Sunday, November 26, 2017

December in Our Homeschool

For the last few years, each December we've had a special month in our homeschool. I let a few things drop off my homeschool mental to-do list (such as science and history exposure), and instead we shift our focus to holiday-related activities. This makes December a month to celebrate the flexibility of homeschooling while we dig into more artistic and musical pursuits.

December Curriculum Focus

Our curriculum focus for December includes the following. I don't require my children to participate in these activities, but nonetheless they generally both choose to participate in all of these to varying degrees.

  • Family music recital
  • Advent crafts
  • Homemade Christmas presents
  • Family reading of A Christmas Carol script
  • Winter and Christmas-themed read-alouds
  • Winter and Christmas movies


Family Music Recital

The children and I choose a few Christmas songs to play together. Throughout the month, we practice individually and together, as much as we each desire to. On Christmas Eve, we perform the songs together. The instruments we have on-hand for our Christmas songs are:
(If there is interest, I can post more details about how and what we do for our December music together.)

Advent Crafts

As a fun way to count down the days until Christmas, my children enjoy doing Advent crafts, which have one activity for each day from December 1st through 24th.  My kids have especially enjoyed doing the Advent Colouring Pages from Activity Village, such as the Christmas train and village, which can be cut out and made into a scene.

The Activity Village Advent resources used to be free, but are no longer.  Some other free options I have found include the following:
Commonly, my kids are really excited about Advent crafts for the first couple weeks of December, and then their interest fizzles out. This is totally okay, and I just let them participate as much (or as little) as they want to.


Homemade Christmas Presents

In the week leading up to Christmas, my children and I get to work on making homemade Christmas presents for family and friends.  The presents we've made have included Christmas tree ornaments, cardboard and/or popsicle stick toys, artwork, and food treats. This is an inexpensive and sweet way to shift the focus of Christmas away from ourselves and onto what we can make for others.


Family Reading of A Christmas Carol Script
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a wonderful little story about the real meaning of Christmas. My family has enjoyed doing a reading of A Christmas Carol script for the last few years. Sometimes, this has been as simple as us all reading it together on Christmas Eve; other times, it has turned into more of a project for myself and the kids in putting on a little play with figurines, costumes, and sound effects. In the weeks before Christmas, the kids and I do a few practice read-throughs of our parts so that we are ready for the Christmas Eve reading. 

Winter and Christmas-Themed Read-Alouds

Throughout the month of December, I read-aloud books which have an emphasis on winter and Christmas. These include the following:

Christmas Movies for Family Movie Night

For our weekly Family Movie Nights in December, we watch winter and Christmas movies. Some of our favorites include the following:

A Great Way to End the Year

By shifting the focus in our homeschool for December, we are able to thoroughly enjoy the last month of the year together.  Instead of feeling like we are dragging our feet or going through the motions, December has become a cherished month of homeschooling for our family.  

Do you have any December homeschool traditions to share?


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Friday, November 17, 2017

Sepia - A Homeopathic Remedy for Mothers

Motherhood: at it's best, it can fill our days with joy, sweetness, and contentment. Yet, on the worst days, being a mother can be one of the hardest challenges of life. The ups-and-downs of pregnancy, the constant demands of children, the feeling that we will never be able to have a single moment to ourselves; these feelings seem to just come with the territory of being a mother. But is there a better way?

There is one well-known homeopathic remedy that is of immense help to mothers. It can help those bad days feel less dire and dramatic, and make them happen less often. Homeopathic Sepia to the rescue!

What is Sepia?

photo from sci-news.com
Although the word Sepia is commonly used to describe the reddish-brown tone of old photographs, the origin of this word is actually the Latin word for cuttlefish. Cuttlefish ink is a rich brown color, and it was used as an ink or drawing medium for thousands of years. Homeopathic Sepia officinalis is a remedy made from the ink of the cuttlefish.


Never-Well-Since...

While homeopathic treatment of chronic conditions is typically not do-it-yourself, there are certain chronic ailments that are somewhat easier to treat. These are ailments where there was an obvious trigger, known as a Never-Well-Since event or exposure. For instance, chronic ailments following head injuries are often successfully treated with Natrum sulph or Arnica, and ailments following a broken heart are often successfully treated with Ignatia or Natrum mur.

Homeopathic Sepia is listed as a top remedy for the following Never-Well-Since events/exposures [1 - Hahnemann Revisited: A Textbook of Classical Homeopathy for the Professional]:
  • Childbirth
  • Nursing
  • Postpartum depression
  • Hormonal treatment
  • Birth control pill
  • Hysterectomy
  • Puberty
  • Menopause

Clearly, Sepia's healing action has a particular focus on hormonal-induced states in women. While it is not a cure-all for each-and-every mother, nonetheless a large proportion of mothers can benefit from Sepia.

Characteristic Mental/Emotional Indications for Sepia

As with all homeopathic remedies, Sepia will work best when it matches well with the mental, emotional, and physical symptoms that a person is exhibiting. The mental/emotional picture for Sepia is one of this remedy's most striking features.

The classic picture of a Sepia woman includes:
  • mothers who feel overworked and/or overwhelmed,
  • irritability or anger specifically triggered by one's children and/or spouse,
  • feeling less affectionate or apathetic towards one's children and/or spouse, 
  • a desire to escape, even for just a few minutes of solitude, 
  • "loves her husband and children dearly but is too exhausted to feel anything but the need to get through the day's work and survive to the next," [2] and/or
  • feeling "overly conscientious about family responsibilities and thus excessively guilty about any desire or effort to avoid them" [3].
Women often assume that these feelings are just a natural part of motherhood. They may feel guilty about having these feelings or try to deny that they exist. Nonetheless, Sepia can help the body and mind become more balanced so that these feelings occur less often and with less intensity.

Additional Indications for Sepia

Some additional indications for Sepia include:
  • reduced or absent desire for sex,
  • feeling better from physical activity and/or dancing,
  • postpartum depression and/or irritability,
  • urinary problems after pregnancy,
  • weeping while relating her symptoms,
  • premenstrual symptoms including irritability and aversion to sex,
  • hot flashes,
  • nausea during pregnancy which is worse from fasting and smells or thoughts of foods,
  • pregnancy-induced varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and/or vaginitis, and
  • a wide range of other symptoms including allergies, headaches, insomnia, backaches, and literally hundreds of other conditions.
Although Sepia's overall sphere of action includes a wide variety of symptoms, that does not mean it is "the" remedy for all of those conditions. There are over a thousand different homeopathic remedies, and common symptoms such as headaches are associated with hundreds of different remedies.  For instance, in my homeopathic software, 845 remedies are listed under "constipation" and 1,249 remedies are listed for "headache".

What makes homeopathic remedies so effective is that they are selected specifically for each individual. No homeopath would recommend Sepia for every person who has a headache. However, if the person is a mother who is exhibiting some of Sepia's characteristic mental/emotional indications (described above), then Sepia is likely to be a good match.


Success With Sepia for Mothers

In my own life, I have found Sepia to be tremendously useful in helping to balance my emotions and leave me feeling contented with motherhood:

  • During my second pregnancy, I developed irritability and anger that I had never experienced before. By the time I found homeopathy nearly three years later, I was often blowing up at my children and felt quite overwhelmed and exhausted. Some days, when my husband would return home from work, I had reached the point where I felt like running away, and I would have to go for a solitary walk just to escape for a short time. I felt guilty for having these feelings, and didn't want to admit them even to myself. Sepia, along with a few other well-chosen chronic remedies, has made a huge difference. I now rarely feel irritable, and I never feel irritability or anger to anywhere near the same magnitude as I used to. I no longer experience that desire to run away, and I no longer feel overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and homemaking.

Some examples of treatment with Sepia from the homeopathic literature include the following:
  • "A 35-year-old woman became pregnant again soon after weaning her second child, then 22 months old. By six weeks she was exhausted and nauseous before mealtimes and would have to eat a little something to relieve it, but the smell of roast chicken and other favorite foods made her feel even sicker and forced her to lie down to try to sleep. Also sensitive to odors like soap and perfume, she felt better when she remembered to exercise, although at their worst her symptoms immobilized her and made her crabby and apathetic. Sepia 30 soon wrought an amazing change in her: within two weeks she had regained her strength and appetite, feeling only minor nausea occasionally from strong perfume. She remained in good health and went on to give birth at home without any difficulty." [3 - Homeopathic Medicines for Pregnancy and Childbirth]
  • "A woman of 26 consulted me for irregular periods, the interval averaging 35 to 40 days, often with brownish staining around the midcycle. After a home birth three years ago she had nursed the child for a year, with hemorrhoids and constipation developing and her periods getting off track during that time. Although reluctant to speak about her personal life, she was openly resentful of her husband, who was devoted to the child but highly critical of her and scornful of her opinions, and she could no longer tolerate making love with him. After a round of Sepia... her periods quickly reverted to normal, while her other symptoms improved significantly, and she herself became much more assertive with her husband. No further treatment was needed." [3 - Homeopathic Medicines for Pregnancy and Childbirth]
  • "...emotional apathy may develop from some profound sorrow or disappointment in a reserved individual who cannot allow herself to feel because she cannot afford it. A case in point was a 26-year-old woman with amenorrhoea [the absence of menstruation] who, three years earlier, had suffered severely from an unfortunate love... Since that time she had been cold and unresponsive with her family and friends and toward the world in general... She was polite and dutiful, but completely indifferent... Initially there was no dramatic change. Sepia can be a slow starter. Yet on a visit two months later she was a different person - not carefree or even happy, but more caring and responsive, and her menses had resumed. No further remedy was prescribed, since the single dose had obviously reached some deep level of her emotional disharmony and was beginning to heal it. Instead, the remedy was allowed to continue dispelling her 'stilled' or suppressed emotions, as she blossomed into a warm, lovely and now happy human being." [2 - Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines]

Dosage and Potency Guidance

I generally advise starting with homeopathic Sepia in the 30c potency, although for some people it may be more appropriate to start with a lower or higher potency depending upon their individual sensitivity level. When used very soon after the precipitating event (such as pregnancy or childbirth), it is possible that only one dose is needed for the body to restore balance. When there has been a time lapse between the event and the usage of Sepia, more than one dose may be needed.

If the Sepia state has become part of the chronic symptoms picture (with symptoms lasting more than 6 weeks), a good rule of thumb for simple dosing is to wait-and-watch for several weeks after the first dose to see if the Sepia is making a positive difference. With all homeopathic remedies, the least number of doses is always the best. Homeopathic remedies work by stimulating the body to heal itself. Anytime there is a noticeable improvement, no more doses should be given unless the symptoms start to regress (or unless there is a plateau, where the symptoms get better to a point but then stop improving). And if no improvement is observed within 3 doses of taking a remedy, the remedy should be discontinued.

While Sepia typically works quite well for treating mothers, in cases where the Sepia indications are long-standing it is possible that some other remedies will be needed before Sepia can do its work. For instance, if there have been significant traumas, losses, or drug-exposures in the meantime since the Sepia state was induced, those more-recent events/exposures may need to be treated before Sepia will be able to be effective.  In those instances, consulting with a well-trained homeopath is more likely to lead to long-term success with Sepia.

References

[1] De Schepper, Luc (2001). Hahnemann Revisited: A Textbook of Classical Homeopathy for the Professional. Santa Fe, NM: Full of Life Publications.
[2] Coulter, Catherine R. (1998). Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines: Psychophysical Analyses of Selected Constitutional Types, Vol. 1. St. Louis, MO: Quality Medical Publishing, Inc.
[3] Moskowitz, Richard M.D. (1992). Homeopathic Medicines for Pregnancy and Childbirth. Berkely, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Falafel with Jajeek - Fried Chickpea Patties with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (gluten-free)

As part of our ancient history studies this Fall, I am digging into foods from ancient Mesopotamia, (which is in the region that is now known as the Middle East). Archaeological evidence shows that chickpeas were one of the earliest crops to be used in farming, as domesticated chickpea remains have been found dating back to around 10,000 years ago. In relatively modern times, one of the most common ways to cook chickpeas is to make them into falafels.

Falafels are delicious fried dough patties made with ground chickpeas, onions, and spices. While we had previously only enjoyed falafels when eating at a local Middle Eastern restaurant, my family has been delighted that I can now make falafels at home. The easiest way to make falafel dough is with a food processor, which makes it easy to grind the ingredients together. I have chosen to make our falafels into patties, so that I don't need to use quite so much oil when frying them. If you have a deep fryer, you could certainly make this falafel recipe into balls instead of patties.

My falafel recipe begins with soaking dried chickpeas in an acidic medium overnight. This important step reduces the phytic acid antinutrient that is naturally present in grains and legumes. Once the falafels are cooked, they are topped with jajeek, which is an Iraqi cucumber yogurt sauce. Falafel and jajeek are delicious in a salad or on pita bread.

Falafel with Jajeek - Fried Chickpea Patties with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

Falafel - Fried Chickpea Patties
Makes 28-30 falafels
  1. Place the chickpeas in a large glass bowl. Cover the chickpeas with plenty of filtered water, enough for them to easily double in size. Stir in 1 Tb raw apple cider vinegar. Allow to soak overnight.
  2. In the morning, drain the chickpeas. Add fresh water and another tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Allow to soak until about an hour before dinner.
  3. Drain the chickpeas well. With a 7-cup food processor, this recipe works best if you mix up the ingredients in two batches.
  4. Put half of the chickpeas and half of the falafel flavoring ingredients into the food processor. A lemon reamer works well to juice the lemon. Pulse and process until the mixture is finely ground. Dump into a large bowl.
  5. Place the remaining half of the chickpeas and falafel flavoring ingredients into the food processor.  Pulse and process until the mixture is finely ground. Add this mixture to the rest of the falafel mixture in the large bowl.
  6. Use a 3Tb scoop to create falafel balls. Place the falafel balls on a large cutting board or plate. Use your hands to flatten the falafels into patties that are ~3/4 inch thick.
  7. Begin to heat up a heavy-bottomed skillet. I like to use two 10-inch cast iron skillets to cook the falafels so that they are done cooking much more quickly.  Add enough oil to the pan to give an oil depth of ~1/3 to 1/2 inch.
  8. Once the oil is shimmering and hot (but NOT smoking), add the flattened falafel patties. Make sure to leave enough room so that the falafels are not touching each other, and will be easy to turn.
  9. Allow the falafels to cook undisturbed for a few minutes until they've reached a medium brown color. Carefully flip over each falafel patty using tongs or a spatula. Cook the second side for a few minutes until you've achieved the same medium brown color.
  10. Line a plate with paper towels. Place the cooked falafels on the paper towels to drain any excess oil.
  11. Serve the falafels with jajeek, lettuce, tomatoes, and/or pita bread.


Jajeek - Iraqi Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
Makes ~3 cups


  • 1&1/2 cups plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 1&1/2 tsp dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp finely ground Celtic sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 Tb fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups chopped cucumber (if the skin is thick, peel the cucumbers!)
  1. Combine the yogurt, mint, salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. A lemon reamer works well to juice the lemon. Stir to combine.
  2. Stir in the chopped cucumbers.
  3. Store in the refrigerator while you prepare the falafel. 


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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Grain-Free Zucchini Bread

As the warm season is drawing to a close here, we've been enjoying lots of zucchini bread. This recipe gets a nutrition boost from zucchini, sucanat (unrefined sugar, complete with minerals), and nutrient-dense butter. This recipe is moist, lightly sweetened, and delicious!

Since this recipe is grain-free, everyone in my family has enjoyed eating zucchini bread as much as they want to. This recipe makes a great breakfast, or a snack for any time of day.

Grain-Free Zucchini Bread

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup arrowroot starch
  • 1/2 cup sucanat
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp finely ground Celtic sea salt
  • 1&1/2 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • dash of dried ginger
  • dash of dried allspice
  • 3/4 cup whole milk kefir (or substitute plain, whole milk yogurt)
  • 3 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 medium small zucchinis (to make 2 lightly-packed cups of shredded zucchini)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat and allow to cool a bit.
  3. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a loaf pan. (I use a 9.5X4.5 glass pan.) If desired, you could line the baking pan with parchment paper to make it very easy for the bread to be removed from the pan. The butter makes a nice "glue" that allows the parchment paper to stick to the inside of the pan.
  4. Combine the tapioca starch, coconut flour, arrowroot starch, sucanat, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk to mix it all together well.
  5. Combine the kefir, vanilla, and eggs in a small bowl or pourable measuring cup. Mix together with a fork.
  6. Shred the zucchinis using a box grater. There is no need to peel the zucchinis.
  7. Mix the kefir mixture into the dry ingredients using a hand mixer.
  8. Mix the butter into the batter using a hand mixer.
  9. Fold in the shredded zucchini.
  10. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan and smooth out the top with the back of a spoon or spatula.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for about 55-65 minutes.  It will be done when it is set in the middle (you can lightly touch it, or check to see if a toothpick comes out clean).
  12. Let cool for about 10-15 minutes, and then use a spatula or knife to go around the edges.  Invert the pan and move the bread to a cooling rack.  Remove the bread from the pan when it is mostly cool.
  13. Slice the bread, and serve! A Rada bread knife works excellently for slicing this bread.  
  14. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. If you're freezing it, place parchment paper between the slices so they will be easy to separate later on. We like to re-warm this bread in the toaster oven and serve it with a smear of butter and perhaps some cream cheese or goat cheese.



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Friday, October 20, 2017

Fresh Tomato Salsa

My 10-year-old daughter has been learning to cook simple meals for our family, and quesadillas are one of her favorite things to make. I'm not sure if everyone knows what quesadillas are, but in case you don't know, quesadillas are simply tortillas, buttered on the outside, and filled with cheese. We cook them until they are crispy in a skillet.

Quesadillas are a very common food here in the southwestern USA, but we didn't eat them for years since my husband and daughter were not eating many grains. Recently, though, we have found excellent grain-free tortillas, and we've been so excited to once again eat quesadillas.

October is panning out to be the month of the tomato here, with lots of tomatoes fresh from our garden. Fresh salsa and sour cream are perfect accompaniments to quesadillas. This recipe for fresh tomato salsa is very simple. I've purposely made it with ingredients I generally have on-hand by substituting coriander and cayenne pepper for the typical fresh cilantro and jalapenos.


Fresh Tomato Salsa 

  • 1 cup fresh ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp coriander
  • 2 dashes cayenne pepper (use more if you like your salsa very spicy)
  1. Chop the tomatoes and slice the green onions.
  2. Juice the lime. A lemon reamer works great for this.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.
  4. Serve immediately. Fresh tomato salsa is great with tortilla chips, quesadillas, or tacos.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bacon and Cheddar Baked Potatoes (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Baked potatoes are usually served as a side dish, but in this recipe they are elevated into the main course. Topped with bacon, cheese, sour cream, and green onions, this recipe for baked potatoes makes a simple, delicious dinner meal. Because I bake both the potatoes and the bacon in the oven, this meal requires very little hands-on cooking time. That makes this one of the easiest meals I can make for my family on a busy day.

Bacon and Cheddar Baked Potatoes

Serves 4

  • 4 Yukon Gold Potatoes, preferably organic*
  • 8 slices (half a pound) of bacon, preferably nitrate-free (I prefer Coleman Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 4 Tb butter, preferably nutrient-dense yellow butter
  • 4 Tb sour cream, preferably from grassfed cows 
  • 2 green onions, green parts only
  • salt and pepper
  1. Wash the potatoes well. Dry the potatoes on a kitchen towel.
  2. Use a fork to stab the potatoes several times on each side. 
  3. Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack in the middle of the oven (or, if preferred, you can bake them in an oven-safe baking dish). 
  4. Bake the potatoes at 350 degrees for about one hour. Smaller potatoes may cook quicker and larger potatoes will likely take a little longer than an hour to cook. 
  5. Meanwhile, place the bacon in a 9X13 glass baking dish.  I like to go ahead and bake a whole package of bacon at a time, so there will be a little bacon leftover. Spread the slices of bacon out as evenly as possible, and it is fine that there will be a bit of overlap between the slices. 
  6. Place the bacon on the bottom rack of the oven. This will allow the bacon to crisp up nicely in the oven. The bacon will need to cook for about 30-40 minutes, until it is done to your preferred level of crispiness. Remove the bacon from the oven once it is as crispy as you prefer. 
  7. To check the potatoes for doneness, cover your hands with oven mitts or thick kitchen towels and then very carefully give the potatoes a little squeeze. They will be slightly soft when done. 
  8. Once the potatoes are soft, remove them from the oven. 
  9. Allow the potatoes to cool for a few minutes. If desired, the bacon can be moved to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain off the excess bacon grease.
  10. In the meantime, thinly slice the green parts of the green onions. Chop the bacon into small pieces. (Kitchen shears work fabulously for chopping the bacon and green onions.)
  11. Shred the cheddar cheese with a box grater
  12. Place each potato on a plate. Carefully slice the potatoes open. (BEWARE: hot steam will likely come out of the potatoes.) 
  13. Add a generous pat of butter to each potato. Sprinkle with salt. 
  14. Top the potatoes with the shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, and green onions. 
  15. If desired, drizzle a bit of the leftover bacon grease on top of each potato. Add a scoop of sour cream to each potato. 
  16. Season with freshly ground pepper.
  17. Serve and enjoy!
*Potatoes are one of the worst vegetables for being contaminated with pesticides if they are not grown organically. So it's worth it to buy organic potatoes!





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Friday, October 6, 2017

Hash Brown and Beef Hot Dish (gluten-free)

Tater Tot Hot Dish is a popular food in the Great Lakes region of the USA. Ground beef, veggies, gravy, and cheese, topped with crispy potatoes: what's not to like? Most hot dish recipes rely on processed ingredients such as canned cream of mushroom soup and tater tots, but I've opted to instead make this recipe with real, whole food ingredients. The result is a delicious meal that my whole family loves.

When I first made this recipe, I used storebought tater tots, but was dissatisfied with the ingredients therein (especially the unhealthy canola oil). Since my family ended up loving this dish, I developed a way to make it without using tater tots, by substituting hash brown potatoes instead. The resulting Hash Brown and Beef Hot Dish is now a family favorite recipe.

This recipe is one of the regional recipes featured in my All Around the USA Unit Study.

Hash Brown and Beef Hot Dish

Serves 8-10
·         Hash brown topping*:
o   1 stick butter, preferably nutrient-dense butter
o   Two 1-pound bags of southern-style hash browns (organic hash browns have only one ingredient: potatoes)
·         Filling:
o   2 Tb butter, preferably nutrient-dense butter
o   1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
o   8 ounces brown mushrooms, sliced
o   3 large carrots, chopped
o   1&1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably grassfed
o   1&1/2 tsp celtic sea salt
o   1/2 tsp pepper
o   1&1/2 cups frozen green beans
o   3 cloves garlic, minced
o   1/3 cup white rice flour
o   1&1/4 cups chicken bone broth, preferably homemade
o   1&1/2 cups whole milk
o   leaves from 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
o   1 tsp blackstrap molasses
o   1/8 tsp hot sauce
o   1/2 tsp gluten-free soy sauce
o   1 tsp apple cider vinegar
o   1/8 tsp dried allspice
o   1 cup frozen peas (optional)
o   8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded

Make the Hash Brown Topping:
  1. Melt one stick of butter in a very large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. 
  2. Add the frozen hash browns and sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  3. Let the hash browns cook for 7-10 minutes, until they are starting to crisp up. Then flip/stir the hash browns. A bamboo spatula works well for this. To make the hash browns crispy, make sure you do not stir them much. 
  4. Continue to stir them only occasionally, until they are well-crisped on all sides.
  5. Turn off heat and set aside.
Make the Beef and Vegetable Filling:
  1. Melt 2 Tb of butter in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and saute for about 10 minutes. It is fine if the onion starts to get some brown, caramelized color, but adjust the heat as necessary if the skillet is getting too hot.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the carrots and mushrooms.
  3. Add the mushrooms and carrots to the onions. Crumble the ground beef into the skillet and sprinkle with 1&1/2 Tb of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. (Use less salt if your chicken broth is salted. My homemade chicken broth is unsalted.) Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring every few minutes to ensure that the ground beef and veggies are cooking evenly.
  4. In the meantime, mince the garlic. 
  5. Combine the molasses, thyme leaves, soy sauce, hot sauce, apple cider vinegar, and allspice in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Add the broth and milk, and stir it all together.
  6. Sprinkle the garlic and rice flour into the beef and vegetable mixture. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes, just until the garlic is fragrant.
  7. Stir the frozen green beans into the beef and vegetable mixture. Then pour in the seasoned broth and milk mixture. Stir well to make sure everything is well-combined.
  8. Bring the beef and vegetable mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5-7 minutes, until the sauce has thickened up nicely. Taste the mixture and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.
  9. In the meantime, shred the cheddar cheese and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Assemble the Hash Brown Hot Dish:
  1. Pour the beef and vegetable mixture into a 9X13 glass baking dish.
  2. Sprinkle the optional peas on top.
  3. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the meat and vegetables.
  4. Spread the crispy hash browns over the top of it all.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until everything is bubbling and hot.
  6. Remove from the oven, serve, and enjoy! Leftovers freeze well for easy future meals.

*Feel free to substitute storebought Tater Tots for the Hash Brown Topping, if desired. If so, skip the steps for preparing the hash brown topping, and just top the filling with the tater tots before baking.






























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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Writing in Our Homeschool

This post is the 4th in my back-to-school series for 2017-18.


My Early Failures in Teaching Writing

Writing was one of the subjects that I pushed too hard on, back in the early years of homeschooling. My daughter had loved her writing workbooks during her preschool years. Nonetheless, after being required to do writing practice at least 3 times per week throughout homeschool kindergarten and first grade, she had grown to dislike writing. When I finally realized that I needed to stop pushing in our homeschool, and instead focus on creating a love of learning in my kids, I was dismayed to see that my daughter did not write, at all, for months on end.

I was committed to the ideas of Leadership Education (TJEd), and that meant I would no longer require her to practice writing. Leadership Education aims to produce children who love to learn and know how to work hard, so that they naturally move into their teen years ready and willing to put in many hours of daily study time. In order for this to happen, the children have to be given the freedom to fall in love with learning, and they have to know that they are in charge of their own educations. I knew that I wanted to give my daughter these ideals, and yet it took a big leap of faith for me to be able to watch her not even pick up a pencil for months. I watched and waited, somewhat anxiously.

Changing Our Environment

In the meantime, while I was giving my daughter her much-needed-detox from all academic requirements, I got to work on changing our home schooling environment using the TJEd 7 Keys of Great Education. Two of these keys, in particular, became my focus: "Inspire, Not Require" and "You, Not Them." As described in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, by Oliver and Rachel DeMille,





While I was trying to reform my homeschooling methods, these two keys became foundational for me in being able to re-create our home learning environment into a place where my children could fall in love with learning and pursue their own interests. Instead of trying to force or coerce my daughter to write, I focused my efforts on creating an environment where she would be inspired to want to write.

Over the last four years since I started implementing TJEd principles into our homeschool, I've seen that this educational philosophy really works!  Both of my children are enthusiastic about learning and truly love our schooling. And for me, being able to focus on my own studies has been transformational. It goes a long way towards filling my cup to the brim.

Inspiring My Children to Want to Write

I purposely inspire my kids to write in the following ways.
  • I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. Young children naturally desire to emulate their parents, so this makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.
  • Instead of expecting my children to write just to develop that skill, I give them real, meaningful opportunities to write:
    • When we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write (and draw) in their Nature Notebooks.
    • My children have penpals in Nevada, Florida, and Canada. My children love receiving letters in the mail, so having penpals has been one of the biggest motivators for them in practicing their writing regularly.
    • Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children. This allows my children to have a voice, to develop their own literary style, even when they are not practicing writing on paper. 
    • I seek out writing contests that my daughter, especially, enjoys participating in. I take the time to type the stories for her while she dictates them. I can then walk her through the editing process, allowing her to see how to fine-tune her writing.

Methods and Resources for Writing

Through using the following methods, I am able to create an environment where my children naturally develop the skills to write.
  • Reading aloud often -  Read-alouds are a crucial part of our writing curriculum. Because they've heard so many classics read out loud, my kids are able to naturally develop the skill of grammatically-correct writing. For instance, my daughter dictated to me a ~4500 word story for a contest, complete with preface, chapters, and epilogue. We've never talked about how a story should be formatted (nor how paragraphs or sentences should be formatted), but nonetheless she decided upon all of that on her own, and pointed out where she wanted parentheses inserted into the story.
  • Reading aloud while they trace letters - During our read-aloud time, my kids are encouraged to work on tracing their penpal letters (or other compositions). This helps keep their hands busy while I'm reading aloud, and gives them an opportunity to practice writing on a regular basis if they choose to do so.
  • Refraining from correcting their writing - My tendency to over-correct my daughter during the early years of homeschooling created in her a fear of failure and a tendency to back away from figuring things out on her own. It doesn't come naturally for me to not point out my children's mistakes, but I have purposely learned to bite my tongue. This gives my children a safe space to learn without feeling that their self-worth is somehow tied into whether or not they make writing mistakes.  
Within the context of inspiring my children to write, the following resources have been helpful in allowing my children to enjoy the process of developing the fine motor skills that are necessary for writing. My children are not required to use any of these; nonetheless, these are the writing resources they have chosen to use most often.
  • Maze and tracing workbooks - Both of my kids have enjoyed using maze and tracing workbooks from around 2-6 years old. We used Kumon workbooks, and both of my kids loved using these books. (Note: I only like 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.) 
  • Dot-to-dot books - Now that my kids are a little older, they seem to enjoy dot-to-dot pages more than mazes. There are many dot-to-dot printables on the internet, but so far the best resource I have found is The Greatest Dot-to-Dot Book in the World. Both of my kids love this book.
  • Tracing pages - For penpal letters and other correspondence that my children want to send, it works well for me to type while my children dictate. I then print the letters with a light-colored font to allow for easy tracing of the letters by my children. They have enjoyed using both a printing font as well as a cursive font. I use the following fonts for this activity: 
      • Print Clearly - This is a nice, basic printing font.
      • Learning Curve - This is a cursive font that works fairly well. Because of the way the letters are designed in this font, there is a small amount of correction needed after printing (such as inserting the leading swoop at the beginning of a word), but nonetheless this is the best font I have found for cursive. 
  • Madlibs - These fun, fill-in-the-blank worksheets have given us lots of entertainment. My daughter enjoys filling out the Madlibs and then entertaining us all by reading the silly story she has created.
  • Hangman - Both of my kids enjoy playing Hangman, where 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 game - My daughter likes to play a game where we pretend we cannot hear, so that we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter references a chart of words to help in spelling the words she wants to write.

Overcoming Her Dislike of Writing

So how is this all working out for my daughter, who disliked writing by age 6? She is now 10-years-old, and doesn't seem to have any strong feelings one way or the other about writing. Considering how much she used to dislike writing, I see this as a win! 

My daughter definitely loves creating stories and entering story contests. She is starting to set goals for herself to practice writing more because she has identified that as an area she would like to improve upon. So, instead of tracing all of her letters to penpals and relatives, she is choosing to handwrite some of them. She also writes little notes to herself or to me, as needed in her day-to-day life.

After seeing me write in my commonplace place book over the last several years, my daughter decided to start her own commonplace book. She uses this book as a place to copy down her favorite poems. She is also creating a handwritten book out of the ~4500-word story that she dictated to me earlier this year. Because I stopped myself from correcting her handwriting, she has had the freedom to develop her own beautiful handwriting style, which she based upon the font in one of  her favorite books.

I am so thankful that I learned there was a better way for my children to learn how to write, so that my 10-year-old daughter has been able to grow past her dislike of writing. Meanwhile, my 7-year-old son hasn't had any of the negative emotional baggage that his sister had, so he has been free to learn writing in a natural, unpressured way. Learning from my mistakes and finding a better path has been well worth it. 

What has been your experience with teaching writing to your children? What do you remember about your own writing education?



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Sunday, September 24, 2017

USA Unit Study - $6 Through 9/30/17 Only

In case any of you are interested, my All Around the USA Unit Study is currently available for only $6. On October 1st, the price will increase to $8.

All Around the USA is a read-aloud-based unit study that is designed to make learning about the United States fun and engaging for children and parents/educators alike. Rather than focusing on memorization of states and capitals, this unit study seeks to give a small sense of the culture in each region of the USA.

This unit study incorporates the following for each region:
  • geography
  • history
  • Native American studies
  • science
  • stories and folk tales
  • chapter books, including book suggestions for the parents/educators themselves
  • media to accompany the read-alouds
  • pictures of landscapes and famous sites
  • food and recipe suggestions
For more information about this unit study (including sample pages), or if you are interested in buying the unit study, click here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Minestrone Soup (grain-free : nutrient-dense)

Homemade soup is one of my favorite things about the cooler months of the year. Since the heat of summer is finally abating, I'm ready to embrace soup back into our dinner repertoire.  This minestrone soup recipe combines two types of beans with lots of veggies in a flavorful broth. This soup gets a flavor punch thanks to the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, a Parmesan cheese rind, and fresh herbs.

Minestrone Soup

Serves 6-8

  • 3/4 cup of dried kidney beans
  • 3/4 cup of dried white navy beans
  • filtered water
  • dash of baking soda
  • 2 Tb butter, preferably the nutrient-dense yellow type
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups filtered water (or substitute with more chicken broth if using storebought broth)
  • 4 tsp Celtic sea salt (use less salt if your tomatoes and/or chicken broth are salted)
  • Parmesan cheese rind
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 stalks of chard, stems chopped and kept separate from the greens
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • one 18-ounce jar of diced tomatoes
  • 3 Tb sundried tomatoes (in olive oil), minced
  • 1 Tb fresh oregano, minced (or substitute 1 tsp dried)
  • 1&1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (or substitute 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 2 Tb fresh basil, minced (or substitute 2 tsp dried)
  • 3 Tb tomato paste
  • 1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, chopped
  • finely shredded Parmesan cheese, to garnish

  1. Cover the beans with plenty of filtered water. The beans will soak up quite a bit of water, so be sure to add plenty. Add a dash of baking soda and allow the beans to soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight.  This important step reduces the phytic acid antinutrient in the beans.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans. Drain in a colander. 
  3. Chop the onions. Melt the butter in a 4-quart pot. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Saute for 5 minutes. 
  4. Add the beans to the pot. Cover with 3 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of filtered water. 
  5. Bring the pot to a boil. Skim off and discard the foam. Add 2 tsp salt, the Parmesan cheese rind, and bay leaves.  Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the beans are soft, about 1.5-2 hours. Stir occasionally.
  6. Meanwhile, chop the carrots and celery. Remove the leaves from the chard and mince the stalks. Reserve the chard leaves for Step 8. Mince the garlic. For the sundried tomatoes, I find it works best to put them in a bowl and then mince with a pair of kitchen shears. Mince the oregano, rosemary, and basil.
  7. Once the beans are cooked, add the carrots, celery, chard stalks, garlic, sundried tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, basil, and tomato paste to the pot. Stir in 2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cover the pot and simmer for 25 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, mince the chard leaves and chop the zucchini.
  9. Add the zucchini and chard leaves to the pot. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
  10. Taste the broth and adjust the salt and pepper as desired. Remove the bay leaves.
  11. The Parmesan rind can be removed, or it can be chopped up and consumed with the soup by anyone who loves strong flavors.
  12. Finely shred Parmesan cheese to use as a garnish. A microplane zester works well for this.
  13. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and enjoy!
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