
    • We sing hello, hello, hello, it's a happy sunny day,    {change the weather to fit the day, such as "cloudy, rainy day"}
    • We sing hello, hello, hello, we sing in a special way, 
    • We sing hello to [insert name here]; Hello [name]    {this line gets repeated once for each person present} 
    • We sing hello, hello.

  • Alternate Between Poems, Movements, and Songs -  Next the children and I alternate reading poems, engaging in movement, and leading songs. 
    • Poems - I read poems from Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). My children like to hear some familiar poems, so there are a few that I read week after week (which change with the seasons). I also like to include some new poems each week, including poems that stretch their comprehension (such as those by Shakespeare) and silly poems that leave everyone giggling. One poem that my children particularly enjoy every week is Hiding by Dorothy Aldis. They hide under their playsilks while I read and then I quickly reveal them during the last line.
    • Movements - Our movements include old classics such as Ring Around the Rosie and pretending to be various animals/insects while we sing songs about such creatures.  
    • Songs - We each take turns leading the group in a song. Each of us is allowed to sing a song of our own choosing, and the leader of each song leads us on a journey through the house while we sing. We each hold onto the end of a playsilk being held by the person in front of us, and the leader has fun finding ways for us to march, dance, or stomp along with our music. My kids especially love to sing songs they've learned from our old Kindermusik CD's.
  • Blessing for the Day - Once we are done with our poems, movements, and songs, I read a blessing for the day by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
    • For this new morning with its light
    • For rest and shelter of the night
    • For health and food, for love and friends
    • For everything thy goodness sends.
    • We thank thee, dearest God. Amen.
  • Blow Out Candles - Lastly, my children blow out their candles and we move onto the rest of our day.

Tips for a Hesitant Child

While my daughter is always up for anything fun and new, my son often takes a little while to warm up to things.  In order to make our Circle Time a success, I purposely set about making it something that he could enjoy with us by doing the following:
  • Allow for planning ahead of time - One of the things that can make my son slow to engage in new activities is the fact that he tends to plan things ahead of time.  If his plans are interrupted, my son gets stressed out and may resist doing something that wasn't part of his plan. I helped my son be ready for Circle Time by mentioning that we were going to have it a day in advance, and specifically mentioned that it would be happening in the morning after chores. 
  • Inspire, not require -  While I really wanted both of my children to participate in our Circle Time, I knew that forcing my son to do so would negate any potential benefits. I had to decide ahead of time that I would be okay with whatever my son decided and would not push him into joining us.
  • Choose songs and poems that touch on the child's interests - In order to make it the most likely that my son would want to participate in our Circle Time, I made sure that the first few times we had poems and songs that he would naturally love. Because he is very interested in vehicles of all kinds, we sang The Wheels on the Bus and read poems that included transportation themes. 
  • Make Circle Time a safe place - My son does not like to be the center of attention in group activities, and this can even extend to activities within our family. I made sure that my son was not forced to sing along or lead songs during our Circle Time; eventually he chose to do those things in his own time. In this way, our Circle Time became a safe place for him to be himself without any judgements or reproaches.
  • Giving a gift - A dear friend had a great suggestion for making our Circle Time a success: gifting my children each with a beautiful playsilk during our first Circle Time. Since then, these playsilks have become an integral part of our Circle Time.
By letting my son be the one to decide when and how much he would participate in our Circle Time, it has now become something that he enjoys as much as his sister and I do. I love that Circle Time allows me to share the beauty and fun of music and poetry with my children.

How do you include music or poetry in your home? Do you have a child who is hesitant or resistant to participating in formal activities?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vanilla Ice Cream (nutrient-dense : grain-free : gluten-free)

Moving into the new year, let's not forget that ice cream is a superfood. As I was whipping up a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream last night, I realized I've never shared this recipe with my blog readers. This is the flavor of ice cream I make the most often (vanilla is my husband's favorite flavor), and I've been making it this way for years. Yummy, creamy, sweetness.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes about 5 cups of ice cream

  • 2 cups cream, preferably raw and from pastured cows
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, preferably raw and from pastured cows 
  • 1/4 cup raw mild-flavored honey
  • 1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup*
  • 2 raw** egg yolks***
  • 1 Tb organic vanilla extract (or use homemade)
  • 1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Blend for a couple minutes to thoroughly combine everything.(I'm sure you could use a hand mixer instead if you don't have a blender.)
  2. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions for your maker.  I use the Kitchen-Aid ice cream maker attachment, and it works great! If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can instead follow these instructions to make ice cream without a machine.
  3. Transfer to the fridge to freeze solid for several hours. Enjoy!
  4. For a special treat, top this vanilla ice cream with homemade hot fudge sauce.
*Combining maple syrup and honey together somehow results in a more neutral flavor than using either sweetener alone; the maple syrup and honey flavors seem to cancel each other out.  It also tastes great with all honey, which makes it more GAPS-friendly.
**Any time you'll be consuming raw eggs, make sure you trust your egg supplier. My egg supplier is my 7-year-old daughter, and I know her hens are healthy so I'm not concerned about the safety of her raw eggs. To err on the side of caution, you can make sure to wash the eggs before you crack them as that would reduce the risk of salmonella.
***The leftover egg whites could be used to make some lime and coconut macaroons!

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

What's Working and What's New? Our Home School Mid-Year Review

I plan the bulk of our home schooling curriculum once a year in June/July, but each December/January it is time for our mid-year review.   The intent of our mid-year review is to look at the following with regards to our home school:
  • What has been working well?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What needs to be removed from our curriculum?
  • Is there anything new to focus on? 
  • What specific needs does each child have over the next few months?

 

Pen and Paper

I start the process of our mid-year review by writing out the answers to the above questions.  I think back on the previous semester with an open mind to identify things that need to be changed. Sometimes there may be a particular book or curriculum resource that I was very excited about, but that my children don't engage well with.  I may find that there are some subjects that we never even got off the ground with, and I need to decide whether I will re-commit to working on those or let them drop off the to-do list.

I think about each child and what needs I can identify. Perhaps they are struggling with a certain activity, chore, or skill; perhaps they need extra support in some specific area. I think about each child's current interests and ways that I can direct our schooling to make the most of those interests.

Mentoring Conversations

Once I have written down my own thoughts, the next step is to have a conversation with each of my children to discuss their goals and desires, needs and wants. I write it all down, and this shows the children that their input is valued and important. I give plenty of time for the children to think about what they want to accomplish and what they need.  While I may make gentle suggestions during this process, the children are ultimately allowed to decide whether or not they want to focus on anything in particular.

During the first couple years I was homeschooling, I didn't involve the children in the planning or mid-year review process. One of the many things I've learned while implementing the Leadership Education model in our home school has been the importance of giving my children ownership of their own educations. In the end, the goal of their education is not to cram information into their brains so they can pass a test. Rather, the goal of their education is to prepare them for their own life missions, to allow them to pursue their own passions and lead fulfilling lives.

To this end, rather than me acting as the teacher with my children as the students, I am acting as a mentor who supports my children in pursuing their own interests and fulfilling their own goals. My children are ultimately responsible for their own educations, and this means that their own interests are just as important as my own agenda for their learning. Mentoring conversations are a time for me to get a better understanding of what I can do to help my children in reaching their goals and pursuing their own interests.   

Bringing It All Together

After I've had mentoring conversations with my children, I am able to put together a plan for any changes that will happen during the coming semester. The whole process of our mid-year review takes only 1-2 hours. This is time well spent since it allows us to move into the next semester with purpose and a fresh perspective. 

Results From Our Recent Mid-Year Review

Things That Are Working Especially Well
When I thought back through the curriculum for the last semester, three things really stood out to me:
  • Circle Time  - Our once-a-week Circle Time has become a very special part of our schooling.  It gives the children and myself a chance to connect through poetry, singing, and movement. (Let me know if any of you are interested in more details about what our Circle Time actually looks like.)  
  • Chores - Children working alongside parents is an important part of Leadership Education in our home.  In the last semester, I focused even more on chores (and implementing Teaching Self-Government techniques), and the results have been beyond my hopes. My children are doing more and more chores, and as they have settled into this, I have found that they get much enjoyment in being able to contribute to the household in a concrete way.  My children are becoming more and more helpful over time, spontaneously offering to help and (most of the time) helping in a cheerful way. 
  • Little Britches Series - My husband has been reading aloud the Little Britches series in the evenings, and these books are absolutely fantastic. These autobiographical books tell the story of an early 20th century family from the perspective of Ralph Moody, who was a real firecracker of a boy. Through the backdrop of these books, we are having many meaningful conversations with our children about family, work, money, love, and responsibility.

Changes to Our Existing Curriculum
I've identified two areas of our curriculum that need to be changed:
  • Chemistry - We are loosely focusing on Chemistry for our science studies this year (in addition to Nature Study, which is an always-present part of our science curriculum). Although I have tried two different Chemistry read-alouds, neither of them seems to be sparking much interest in my children.  However, my children have been greatly enjoying chemistry-related science experiments from Adventures with Atoms and Molecules as well as More Mudpies to Magnets. Since my children are still rather young, it is more important that they find chemistry to be interesting than that they learn lots of facts about elements and molecules. For the coming semester, I will ditch the Chemistry texts and focus only on the experiments. 
  • Spanish - While I had intended to make Spanish a regular part of our homeschooling this year, it has just not happened. I've decided that, with so many other things to focus on, I am going to let Spanish fall off the curriculum list for the remainder of this year.

New Curriculum for the Coming Semester
I have found one new resource that I will be adding to our curriculum:
  • Art and Music Appreciation - One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason's approach is the focus on exposing children to the beautiful things in life, such as music, art, and poetry.  Up until now, though, I have never found a simple way to include these into our regular schooling routine. I recently found a fantastic resource that provides a weekly dose of beautiful art and classical music at the blog All Things Bright and Beautiful. With this resource, each week my children and I will be observing one new painting and listening to one new piece of classical music.

Surprises from Mentoring Conversations
Both of my children had some good insights and surprises for me during our mentoring conversations. 
  • 7&1/2 year old daughter Alina
    • In addition to pursuing the interests I already knew of (fairies, unicorns, horses, dinosaurs), Alina set a goal for herself to learn more independent cooking skills. I had not realized this was something she wanted to learn right now.
    • I suggested that Alina might want to work on correct capitalization and lower-case usage in her handwriting.  She decided not to work on this because she doesn't particularly enjoy writing now and thinks that practicing this skill would make her enjoy it even less.
    • Alina wants to have pet roly-polies to take care of. She agreed to share the ownership and care of these critters with her brother (who has a love for all insects).
    • Alina wants to have a garden of her own.  We moved to this house a year ago, but have not yet had a good place to use for gardening because there are so many rabbits here. Building a rabbit-proof garden enclosure is on my list of tasks for the coming semester.
  • Nearly-5-year-old son Ian
    • In addition to learning more about his obvious interests (cars, trains, trucks, construction equipment), Ian wants to learn more specifically about how things are made and assembled. He identified specifically wanting to know how our space heater, doors, and steering wheels are made.
    • Ian asked to start reading lessons about 6 months ago, but in the last couple months he has been less interested in doing these. During our mentoring conversation, Ian commented that he wants to do reading lessons more often now because he has noticed that he will "say the wrong word" if he hasn't been practicing regularly.  I thought it was interesting that he has realized that regular practice is needed to keep building on his reading skills.
    • Ian seemed very excited that I was writing down the things he wants to learn about. He started to get more and more enthusiastic during our conversation, and started naming all sorts of things he wants to know about: clouds, stars, plants and how they are planted, gigantosaurus, asphalt pavers, semi-truck fronts and trailers, airplanes... the list went on and on. It was great to end on a high note, with his enthusiasm being well-kindled.

Not Just for Home Schoolers

Mid-year reviews are not just for home schoolers. Any parents who are fostering a love of learning could benefit from periodic planning and mentoring sessions. These are wonderful tools for focusing our efforts on the things that our children need and desire in order to find their own personal missions.  

Do you have a mid-year educational review? Do you like the idea of being a mentor to children rather than a teacher?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gingerbread Custard Cake (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)


Creamy and spicy: Gingerbread Custard Cake is a great complement to the holiday season. I developed this recipe with my husband in mind;  he loves gingerbread and likes to eat Custard Cake for breakfast most mornings.  For an extra special treat, this custard cake can be topped with sweetened whipped cream.

This will be my last post until 2015. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you all!

Gingerbread Custard Cake
Serves 8
  1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Turn off heat and allow to cool a bit.
  2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, sucanat, sour cream, molasses, vanilla, almond extract, spices, orange zest, and salt.  I like to use my immersion blender to mix it all up together, but you could certainly use a whisk or mixer instead.
  3. Add melted butter to wet ingredients and whisk or blend.
  4. Add coconut flour* and blend until well-combined (or use a mixer or whisk until smooth).
  5. Add the applesauce, and whisk well to combine.  I prefer to use a whisk for this step so the applesauce still remains a tiny bit chunky.
  6. Use a bit of cold butter to generously grease an 8X8 glass dish.
  7. Pour the batter into the glass dish and bake at 325° for 70-80 minutes. The custard cake is done when the edges are lightly browned and the center is no longer wet with just a bit of jiggle.
  8. Remove from oven and cool.  Don't cut into this while it is piping hot. This can be served at room temperature or cold. For a special treat, top with a bit of sweetened whipped cream (recipe follows). 
*The coconut flour will need to be sifted if you are not using an immersion blender.   

Sweetened Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups cream, preferably raw
  • pinch of fine ground celtic sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract
  • 2-4 Tb raw mild-flavored honey, to taste**
  1. Beat the cream and salt together until the mixture starts to get thick and fluffy.  I like to use my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer with the wire whip attachment, but you could also use a hand mixer.
  2. Add the vanilla extract, and drizzle in the honey while the mixer is running.  Alternatively, you could drizzle in the honey a little at a time and mix between each honey addition. 
  3. If you're using a stand mixer, use a silicone spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to make sure you don't have any clumps of honey at the bottom.  I like to beat it until it gets a bit stiff since it will tend to soften up a bit in the fridge over the next few days.
  4. Store the whipped cream in the fridge in an airtight bowl.
**If your raw honey is very crystallized, place it over a bowl of warm water to make it a bit runny.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

How and Why I Limit Technology in Our Home and Homeschool

Computers, internet, iPads, TV's, video games, smart phones: in this digital age, we are immersed in technology. Over time, my family has evolved from watching TV every night and playing frequent video games as a young married couple to now making seldom use of these devices in our family hours.

 

Why I Limit Technology

  • Zombie Effect: My husband and I learned early on that watching TV could turn our toddler daughter into a zombie who became utterly zoned out and would not even answer if spoken to. I confess that I did use this to my advantage sometimes; on nights when I wasn't able to give as much attention as she needed, I would let my daughter watch TV (usually Signing Time or Curious Buddies) while I made dinner.
  • Tantrums: My son did not experience the Zombie Effect, but instead, whenever he was not allowed to watch TV or use the iPad, he would start screaming and throw a fit (and of course we did not give in to this behavior, but it persisted nonetheless).
  • Addiction: “Can I play on the iPad?” “Can I watch a video?” “When can I...?” Even though they were never allowed to use technology to any large degree, my children were still easily pulled into the addiction cycle of wanting to do it more and more. I, myself, have also struggled with feeling compelled to use the internet, e-mail, and Facebook far more than I know is good for myself and my family. 
  • Better Things To Do: To me, with the exception of work, use of technology is by-and-large a waste of time. (My husband would disagree with this sentiment.) There are so many more enriching activities that I and my children could do than sit in front of a screen (even if it is "educational"). Playing outside, reading a good book, building a fort in the living room: these are the things I want my children to remember about their childhoods.
  • Lack of Boredom: Often, technology is used to rid us of boredom, but I think boredom is actually a good thing. Boredom is what leads my children to find new ways to play, to use their creativity, to pick up a new book to read. Boredom leads to innovation.

Our Technology Uses and Limitations


Every family must decide what works best individually, and I am not professing to know the “right” way to balance use of technology. But I do know what is working well for us right now with a 7-&1/2-year-old daughter and nearly 5-year old son. My husband looks at me like I have a 3rd eye when I say that, if it was up to me, we would get rid of our TV and any video game devices altogether.

  • NO:
    • No TV, iPad, or video games when Dad is not home - This rule alone ensures that for nearly 50 hours a week, I am not hearing anyone ask to use a screen.
    • No smart phone for myself - I think a smart phone would be like a black hole for me that I would get sucked into and have a hard time getting out of.
    • No computer/internet usage for myself on Saturdays - This allows me to unplug for one day each week.
    • No Facebook for myself most of the time - I find Facebook to be particularly addicting, so I limit my usage of it. Over time, I tend to use it more and more (especially the TJED Facebook Group), so periodically I will refrain altogether for at least a month to break the addiction cycle.
  • YES:
    • Pandora radio or music CD's - We all enjoy listening to music and I don't restrict its usage.
    • Family movie night - On Saturday nights, we watch one movie together as a family.  We all take turns choosing the movie each week.
    • Video/computer games for children once a week for 30 minutes - My children usually play their video games after Dad comes home from work on Friday. This includes "educational" apps and games (such as Starfall), drawing/painting on the computer, and mindless games such as Mario Kart. Any whining or complaining about video games results in a suspension of this privilege.
    • Audio books during Daily Quiet Time - Both of my children may listen to audio books of  classic literature (such as At the Back of the North Wind and My Father's Dragon), which I have downloaded for free from Librivox. I love that my children typically engage in other activities such as drawing or coloring while they listen.
    • Occasional computer usage for school - We occasionally use the computer for school-related tasks. For instance, if my daughter wants to type a story, she may. And we use it for entering our bird-watching stats on ebird.org or feederwatch.org (through which my daughter is learning to make scientific observations).
    • Dad's gaming - Since most of my husband's friends do not live nearby, for a few hours a week he meets up with them for online gaming.
    • Mom's work - Obviously I also use the computer for work (blogging, writing articles for Real Food and Health Magazine, and working on homeopathic cases).
    • E-mail and general internet usage - Both my husband and I also use the computer for checking e-mail and various internet tasks (such as paying bills, shopping, etc.)  This is done in a mindful way so that it is minimally interruptive of our family life.

Putting It Into Practice and Reaping the Benefits of Limited Technology

I have observed significant benefits over the years as our use of technology has diminished more and
more.

Self-Sufficiency
When I first started working as a homeopath from home (which is mostly accomplished by phone since many of my patients live far from here), I was very tempted to use the TV as an electronic babysitter. I worried what my children would do while I was working, whether they would disrupt me, how they would deal with being unsupervised. I resisted using the TV because I knew that, once I did, I would have a very hard time stopping the cycle of watch-TV-while-mom-is-working.

Fortunately, I read Peter Gray's inspiring book, Free to Learn, and that gave me the confidence to let my children learn how to be on their own while I worked without using technology as a babysitter. The results have been fantastic: my children have learned how to play on their own and take care of themselves while I work. Yes, there have been a few hiccups in the process, and yes, I do remind the children before any long appointments that they are expected to play nicely, share well, and separate from each other if there are any issues. But now my children don't just take care of themselves while I work, they are thriving in being able to do so.  They come up with elaborate games to play, they have tea parties, they read books together. They have learned self-sufficiency!

Better Behavior
Less usage of technology in our home has led to better behavior over time. There are no more tantrums or whining about watching videos or playing video games. (Constitutional homeopathic treatment deserves a large amount of the credit as well, since it has made my children much more stable emotionally.) Part of what has worked for us is a zero-tolerance policy regarding bad behavior related to technology.  For instance, whining about not being able to play video games as long as a child wants to leads to not being allowed to play video games at all for a period. I have also intentionally educated my children about why we are limiting videos and screen-time in general, so that they can make wise choices in the future.


Spending More Time Together, Fully Engaged
Limiting my own use of technology allows me to spend more quality time with my children instead of giving them the half-attention they receive when I am on the computer. Without relying on technology to entertain us, my family is able to spend more quality time together. We read and discuss books together, play games together, work together in the house and yard.  These shared times allow us to grow as a family, and to increase the strength of our relationships.

Less Need for Entertainment
The less technology we use, the less we want to use.  Initially there was some resistance to changing our use of technology; yet over time I have seen that our desire for electronic entertainment has diminished.  Because we so infrequently consume videos and video games, my children just play and learn without even asking to use those devices. Certainly, they enjoy our once-a-week movie night and video game time, but outside of those times the children just know how to be, how to play, how to explore naturally.  They don't need electronic entertainment because they know how to entertain themselves in ways that involve creativity and learning. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

I'm sure that, over time, we will continue to refine the use of technology on our home.  What is working now may not work as well in five years. But for now, we are content with the boundaries and allowances that we've put into place.

Do you have any limitations on technology in your home? What is working for you and your family?


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas

As the holidays approach, I thought I'd share some my favorite gift ideas. Please share your own favorite gift ideas in the comments section.

Toys That Fuel Imagination and Active Play

  • Play Silks: Super soft, lightweight, and beautiful. My kids love using their playsilks as capes, blankets for stuffed animals, parachutes, ropes, and much more.
  • Active Play: The Mini Micro Scooter is absolutely fantastic; it has 3 wheels (so it can be used by children as young as 3 years old) and uses the natural tendency of leaning to turn. When my children were younger, they learned how to balance on a bike by using the Kazam Balance Bike. It has no pedals; rather the child is able to walk and eventually run while learning to balance. 
  • Marble Run: My children have gotten much use out of their Marble Run. They love to rearrange the parts to create new ways for the marbles to reach the bottom.
  • Pelikan Watercolor Paints: These paints have gotten our whole family painting.  They are not washable, but they are really vibrant compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past.

Skin and Body Care

  • Homemade Hard Lotion and Lip Balm: Hard lotion bars are made from coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax. These are a favorite for many of my friends and family.  Hard lotion works wonderfully as an all-purpose moisturizer as well as for extra-dry spots such as winter-time feet. It can even be used as a hairstyling product!
  • Homemade Whipped Body Butter: Body butter is an all-purpose moisturizer that is lighter than hard lotion and applies very smoothly and easily.  One good way I have found to store it is in a deodorant-type container; that allows for it to be easily smeared on legs, arms, or anywhere else. Whipped body butter would also make a great belly moisturizer for any expectant mothers. 
  • Coconut and Papaya Bar Soap: This luxurious soap has a wonderful, light scent, a smooth, foamy lather, and it doesn't dry out the skin.   
  • Herbal Healing Salve: This salve combines healing herbs such as calendula with coconut oil, beeswax, and essential oils. Healing salve works great for cuts, scrapes, bites, bruises and more. A good salve is an essential item for parents and homesteaders.

Natural Candles

  • Homemade Tallow Container Candles: Tallow candles are made using rendered beef tallow as candle wax. Tallow was traditionally used to make candles hundreds of years ago, and makes for pretty white candles.
  • Homemade Beeswax and Coconut Oil Candles: These candles impart a light, sweet smell to the air. This tutorial shows how to make them. (I used unrefined coconut oil instead of palm oil).

Nature-Inspired Gifts

  • Sock Bird Feeders: Our sock bird feeders bring us so much joy and wonder. They attract the cutest little birds.  We love to hang ours close by kitchen windows where we can watch the birds as we share meals or wash dishes.
  • Wooden Ornaments: My blogger friend Taryn and her husband Jeff make a wide assortment of wool and wooden objects, including beautiful Christmas ornaments.  I am astounded by the beauty that Jeff can create in these handmade ornaments.  
  • Celestron 44202 Microscope: A microscope is a fantastic way to see so much of the detail that goes into every natural object. We love using our Celestron microscope to take a closer look at insects, plants, rocks, and anything else we think of.  
  • Live Butterfly Garden: A live butterfly garden can bring such delight and wonder to children (and adults too).  This is a kit that comes with everything needed to raise caterpillars into butterflies. We re-use ours every year when we find caterpillars in our yard, whom we supply with ample food while we watch them grow and metamorphosize, eventually releasing them back out into our yard.

Do you make any homemade gifts? Which are your favorites?

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins (nutrient-dense)

A friend recently offered me a pumpkin muffin and I was surprised to find chocolate chips inside. I'd never had pumpkin with chocolate before, and I was enamored of this new flavor combination.  I was inspired to make my own version of Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins; these muffins are super tasty and will now be a regular part of our Fall breakfasts.

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins
  1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  (I prefer If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins do not stick to the sides of the cups.)
  2. Combine the einkorn, coconut flour, ground nuts, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves in a medium bowl. Whisk it all together to break up any lumps.  
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Combine the butter and sucanat in a large bowl (a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer works great for this recipe). Cream together for a couple minutes until the mixture turns slightly lighter in color.
  5. Mix in the molasses until well-combined. 
  6. Combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
  7. Mix the eggs one-at-a-time into the butter/sucanat mixture.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well. (It is okay if the mixture looks a bit curdled during this step.)
  8. Mix in the pumpkin puree.
  9. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time.  Because the Einkorn flour does contain gluten, make sure not to overmix or the muffins will be tough. 
  10. Stir or mix in the chocolate chips.
  11. Use a 3-Tb scoop or large spoon to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
  12. Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for 27-32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our Daily and Weekly Homeschooling Routines

One of the questions I am asked frequently about our homeschooling is what our daily and weekly schedule looks like.  When I first started homeschooling over 3 years ago, our schedule was very regimented. Over time, our schedule has become more relaxed and flexible; this is commonly the case with many homeschoolers who figure out that recreating a "school" atmosphere at home can actually have many disadvantages.  Here is a peek inside our routine.

Weekly Routine

Because I am balancing homeschooling with being a homeopathic practitioner, no two weeks are precisely the same. However, I do have a loose weekly schedule that I aim for.


Many will see this schedule and immediately wonder: "Is that it? What about math and writing?"  Our weekly schedule is a sort of bare-minimum. In reality, a substantial portion of our learning and school activities happen spontaneously throughout the week. For instance, there are often little math lessons when my children want to count up their money to buy something at the store. Writing happens as we make lists of things to buy, create cards and letters, journal in our nature notebooks, and play games.

I have learned through experience that the unplanned lessons which my children learn as we go about our lives are often the most valuable. By being flexible, I can capitalize on the many opportunities for learning that naturally arise. Sometimes I even ignore the plan altogether and use a whole week to delve deeper into something that has captured my children's excitement. These unplanned lessons are fueled by passion, and that makes them seem to stick in my children's brains much more than worksheets ever could.

Daily Routine

Our daily routine varies considerably depending on my homeopathic appointment schedule and whether or not we stay at home all day. A typical weekday at home looks like this:
  • 6:30-7:15AM
    • I typically wake before the children, so I grab a quick snack and head to the computer to work on e-mail, blogging, articles, or homeopathic case study.
  • 7:15-7:45AM
  • 7:45-8AM
    • Family work: The children and I clean the kitchen, start laundry, make beds, etc.
  • 8-8:45AM
  • 8:45-10AM
  • 10-11:30AM
    • Children have free play while I work on homeopathic cases, blogging, or household tasks.
  • 11:30AM-12:30PM
    •  Lunch and clean-up.
  • 12:30-2:30PM
    • More free play while I work on homeopathic cases or blogging. 
    • Frequently, this time also includes more reading aloud or playing a game together.  
    • Snacks.
  • 2:30-4PM
    • Quiet Time: 
      • Children go to separate rooms where they play quietly, listen to audio books, work on projects, color, etc. These days my children will often spend about 30-45 minutes on their own and then collaborate quietly on workbooks, legos or cuisenaire rod projects.
      • I take a 10-15 minute power nap, then study homeopathic texts, homesteading-related books, or 7 Keys Certification materials.
  •  4-5PM
    • Chores and cleaning:
      • My daughter does her chicken chores (feeding, watering, egg collecting, etc).
      • Both kids finish and clean up any Quiet Time activities.
      • I work on laundry, cleaning, or short homeopathic phone appts.
  • 5-6PM
    •  Dinner prep and/or free play
  • 6-7PM
    • Dinner and cleanup
  • 7-8:30PM
    • Free time for all, including playing, discussing, reading, creating, etc.
  • 8:30-9PM
    • Prepare for bed and family read aloud. 

Do you have a weekly or daily routine? How does it vary with the seasons?

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Slow Cooker Chicken and Mushroom Soup (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

    Years ago when I first started using a slow cooker, I was repeatedly disappointed by overcooked, dry chicken. It took me awhile to figure out that, unlike beef roasts which benefit from slow cooking over a long period of time, chicken is best if slow-cooked for only a few hours.

    One of my favorite chicken recipes is chicken and mushroom soup.  The earthy flavor of mushrooms contrasts nicely with the light flavor of chicken. The herbs and vermouth give this soup outstanding flavor. 

    Slow-Cooker Chicken and Mushroom Soup
    Serves 5-7
    • 1 large white onion, diced
    • 1/2 cup vermouth (or dry white wine)*
    • 2 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
    • 3 to 3&1/2 pound whole chicken
    • 1 lb of brown mushrooms, sliced
    • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 tsp of dried thyme
    • 1.5 tsp dried parsley
    • 1 Tb celtic sea salt (or less if your broth is salted)
    • freshly ground pepper
    • 2 T white rice flour or arrowroot
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1/4 cup filtered water
    1. About 8-10 hours before dinner, add the onion, vermouth, broth, and a sprinkle of salt to the slow cooker. Cook on HIGH.
    2. Six hours before dinner, it is time to add the chicken and mushrooms.  Start by washing the chicken well inside and out with plenty of water. Add the chicken to the slow cooker. Sprinkle the mushrooms around the chicken.
    3. Sprinkle the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, one Tb of salt, and pepper (to taste) over the chicken and mushrooms. (My broth is unsalted; use less salt if your broth is salted.) Don't worry that there is too little liquid in the pot; the chicken and mushrooms will release a lot of moisture as they cook.
    4. Cook on LOW for about 5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 170 degrees. If you cook the chicken too long, it will be dry and overdone.
    5. About one hour before dinner, pull the chicken out of the slow cooker and place it in a large bowl. Allow to cool enough that you can handle the chicken without burning yourself. 
    6. Use a fork or your fingers to pull the meat and skin off the chicken. Set the bones and any chewy bits/tendons aside; if desired they can be used to start a pot of broth cooking after dinner. Chop the chicken and skin into bite-sized pieces. 
    7. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of filtered water, and arrowroot or rice flour. Whisk this into the soup broth 30-45 minutes before dinner.
    8. Stir the chicken meat/skin back into the pot about 20 minutes before dinner. Reduce the heat to WARM. 
    9. Taste test the broth and adjust the salt as needed. Ladle into bowls and serve! This soup pairs nicely with Cheesy Bread and a side salad. 

    *I love to use vermouth, as it doesn't go bad like unused wine. Vermouth is shelf stable, can be used in place of dry white wine in cooking, and can be stored at room temperature indefinitely.

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