Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Restful School Year 2014-2015

We are expecting our 5th little berry in December. Right smack in the middle of our school year. My pregnancies aren't easy, so our school year will have to be.

Last year we completed the switch from a workbook-based curriculum to a Mom-centered one. We no longer pull out our stack of books and get to business, each on his own. Now we all sit down together and talk, listen, discuss, interact. We have always had some of this, but now it's all we do. 

Except, I can't do that much. I need to rest. And after baby comes, I will have to tend to that little person above all else. We are 2 out of 4 with colic, so I'm planning to be unavailable for 3 months.

How are we going to do this?

Well, first, I cut out everything but the barest essentials:


We are really enjoying a monthly block schedule. I went with that again. But instead of 2 or 3 topics each month, I cut it down to one.


I can throw in other things as we find time. But if we don't find time, I've got it covered. 

Another minor challenge this year, Sagg is moving up solidly into the middle grades and leaving elementary work behind. This is fine for me. He works independently for the most part. But I do have to find new materials for him, and schedule them separately from the rest of the kids. I find myself playing musical kids. Instead of all sitting down together to do our lessons, I have one or two at a time, then switch, then switch, then switch. The first two weeks were a bit chaotic. Now 5 weeks in,  The chaos is mostly controlled. 

As I have heard from others who use a block or unit type schedule, we cover our material quickly. By concentrating on just one subject at a time, we are able to work through a year's worth of material in a month. This is great. And will work seamlessly once I've acquired all the texts necessary. But during this time of acquisition, what happens in reality is that we are constantly ordering books. Aries is halfway through his math. Sagg needs a writing book, and is finishing up his Physics. I am ordering those today. In a few weeks, Aries will be done with his math and needing another. Even with many of our materials being free online, we will never be done with our ordering. What we need and how often will depend on how fast the kids move through their work. I expect at some point this year that we will set aside the math books and camp out with times tables. But I don't know when. There is a bit of uncertainty in that. 

For the in-between times, I have some additional topics set aside. Sagg will do some logic work while he waits for his writing book. I have PreK/K free exercises on my Kindle for Gemini and Taurus to work on when I have a gap in their schedule. We have free online reading and math resources for extra practice while I rest and adapt to our new life with one more. 

I expect that we will cover a lot of material and do a lot of learning this year in spite of, or maybe because of, our lighter schedule. We have already completed our elementary biology unit. Sagg has copied and memorized The Children's Hour; Aries is still working on it. Gem has mastered all of his vowels, and he and Taurus are learning their consonant sounds. We are enjoying our learning, and enjoying each other.

That is my goal for the year. To find the fun and the love and the togetherness. To lose the whining and the bickering. To rest. To play. To just be. 



LOF Physics (Final Bridge today and tomorrow, a few follow up lessons, then a break)
LOF PreAlgrebra 1 and 2

Writing Strands 3,4, and 5
Writer's Workshop using No More, "I'm Done!"

KISS Grammar 6th Grade
Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading List for 4th through 6th grade 
Poetry copywork and memorization- HW Longfellow

Logic Countdown
Logic Liftoff


Life of Fred Butterflies, Cats, Dogs, Edgewood
Tumblebooks math stories
Arithmetic Village
Assorted printable games

Writer's Workshop 
100 Book Club
Mensa For Kids Excellence in Reading K-3
Progressive Phonics Advanced

Poetry copywork and memorization- HW Longfellow


Gemini (and Taurus, as much as he can):

Arithmetic Village
Printable Games
Tumblebooks Math stories
Counting to 100 by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s

Addition 1-10

Tumblebooks Early Readers
Kindle and library story books
Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading

Mensa For Kids Excellence in Reading K-3
Multimedia writing practice

Memorization- Days of the week, Seasons, Months of the Year, nursery rhymes

PreK rotation from last year

All together:

Story of the World 3
Pronto Lessons Biology, Anatomy, Physics
Mango Japanese

Friday, May 9, 2014

Picture Study

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I am streamlining our homeschool, combining necessary tasks with the subjects we are studying The result of this is more free time, more room in our day to play and to add in extra lessons that we have not had much room for in the past. 

On of these new endeavors is Picture Study (or artist study later, but last month, just picture study). 

Charlotte Mason  recommended artist study as a critical part of a child's cultural education. We follow a Classical approach, inspired by both Charlotte Mason and The Well-Trained Mind. This year, I am prioritizing some of the studies that have fallen by the wayside in recent years, including artist study, composer study and Poet study .

Last month, we studied Conversational Japanese. Along with the study of the language, we read Japanese folk lore, from which we took our copywork and picture study. 

For this lesson, we read Kogi's Mysterious Journey.


We chose our favorite picture. We studied it briefly, then I closed the book. Each child told me, in turn, what he remembered about the picture. I am always delighted to hear the differences in what they tell me. Their perceptions are all so unique.

Once we have all spoken, I reopen the book and we look again. Each child can point out what he spoke of that the other children did not see.
I show them different artistic elements in the picture. In this one, the impression of movement, the layering of color to create light and texture, story-telling elements of the picture, the dark outlines reminiscent of wood block printing. 

Now it's time to get into it. I laid out paper and water colors, and set up the open book for inspiration. I do not encourage the children to copy the picture. I instruct them to use the elements and style they see in the picture to create something of their own. Again, I get to see their unique perceptions and personalities shining through. 

During Picture study month, we do this about once a week (allowing for days out of the house, holidays, illness, other time constraints). Another day, we read a book illustrated in torn paper collage. They had a lot of fun recreating a burning rice field featured in Tsunami!

This simple practice has been a rewarding and enjoyable addition to our homeschool. 

Poetry Study and Dictation

We are expanding our poetry study. We have always had some loose poetry study, taking different forms over the years. Beginning now, and heading into next year (we have accomplished most of our goals for this year, so we're getting a head start on next year), I am formalizing our poetry study a bit. 

We will choose a poet to study every 3rd month or so. (Artists and composers get the other 2 months). This month, Sagittarius,11, has chosen Longfellow. 

We will read books about Longfellow, some background of his life and times, and of course, we will read and recite some of his works. 

I have spent much of this year streamlining our processes. I have found that prepared curricula includes a great deal of overlap. I am breaking down the tasks and working them in to existing parts of our day. Narrations aren't just for history. We can narrate anything we read. Copywork does not need to be a separate exercise. Copywork can be integrated into whatever we are reading together. 

What is copywork and why do we do it? In short, copywork and dictation teach the child what good writing looks like. Their eyes see it, their hands practice it, their memories cache it. When it's time for them to create their own work, they will have solid models and practice applying the rules in the proper way. Correct work will come naturally. 

What is copywork? Exactly what it sounds like. For little children, I write out a short passage-one or two lines-in a three lined notebook. I like ones with half of the page blank for illustrations.  The child then copies the piece exactly, in his best handwriting, with correct capitalization and punctuation. 

For the older child, a longer piece, wide- or college- ruled notebook, and additional exercises increase the challenge. He can copy directly from the text. Sagg does this on his own while I tend to younger children. 

For 4th grade or so onward, we add several forms of dictation. 

I have not read Brave Writer's Writer's Jungle or used her programs, but from reading her blog, and online discussions, as well as doing a bit of my own research, I have devised our own program. 

We all know that dictation is the writer writing what is read or spoken by the reader. Direct dictation is very useful in creating quality writing. But there are other forms of dictation which help the process along tremendously. 

Dictation goes both ways. A younger child dictates to the parent, who scribes the child's words, then reads them back to him (with appropriate editing). This allows even the youngest child to create written work, long before his mechanical skills will allow him to write. If he can read, he reads his words back to the parent, and sees how they should look on paper.

When the child takes dictation, he has read a passage, perhaps copied it. Then it is read to him, and he must recreate it perfectly. This is a challenging exercise. 

Reverse  Dictation is copywork in which the piece is presented in written form with no capitalization or punctuation. The child rewrites the piece correctly. 

French dictation is a similar exercise in which the piece is presented with missing words. Just a few at first, then more and more words missing until the piece is just a very bare framework. 

By this point the child is ready to recreate the whole passage from memory. I have found that Sagg can recite the piece by the time I'm ready to dictate it to me. Show off. 

Here's an example of how this process works. 

Day 1: We read the piece, select a passage, and copy it.
            Today we are reading The Children's Hour. I will have each child choose a short passage to copy. I will point out the nonstandard spacing, capitalization, and punctuation, as well as the possessive apostrophes. 

            "Between the dark and the daylight, 
              When the night is beginning to lower, 
              Comes a pause in the day's occupations,     
              That is know as the Children's Hour."

Day 2: Reverse Dictation
            For this verse, I will remind the child of possessive apostrophes and nonstandard capitalization. 

             "between the dark and the daylight

               when the night is beginning to lower
               comes a pause in the days occupations
               known as the childrens hour"

Day 3: French Dictation 
            "Between the ____ and the ____ 
              When the ____ is ____ to ____
              Comes a pause in the ____ ____
              Known as the ____ ____."

Day 4: Straight Dictation
             I read the passage to the child, and he writes it, perfectly and neatly, in his copybook. If there are mistakes, I prompt him to find and correct them. 

At this point, he is usually able to recite the verse. If he wishes to do so, I will encourage him to.

Dictation and copywork are ongoing in our homeschool, not just limited to poetry study. We use this process with literature as well. Exposure to a great variety of writing styles increases the children's writing vocabulary. I try to choose beautiful, meaningful, picturesque works for them to copy from. I allow them to choose the lines that move them. They often choose longer pieces than I would have given them. They enjoy this process much more than I would have expected. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fermented Pickles

I have made refrigerator pickles before, but this time, I wanted to try my hand at fermented pickles. 

 Fermentation does not =alcohol, Sourdough bread is fermented. Fermentation produces those healthy bacteria we refer to as probiotics. Fermented foods have a plethora of health benefits.

Fermentation also helps stave off spoilage. Before people knew about probiotics, they knew that fermented foods last a long time. Before refrigeration, this was critical to survival. Now, in the age of global produce trade, it's still convenient and cost effective. I bought a half case of pickling cucumbers for $20. That's about 20-30 pounds of cucumbers. We ate about a third fresh, I pickled 15 quarts, and I lost a few to spoilage :( The salt and vinegar I used are negligible. That's a lot of food for $20. 

I used the instructions in Every Step in Canning: The Cold Pack Method, a free e-book available from Amazon and the Gutenberg Project. Originally published in 1920 as a pamphlet for housewives, I had to make a few adjustments. For instance, I used canning jars instead of a crock or wooden tub. I screwed my lids on instead of sealing my jars with paraffin, and I moved my jars to the refrigerator after they finished fermenting. I suppose, in theory, refrigeration is technically unnecessary, but I found that 2 additional days on top of the fridge made my pickles slightly more sour than I would prefer. I have room in the fridge, so in they went. They should be able to hang out in there indefinitely. I'm hoping to hold onto these until next spring. 

First, lets talk about cucumbers. 

Pickling cucumbers are smaller and firmer than garden cukes. The pickling process softens them a bit. While these raw pickles are much crisper than ones you find in the store or homemade heat-canned pickles, they do still need to be quite firm to hold up to the process. Garden cucumbers are better suited to a refrigerator pickle. 

Other veggies besides cucumbers will work well in this preparation. Watermelon rind, radishes, green tomatoes, green beans, turnips, carrots, and anything of a similar texture will work. I have only used cucumbers, but I do plan to do this with watermelon rind this summer. 

Alrighty, let's get started. 

First, wash your cucumbers well. If they come from a grocery store, they may have a wax coating. Scrub that off. Yuck.

Next, slice them, quarter them, or whatever. If you have a LARGE container, such as a glass gallon jar, you may leave them whole. Smaller jars won't hold whole pickles.

A word about containers. You want something stable. There is vinegar involved here. Metal and plastic are no-nos. Glass, crockery, even "non-pitchy wood", whatever that means, are fine. When in doubt, go with glass. 

Wash your containers. There is no need to sterilize as in canning. Just soap and water. 

These pickles are sliced the long way, and a sprig of dill rests at the bottom.

Next, pack your jars. If you wish, put a sprig or two of fresh dill in the bottom of your jar, or whatever spices you wish. You don't need dill or pickling spice. Most "dill pickles" in the grocery store have no dill. They are just plain pickles. My first batch was plain. They are quite flavorful all on their own. 

Then lay the jar on its side. Pack the cucumbers firmly into the jar. When the brine goes in, everything will loosen up and shift around a bit. You want them to stay in place.


Leave a bit of room at the top. The pickles must be completely submerged. If one piece sticks out, the whole jar will spoil. 

Brining solution

Now it's time to mix the brine. 

To one gallon of clean, filtered drinking water, add 1 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup salt. You can use whatever kind of vinegar and salt you like. This is a very mild brine. It's NOT a pickling solution. This solution alone will not preserve your pickles. The vinegar in this brine will only protect your cucumbers until the fermentation can kick in. It's just a booster. 

I chose raw, organic apple cider vinegar, mainly for the antifungal benefits. It's the only vinegar approved for Gem's Candida Diet. Because these pickles have no sugar, and no additives or preservatives-or dyes, did you know most pickles have yellow dye? Why?!!?-they are safe for Gem, and anyone else on a variety of special diets.

Choose your salt wisely. The salt will concentrate in the pickles. My kids reported that the pickles I made were very salty. (They still downed a quart for lunch, so they weren't bad, just saltier than expected.) Pickling salt is a low-quality salt. It has a strong flavor. I would recommend using a good-tasting salt with a flavor you prefer. I used an inexpensive sea salt

You will need half as much solution as the volume of your pickle containers. One gallon of brine will fill 2 gallon jars, or 8 quart jars. 

Fill the jars with brining solution to the tops. Make sure that the pickles are completely covered. If jars aren't packed tightly enough, the cucumbers may float to the top and spoil. 

Place the lids loosely. Don't screw them tight yet. Label them with the date. 

Place the jars in a safe, warm place. Heat speeds fermentation. I put mine on top of the fridge. This is my usual fermenting area :)  You can see my kombucha and my oil infusions up there as well.
In a day or two, you should see a few bubbles if you gently shake the jars. There's no sugar in here, so it won't get fizzy. Leave them up there for about a week. 

After they are sufficiently fermented, check the tops for scum. If any has formed, skim it off. Screw the lids on tightly. Move the jars to the refrigerator, a root cellar (if you don't live in Louisiana and you have one), or eat them up right away. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sushi Fried Rice

Our lunches are often thrown together from this and that, whatever I find in fridge and pantry. The results are often rather impressive. 
Today is one of those days. 
D brought home sushi a couple of days ago. I had leftover rice in the fridge. I tossed together the leftover dipping sauce and wasabi with a few pantry staples and -voila!- Sushi Fried Rice. 
Fried rice is one of my go-to recipes. It's much easier than you might think. The extra toppings turn a basic dish into something special. 

This is more of a process than a recipe. I didn't measure anything. It's all a matter of taste. I'll walk you through it. 

1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet. 

2. Add diced onions. Saute lightly. Scootch them to the side. 

3. Beat an egg or two. Drizzle the eggs into the hot oil. Scramble. Scootch them over with the onions. 

4. Add the cold, leftover rice. Cold rice works best here. Other grains can be used in place of the rice. Quinoa is very good in this dish. 

5. Stir together the rice, onions and eggs, frying lightly. 

6. Pour dipping sauce or soy sauce over the top. Add a bit of wasabi. Stir well. 

7. Shred some carrot and sliver some pickled ginger and kale, if you have it. Fold those in. Heat through. 

8. Remove from heat. Spoon into bowls. Top with shredded nori and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve. 

Sugar free, low carb oat bran-flax porridge

Gemini is on the Candida Diet to help his tummy feel better. He is doing very well, but unfortunately, his favorite breakfast of "eatsmeal" is contraband. 
Luckily, this breakfast is an excellent replacement.

Heat 1 cup of water to boiling.

Add 1/2 cup oat bran and 1/4 cup flax meal.

Stir constantly until thick and creamy.

Remove from heat. Spoon into a bowl.

Top with coconut milk, butter or substitute, and a half packet of stevia

He likes it. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vegan sushi-How to make sushi at home

Earlier today, I posted about Vegan Fried Eggplant. I mentioned that it was meant to be used in sushi. 

Here's the sushi. 

Yum. Sushi.

First- definitions.

Sushi does not = raw fish. At all.

Sashimi is raw fish. Sashimi is sometimes used to make sushi, but not always. 

Sushi is a broad term which refers to a variety of tasty little morsels, usually (but not always) including rice, Nori seaweed papers, and fish, shellfish, egg, fruit and/or vegetable toppings/fillings. Some are cooked, some are not. Soy paper or thinly sliced cucumber (or, I'm sure, many other alternatives I haven't seen yet) can be used in place of the nori. Nigiri does not require any wrapper at all. Nigiri is essentially a block of rice with a slice of fish (usually raw) or some other topping, on top. 

The rolls that we often refers to as sushi, and which I show above, are called Maki, meaning log. Maki can be filled and sometimes topped with any number of ingredients and sauces varying widely depending on where one lives. In Japan, choices are limited and deeply traditional. In the US, we can get a little crazy.

The title of this post is Vegan Sushi. I used only nonanimal-derived ingredients. Sometimes we use cooked seafood, or eggs. I NEVER use raw fish. Never. D eats sashimi. I try not to watch.

Later in the post I will make grain-free, low carb, and raw sushi. Sushi can easily be gluten free. Just check your ingredients before you begin. Soy sauce is the big offender here. 

All right. Now that we know what we're doing, let's get started.

First, we set up our assembly station. 

The rice isn't here yet because it's still cooking. We'll handle that in a minute.
Clockwise from top left, we have a serving tray, cucumber ribbons, steamed asparagus, halved, carrot ribbons,the fried eggplant from earlier, nori,a sushi mat in a zipper bag, avocados, a small cutting board and a small, sharp, serrated knife.

You can use anything you like here. Real Japanese sushi is limited to seafood, pickled vegetables, eggs, and a few soy products. But we aren't in Japan, so we can use whatever we want. Here in Louisiana, some popular choices are fried crawfish, fried shrimp, cream cheese, crab, krab, local fish, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, jalapenos, cucumber, carrots, and fried tempura breading, called "crunchies". No joke.

Let's talk rice. 
Sushi rice that you can buy in the store is NOT Japanese sushi rice. It is illegal to import or export rice to and from Japan. Rice is sacred and traditional and not to be played with. At all. It is serious business. 

Sushi rice in the US is probably from California. It's an imitation, and in my opinion, not a very good one. So pretty much, use whatever rice you want. It doesn't really matter. Technically, sushi should be made with short grain rice, but I use local medium grain rice, and it works okey doke. Minute rice or anything out of a box should NOT be used. Cook some real rice. 

Traditionally, hot sushi rice is dumped into a large, flat, wooden bowl and paddled and fanned with paper fans to cool. I don't have a wooden bowl, so I use a stainless steel one. Use what you have. 

Woo wee! Look at that steam coming off that rice. 
Sushi rice should be seasoned with palm sugar, soy sauce and rice vinegar. I like to squeeze in a little wasabi paste, as well, but that is cheating. It should be added to the finished rolls. I don't mind.  Adding it to the rice lends the flavor without burning my children's lips off. 

Wasabi is a root, similar to a horseradish. If you can get fresh wasabi, grab it up. Store it in the freezer. Grate it into your rice. Lucky you.
For the rest of us, wasabi comes in powder or paste. Powder can be reconstituted into paste. I buy paste.
Check the package for the word "sauce". If it's there, put it back. It's mayonnaise that has been seasoned with wasabi. You don't want that.
If you can't find wasabi, or don't care for it. no loss. Just don't use it. 

Black soy sauce or sweet soy sauce is soy sauce which has been sweetened with palm sugar. I keep some in the house because it's dangerously delicious. Regular soy sauce and brown sugar will work, too. 

Rice wine vinegar has a light, clear, sweetish flavor. This one is diluted to 5% concentration. If you buy it from a regular grocer, it will probably be stronger. Use less. You don't want your rice to be acrid. 
If you don't have rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar is ok. 

This was 4 cups of uncooked rice. It's a really big bowl. Use about this much sauce. You can't see the vinegar, but it's in there. A little less than the other two.

Fold the rice over and over until sauces are evenly distributed and rice is cool. 

Now it's time to assemble the rolls. 

Sometimes we assemble at the table. I let the kids take turns choosing what goes into each roll. This is great fun for the kids, and wholly exhausting for me. Today, I preassembled. 

My production assistant

This is my sushi mat. It's made of little bamboo rods woven together with string. The zipper bag keeps it clean. When we're done, I wash the bag, and put it back in the drawer till next time.
The sushi mat is nice to have, but not necessary. I only use it when I'm having trouble. You can make rolls without one if you don't have one. If you do, use it. It might make it easier. 

I don't know my nori is half sheets instead of the usual square, but well, there it is.
Lay a single sheet of nori out rough side up. 

Use a rice paddle or large, flat wooden spoon to spread the rice on the nori in a thin layer. This is where the long-vs-short grain rice varies. Short grain rice is softer and stickier. 

Pro tip: Slice the avocado in half. Twist it like an oreo. It will come apart cleanly. Score the flesh all the way to the skin. 

Use a spoon to scoop out one slice at a time. 

To remove the seed, stick the tip of the knife into the seed and pop it out. 

Back to sushi making. 

Layer up some fillings in the center. 

Flip one side over the top and squeeze gently, tucking the end in on the opposite side. 

Open it up, and you should have something like this. 

Flip it around and do it again with the other side. You should now have-taa-daa!- a maki sushi!

Slice it carefully. Press the two ends towards each other and lift the whole thing. Place it on the tray. 

Repeat with lots of fillings. 




A word about fillings: 

Keep it small. Thin slices, julienne, shreds, matchsticks, ribbons. Smaller is better.

Sushi is meant to be eaten in one perfect bite. Be mindful that your rolls are not over filled. 

Looks good.

Now, lets talk about gluten free, grain-free, low carb, raw sushi. This is easier than you think. 

Nori is generally considered to be raw because it is cooked at a low temperature. If you would rather, substitute raw kale leaves in their place. Use raw fruits, veggies, nuts and butters for you filling. 

For everyone else, leave out the rice. 

No rice

The process is the same, except that the rolls won't stick quite as well. The sticky rice does that. 

We don't slice these. Pick them up and eat them whole. For these, I do prefer the smaller nori sheets. I find the extra fillings...filling. I can only eat one or two of these and I'm stuffed. 


Wasn't that easy?

Vegan Fried Eggplant

 I love fried eggplant. It's hearty and meaty, and it makes one heck of a burger. But I don't like making it with eggs. 

This batter is light and crispy without that heavy, eggy, soggy texture. 

I cut these guys into strips because they will be going into sushi rolls tonight. Normally the eggplant is sliced into rounds, battered, fried and topped with cheese and sauce, or served in a sandwich. You might find that you want to try serving these in some other manner. Go for it.

Eggplant is the meat-loving vegan's best friend. It happily takes the place of a variety of meats in many different dishes. 

To choose a ripe, not-over-ripe eggplant, look for a smooth, dark skin and firm, slightly spongy flesh. 


1 large, ripe eggplant

Flour of your choice, approximately 2 cups

Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper, or other seasoning of your choice

1/4 cup water per 1tbs flax meal, adjust as needed

 A large amount of cooking oil for frying. I used coconut.

Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Do not allow oil to smoke.  

Wash and slice eggplant. Set aside. 

Stir together flour and seasoning in a shallow dish. Start with one cup flour. Season to taste. 

In a small bowl, combine water and flax meal. Let sit for a few minutes. It will thicken. Add enough to make 2-3 inches. If you find it is too thick, add more water. If it's too thin, add more flax. It will continue to thicken while you cook, Add more water as needed.
The thicker the flax mixture, the heavier the batter. Adjust to your taste. 

Dredge eggplant in flax mixture, followed by flour mixture. 

Fry in oil till lightly golden brown. Turn and fry on other side. 

It's messy, but it's worth it.

Remove to a cooling rack on a baking sheet. 


These sticks are great for kids to dip into ketchup or ranch dressing. 

1 medium-large eggplant made 2 of the trays shown above.