Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Real World Impact of a Vote

I would like to dedicate a blog post to my thoughts on voting for impact.  I rarely post about specific political issues but I really feel that this issue is worth a post.

First, I think it is important for each individual to decide what his/her motivation is in voting.  Individuals can have a plethora of reasons for voting.  Those reasons will affect how we vote.  One may vote out of obligation/duty to the country or those who have sacrificed for the freedom to vote.  This is honorable and is one of my reasons for voting but there is more.  One may vote to gain bragging or complaining "rights" or to make a statement.  One may vote according to a pet issue. Eighteen year old citizens may vote solely on the idea that they have finally grown into the right to do so.  But, there is more.  While some of these are strong reasons to vote, most can lead to legalism.  And, I have to ask, can any of these reasons be the entirety of the motivation to vote?

I believe that there is so much more.  Because I cannot sever the real world impact of my vote and it's consequences from who my conscience says is the best person to receive my vote, I will vote to have the most impact for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (not a guarantee of happiness...but that is another post all together...*smile*).  It is easy to get hung up on the "statement" of the vote, but in doing so, we can miss out on the blessing of what it truly means to live in a democracy...having an impact on the world around us.  So, if you agree that a vote should be cast to have the most impact, then the question that follows is how does a vote have the most impact?

In a general election when the election is coming down to two parties, a conservative vote for a third party candidate will have no positive impact on the election.  I am not opposed in general to third party candidates.  But, in an election where there is no conceivable way that the third party candidate can win, a vote for that candidate is a statement vote.  It will not have an affect on preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I have had conversations with those who willingly admit that their third party candidate would not win.  Yet, they would vote for conscience and make a statement.  Meanwhile, real life issues (and life itself) are on the line.  While the election four years ago was not close and the third party votes probably did not put our current president into office, this year the election is much tighter and a third party vote could very well be a vote against life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So, as you study the candidates, judges, and propositions that are on your ballot this election, let me encourage you to consider the impact that your vote will have for protecting the most life, preserving the most liberty, and supporting the pursuit of happiness.  Let's not make statements this year.  Let's  vote to have an impact.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt

Fall is here...I think.  Because we live in the Valley of the Sun, it is sometimes difficult to tell when autumn is officially here.  My mind tells me that it is time for baked pumpkin yummies, but the temperature outside (today around 100) tells me that it is time for ice cream.

So, to reconcile the two, I decided to follow a recipe that I found on Pintrest and make Frozen Pumpkin Yogurt.  It was so easy and only used four ingredients.

Homemade Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt
1 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt, strained
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Mix the four ingredients together and stick in the freezer.  Set a buzzer for one hour and stir.  Set the buzzer for another hour and stir.  One more time, and you are done:)

I altered the recipe a bit (as I usually do...haha) and used agave instead of sugar.

In the end, I guess I didn't stir often enough because it is frozen pretty solid and is also more bitter than I imagined.  Guess I will do some adjusting to the recipe.  If I find a combination that I like better, I will follow up here with a new recipe:)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chemicals...the fewer the better

I have been on a journey for many years to live a healthier lifestyle.  Much like learning to love the people in my life, this is a journey without a specific destination.  At no point will I "arrive" at the healthiest lifestyle possible.  It is a journey of constant adjustment and adding or loosing one more thing that makes our family lifestyle just a bit healthier.

Today, it is about taking a step toward fewer chemicals in the house.  I am in love with vinegar!  No really.  It is the most amazing natural product that I have can eat it.

For a year now, I have been putting vinegar in the rinse cycle of my cloth diapers, soiled sheets, or any laundry that needs odor control:)  I was skeptical at first because it has such a strong odor itself.  But, I have been pleasantly surprised at the lack of odor in my dry diapers, etc..

Today, I decided to get rid of some chemicals that we use to clean our kitchen and bathrooms and replace with vinegar.  I guess I am just a skeptic at heart because I am a bit skeptical here as well.  This is a test.  Vinegar is a natural disinfectant...another positive to using it on the cloth diapers...and a great reason to use it in the kitchen and bathrooms.  However, my nose tells me that Clorox and Pine-sol are the smells of clean.  But I had to ask myself...why?  These smells (good or bad) are what smell clean to me because that is what I have trained my nose and brain to believe.  I have to admit that neither of those smells are wonderful.   I will be retraining my nose and brain to believe that vinegar is the smell of clean:)  We'll see if it works...haha.

Even Peter joined me on this experiment and cleaned the inside of a kettle with vinegar.  He was amazed by how clean it was and told me that vinegar is amazing.  This is wonderful because sometimes I drag him along on this "healthy lifestyle journey" kicking and screaming...well almost.  But today he is a believer too.

One of the best things about using vinegar is that I will no longer have chemicals under the cabinet in the bathrooms that pose a danger to little ones.  Also, the child that used to wipe down the bathrooms with clorox wipes each morning will now spray them with vinegar and wipe with a paper towel (I prefer to throw away the towels that we use for bathroom cleaning).  No more daily chemical exposure.

Here are the squirt bottles (purchased at Wal-Mart for around $3 each) that we now keep under the counters in every bathroom and the kitchen.  I am using full concentration vinegar as it comes already diluted and I want real disinfectant.

We will see if this experiment on the journey of healthy lifestyle works for our family.  I am hopeful that it will because it is quite cost effective as well:)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Spinach, Artichoke Pasta

I have been searching Pintrest for new recipes and found this spinach, artichoke pasta recipe.  Because we love spinach and artichoke dip, I thought I would give it a try and see how it would work for our family.

First, I gathered the ingredients.  I used fresh chopped baby spinach instead of frozen and doubled the recipe.  I tend to double recipes because of our family size but also because if I am going to use the time and energy to cook, I would like it to last for more than one meal.  At least that is the goal:)

Here is a picture of most of the ingredients.

1 12-oz box pasta (I used bowties)
1 tsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8 oz package reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 14 oz can artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained and chopped
10 oz chopped, frozen spinach, thawed, with as much excess water squeezed out as possible
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
Additional Parmesan for serving

First, I sauteed the garlic in butter and then melted the cream cheese (not pictured above) in the mixture.

When it was smooth I added the milk, sour cream, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and crushed peppers and simmered until smooth again.

Next I chopped the spinach and artichokes and added them along with a little Parmesan cheese.

I poured the mixture over cooked bowtie pasta and sprinkled a little more Parmesan over the top.

Peter and I love the dish, although it is very rich, a few of the kids liked it, and only one refused to eat it.  But, at three years old, I don't think that I would have eaten this either:)

The next day, we had the left overs as a side with grilled chicken...yum!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hands-On Learning

This year in school, we are studying "Rome to the Reformation" together as a theme unit study.  I love learning together for many reasons.  But, one of the best things is that we can do projects and experiments together and not have to repeat different projects six times at different levels.  I don't think that I would actually do that and we would loose much of what I believe is so important about education...learning hands-on. 

Here are a few pictures of this past week's projects.

Writing like a Roman:

We made a background and border from cardboard and then pressed clay in the middle.  The kids could then use a stick to write.

Making a cell model:

 Here we used a ziploc bad, yellow jello, and a grape to represent the three main parts of a cell.  Most of the kids ate their cell model for afternoon snack.  A little gross but the kids will remember these parts for years to come:)

Creating mini books of the Bible to learn how books are put together to create The Bible:

To do this, we used one large match box and six or so small match boxes per person.  I emptied all of the matches into bags.  We now have enough matches to last for years to come:)

The kids covered their small match boxes with construction paper to look like miniature books and then slid the mini books into the larger covered match box.  This was a great visual for them to understand the relationship between books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole.

*None of these projects were my original ideas.  They all came from our curriculum:)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chicken and Veggie Bake

I am always on the lookout for quick, healthy, whole food recipes that don't break the bank.  While looking around on Pintrest the other day, I came across a recipe that caught my eye.  I made a few alterations for our family and it turned out great.  Here is our Chicken and Veggie Bake.

I began preheating the oven to 350 degrees and sprayed a 9X13 dish with non-stick spray.  I had forgotten to thaw the chicken so I put in three pounds of frozen chicken tenderloins:)  I looked around to see what veggies that I had on hand that would go well in this dish and came up with new potatoes, baby carrots, broccoli, and yellow squash.  I chopped these veggies and placed them on either side of the frozen chicken like this.

 I baked the dish covered for 40 minutes.   Here is a picture of the final product.  Yum!  My kids prefer the carrots and broccoli to the potatoes so next time I will have more of those and less potatoes.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Strawbery Flop

I saw this fantastic recipe on Pintrest for dehydrating strawberries in the oven to make a sweet and healthy snack.  So, I decided to give it a try.

I washed the strawberries and cut the stems off.  Then, I lined them on a baking sheet.

I baked them at 210 degrees for three hours using the Pintrest recipe.

But, my results were less than desirable.

So, I call this my strawberry flop..haha.  Three members of our house liked and ate them in spite of the detestable way they look.  I was not one of them:)

Anyone have any suggestions on how to improve this?  The picture on Pintrest had beautiful red strawberries but mine were dark and shriveled.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Quick Healthy Lunch

Looking for a quick healthy lunch?  Here is what I do when I have little time to prepare a lunch for myself but want some real, whole foods to nourish. This has become one of my staple lunches.

I toast two slices of sprouted grain bread, melt a slice of cheese on each piece of toast (I happened to have cheddar today but I use whatever I have available), top with raw spinach, and avocado, and enjoy.  It is quick, easy, and quite yummy! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The news: Boy or Girl?

Well, today we had our ultrasound which revealed the gender of our new baby. 

I really wanted to do something creative for the kids to learn the news after the ultrasound.  So, I decided to bake two cakes, one pink and one blue.  I iced them both with white icing and stashed them away in the refrigerator. 

After the ultrasound, we picked the kids up and headed home.  You should have heard them guessing, chattering, and begging for us to tell them:)  On the way there most of them were guessing girl but on the way home they were mostly guessing boy.

Once home, we pulled out the cake and let Seth cut the cake while we watched to see their reactions to the news of a little brother or sister.

It's a BOY!! 

The ultrasound technician's response was "Your poor daughter".  This next picture is funny (even though a little blurry) because you can see that far away look in Abby's eyes...haha.  Poor thing, she was SO hopping for a little sister.  She will now have six brothers...and will be well protected:)  But, she may just get the privilege of having the baby in her room (when he is sleeping through the night) even though it is a boy.  She has been wanting that for a while now.

Wesley didn't care one bit as long as he was able to eat some of that cake.

So, we are searching to find yet another boy name that we love and are anxious to meet this new little guy!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

At the polls...again

Well, after collecting signatures for our congressional candidate at the polls last winter, hosting a meet and greet, and walking the neighborhood, we went back to the polls the night of our local primaries and encouraged voters to vote for our candidate.

Here is a picture of the kids holding signs as I passed out literature.  It was hot!  On the way there the temperature in our van went from 109 to 111.  Shouldn't it be going down at the end of the day? Yes, this was in the evening even though the sun was bright and it was well over 100 degrees.

This picture just looks like summer in Arizona, doesn't it?

Now that it is all over and our candidate didn't win in the primaries, I look back and am so glad that we took the kids out and educated them on the process.  They know that it is no easy thing to run for office.  It takes tons of work and sacrifice for you and all those who support you...and there is no guarantee that you will win on election night.

My older boys went out and put up signs for another friend's campaign for a local office.  That friend won his seat which made the boys day.

We will be looking for more opportunities for the kids to learn from experience about how our government works and we should have plenty of opportunities this election season.

How do you teach your kids about the election process?

To get more ideas on how to "learn through the elections", click on the label "learning through the elections" at the bottom of the screen.  

Three Keys to Homeschooling in Kindergarten

This year, for the fourth time, I started a new student in our homeschool.  Wesley is officially in Kindergarten this year.  So, I thought I would take some time to do a post on a few of the keys that I believe are important in formal education at this age.

First, here is a bit of background info on my journey and change of heart dealing with early education.

When I started homeshcooling I was so excited to start.  I had fond memories of homeschooling as a child and couldn't wait to start homeschooling my children.  My oldest was almost five, but not quite.  I had a three year old and one year old to juggle and jumped in with both feet.  It didn't take long to see that my oldest was not ready for formal education and I was not fostering a love for learning in him.  So, after just a few weeks, we put away the textbooks.

When the next year rolled around, I had more realistic expectations.  With a slight change of heart toward early education, I decided to lighten the load.  We studied Phonics, Math, and Handwriting several days a week which took about 45 min to an hour each time.  I then created my own theme units around the days of creation to study Science.  We took a month to study each day of creation.  We read books from the library, did experiments, created art projects, and went out in nature to examine God's creation.  This was a fantastic year, but it was still a bit much for him.

After following much the same method for the next two kids, I have had another slight change of heart.  I have seen the negative effects in my older children of more formal education in the early years than they were ready for.  I would like to avoid this with my younger children and also want to make learning as fun as it can be.

So, here are my three keys to homeschooling in Kindergarten.

1. Keep it simple.  There is really no reason teach secondary subjects to your Kindergarten child.  They may learn it and it can seem impressive but it really isn't in keeping with the development of that age.  A simple introduction to the basics of Math and Phonics is really sufficient and will create the basic foundation for later building blocks of learning.  Then, if there is a topic that they love such as animals you can add in great books, art, etc..  But, forcing the extras at an early age can create resentment toward learning that will rear it's ugly head in later years.

2. Keep it short.  At this age attention spans are usually very short.  If they are loosing interest it is a sign that it is time to move on to the next thing...even if you didn't get through your lesson...haha.  Developing a love for learning is more important than the amount of work that they do at this age.  Spending about 30 minutes  3 or 4 days a week is really plenty. I schedule an hour for Wesley because he has the desire and ability (that most of mine did not have at that age) to sit longer so that he can write and color his work thoroughly.  But, he is free to stop after 30 minutes and go play with Abby and the littles in the loft.  Whatever we don't get done in that 30 minutes can surely wait for the next day:)

3. Keep it hands-on.  Children of all learning styles still learn best at this age by actually doing things.  So, keep things as hands-on as possible.  Use Math manipulatives, games, Play-Doh, and puzzles as much as possible.  It is also a good idea to have a learning rich environment in your home where your Kindergartener can learn through games outside of the formal learning time.

Wesley will sit near and listen to the books that we read in the afternoon from "Rome to the Reformation".  But he will be on a mat with a game or puzzle to keep his little fingers busy.

I am always amazed by how much my little ones pick up from being near us while we do school.  I believe that they listen best when their fingers are busy:)

What things do you do to help your Kindergartener learn?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Large Family Organization: A Daily Homeschool Schedule

The new school year is upon us and I have been working to get organized so that we can make the most of this year.  Having a written plan has been such an amazing help to me over the years and over the years it has gradually become more detailed.  When I don't have a plan, I don't get things done.  I am just not that disciplined.  I need a plan to follow:)

So, I finally completed the work on our new daily schedule that we are using for this school year.  It usually takes a few weeks to make the changes and adjustments that inevitably come with a new schedule.  There were definitely a few kinks with scheduling the use of computers and loading specific programs onto specific computers.  Our desktop is about six years old and currently using a system other than Windows that is not compatible with a few of our programs.  So, we are still waiting on our new Windows program to get Language and Typing up and running. But it has allowed us to ease into the schedule with plenty of  "free time".  We did the morning schedule for three weeks before adding in the afternoon.

 Here is a picture of our schedule.

Some explanation of the schedule.

The "*" by something means that this item is done with me.  This helps me to see where I am needed throughout the day.

The underlining means that a computer is needed for this subject.  We have two computers so the kids have to take turns.  Without a schedule, I believe we would have a line of kids waiting and things might not get done.  At best, there would be a significant amount of time lost to waiting.

Each of the older kids takes a turn "babysitting" the three little boys in the loft or backyard (depending on the weather).  This gives them experience caring for the littles, deepens the relationships in smaller groups, and gives me small amounts of time that I can be focused on another child or chore.

I have found that we can easily wait until 1pm for lunch if I give everyone a handful of nuts or trail mix (usually around 11) and Abby gives the baby a bottle when she plays with him at 12.  It seems to work best to get all of these individual lessons done before lunch and we are not early risers:)

This year, we will take a half hour after each meal to allow for instruction and chores related to meal clean up.  I am hoping that this makes things run smoother, helps the kids learn what it takes to clean up after a meal, and give us some time where we are all working together in the kitchen.  Here is our meal clean up chore rotation.

We go ahead and schedule the evenings as well because they are always busy and without a schedule we were not getting it all done.  We want to worship together as a family as often as it works but without the schedule, we found that other things would often crowd out this time.  If we have plans or decide to be spontaneous one particular evening then we leave the schedule for that evening.

The great thing about having a schedule is that you can get it all done but you can also choose to skip parts on particular days to foster flexible living.

Fridays in our home are reserved for fieldtrips, park days, art, science experiments, etc. so we rarely follow this schedule on Fridays...unless we have had other disruptions to school during the week and need to catch up.

Because "Managers of Their Homes" was such a great help to me in organizing how we spend our time (It's amazing just how much time we do have in each day!), I decided to read and implement "Managers of Their Chores" this year. Maybe next summer I will read "Managers of Their Schools"...haha. I am excited to see how this plan will help us this year.  I will post on chore schedules and packs after we have had some time to try out the system and work out the kinks:)

What things do you do to organize your home and school?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Out With the Old and In With the New

Now that we have had our "first day of school" fun.  It's time to get down to business:)

One of the first things that we do every year is get out our notebooks or portfolios of last year's learning and clean them out.  As the kids pull out all of last year's work, they reminisce about all of the things they did and learned.  They also usually make comments on how much better their handwriting, spelling, and drawing skills are now compared to last year.  It's a great time for them to see the progress that they are making.  Here are some pictures of the "out with the old and in with the new" project.

With our new schedule, I will be teaching writing to the older three kids (together) using Writing Strands.  While we are all sitting at the table, it's a perfect time to have the littles do some basic art.  So, I purchased some "school supplies" for them as well:)

Here is a picture of Ransom doing art at the beginning of his day.

Here is Seth with his preschool crayons and cute little storage box.

Wesley also loves to draw and is content to sit and draw for the 30 minutes that the older kids are learning to write.  And, just maybe he is picking up a few things as well:)

I have worked the schedule so that all six kids have a place to be and a project to be working on throughout the morning.  So, while the older kids might be doing Math or Spanish, the little guys may be playing with one of the older siblings, having "mat time", compute time, or a nap for the baby.  As soon as it cools off outside, they prefer to play in the backyard.

Here are some pictures of the littles doing their scheduled activities.

Yes, our laptop is on a cooling rack as it tends to overheat...haha.  It is a dinosaur in terms of technology and so it's perfect for the littles:)

I am really excited to be done with the summer chaos and back into a neat schedule.  It ensures that I can get everything done and have one on one time with each child while they read to me or we clean up after a meal together.  Great conversations trump reading from time to time:)
So, out with the old and in with the new.  Looking forward to all we (yes, me too!) will learn this year about "Rome to the Reformation".

What things do you do to keep your littles occupied during school?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Encouraging Literacy Through Play

One of the foundational elements of our children's education is their literacy.  If they cannot read with understanding and communicate in written form, they will have difficulty with most any business or job that they pursue.

Because I believe this to be true, I look for ways to bring literacy into our lives through fun and play. You can read about our "In Love With Reading" that we do each February here.  It can't all be fun and games but the more learning that can happen through fun and games, the better!

So, last February when I was doing my grocery shopping, I noticed a sale isle filled with valentine left overs.  On this isle were little mailboxes filled with valentine cards marked down to just a step away from free...haha.  I picked up five of these little mailboxes and stashed them away for some fun literacy play.  Last week, I finally pulled them out (as the kids were suffering from some serious cabin fever in this desert heat) and the kids immediately went to work writing messages and sneaking them into each-others mailboxes.

They continued writing messages all day and then reading the messages left for them.  All of this writing and reading and I never had to "crack the whip" and make them learn.  They were eager, willing, and happy to learn (mostly because they didn't realize that they were learning...haha).

Here are a few pictures of the literacy fun.

All five of the older kids are keeping their mail boxes outside their bedroom doors and exchanging messages from time to time.

While I believe that literacy is foundational in the education of our kids, I do also believe that God has created each child with different strengths and weaknesses.  He will use these strengths and weaknesses to develop character and for the plan that He has for each life.  So, if, like me, you have a child who struggles in this area, don't fret.  Our loving Heavenly Father has created each child to be exactly who they should be...strengths, struggles, and all.  But the more exposure you can give them to an area of struggle through play, the more you diffuse the stress and give them a chance to learn without realizing that they are learning.

What do you do to encourage literacy in your home?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First Day of School Fun

Because we homeschool, we end up missing out on some of the excitement that surrounds the first day of school...a new teacher...etc..  So, I really like to create our own first day fun:)  Each year I look for some fun project that we can do on the first day of school before I introduce the kids to the new curriculum. 

This year I found that the aquarium near us would be having "homeschool week" at just the right time.  I suppose they know that homeschoolers will be the only ones venturing out in the first week or so of school.  So, Peter took the day off and we all went to the aquarium together.

First, the kids were part of a class where they were able to dissect a squid.  There was much anticipation over this.  They couldn't believe that they were going to actually cut open a squid.  I was pretty sure that a couple of them wouldn't make it through, but I was wrong.  They all enjoyed it.

Our little explorer.

Wesley did more looking than cutting, separating, or taking parts out...haha. 

What fun for the boys...and Abby too.

After the class, we walked through all of the aquarium rooms and studied the details of all of the different sea life.

I love it when they all do things together:)

Ransom loved these stingrays.  They kept coming over and rubbing up against the glass right in front of him and he would squeal with excitement.

 Yes, Seth is picking his nose again...sigh.

Inside the aquarium tunnel.

After driving home and a quick lunch and clean up (and a rest), we painted a sea life mural on a large piece of brown paper taped up on the wall outside.  It's still pretty hot our here so this project didn't last long.

And, we enjoyed some $1 water animals that I picked up the day before to keep us out of the gift shop.

Now to dig into the "book work".  We will be studying "Rome to the Reformation" this year.
Can't wait!!