Sunday, November 30, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas

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

Toys That Fuel Imagination and Active Play

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

Skin and Body Care

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

Natural Candles

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

Nature-Inspired Gifts

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

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

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins (nutrient-dense)

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

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

Our Daily and Weekly Homeschooling Routines

NOTE: There is a more recent post about our homeschool routine here.
Our Daily Homeschool and Housework Routine

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

Weekly Routine

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

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

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

Daily Routine

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

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

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    Ham, Broccoli, and Cheddar Quiche (grain-free : gluten-free : Primal)

    Mmmm, quiche. My 4-year-old son's favorite food is quiche: eggs and veggies in cheesy goodness, what's not to like?  Usually I make mushroom and cheddar quiche, but this week I wanted something different. Ham, broccoli, and cheddar made a fantastic combination.

    Ham, Broccoli, and Cheddar Quiche
    Serves 6-8
    • 1&1/2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen, preferably organic
    • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, preferably from grassfed cows
    • pinch celtic sea salt
    • 1 tsp green onion, minced (green parts only)
    • 1 small clove garlic, minced
    • 4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
    • 9 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
    • 3/4 tsp celtic sea salt
    • 3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
    • 2 ounces chopped ham
    1. Chop up the broccoli into smallish bits. 
    2. Melt the butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Add the broccoli and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
    3. Saute the broccoli for 5-10 minutes, until it has released its moisture cooked down a bit.
    4. Add the green onion and garlic, and saute for a minute or so, until they are fragrant.  Turn off heat and allow to cool some.
    5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl.  Add 3/4 tsp celtic sea salt and beat with a fork. Stir in the cheddar cheese, ham, and yogurt.
    6. Stir the egg mixture into the skillet with the broccoli.
    7. Place the skillet into a 350 degree F oven, and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the quiche is set in the center and beautifully browned on the edges.
    8. Let cool a bit, then slice and serve!  This pairs wonderfully with crispy fried potatoes and a green salad dressed with vinaigrette.  
    9. Store leftovers in a covered dish in the fridge.  They reheat well in a toaster oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.

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