Sunday, August 31, 2014

Peach Piecakes (Pie+Cake = Piecake)

For quite a while I've been .wanting to make peach piecakes. I saw a pin on Pinterest that led to Bakingdom.

The person who made them did a nice job with the lattice crust. By the time the top-crust and lattice work came around, I didn't take the same amount of time and effort to make the little piecakes look as neat and orderly as the original pin on Pinterest.

Oh doesn't really matter in the greater scheme of life. What matters is how the little piecakes taste which is incredible!

It's the best of both worlds: a peach pie and a vanilla cake topped with spiced peaches.

The recipe is one that requires you to move quickly once the baking process starts. It is best to have everything ready to go - the pie crust, peach filling, and cake batter - before the first step of putting the lower pie crust in the oven. Otherwise, you'll be scrambling to try to do the filling and batter in only ten minutes which is not enough time to get both done.

The original recipe says that there is enough to make 24 standard-sized piecakes. I found that the there was pie crust to make 12 piecakes. There was leftover cake batter and peach filling which I put into a small pie plate and baked. 

Perhaps doubling the pie crust ingredients (listed below) would result in a sufficient amount of dough for 24 piecakes.


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons shortening, cold
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small chunks
6-8 tablespoons cold water

2 egg whites, at room temperature (save the yolks to use in an egg wash, if desired)
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

4 peaches, peeled, pitted, quartered, and sliced thin
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch

To make the crust, mix the dry ingredients for a couple of seconds to combine, Add the shortening and mix until it looks like wet sand. Add butter until it is in tiny pieces.

Add about 6 tablespoons cold water and begin mixing with a fork. Once it is in dough-form, knead it on a floured surface.

Divide the dough in half evenly and shape into two balls. Put into a container and refrigerate for at least two hours or over night.

This is important: once the pie crust is chilled, make the cake batter. You want to have the cake batter and the peach filling ready before you bake the pie dough.

Combine the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a bowl, and whisk together. Set this aside.

Beat the butter on low speed until the mixture. Add the egg mixture. Then add the dry ingredients. Set aside while you prepare the pie crusts.

Next, make the pie filling: Combine the peach slices, sugars, and spices in a medium bowl, tossing to coat the peaches thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice and corn starch until well combined. Spread in a baking dish. This will be baked along with the piecakes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly coat muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

Remove your one of the balls of pie dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to a little less than 1/4-inch thick. Cut several 4 to 5-inch circles out of the dough, re-rolling the remaining dough, as needed.

Place each circle into the cup of the prepared muffin pan, pressing gently into the corners and trimming any excess dough away. Bake for 10 minutes. (Note: when I did this the pie crust shrank down to about halfway down each muffin tin. I thought it would be an issue when removing the piecakes, but it didn't matter. They came out easily.)

Remove the pie crusts from oven and immediately fill each muffin cup with 1 tablespoon of the cake batter.

Bake the filled pie crusts and the pie filling (which is in a separate pan) for 10 minutes.

While it is baking, roll out the remaining pie dough and cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch strips.

Remove the piecakes and filling from the oven and place about 2 tablespoons of the pie filling on top of each piecake.

Weave the pieces into lattice tops on each of the piecakes. Be careful as you weave the lattice tops since the peach filling is quite hot by this point. (Thus, one of the reasons I simply placed the strips on top of each piecake rather than weaving them)

Return to the oven and bake until lattices are light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely before serving.

There's a recipe for Ginger Whipped Cream. However, we used whipped cream that we had on hand that was already prepared. Nonetheless, perhaps this is something that we would try the next time that we make the piecakes:


1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoons vanilla

In a large bowl, whip the cream on medium high speed until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar and ginger and continue whipping until firm peaks form. Stir in the vanilla. Chill until ready to serve.

Protractor Art

One of the 4-H projects that Olivia did for the county fair this year was Protractor Art. The idea - which combines art with math - came from a pin on Pinterest that led to Art Is What I Teach.

In and of itself, the project looked interesting and one that Olivia wanted to try. However, I wanted her to see what the inspiration was for the project: Frank Stella's Protractor Series.

After learning about the artist and looking at his work on the internet, Olivia drew her own design using a pencil and protractor.

She outlined her design with a Sharpie marker, and then colored it with colored pencils.

She thoroughly enjoyed this project and was proud to have it displayed at the county fair.

Rappaccini's Daughter - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 36

For the 36th week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Rappaccini's Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Many years ago I watched this short story on a DVD from the library. I was intrigued and enjoyed the movie, so I was happy to be able to read the book this week.

Rappaccini's Daughter was published in 1844, and is about Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher in medieval Padua, Italy, who works in isolation as he grows poisonous plants in his garden. He raises his daughter, Beatrice, to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons. However, in the process of caring for the plants, she herself becomes poisonous to other living things (human and non-human).

A student, Giovanni Guasconti, moves into a home next door that overlooks the garden. He is amazed at the beauty and diversity he sees within the garden. Even more interesting to him is the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini.

He is unaware of the poisonous nature of both the plants and Beatrice. Yet, he is fascinated by Beatrice's odd relationship with the plants as well as how fresh flowers wither and how an insect died when exposed to her skin or breath.

At this point, it's too late for Giovanni. He's fallen in love with Beatrice and enters the garden. He meets with her many times while ignoring the warnings from his mentor, Professor Pietro Baglioni. He persistently warns Giovanni that Rappaccini and his work should be avoided.

Finally, Giovanni realizes that Beatrice is poisonous because she has been raised in the presence of poison. Beatrice urges Giovanni to look past her poisonous exterior and see her innocent and pure nature. Giovanni, although skeptical, continues to see Beatrice.

Eventually, Giovanni becomes poisonous himself due to being around the plants and Beatrice. The professor brings a tiny vial of a powerful antidote to Giovanni with the instruction that if he gives some to Beatrice that it will overcome the poisons in her.

However, as the professor leaves Giovanni with the vial, he says to himself, "We will thwart Rappaccini yet! But, let us confess the truth of him, he is a wonderful man! - a wonderful man indeed! A vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the medical profession."

Shortly thereafter and with hope, Giovanni brings the antidote to Beatrice so that they can be together. However, the antidote kills her rather than gets rid of her poisonous nature. In essence, the professor uses medicine in an equally malicious way as the father did...even though the original intent may not have been evil.

As she is dying, Beatrice shows her frustration and anger at what her father had done to her and, as a result, the isolated life she was forced to lead.

Yet, he claims that his intentions were beneficial to her and meant to protect her:  not only did Giovanni enter her life and become just like her because his "science, and the sympathy between thee and him, have so wrought within his system that he now stands apart from common men, as thou dost, daughter of my pride and triumph, from ordinary women."

He continued when Beatrice said her life was miserable. "Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvelous gifts, against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy? Misery, to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath? Misery, to be as terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none?"

Ultimately, there was an antidote far more powerful than what Rappaccini created. And, so, the story ends with loss of a daughter, a potential spouse, and of power and control.

There are so many interesting themes within this story. Two, though, stand out:
- Man versus Science - which is more important - life or science?
- Man versus Self - do you pursue what is known to be bad for personal pleasure or gain?

This is a short story that should be read repeatedly because each time the reader will be left with a deeper understanding of these and other themes that the author wanted to convey.

Looking for 48 Acts of Kindness for My 48th Birthday?

On Sunday, July 13th, an article about my 48 acts of kindness for my 48th birthday was featured in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

To read about each of the acts of kindness and see pictures of what I did, please visit my blog post about it HERE.

To read the article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, please visit HERE.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tutorial: Feather Pens

Olivia has a lot of feathers and pens. What should she do with them? Is there something that could put both to good use?

Absolutely...she made feather pens!

The idea came from a pin on Pinterest that led to Huffington Post which then led to Crafty Endeavor.

This is a very easy craft project that included the following materials:
- Three pens
- Three large feathers
- Lace - from our bin of different types of laces
- Green floral tape

The first step is to wrap the tape around the pen. To do this, she put the feather almost to the base of the pen. She used the floral tape at the base of the pen and feather and then worked her way up the pen to the top.

Floral tape is sticky on on both sides which is nice - it grabbed onto the pen, the feather, and itself as Olivia worked.

After the tape is on the pen and the feather firmly attached, Olivia wound the lace around the pen. It is overlapped slightly so none of the floral tape is exposed.

The finished feather pens took less than a half hour to make. Now she has unique pens to write with...and ones that will be intriguing for the cats to watch as she writes.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Dot Art Project

Each summer, Olivia enjoys doing art projects for county fair. She enters some under the "art" category and others in the "craft" category. These, by far, are two of her favorite project areas.

This year, as we looked at Pinterest for ideas, we came across a pin for an art project based on Aboriginal dot painting. It is based on the Indigenous art found in Australia.

The pin led us to Dilly-Dali Art that suggested that before starting the project, it would be a good idea to do a Google search for inspiration.

I also wanted Olivia to learn a bit more about Indigenous Australian art, so we visited Wikipedia. We read about this type of art work which was interesting.

To do the project, you'll need:
- tempera or acrylic paint (Olivia used acrylic paint)
- cotton swabs
- dark marker to outline image
- image of an animal
- paper (copy/printer paper and painting paper)

Since the areas on the dolphins were smaller, Olivia  adapted the project a bit and used markers for the image of the dolphins and paint for the image of the water.

The first step is to find an image and print it on white paper. Trace the image with a dark marker. Transfer the image to a piece of painting paper either by using the light from a window or a light-box.

Once the image is on the paper, you can begin adding color to the picture. Olivia started with the dolphins since they were done with markers.

She made lots of little dots within the outlines of dolphins in different colors.

Once she was done with making the dots on the dolphins, she put some acrylic paint on a plate and dipped cotton swabs in it.

Without getting an overabundance of paint on the swab, she dabbed the swabs onto the paper to leave dots.

She enjoyed doing this project - from learning about and seeing images of Aboriginal dot art to making her own version inspired by indigenous artists.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tutorial: Making Homemade Goat Cheese

One of the projects that Sophia did this summer was learn how to make goat cheese. We visited Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm this past March with the 4-H Club, and both she and Olivia liked the goat milk and cheese.

We were able to see the baby goats (kids) that had recently been born.

The babies enjoyed getting the attention and were eager to show us some of their tricks - like hanging their front legs out of the tubs they were in.

We were also able to see the barns where the older goats were living. They were divided by age and gender.

The ones that we spent the most time with were the dairy goats.

Despite being pretty chilly outdoors (we visited the farm in March), it was comfortably warm indoors.

So, after the visit and enjoying at home more goat cheese that we purchased at Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm, Sophia wanted to see if she could make her own goat cheese. We looked on Pinterest and found two recipes. One pin led to Serious Eats and included a recipe to make a basic soft goat cheese.

To make it, you need the following ingredients:

1 quart goat milk (not ulta-pasturized)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
1/2 clove freshly grated garlic
A few pinches coarse salt
Herbs (optional and the choice used is what you prefer): Rosemary, parsley, fennel, dill, chives, herbs de Provence, and other non-herbs like dried apricots.

The first step was to squeeze the juice from the lemons.

Next, fill a medium saucepan with goat milk. Heat gradually until it reaches 180°F. Watch closely. It should take about 15 minutes.

Once it hits 180°F, remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Let it stand until the milk starts to curdle, about 20 seconds. Don't expect curdles, like cottage cheese curdles.

Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth. Place the colander over a large bowl to catch the whey drips.

Pour the milk into the colander. The instructions said to pull up and tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together and hang on the handle of a wooden spoon. However, Sophia didn't do this. She just let the whey drip through the cheesecloth.

When it was done (about 1 1/2 hours later), she tightened the cheesecloth to get the remaining whey out of the curds. There was quite a bit of whey by the time it finished dripping through the colander.

Transfer to a bowl and fold in salt, garlic, and flavors of your choice.

Serve on fresh bread, salads, or with fruit. The goat cheese can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, but after a few days, the consistency isn't as smooth and spreadable.

The second type of cheese Sophia made was ricotta. We found a recipe for it on a pin on Pinterest that led to the Huffington Post that could be made with their goat or cow milk.

To make this recipe, you need:

4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons distilled vinegar, fresh lemon or lime juice
1 green onion

Since Sophia had used lemon juice with the other recipe, we were interested in seeing if the vinegar affected the flavor.

The first step is to place the milk in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the salt and heat over medium heat. Stir occasionally so the milk doesn't scorch. Heat milk to 180ºF to 190ºF (82ºC to 88ºC). If you don't have a thermometer, heat the milk until it foams at the sides of the pan and starts simmering, but doesn't boil.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice as well as the green onion. Stir only a couple of times. Almost immediately, curds will start to form.

Do not stir any more or the curds will be disturbed. Let the mixture stand for five minutes.

Line a medium colander with cheesecloth and carefully pour the milk mixture onto the cheesecloth. Let drain for 5-20 minutes to the desired consistency. Draining for five minutes will give you a moist and creamy cheese. Draining for 20 minutes will give you a drier ricotta.

Transfer the ricotta to a container and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for up to seven days.

Both cheeses turned out well. However, we probably would not make them again. The girls preferred the harder goat cheese that was at Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm versus the soft versions at home. For some reason, the cheese we made had a stronger "goat flavor" than what Sophia and Olivia preferred to eat.

That being said, this was an interesting project to do and helped Sophia learn the cheese-making process. She entered the photographs and description of the process she went through in the county fair for a 4-H project and received a blue ribbon. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Revelation in Autumn - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 35

Normally for the Read 52 books in 52 Weeks challenge, I've been reading books that are on my "Want to Read" list. However, with planning the homeschool year I haven't had as much to devote to longer books.

So, I went to the library and went through the fiction section looking for books that were short in length and that had the first major word that started with "R." I came across A Revelation in Autumn by Wanda Brunstetter - a short 124-page book that is actually the fifth book in a series of six books.

Although it was part of series, it stood on its own well...until the end when one of the main characters who was suffering from amnesia had a revelation. Now, of course, I need to read the next book to know what happens.

This was such an easy read, and one that was a pleasant surprise. I don't read romance novels and this one teeters on the edge of being one. That being said, because the main characters are Amish, the romance was nothing like what you read in typical "romance novels."

Basically the story revolves around Meredith Stoltfus - a young widow who just had a baby fathered by her late husband. A young man, Jonah Miller, has grown quite fond of Meredith and wants to court her. Yet, Meredith's in-laws - particularly the mother-in-law - disapprove. They are concerned that if Jonah and Meredith get married, that they will not see their grandchild.

Meredith, though still grieving, cares for Jonah and likes that he can be a good provider for her and her son.

Just as Meredith and Jonah begin to talk of marriage, the husband that Meredith believes to be dead is about to remember something from his past. The story ends with this young man - who is called "Eddie" because he no longer remembered his name due to amnesia after an accident - remembering something critical about his past.

The story ends leaving the reader wondering if "Eddie" can put together the pieces of his life that he struggles to remember before he loses Meredith again.

Homeschool Plan for 2014-15

Last year I spent a lot of time planning out the homeschool year while I took an online class. The focus of the class was an exploring the rhythm of the year in the context of planning a homeschool year.

Although I felt extraordinarily prepared going into the homeschool year, the reality was that life presented a lot of unexpected challenges during that time. So, although I had - what I felt - was a solid plan, in actuality only a fraction of what I had hoped would happen did. We still did a lot and the girls learned quite a bit in a variety of was just not everything that I had planned.

So, this year I'm stepping back a bit and adjusting my expectations to reflect what can be realistically accomplished in a homeschool year. I've listed resources that would be good to use in an ideal world if everything goes well and we have a lot of time.

However, if we don't get to something...fine. If more activities can be added...great. What won't happen is having a schedule so packed that Sophia and Olivia feel overwhelmed and burdened by learning....or that I feel like we aren't accomplishing enough because of an unrealistic plan. That takes the joy out of learning for us all.

What I am keeping from last year is the planner that I used last year: a small, maroon 3-ring binder. There's a pencil case and lined paper in it so some of the essentials I need for planning are all in one spot.

3-ring binder for academic work,
tabbed dividers, and a pencil case.

One of the things that we did at the beginning of last year that the girls and I truly enjoyed was having a daily color and food theme. We did this for about two months - or until the holidays began (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). After that, my mom was hospitalized, went on hospice, was in a nursing home, had multiple strokes and TIAs, and by the end of the homeschool year was stabilized (probably from all the good care she was receiving).

We talked about how nice it was to have the table set beautifully and to look forward to trying some new recipes based on the grain/food item of the day (e.g., rice, barley, oats). We're going to try to get back to that again this fall and see how well that goes.

These are two boards on Pinterest for different subjects that focus on these areas:
=> Waldorf Rhythm, Routines, and Meal Times
=> Waldorf-Inspired Home

My next step was to create a school calendar. For us, that means a yearly calendar since I consider homeschooling more of a learning lifestyle than a set period of days when the girls learn. That being said, there is a "start date" and "end date" of the more "formal" homeschooling. This year, that is September 2nd and May 29th respectively.

Normally, we go on a "not back to school" trip the day after Labor Day for a few days. This year, however, we will not be going on a trip. Instead, we will do a "not back to school picnic" on September 2nd - the day after Labor Day.

Also on the calendar are days that there are no school or a holiday. This year on holidays we will focus on activities related to the holiday rather than doing traditional school work.

The calendar also shows birthdays and anniversaries (e.g., Adoption Days); breaks; and when we start and end the time period where we focus more on alternative ways to learn (e.g., 4-H, county fair, state fair).

Wheel of the Year.

Next, I looked at the different holidays that we will be celebrating and learning about this year. I found pins on Pinterest for them last year and have added some new ones as they have come along. Although I have quite a few holidays listed, the reality is that we didn't celebrate them all last year. This year we probably won't celebrate them all as well. However, it's nice to have a place to reference if we want to do something special. Here are the links to the boards on Pinterest:

=> Epiphany
=> Tu B'Shevat
=> Chinese New Year

=> Brigid's Day
=> Candlemas
=> Groundhog's Day
=> Valentine's Day

=> Mardi Gras
=> Lent
=> St. Patrick's Day
=> Spring Equinox

=> Passover
=> Easter

=> May Day
=> Memorial Day

=> Pentecost or Whitsun
=> Summer Solstice
=> St. John's Tide

=> Fourth of July

=> Lammas

=> Labor Day
=> Autumn Equinox
=> Rosh Hashana
=> Michaelmas

=> Yom Kippur
=> Halloween

=> All Saints Day
=> All Souls Day
=> Martinmas
=> Adoption Day Celebrations
=> Chanukah
=> Thanksgiving

=> Advent
=> St. Nicholas Day
=> St. Lucia Day
=> Las Posadas
=> Winter Solstice
=> Christmas Eve and Day
=> 12 Days After Christmas
=> New Years Eve

Monthly activities on a circular calendar.

Last year, I created a wheel of the year after I found a pin that I liked. using a free PDF pattern from Daily Colours. I set up a weekly rhythm that I thought would be good to do last year. For about two months this worked last year, and then I had a difficult time integrating a daily rhythm with major holidays and family issues.

I'm hoping to re-explore this concept during the 2014-15 year and see if we can get back to creating this daily and weekly rhythm that worked so nicely when we began it.

Rhythm of the week.

These are the colors, grain, and activities that ideally would be done each day of the week:

=> White
=> Wheat
=> Bread Making
=> Renew the Spirit

=> Violet
=> Rice
=> Music
=> Errands

=> Red
=> Oats
=> Art and Painting
=> Mending

=> Orange
=> Millet
=> Writing
=> Yard Work

=> Yellow
=> Rye
=> Nature
=> Wash and dry bedding + towels

=> Green
=> Barley
=> Adventuring (field trips, visit my mom, volunteering at the nursing home)
=> Soup Day

=> Blue
=> Corn
=> Handiwork (e.g., sewing, embroidery, crocheting, knitting)
=> Menu Planning (also includes cleaning out the refrigerator)

Daily activities on a circular weekly calendar.

For the color of the days, we focused on having them be part of the table decorations (e.g., coasters, place mats, tablecloth, table runner, candles).

Pinterest also had many ideas for ideas for food that incorporates the different grains.

Last year I made a rhythm of the week wheel. Daily Colours (the website mentioned above) has a free PDF pattern. We will continue to use that this year.

Once the overall rhythm of the year, week, and day has been established, I looked at the upcoming year from an academic point of view.

The girls each have some subjects they will be continuing on from where they left off at the end the 2013-14 homeschool year.

Because of a tremendous amount of water damage to our home this year (an ice dam in March that led to three rooms being gutted and reconstructed; the bathtub leaking which resulted in the gutting and re-doing of the upstairs bathroom in July/August; and replacing and/or cleaning the duct work in the home because of mold from the ice dam issue; as well as forthcoming projects including regrading around the entire home so our basement won't be flooded again), funds are limited for purchasing curricula.

So, we are using Ambleside Online this year for both Sophia and Olivia. It's a free curriculum that follows Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy.

I also will be using the resources I have on hand (e.g., books, curricula, photocopies I've made throughout the years) to create the curriculum for the 2014-15 homeschool year.

Olivia began using Ambleside Online's curriculum last September at the Y3 level, and found it to be both engaging and challenging. Since she is working with the local elementary school to receive assistance with some learning, auditory processing, and short-term memory issues, some of her subjects are covered in a way that works well for her: through workbooks.

This year for Olivia, we are using parts of Y5 including:
- History (1800-1914 up to WWI, World and American, Bios of Lewis and Clark, Lillias Trotter, and Teddy Roosevelt, Bios of ancient Romans and Greeks)
- Geography (Wonders of the World, Land Forms, Food Crops, Other Vegetation Biology).
- Science (inventions, nature study)
- Citizenship
- Literature (numerous classical stories plus writings by Kipling, Longfellow, Whittier, and Dunbar)

For Sophia, we are using parts of Y8 including:
- History (1400's-1688 - Renaissance to Reformation), Elizabethan England, King Charles, and Oliver Cromwell
- Geography (Kon  Tiki, Columbus)
- Science (nature study, natural history)
- Citizenship (Ourselves - by Charlotte Mason, Bacon's essays, Whatever Happened to Justice, and Utopia)
- Literature (numerous classical stories)
- Art (The Story of Painting)
- Foreign Language (continuing with Latin and Greek root words - From the Roots Up)
- Mapwork (locating places from readings on a map)
- Current Events (reading the newspaper and picking 2-3 events to write about each week)

For science, we are using Elemental Science this year. Olivia will be doing Biology for the Logic Stage and Sophia will be Chemistry for the Logic Stage. Olivia is excited because she will be using a microscope that is on par with what would be used in junior and/or senior high classes in a public school. Sophia is looking forward to the chemistry experiments she'll be doing throughout the year.

Also for science, Sophia will finish Grey's Anatomy. As a family, we will be doing a couple year-long projects. One is learning about monarchs and creating a monarch waystation in the spring/summer. The other is using a schoolyard habitat curriculum that I've had for many years. Basically we'll be analyzing our farm/land and then creating a certified wildlife habitat.

For nature study, we will be continuing to use The Handbook of Nature Study and exploring a different topic each week. I found some resources on my bookshelves which will supplement The Handbook of Nature Study and provide some hands-on activities.

For math, we will be continuing with Math-U-See. This curricula seems to work with the girls' learning style. Sophia will be finishing Zeta  and moving to Pre-Algebra. Olivia will be finishing Delta and moving to Epsilon.

For spelling, we use Spelling for a Reason. Sophia will be transitioning to another program since she is in the final book of the series. I haven't found a new spelling curricula for her yet.

Both girls will be learning about Shakespeare. The plays we'll be focusing on this year include: Hamlet, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Richard II. For the first two plays, I found a parallel text for students along with a teacher's guide. I'm hoping that it helps make Shakespeare's writing more accessible for both Sophia and Olivia.

We also will continue with poet/poetry study. This year's poets include: Hilda Conkling, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Lord Byron, John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and John Keats.

The girls also will write different forms of poetry each month. I found pins on Pinterest that have different ideas for creative expression through poetry.

For music, we'll be looking at the following hymns: Abide with Me, Lift High on the Cross, O Worship the King, I am Thine, O Lord, Come Down O Love Divine, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Jesus Paid It All, Man of Sorrows, All Praise to Thee My God This Night, Let Us with  Gladsome Mind, Just As I am Without One Plea, and How Firm a Foundation.

We'll also listen to and learn about these folk songs: Barbara Allen, Billy Boy, Star of the Country Down, Lord Randall, Andrew Barton, Once in a Royal David's City, The Holly and The Ivy, The Death of Queen Jane, I'm 17 Come Sunday, The Keeper, The Miller of Dee, Yellow Rose of Texas History, Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, Three Mariners, The Oak and The Ash, and My Lodging is on Cold Ground.

The girls will continue playing instruments. Sophia will play the harp and piano; and Olivia will play the piano.

We will continue with artist/picture study. The girls will study Fra Angelico, Diego Velazquez, and Edgar Degas.

They both will work on their drawing skills this year. Olivia will be taking a drawing class at the local homeschool co-op and using an art/literature book about Lewis & Clark that involves a lot of drawing. Sophia will either draw a scene from a reading of her choice each week and/or do some of the activities that Olivia is doing.

We also will continue with composer study. The composers we're going to focus on this year include: Hildegard von Bingen, Benjamin Britten, Sergei Prokofiev, Paul Dukas, Engelbert Humperdink, Claude Debussy, Georges Bizet, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

For handicrafts, the girls both want to do ceramics (which they'll do through the homeschool co-op) photography, cross-stitching, spinning, embroidery, and latch-hooking. Sophia also will be continuing knitting at the co-op, and developing her skills in beading, Spencerian handwriting, and sewing.

For Olivia, we want to complete the  Five in a Row cookbook that she started a couple of years ago. We have read the books in the Five in a Row series that complement the recipes in the cookbook. We still have a couple of the Beyond Five in a Row books that we need to read before she makes the recipes corresponding to those books.

For physical education, we have a variety of activities. This year we are starting out the year preparing for a 5K walk at the end of September. After that, the girls will do six-week blocks of different activities (swimming, hiking, ice skating, yoga, table tennis, and biking. In the spring, a six-week block will be split between tennis and croquet.

Also for phy ed, the girls will do equine vaulting in the late spring and summer. Dog training - obedience and agility will be done throughout the year by Sophia. Sophia also works out at the fitness club a few times per week.

In addition, the girls each have a variety of subjects that they learn about during the year:

A to Z Book (Olivia is creating a book about different subjects that begin with each letter of the alphabet)
Art (several books and resources will be used including Teaching Literature through Art and a book by Usborne that focuses on different artists and making art projects based on particular works of art)
Character Education (we will be finishing the multi-year curriculum we've been using from Character Education)
Critical Thinking (each of the girls has their own critical thinking workbook. In addition, there is a weekly activity that we'll do in the Brain Stations book.)
Handwriting (standard for Olivia and Spencerian for Sophia)
Home Economics (using Keepers at Home and Hope Chest for ideas and activities)
Holidays (using Pinterest and several books for ideas and activities)
Journaling (the girls do monthly journaling activities based on pins I've found on Pinterest)
Life Skills/Handicrafts (using the book Hope Chests for handicrafts as well as the Webelo and Cub Scout handbooks for life skills - particularly outdoor/survival skills)
Reading/Literature (personal reading of classical books as well as books that received the Newbery award that I read aloud)
Second Impressions (this is a curriculum I wrote many years ago for use in a homeschool co-op. We will be revisiting it again this year and doing many more activities since the girls are older. The curriculum focuses on pre-cycling, reducing, recycling, and reuse.)
Spirituality (using the UUA Family Pages inserts that have been in past issues of UU World - one insert per month.)
Service/Volunteering (we will continue to volunteer at the nursing home and other places as we feel called to do. We will be setting up accounts of the President's Volunteer Service Award to track how many hours we are volunteering since volunteering is such an integral part of homeschooling and our lives.)
Social Studies (Olivia has a workbook that is part of a series that she enjoyed last year and wants to do this year at the sixth-grade level; and Sophia will be using the Create a Culture book)
Speech Therapy (Olivia only)
Typing (Mavis Beacon program)
U.S. Geography (Cantering the Country curriculum - focusing on 18 states)
Vocabulary (1 new word a day, M-F)
Writing (both the girls have writing books to help them develop skills in this area)

Using free printable sheets from Donna Young's website, I planned the homeschool year. I have the schedule for the academic portion of the girls' year in a purple 3-ring binder. There are tabbed-dividers that separate the plans by week.

The last component of planning for the upcoming home- and homeschooling year includes creating a larger binder with non-academic subjects and home management items. I began working on this last year, but never completed it. 

Now that the majority of these health issues and home repair projects are behind us - plus a major decluttering effort from March through now, I'd like to focus on getting these sections completed. This will help maintain a sense of order as we go through the homeschool year.

Binder with non-academic subjects and 
home management items.

Organized Home has many free printables that will be invaluable this year in terms of keeping organized. The tabbed sections in the white 3-ring binder include:

- Contact numbers - includes emergency numbers, frequently-used numbers, and a list of birthdays/anniversaries

- Menu planning - this has a plan for theme dinners when things get a bit more hectic and we don't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, or making meals for various school subjects (e.g., meals that focus on different states, meals from the Five in a Row cookbook).

Last year I had envisioned having a meal plan. I'm not sure if I want to do this or not...or if it involves too much planning and making of new food and not acknowledging a way to eat all the leftovers. I don't like to see food wasted, and if I'm always making new food there is bound to be food that will be wasted.

At any rate, this would be the plan for the week in an ideal world:

Sunday - Sunday Dinner - meat with potatoes and carrots. The leftover meat can be used for sandwiches during the week. Have a very light meal in the evening if anyone is hungry (e.g., cheese, crackers, fruit).

Monday - Asian Night

Tuesday - Crockpot Night

Wednesday - Pasta Night

Thursday - Leftovers

Friday - Soup Night with Fresh Bread

Saturday - Mexican Night

Shopping List - Copies of a shopping list. One will be posted in the kitchen to add to each week. In this way, when we run out of something it can be immediately added to the list.

Food Inventories - There are sheets for the freezer, pantry, and larder. The larder, in our case, is part of a closet that holds heavier canned goods (e.g., peaches, pears, tomatoes, applesauce) as well as the top shelves of a built-in bookcase that hold lighter canned goods (e.g., jams, jellies, salsa).

Recipe Locations - There are pages that have the name of favorite recipes, the cookbook/source, page number, and comments.

Monthly Rhythm - This is my chart that has five columns: month, mood, symbols/color, activities, celebrations.

One of the pages that has the monthly rhythm.
This page still needs to be retyped 
so that it includes the hand-written information.

Monthly Sections - I have a tabbed section for each month. It starts with August right now because that's the current month. Once this month passes, it will go to the back of the monthly section so that September is first.

Each section has a list of the holidays and when they are in 2014-15. I've also included some ideas, instructions, and information that relates to some of the holidays. Following that is the plastic page protector that has the recipes for the month.

This is December's section. 
The first part has a list of holidays and
the second part has a sheet protector filled with recipes
that can be made for the month's holidays and celebrations.

Seasonal Chores - Organized Home has a free printable that has a fall and winter checklist; and spring and summer checklist.

Weekly Rhythms - This is the typed version of the daily color, grain, learning activity, and home activity. There also are daily to-do sheets from Organized Home.

Weekly rhythm.

Grain Sections - The next seven tabbed sections are labeled with the grain of the day - starting with wheat and ending with corn.

Protector sheet with
a variety of recipes using rice.

Patterns for Meal Time Accessories - I printed out some ideas for making tables look welcoming and pretty. There also are patterns to create napkins and place mats.

Blessings - There are some blessings I've collected that I would like to print out on cards made from watercolor paper that the girls painted.

One of the meal blessings in the binder.

Daily Rhythms - This section is a reminder of what I would like my daily rhythm to look like:

Wake up before the girls and:
- Get dressed
- Let the dogs out, take them for a walk, and feed them
- Make hot chocolate
- Write in my journal
- Start the laundry (if needed)
- Review the meals for the day, and take out anything that needs to be thawed
- Prepare breakfast

I'd like to play a board or card game with the girls each day. Integrating an element of play into each day is a goal I'd like to work on during 2014-15.

The next section focuses on family values. In terms of family values, I'd like to have the following words describe my home: contentment, love, acceptance, comfort, spiritual, truthful, generosity, helpfulness, exploring, learning, togetherness, openness, happiness, caring, compassion, wonder/discovery, reflective, excitement, enthusiasm, gratitude, and service.

The last section focuses on a family mission statement. I have a rough draft of one; and would like to work on finalizing that during 2014-15.

I also included several daily to-do lists from Organized Home. These will come in handy - especially during November-January when there is a lot to be done on a daily basis.

Daily Chores - This section has ideas for keeping a home clean. I have a proposed schedule for daily cleaning that I am interested in seeing if it will work or not this year. It is:

Sunday: Bedrooms
Monday: Mudroom
Tuesday: Offices
Wednesday: Bathrooms
Thursday: Dining Room
Friday: Living and Family Rooms
Saturday: Kitchen

Following that are more comprehensive daily chore lists that I pinned from Cedar Ring Mama. At some point during Autumn 2014, these would be nice to review and adapt to my home.

First Aid Inventory and Medicine - Organized Home has a inventory sheet for first aid supplies. I also would like to list everyone's current medications they are taking.

Bills -  There are forms on Organized Home that are for each month. The top half has lines, and the bottom part has the name of the bills, date they are due, and the amount owed. There also are important dates and a monthly calendar on each sheet.

Social/Support/Craft Groups - This section will have information about any groups that the girls and I are participating in and/or leading. Once the groups begin in September, this section will have more things in it and may be sub-divided for each group.

So, what happened to the maroon binder? It has information that I still want to read, think about, and integrate into our daily lives and homeshool. This will be an ongoing resource that I can refer to, add to, and adapt the 2014-15 homeschool plan by as I make my way through the information.

Information about handiwork in the maroon binder.

The plan is definitely a work in progress as I see what feels right for our family and what doesn't feel like a good fit.

Friday, August 22, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #13

As I look back on this week, I realized that we did all of our fun activities on Saturday and Sunday for the 101 Days of Summer Fun, and simply relaxed for the remainder of the week. It's been a needed break after a busy summer; and will be good to have this time to do whatever we want without trying to cram planned and educational activities into each day.

Saturday, August 16 - We learned how to do stand up paddleboarding on the St. Croix River.

Although the girls were registered for the event, several people didn't show up at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, so I was able to go as well which was nice.

We left from a small bay off the main part of the river at William O'Brien State Park and then went onto the main part of the river.

It was a great workout and used muscles that we normally don't use.

Would we do stand up paddleboarding again? Probably not. I, at least, prefer to be sitting down in a kayak and paddling. There's more of a sense of stability that you don't have when you're standing up on a board.

At least we can say that we tried something new this summer.

Sunday, August 17 - We visited Gammelgarden where there were outdoor activities and music. We stayed for a while to listen to a few songs and then continued on.

We went to Northwoods Humane Society where we adopted Gretel, Cooper, and Aspen. Aspen won a $100 gift card to Chuck and Don's Pet Food Outlet, so we picked up the gift card there.

Brenda, the executive director, was there so we talked a while with her. She's watched the girls grow up from when they were about 5-7 years old to now (11 and 13 years old).

Monday, August 18 through Friday, August 22 - The girls spent a lot of time reading books of their choice, swinging on the swings in the backyard, seeing Mary B. on Wednesday and going to the library and swimming, and just taking it easy. It's been an enjoyable and relaxing week!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 34

This week I chose to read Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

The beginning of this book was great when she focused on "successful" introverts. Her message was to embrace introversion and make the best of who you are based on this quality. You can be very successful even if you are not outgoing.

Then the author moved into quotes and data from different psychological studies. Normally this would interest me, but she had a way of making the information dry and not engaging. At this point, she lost me.

I flipped through some the chapters and could not find anything that captured my attention. I couldn't imagine reading through 271 pages simply to say I read this book. It wouldn't have been a good use of my time.

That being said, there were some interesting points she made:

=> One third to one half of Americans are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

=> Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are overstimulating.

=> Many introverts are also "highly sensitive." If you are more sensitive, then you're more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" or a well-tuned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.

=> When you were a child you were probably called "shy," and to this day feel nervous when you're being evaluated, for example when giving a speech.

I had high hopes for this book, but was disappointed about a third of the way into it. Thankfully the book I read last week about introversion was much more insightful and engaging.

Friday, August 15, 2014

101 Days of Summer Fun - Update #12

This week was focused on decluttering and preparing for winter. Although it's hot outside now, within a matter of a couple of months we'll be looking at much colder weather.

It is forecasted that it will be equally as cold and snowy as it was last year. For that reason, getting everything fixed and organized before that time is critical.

So, although not really "Summer Fun" as I had hoped and planned at the beginning of the summer, it is reality and proper preparation which is important.

Saturday, August 9 - We've been enjoying have a break from construction crews in our home since March. It feels like it has been back-to-back reconstruction projects - first from the ice dam that resulting in gutting and reconstructing three rooms; and then the bathtub leaking and the resulting water damage in July and August.

At least we're able to enjoy having an updated bathroom with things in working order.

The in-floor heating which we invested in due to the frigidly-cold weather for a significant part of the year, and how uncomfortable ceramic tile feels in the winter, has been enjoyable.

Sunday, August 10 - Sophia, Olivia, and I went to the Harvest Festival at St. Vincent de Paul. This is something we've been doing since 2010 - when my dad was still alive.

He and my mom used to go to this chicken dinner each year. When he became unable to drive, I offered to take them.

We did that for a couple of year until he died. Then we continued the tradition with my mom. After we ate, the girls played some games. Sophia likes the ring toss because she won a couple bottles of pop. She knows that I won't buy pop, so this was a special treat.

Olivia played Plinko and enjoyed watching the coin travel down the huge board.

There were a couple more games that the girls played - a dart game and milk bottle toss.

For each game, the girls won prizes. It was a fun afternoon!

The girls had equine vaulting from 4:30-6:00 p.m. It was the last session of the summer.

Monday, August 11 - With the dumpster here for only a few more days, we wanted to finish cleaning the hobby shed and barn. It was SO hot, so we got the shed done and one-third of the barn cleaned.

I don't think I've seen it this empty since we moved in. The majority of items that are left are empty bins, wool, and a few teaching resources.

For the most part, everything is gone now that related to the youth camp program that I ran for many years in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Tuesday, August 12 - The homeschool co-op had its annual open house. We registered the girls for classes. Sophia is taking piano lessons, ceramics, and knitting. Olivia is taking piano lessons, ceramics, and drawing.

It was nice to see familiar faces again - teachers and students. They'll start classes in less than a month.

Wednesday, August 13 - Today was a busy day. Sophia had her annual check up for allergies at 8:30 a.m. We went to Petco, Half-Priced Books, the library, Joann Fabrics, and Lakeshore Learning.

In the afternoon, the girls enjoyed spending time with Mary B.

In the evening, I took Sophia to her State Fair meeting regarding her 4-H project on dried fruit.

Thursday, August 14 - We took it easy today. Did some reading and homeschool planning. The girls played on the swings since it was a beautiful day outdoors.

Friday, August 15 - We did cat visits at the nursing home in the morning. The girls visited quite a few residents - including some who they normally don't see.

Around lunch, we went to the local plaza which was having an open house. There was free pizza and ice cream at the pizza shop, bottled water and chips at the bank, and other freebies.

The pizza place was very crowded - all the tables were filled with people enjoying lunch.

This was such a fun way to spend the middle of the day. We saw a lot of people who we normally don't see, and enjoyed reconnecting with them.