Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Our Homeschool Curriculum for 2014-2015 (with a 3rd grader and a preschooler)

This post is the second in my Back-To-School Series for 2014-2015. If you didn't yet enter for a chance to win a bottle of Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil, there is still time to enter the giveaway.

Leadership Education is our overall homeschooling philosophy.  Since my kids are 4 and 7, they are still in the Core Phase of development, where I am not pushing them academically. That does not mean that we don't do any academics, just that I don't force or pressure anyone to do academics. In keeping with the lessons of Core Phase, I do make it a priority for my kids to learn how to be helpful, responsible members of our household through chores and working alongside me.


Common Subjects for Both Kids

Although my kids are three years apart, a significant portion of our homeschool lessons are for both of them. This is one way in which homeschooling often differs from conventional schools which are separated by grade and age. In our homeschool, to a large degree everyone is learning about the same things, though certainly my daughter often digs into things more deeply than her younger brother does.    
Responsibility, Integrity, Good and Bad, Right and Wrong
  • Both of my children are learning the most important lessons of Core Phase (good/bad, right/wrong, responsibility, etc) through working alongside me and through doing chores.  In our home, I need to have a routine and very clear expectations in place in order to facilitate my children's completion of their chores.
  • Both of my children are expected to:
    • put away their own clean clothes when I do laundry,
    • put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket,
    • take their dirty dishes to the sink after each meal, and
    • clean up their toys and the messes they make.
  • In addition, my 4-year-old son is expected to: 
    • wash lunch dishes once a week (which are then loaded into the dishwasher by myself), and
    • work alongside me on Once-A-Month Cleaning Day.
  • In addition, my 7-year-old daughter is expected to:
    • wash breakfast dishes twice a week (which are then loaded into the dishwasher by myself),
    • feed and water the chickens daily,
    • collect and label eggs daily, and
Family Read-Alouds of Books Which Teach Character and Beauty
  • Daily, I read to my children from a classic book. This reading time has become an integral part of our day, a time for us to connect while we read and discuss the valuable life lessons that are illustrated in the books we read. 
  • My children and I also participate in a monthly Classic Book Discussion Group with some friends who are also implementing the Leadership Education philosophy. In this group, the parents read the books aloud to their own children, and then we all get together to discuss the books.
  • I am not using a traditional math curriculum for my children. Rather, they are learning math in the context of everyday life, through games, and through Life of Fred.
  • Everyday math includes learning math through activities such as:
    • baking, which teaches measuring and fractions,
    • grocery shopping, including price comparisons and weighing of items,
    • setting the table for dinner with the right number of napkins and utensils, and
    • earning money for pulling weeds, then counting their money and saving to buy specific items.
  • Life of Fred is a series of math books that my kids LOVE. These books tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university. The chapters are nice and short, and the end of each chapter gives a chance for us to practice math from the chapter (which we usually do on a lap-size dry erase board). In addition to teaching math, Life of Fred also teaches much more. For instance, we learned about the Orion Nebulae in Life of Fred: Butterflies. Our new Life of Fred books for this school year are Edgewood and Farming.
  • Math games are a wonderful way to learn math while having fun. Since my son isn't advanced enough to play many of these games yet, I modify some of the rules for him. Currently, our favorite math games are: 
    • Sum Swamp - teaches addition, subtraction, odd and even
    • Yahtzee  - teaches addition, number recognition, and writing
    • Monopoly - teaches larger numbers and the concepts of buying/selling. Since it can be such a long game, I typically limit the game to one hour long and we each start the game with two properties. 
    • Milles Borne - teaches addition of larger numbers and an understanding of which numbers are greater
History and Science 
  • Because I like to have some overarching themes of what we will focus on from year to year, I am using a 4-year cycle for History and Science (which I read about in The Well-Trained Mind). The cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time. Although my son is still in preschool, he chooses to join my daughter for most of these studies.
  • History
    • For 3rd grade history, we are using the audio book of Story of the World Volume 3: Early Modern Times as our history backbone. I love using the audio version of these books since they allow us to listen to the history lessons while driving around town on errands.
  • Science
    • Nature study is an integral part of our science studies. It can be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks, looking at the flora and fauna in our own yard and desert landscape. Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter. 
Circle Time
  • One new thing for this year's homeschool is weekly circle time. This is quickly turning into a special time in our home, when we sing songs, read poetry, and act silly together.  
Arts and Crafts
  • Although art is the subject I am most likely to forget about, I try to make sure that at least once a week my kids have the opportunity to do arts and crafts. Sometimes, art is as simple as freeform painting, and other times we do full-blown craft projects. 
  • For this school year, my kids were given a large tub of Modeling Magic so they may make sculptures and various creations. They have been loving the vibrant colors of Pelikan Watercolors (which are not washable, but they are really fantastic compared to the Crayola watercolors we've used in the past). My daughter also likes learning to draw on her own using Draw Write Now.
Free Play



Preschool Curriculum for 4&1/2-year-old son

Preschool for my son looks quite different than it did for my daughter.  My daughter is very eager to please and malleable, so I was able to push her academically from a young age.  I didn't figure out how much of a mistake this was until we were a couple years into homeschooling, when we both ended up stressed out and burned out. It is a very good thing that I figured all of this out before it was time to start homeschooling my son.

My son is very independent and determined, yet he is also sensitive.  When he has decided (or decided not) to pursue a course of action, trying to change his mind is like trying to move a mountain. Pushing my son academically would have been a complete disaster!  One of the beauties of homeschooling is that I am able to tailor my approach to the very different needs of my two children. In addition to the Common Subjects listed above, I also focus on the following with my 4-year-old son.
    • I encourage a love of reading in my son with by:
      • reading picture books aloud to my son daily,
      • reading my own books daily, so he can see that reading is something that everyone enjoys,
      • reading aloud quality chapter books to both my daughter and son daily, and
      • allowing my son to select library books about his own interests (usually vehicles of all kinds, especially cars and diggers, insects, and animals).

    • When he chooses to do so, we have formal reading lessons. This typically happens about twice a week. Currently, we are using the following early reading resources:
    Fine Motor Skills
    • About once or twice a week, my son chooses to do some work on paper. This builds his fine motor skills, which will be necessary once he starts writing. I primarily use Kumon workbooks for teaching fine motor skills. I've used Kumon workbooks for both of my kids, starting when they were two years old. Both of my kids have loved using these books.
    • Kumon books are great because they use a very gradual progression to teach basic coloring, pencil skills, cutting, and gluing. I love the Kumon workbooks for preschool work; I don't like them at all once they get into grade-school type work as they are too repetitive and suck the fun right out of school.
    • My son's workbooks for this year are:

    3rd Grade Curriculum for 7&1/2-year-old daughter

    It's been 16 months since I started implementing Leadership Education into our homeschooling.  In that time, my daughter's attitude about school has changed dramatically. She used to dread math work in particular, and was starting to exhibit a general dislike of school. Now, she loves school and loves to learn. In addition to the Common Subjects described above, I also focus on the following with my 7-year-old daughter:
    Transitioning into Love of Learning Phase
    • My daughter is transitioning into the next phase of development, called Love of Learning, so she is becoming increasingly interested in learning about a very wide variety of subjects.  
    • According to Leadership Education: the Phases of Learning, "Love of Learning Phase naturally follows the establishment of a solid core. During the Love of Learning Phase, the student falls deeply in love with learning, studying, knowing and learning even more... each young person has the opportunity to freely fall in love with the joys of learning and to experience first-hand how wonderful learning can be. These are the years when children dabble with learning, getting to know 'what's out there.' If they have come from the Core Phase in good order they are usually fearless, feel almost everything will be interesting and believe they will be able to do whatever they set their minds to."
    • Because she can read very well on her own far ahead of her grade-level, exposing my daughter to new ideas can be as simple as checking out a variety of books from the library. My daughter loves reading, and she typically chooses to read for a minimum of 1-2 hours each day. To meet her needs as she moves into the Love of Learning Phase, I make sure she has plenty of new things to read, and then watch to see which subjects she becomes particularly enamored with so that I can encourage her in those interests.
      • My daughter is not required to do any writing; nonetheless she chooses to write about twice a week. I encourage my daughter to write by in the following ways.
        • I make sure that my daughter sees me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. This makes a huge difference in the amount of writing my kids choose to do themselves.
        • I provide many writing options, such as writing in a Nature Notebook, writing letters to friends/family, and writing poems.
        • We play writing games, such as:
          • Hang-Man - One of us comes up with a word or phrase, and the other person has to guess the right letters to solve the puzzle before the man gets hanged.
          • Writing Conversation - We pretend we cannot hear, so that we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter uses a chart of words that help her if she gets stuck on spelling out what she wants to write.
      • In addition to the math resources described above, my daughter also has a couple of math workbooks for this year. I do not require her to do any work in these books; she is free to use them when she wants to. She chooses to do math work on paper an average of once a week. She sometimes goes several weeks without doing any, but then she will have a random week where she does math work every day. The math workbooks my daughter chooses to use the most often are:
      Bird Watching
      • Recently, my daughter has become very enthusiastic about bird watching and reporting her observations on Although this was not part of my original "plan" for the school year, I am encouraging my daughter to pursue this interest as far as she wants to take it, even if it displaces some of the other things I had planned. In the Leadership Education model, the child's own interests take a high priority in schooling, and the parents must be willing to lead the way by increasing their own education if necessary to effectively mentor their children.
      Egg Business

      • Nearly a year ago, my daughter decided to start an egg business to earn money.  Starting a business can take awhile, especially if you are only 6 years old!  My daughter tends to have many, many new ideas, but she isn't always so good on following through with them. So I wanted to make sure she was really serious about this before she got into the egg business. 
      • In the last year, my daughter has:
        • saved up money to buy chicks, 
        • proved to me that she could be responsible for taking care of the chickens by being responsible for our two laying hens, 
        • called the local feed stores to determine which breeds of chicken were available locally, and
        • purchased her seven chicks.
      • My husband and I agreed to invest in our daughter's business by providing housing and whole-grain food for the chicks. Now our daughter has been tending to her babies for a few months, and in about 6 weeks, she will start having eggs to sell. This is a fantastic homeschooling opportunity that is teaching my daughter about business, finances, and marketing. 
      That's our plan for the year.  In a following post, I'll describe our weekly and daily homeschooling routine.

      What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?

      Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Sunday, August 17, 2014

      GIVEAWAY: Two Bottles of Extra Virgin, Raw Cod Liver Oil

      I'm giving away two bottles of Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil!  

      Cod liver oil is a true superfood: this nutritional powerhouse provides Vitamins A and D, plus Omega 3's, DHA, and EPA.  Weston A. Price's studies showed that the diets of traditional people contained ten times the amounts of Vitamin A and D present in modern diets, and this higher nutrient-content was likely the reason that the people had robust health with virtually no cavities, heart disease, or cancer.

      You probably already know that my family stopped taking fermented cod liver oil a couple years ago because it was giving us digestive issues. These digestive issues had something to do with the process of fermentation, which produced an oil that not only smelled bad and tasted bad, but obviously gave my family problems.

      This new Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil (EVCLO) is made differently than the oh-so-popular fermented CLO. According to the EVCLO website, "Rosita EVCLO is real Norwegian cod liver oil that is fresh, raw & handcrafted from wild livers using a very rare ancient extraction technique which uses nature to separate the oil from its liver. No chemicals, solvents and mechanical devices are ever used during the extraction process. The oil is completely unrefined and produced under the total absence of heat, a process that protects its nutritional value."

      EVCLO isn't for-sale on their website yet, but it is planned to be released for sale in the next few weeks. In the meantime, though, I have two bottles to give away to some lucky blog readers.

      Because of shipping costs, this giveaway is only open to people who live in the continental United States.  There are three ways to enter this giveaway:
      • Leave a comment below including your location and your first and last name. Entries that do not include this information will be excluded from the drawing.*
      • Pin this giveaway on Pinterest and then leave another comment to let me know that you have done so. 
      • Share this giveaway on Facebook, and then leave another comment to let me know that you have done so.  
      This giveaway will be closed to more entries on Saturday August 23rd. I will randomly select 2 winners on Sunday, August 24th. 

      *In one of my previous giveaways, multiple people claimed the same entry.  To prevent that from happening again, I am requiring people to include both their first and last name, as well as their location.

       Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Sunday, August 10, 2014

      Leadership Education in Our Homeschool, and Our Top 10 Read-Aloud Chapter Books

      This post is the first in my Back-To-School series. For those of you that don't homeschool, hang in there: I have a very exciting giveaway coming up (HINT: the type of CLO so many of you have been asking me about).
      The coming school year will be our second year since I started implementing Leadership Education (also known as Thomas Jefferson Education) in our home. The changes in our home since we started using this philosophy are myriad:
      • I have stopped pushing my kids academically
      • My children are learning to be helpful, responsible members of our family through chores and through working alongside me. Previously they dabbled with this, but now it has become a more central part of their homeschool experience.
      • I trust in my children's innate curiosity, allowing their interests to lead the way in what they are studying. 
      • I recognize that children do not learn in the same way as adults, and that play is one of the most important ways that children learn.
      • Reading classic books aloud has taken a more prominent role in our schooling.
      • I am leading out by pursuing my own Leadership Education, through intensive self-study of classic works and through the 7 Keys Certification.

      The Parents' Education is Paramount

      The foundation of the Leadership Education philosophy is the 7 Keys of Great Teaching:
      1. Classics, Not Textbooks
      2. Mentors, Not Professors
      3. Inspire, Not Require
      4. Structure Time, Not Content
      5. Quality, Not Conformity
      6. Simplicity, Not Complexity
      7. YOU, Not Them 
      The last key, "YOU, Not Them", is fulfilled when the parents focus on actively pursuing their own educations, and this goes a long way towards fulfilling the 3rd Key - "Inspire, Not Require". When parents are leading out by pursuing their own educations, the children will naturally follow. I have seen this work repeatedly in our home: the more my children see me reading, writing, and doing math, the more they spontaneously want to do those activities themselves.

      This was a real epiphany for me. Previously, I spent so much time trying to figure out ways to get my daughter to do her schoolwork without complaining. I kept thinking that if I found the "right" curriculum and if I kept pushing hard enough, she would eventually get there.  But this just led to burnout for both of us.  When I focus instead on pursuing my own education, I am energized and excited, and both of my kids become energized and excited to do the same.  I am currently working my way through the 7 Keys Certification, which is a fantastic way for me to solidify my own homeschooling paradigm as well as kick-start my own education in the classics.

      The Lessons of Core Phase and the Importance of the Family Read-Aloud

      In the Leadership Education model, up to around age 8, children are in Core Phase. "During this phase attention should be given above all to the nurture of a happy, interactive, confident child through the lessons that occur naturally during work and play in the family setting." [from A Thomas Jefferson Education] This is not to say that there are no academics during Core Phase (and I will talk more about that in a later post), but the most important things children learn in Core Phase are right and wrong, good and bad, true and false. My kids are learning these lessons through being accountable for doing chores, through play, and through working alongside me in running our household.

      These lessons are being reinforced through our family read-alouds.  We are careful in our selection of books, so that we are reading books which epitomize the values we want our children to learn. We avoid reading aloud "twaddle", which was Charlotte Mason's word for books which are second-rate and may even reinforce negative values. Instead we focus on reading classic books, which are books that demonstrate beauty, love, and character.

      Books That Teach Values, Character, and Beauty

      Some of our favorite read-aloud classic books for Core Phase are:

      Do you read chapter books to your kids? What are your favorite read-aloud chapter books for young children?

       Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Sunday, August 3, 2014

      Morning Glory Muffins

      While my husband could happily eat the same foods over and over, I myself crave variety. These Morning Glory Muffins are my latest favorite. I've combined some of great flavors: zucchini bread, carrot cake, and raisin muffins. The result is a delicious, nutrition-packed muffin that makes for a fantastic breakfast.

      Morning Glory Muffins
      Makes 12 muffins
      1. Melt the butter in a small pan over low heat.  Then turn off heat and allow to cool a bit.
      2. In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, ground nuts, Einkorn flour, sucanat, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Whisk it all together well and break up any lumps.
      3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a muffin tin with paper liners. (I love to use If You Care unbleached muffin papers because the muffins do not stick to them!)
      4. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs and sour cream. 
      5. Peel and shred the carrots using a box grater. Then shred the zucchini. Stir the melted butter, carrots, and zucchini into the sour cream and eggs.
      6. Zest the lemon using a microplane zester. Add the lemon zest, vanilla, almond extract, and raisins to the egg mixture. Stir well to combine.
      7. Using an electric mixer, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix just long enough to combine, and do not overmix.
      8. Divide the batter among the 12 muffin cups. I find that a 3-Tb scoop makes this very easy and effortless.
      9. Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, until they are medium brown on top.
      10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.
      11. Serve alongside a glass of raw milk and enjoy! I typically refrigerate the leftovers and re-warm them in the toaster oven before serving.

      Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Wednesday, July 30, 2014

      Selecting an Orthodontist or Dentist, and Our Rapid Results

      This post is fourth in a series about alternatives to conventional orthodontics. 

      In the other posts of this series, I talked about why my 7-year-old daughter needs orthodontics, why we're not using conventional braces, and some alternatives to conventional braces. Now I'll share our experiences thus far.


      Finding the Right Dentist

      We do not have any dentists or orthodontists locally that use either lightwire or plastic myofunctional appliances to encourage growth of the dental arches. Using the American Academy of Gnathologic Orthopedics website, I was able to find a few prospective dentists about 220 miles away from our home, in Albuquerque NM.

      One thing that was important to me was finding a practitioner who would be okay with our decision to not expose our daughter to X-rays. We also wanted to find a dentist/orthodontist who made our daughter feel at ease so that she would not dread going to the dentist.We learned just how important it was to interview different care providers, as the two practitioners we met with were completely different.

      Two Completely Different Dentists

      We met with an orthodontist who told us that he knew better than we did about the X-rays and that we would have to do them no matter what our reasons for not wanting them.  That same orthodontist also treated my daughter almost as a non-human entity. He ignored her completely at first, just talking to my husband and myself. He told us that he could accomplish the same thing with either a Crozat or braces, which shows that he really had no idea of the differences between the two methods.  And then he proceeded to start manipulating my daughter's head and mouth without talking to her or asking her permission. She was extremely uncomfortable with this dentist, as evidenced by her stiff-as-a-board posture and grabbing my hand in a death grip while the dentist inspected her mouth.

      The other practitioner we met with was a pediatric dentist named Dr. Hess. Our experience with Dr. Hess was completely different than our awful experience with the orthodontist. First and foremost, Dr. Hess engaged our daughter in a conversation about unicorns (one of her favorite animals) and he had a very natural manner that set her at ease. Regarding X-rays, Dr. Hess said that although he would like to have them, he would also respect our decision to not have X-rays so long as we signed a waiver. Dr. Hess was very experienced with using appliances that encourage jaw growth, such as Crozats and plastic myofunctional appliances.  And then he started talking to me about the importance of breastfeeding in developing proper oral habits, and about the research of Weston A. Price.  You can imagine that at this point I knew we had found the right dentist!


      My Daughter's Orthodontic Appliance

      I was originally interested in getting a lightwire appliance for my daughter, but after discussing the options with Dr. Hess, we decided to use an OrthoTain plastic myofunctional appliance instead.  This option is terrific for us because it allows us to have several months between in-office appointments (since we live so far away), with just some short Skype appointments in between as needed. 


      Results Already!

      My daughter started using her OrthoTain appliance just 2&1/2 months ago. While we were still getting into the routine of using the appliance, and not yet being terribly consistent with it,we were pleasantly surprised to see that after one month we could already observe more space between our daughter's top teeth.
      Before Treatment - There is no space at all between her upper teeth (the space on the bottom is where a baby tooth has been lost).
      After 3.5 weeks of Treatment - There is a new space between two of her upper teeth.

      After 5 weeks of treatment - There are spaces on both sides of her upper middle teeth (this was just prior to her losing her top two middle teeth, which is why one of them looks slightly pushed backwards).

      After 11 weeks of treatment - Now my daughter has lost her two upper middle teeth, and an additional bottom tooth.  There is now plenty of space for her new top teeth that are growing in!

      At my daughter's recent in-office follow-up appointment, we learned that her mild cross-bite has already been remedied through the use of her orthodontic appliance. We are looking forward to seeing even more space develop in her upper and lower dental jaws.

      Thursday, July 24, 2014

      Italian Beef and Veggies Over Quinoa (nutrient-dense : gluten-free)

      This recipe is my twist on the typical spaghetti dinner.  I saute up plenty of fresh veggies, add some ground beef and marinara, and then serve it over top of some quinoa.  Yum!

      Italian Beef and Veggies Over Quinoa
      Serves 6-8
      • Quinoa:
      • Italian Beef and Veggies
        • 2 Tb butter, preferably from grassfed cows
        • 1 large white onion, chopped
        • 1 stalk celery, chopped
        • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
        • 8 medium cremini mushrooms, chopped
        • 1&1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably from grassfed cows
        • 3 cloves garlic, minced
        • 1 jar of Italian Herb Pasta Sauce, 26-ounces (or your favorite marinara sauce)
        • celtic sea salt and freshly ground pepper
        • shredded raw cheddar cheese, to garnish
      1. Soak the quinoa: In a glass bowl, cover the quinoa with filtered water, stir in a splash of apple cider vinegar, and allow to soak at room temperature for 4-18 hours.  Soaking the quinoa in an acidic medium helps in reducing the anti-nutrients (such as phytic acid) that are present in grains.  I find that quinoa gets rather mushy when allowed to soak for too long, so I often only soak it for a few hours before cooking it.
      2. Start cooking the onion: About 40 minutes before dinner, melt 2-Tb butter in a 4-quart heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with salt, and saute. It is fine if the onion gets a bit of browned color; that means it is caramelizing and releasing its natural sweetness. (I love to use my bamboo spatula for this recipe.)
      3. Drain and rinse the quinoa: In the meantime, drain the quinoa in a mesh colander.  Then rinse the quinoa VERY well.  The more the quinoa is rinsed before cooking, the less bitter it will be. I like to rinse the quinoa until the water becomes crystal clear.  
      4. Cook the quinoa: In a medium pot, combine the quinoa with about 3-4 cups of filtered water. The amount of water depends on how long the quinoa was soaked; use less water if you had a long soaking time, or use closer to 4 cups of water if the soaking time was short.) Add a sprinkle of salt.  Bring to a low boil.
      5. Add the carrots and celery to the onion: Once the onion has been cooking for 5-10 minutes and is becoming translucent, add the celery and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and saute for a few minutes. You may need to reduce the heat a bit if the pot it getting too hot.
      6. Skim the foam from the quinoa: Once the quinoa has come to a low boil, use a shallow spoon to skim off the foam. Discard the foam. Then add the butter to the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally.
      7. Add the mushrooms to the veggies: Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and saute for a few minutes until the mushrooms have released their liquid and shrunken down some.
      8. Add the beef to the veggies: Crumble the ground beef into the veggies. Add 1.5 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beef is mostly browned. The beef does not need to be completely cooked during this step.
      9. Add in the garlic: Add the garlic to the veggies and cook for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant.
      10. Add the pasta sauce: Pour the pasta sauce over the veggies and beef. Stir to combine, then put a lid on the pot and let it simmer.
      11. Check the quinoa: It will be done when all of the moisture has been absorbed and it is nicely soft.  If the quinoa is done before everything else, just put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat.
      12. Simmer the beef and veggies: Let the beef and veggies simmer for about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
      13. Shred the cheese: In the meantime, use a box grater to shred the cheese.
      14. Plate it up: To assemble the meals, start with a scoop of quinoa, add some beef and veggies, then top with a generous sprinkle of cheese. My kids and husband prefer to have a smaller amount of quinoa with more of the beef and veggies. I prefer to have equal amounts of both. 
      15. Enjoy!

      Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Sunday, July 13, 2014

      Strawberry Banana Muffins (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense : primal)

      As we near the end of strawberry season, I've made these strawberry banana muffins for my daughter, who still does best avoiding grains most of the time. This recipe is grain-free, and uses a combination of coconut flour with ground nuts.  A bit of lemon zest adds a bright flavor to these delicious muffins.

      Strawberry Banana Muffins
      Makes 12 muffins

      1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  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. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat and allow to cool slightly.
      3. Meanwhile, combine the eggs, sucanat, salt, vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  (A microplane zester works fantastically to zest the lemon.) If using an immersion blender, pulse a few times to combine. Otherwise, mix to combine with a whisk or mixer.
      4. Add the honey to the butter and stir slightly.  Pour this mixture into the wet ingredients and blend well with immersion blender or mixer.
      5. Measure out the coconut flour.  Since coconut flour clumps, it will need to be sifted if you are not using an immersion blender.
      6. Combine the coconut flour with the ground nuts and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Whisk or mix to combine.
      7. Pour the dry mixture into the bowl with the wet ingredients.  Use an immersion blender or mixer to thoroughly combine all ingredients, making sure there are no lumps.  (Since coconut flour does not contain gluten, there is no worry of over-mixing it). The mixture will get quite thick. 
      8. Stir in the mashed banana.  Then stir in the strawberries.
      9. Scoop the muffin batter into the paper cups.  I like to use a 3-Tb scoop for this, but you could just use a large spoon.
      10. Bake muffins in 325 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes, until muffins are set and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. 
      11. Remove from oven and cool a bit before serving. Serve with a small pat of butter and a glass of raw milk.

      Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Sunday, July 6, 2014

      Alternatives to Conventional Braces

      This post is the third in a series about alternatives to conventional orthodontics. 
      image from

      Okay, so my 7-year-old daughter needs orthodontics for her crowded teeth, and we're not using conventional braces because I want her to have more than just straight teeth. I want to actually encourage her dental arches to grow so that her teeth have plenty of space.

      Orthodontic Appliances That Encourage Jaw Growth

      I have learned of several different orthodontic options that can encourage the dental arches to grow, rather than just straightening the teeth. Because these options cause the bones to grow to accommodate the teeth, there is not a risk of orthodontic relapse like there is with braces. All of these appliances have the additional advantage that they can be used by children as young as 5 years old.

      Lightwire Appliances

      Image courtesy of AAGO
      These include the original lightwire appliance, called Crozat, which was developed in the 1920's, as well as more recently-developed appliances such as Advanced Lightwire Functionals (ALF) and Kernott Universal.  All of these lightwire appliances are made with a flexible, thin-diameter wire that is formed into a removable appliance.  These appliances combine function (chewing, swallowing, etc) along with light forces on the teeth, both of which encourage the dental arches to grow.

      The lightwire appliances have the advantage that they are not very obvious when being worn, and may even go completely unnoticed by others. One disadvantage of the lightwire appliances is that the wire can sometimes become damaged during insertion or removal.

      A good website for finding practitioners that use lightwire appliances is the American Academy of Gnathologic Orthopedics. ALF practitioners can be found on the ALF Orthodontics Website.

      Image courtesy of AAGO

      Plastic Myofunctional Appliances

      image from
      Plastic appliances that encourage dental arch growth include the original OrthoTain (developed in the 1960's) as well as the MyoBrace. Just as with the lightwire appliances, the plastic myofunctional appliances work through correcting the function (chewing, swallowing, etc) along with light forces on the teeth that encourage dental arch growth.  Plastic myofunctional appliances are typically worn at night as well as for several hours during the day.

      Plastic myofunctional appliances have the advantage that they are not custom-made for each patient; rather they are preformed in specific sizes. They do not have the potential for damage like the lightwire appliances do.  One disadvantage of plastic myofunctional appliances is that they are bulkier than lightwire appliances, so they are more obvious when being worn.

      I have not been able to find a good website that provides a directory of dentists/orthodontists that use plastic myofunctional appliances.  However, my daughter's dentist, who I found through the American Academy of Gnathologic Orthopedics site, does use plastic myofunctional appliances as well as lightwire, so that site might be a good place to start.
      image from
      image from











      What's Next?

      In my final post of this series, I will detail our experiences in finding a suitable dentist, our experiences thus far with using an orthodontic appliance, and some pictures of the results we have experienced.

      Do you have any experience with non-conventional orthodontic options? 

      Wednesday, June 18, 2014

      Superfood Soda Concentrate (nutrient-dense : raw)

      Refreshing, tart, and sweet: my family has been enjoying this simple drink concentrate for over a year. It combines two traditional superfoods, raw honey and raw apple cider vinegar, which combine to make an uber-healthy, wonderfully tasty drink.

      I have hesitated to share this recipe, because it is so simple and easy to make.  But after having multiple friends ask me for the recipe, I figured my blog followers would like to know it, too.

      Superfood Soda Concentrate

      1. If your raw honey has become thick and crystallized, warm it up by placing the jar in a bowl of warm water. This will allow the honey to become thin and pourable. 
      2. Combine equal parts of raw honey and apple cider vinegar. My favorite way to do this involves no measuring and minimal cleanup: Use a half-full jar of raw apple cider vinegar. Place a funnel into the jar, and pour in the honey through the funnel.  It may take a couple refills of the funnel depending on the size of your vinegar jar and funnel. Be patient, as the thick honey can take quite awhile to drip through the funnel; I like to find something else to do in the meantime.
      3. Put a tight-fitting lid on the jar.  Over the next day or two, periodically invert the jar and swish the contents around. It can take awhile for the honey to fully dissolve into the vinegar. 
      4. Once the honey has been fully dissolved in the vinegar, the soda concentrate is ready!
      5. To make a drink, simply pour some of the concentrate into a glass, add your favorite sparkling mineral water, and stir.  The amount of concentrate to use will vary depending on your preference. I like to use roughly 3-4 Tb of concentrate per one cup of fizzy water.
      6. If you don't like fizzy drinks, this same concentrate can be combined with plain, filtered water for a nice electrolyte drink.  When using plain water, I use less of the concentrate, about 1-2 Tb per cup of water.

      What is your favorite summertime drink?

       Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!

      Wednesday, June 11, 2014

      Our Top 25 Read-Aloud Picture Books

      If I had to choose just one method for homeschooling, it would be reading aloud. With the right books, my kids can learn about anything. Even more importantly, books can teach kids about living with integrity, responsibility, joyfulness, and contentedness. 

      Through books, kids can be exposed to so much more than they see in their everyday lives. In this way, books help kids gain perspective on how their lives compare to others. They are able to see people overcoming tough challenges, to watch as others choose to keep their honor intact rather than taking the easy way out.

      But there are an awful lot of books that I would NOT read to my kids. I find that, especially with many modern books, the standards are being set far too low. Those books glorify people behaving inappropriately and being inconsiderate. Even in many of the seemingly harmless series' (such as Junie B. Jones), I find there to be an insidious undercurrent of disrespect towards others or the family. (Yes, I know I am a book snob.)

      So I wanted to share our list of the books that we treasure. These are books that demonstrate people living with character and decency. These are books that expand my children's horizons. I'll start with picture books and then move on to chapter books in a following post. I've left off some of the well-known classics such as Corduroy and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, since everyone seems to know about those already.

      Picture Books That Build Character


      Dogger by Shirley Hughes - This is a fantastic book that tells of a little boy named Dave and his favorite stuffed animal, Dogger. When Dogger gets lost, Dave's older sister chooses to make a sacrifice to get Dogger back. My kids relate well to Dave and his sister, and they are moved by this story.

      Great Big Treasury of Beatrix Potter - Beatrix Potter's stories are filled with animals who have all sorts of mischievous adventures, and have to pay the price for their misdeeds. This book is a collection that includes nineteen individual stories, along with beautiful illustrations. My kids request that I read this book very frequently.

      Among the Meadow People by Clara Dillingham Pierson - This is a collection of stories from the early 1900's that tells of all the living things in the meadow. My children are fascinated by these stories, and they have also learned a lot about the different creatures and plants through these stories. There are many more in the same series.

      Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton - When the city gets completely snowed in, all of the truck plows break down. Only one could save everyone: Katy!  My kids adore Katy and her perseverance to dig out the post office, the airport, the fire station, and the rest of the city.

      The Little Soul and the Sun by Neale Donald Walsh - This is the story of a Little Soul who wants to experience forgiveness. In order to do so, another Little Soul must be willing to do something that needs to be forgiven.  This story creates lots of thoughtful conversation whenever I read it to the kids. 

      Tootle by Gertrude Crampton - Tootle is a train that wants to learn to be a flyer, but first he has to overcome his desire to romp in the field with a horse!  My son, especially, loves this story.

      Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans - When a little boy moves in next door to the orphanage where Madeline lives, he gets into all sorts of mischief. The little girls spurn him, but finally realize that he just needs a friend. My kids think the little boy's shenanigans are hilarious, and they love to see the happy ending.


      Picture Books That Give a Taste of Culture and History

      The Everyday Life of an Egyptian Craftsman by Giovanni Caselli - This book tells the story of a young boy in ancient Egypt. My kids are fascinated with life in Ancient Egypt. The detailed illustrations in this book are wonderful. My daughter is in love with all things related to Ancient Egypt, and she loves to read this book over and over.

      Gilgamesh the King by Ludmila Zeman - This book is the first in a trilogy wherein the Epic of Gilgamesh is re-told for children. The illustrations in these books are absolutely gorgeous.  These books are filled with action and love, making them a great introduction to one of the oldest stories in the world.

      My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter - Filled with pictures in the style of Georgia O'Keefe, this book tells the story of Georgia and her unusual life. From her childhood, through life in the city, and finally ending with many years in the desert, the beauty of Georgia's life shines through in this book. My children love to read about Georgia.

      Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up in a War by Kathy Henderson - I was fascinated when I heard of Lugalbanda, which is the oldest known written story in the world - nearly 5,000 years old! My children love the illustrations in this book, and love to learn about Lugalbanda, a boy who brings peace to his people.

      Mr. Semolina Semolinus by Anthony L. Manna- This Greek folktale tells of Princess Areti, who makes a man to marry out of sugar, almonds, and semolina wheat. When he is kidnapped by an evil queen, Areti must go on a quest to rescue him.  My kids think this book is so much fun; they always laugh at the end when the queen tries to make her own man and fails because of her own vileness.

      Fun and Silly Picture Books

      Some Smug Slug by Pamela Duncan Edwards - My kids adore this book, which tells the story of a slug who travels unawares to the top of a toad, and gets promptly eaten.  I have great fun reading this book, filled with an amazing number of "s" words.

      Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey - Mr. and Mrs. Mallard seek to find a safe place to raise their ducklings in this great story.  My kids love seeing the city life in this book, and my son especially loves the friendly policemen who come to the rescue. 

      Sophie and the Next-Door Monsters by Chris Case - Sophie starts out being scared of her new monstrous neighbors, but in the end she makes a new friend. My kids love seeing the monster child turn Sophie's cat into a potato and then back again to a cat.

      The Hat by Jan Brett - Hedgie the hedghog gets a mitten stuck on his head, and soon enough all the other animals want something to keep them warm for the winter, too.  We adore Jan Brett's illustrations and the way she shows previews of what is to come on the right side of every page. My kids laugh and laugh at the animals wearing woolens.


      Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- Little Pea hates candy. But he has to finish it before he can have his spinach dessert. My kids love this story; they can't imagine anyone hating candy and I think it makes them more excited about eating veggies too.

      Picture Books the Very Young Will Love (and my older kids still like them, too)

      Babybug - Back when my eldest was an infant, she received a subscription to Babybug magazine for a few years. Here we are 7 years later, and both of my kids still love to read Babybug.  It is filled with lovely stories, poems, and pictures. These magazines are printed on very thick paper, so they don't tear easily. We are still cherishing ours from 2007-2011!


       A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle - Hermit crab has outgrown his shell and must find a new one. As he settles in, many other creatures from the ocean adorn his new shell. My kids love to watch hermit crab make his way in his new home.


      Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! by Rosetta Stone - This book has a wonderful cadence and rhyme that makes it quite fun to read. My kids love to see all the things that could happen because... just because... a little bug went Ka-Choo!


      Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton - I have such fond memories of both of my kids giggling over and over from my lap while I read them this book when they were toddlers. It is simple and funny. It is good for teaching color recognition too.


      Cookie's Week by Cindy Ward - This short, simple book tells about Cookie the mischievous cat, and the trouble he gets into each day of the week. Beginning in toddlerhood and still to this day, both of my kids love reading Cookie's Week.

      Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey - This is the story of Sal and her mother, who get mixed up with bears while picking blueberries to can for the winter.  As toddlers, both of my kids requested to hear this book night after night. Now as a preschooler and a 2nd grader, they still like to hear about Sal periodically.

      Brush Mona Lisa's Hair by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo - This book, and the others in the same series, is a great child's introduction to art.  This books shows masterpieces of art, along with something tactile added to each page. Kids can touch Mona Lisa's hair, touch a lacy collar in another picture, and blow on feathers to make the angels fly.  My kids still like to read and play along with this book.

      Out and About by Shirley Hughes - This collection of poems and illustrations takes us through all four seasons of the year. It has a way of making me long for each and every season. My kids love to see what the kids do in each season.

      What are your favorite picture books to read-aloud?

       Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you use these links, your price remains the same, but I earn a small commission. Thanks for supporting this site!