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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cooking Class #3: Stuffed Mushrooms and Chocolate Cake

Curly is really enjoying his time in the kitchen. I mean, he doesn't always want to stop reading or playing to get in the kitchen, but once he's in there... it's pretty smooth sailing.

This time our task was stuffed mushrooms and a warm chocolate cake.

I'm not sure where either recipe is from originally. My mom gave me the stuffed mushrooms, and an old friend gave me the cake. Both are pretty simple and very tasty. Neither falls into the healthy category, either, but have I mentioned they are tasty?

We started with the mushrooms. I had to help him with the stems because the mushrooms were pretty fragile. But otherwise, he was on his own again. He learned the importance of softening the cream cheese, how to cream ingredients together, measuring, and drizzling with butter. He struggled a little more with this recipe because you really need to get your hands dirty to make these. He has a very hard time with messy hands, so a lot of the steps were "disgusting" in his words. He did enjoy the end result, though!

Then we moved on to the cake. This is ridiculously simple. You just need a chocolate cake mix, cook-and-serve chocolate pudding mix, milk, and mini chocolate chips. Make the pudding according to the directions on the package, then stir in the cake mix. Once it's all mixed together, put it into a greased 9x13 and sprinkle generously with the chips. Bake 30 minutes at 350 and serve warm. 

It does take constant stirring, which wore his skinny, little arm out, but it was a good lesson in stirring so something doesn't burn.

Once again, we all really enjoyed the fruits of his labor!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cooking Class #2 - Taco Dip

This might not exactly fall into the healthy food category, but this is a treat our whole family loves. I think the recipe is originally a Pampered Chef recipe from the very early days of our marriage. Now it's a treat we have on a movie night with the kids.

Curly made this one with Papa's supervision. It's super easy, so it's one he can make on his own any time. And when we decide to have it, he runs right to the fridge to make sure we have all the ingredients. He's a pro after the first try. ;)

This was a fun one because we don't measure any of the ingredients, so he was learning how to guesstimate. A useful skill for a cook.

Here he is.
He might have not been so excited by the look of the refried beans.

Learning how to judge spices by sight.

How to make it?

1 can of refried beans
1 package cream cheese, softened
1 cup(ish) sour cream
shredded Mexican cheese
cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin to taste

Layer bottom of pan (we use our round Pampered Chef stone) with the beans. Mix together cream cheese, sour cream, and spices. Layer these over the beans. Top with a layer of shredded cheese. Pop into the oven (350) for about 20 minutes.

That's it! I like it with some salsa on the side for extra spice.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Last fall we were crazily busy. It was too much, all the time. All of our weekends were booked before the fall even began.

It was full of good activities, too. Things the kids really wanted to do. Curly was in a production at a community theater, and that took up a ton of our time. Then there was scouts, scouts, and more scouts, or at least so it seemed. There were other things, too, that seem to have slipped my mind.

In the middle of it, I declared that we weren't doing that again this fall, and I have stayed true to my word. I said no one could participate in an activity this fall that required Saturdays. They could only do things during the week.

We needed a season of rest from busy weekends. And I have been making an extra effort to take full advantage of those Saturdays to have lots of family time and enjoy fall activities. Here's what we have been doing...


digging in the dirt...

bike riding...
dropping leaves in the water...

reading someone else's shirt during a picture...

reading other things...


 training for American Ninja Warrior...

 more bike riding...

What we've been doing is all the seemingly mundane things in life. And we are all loving it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Science Friday - Owls

We can be a little nerdy sometimes. Maybe a lot of times. I'll let you decide.

One of my dearest friends has a blog based on nerdiness. Can't get better than that.

We were talking this summer about science for the kiddos, and we decided to Science Fridays together, taking a cue from NPR.

First up was owls.
Owls from art class.

 We started learning about owl last week by researching. Curly is writing a report, and we are all working on lapbooks together. 

We also are working on a lab report. We got this template from The Crafty Classroom to use in learning the scientific method. 

The kids each came up with their own question, did some research, and made their question testable. We knew we would be working with owl pellets with the Nerdys (here is her take on the owl pellets; she does a great job of showing resources), so I steered their questions in that direction. After the pellets, we are compiling our data, analyzing it, and creating a report.

Last Friday night we went to the Nerdys' house to dissect pellets with her scientist husband. Poor Little Bear cried when he discovered a skull inside his pellet. I liked seeing how all the different kids approached the pellets in different ways. 

If you had told me fifteen years ago that I would be spending my Friday nights dissecting owl pellets, I never would have believed you.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Taking on all three kids this year worried me a little. I wasn't sure how I was going to fit everybody into the day. And on top of that, Curly's list of subjects has grown even longer. So I decided to put into practice some good, old classroom management incentives to see what would happen.

The first step is pennies. Each Monday morning every child is given ten pennies. They keep these pennies in one of their school drawers throughout the week. If one of them breaks a rule, the culprit has to give a penny back to me. If he breaks a second rule, a second penny is returned. You get the idea. 

On Friday afternoons, when school is over, the school shop opens. Items purchased from The Dollar Tree were put into bags labelled with prices. They can choose to spend or save their pennies. So far, there's not much saving happening. Then the shop is closed until the next Friday.

Also great math practice!

Each day that all three children keep all of their pennies, they earn a puzzle piece. I took a picture of the kids and blew it up to an 8x10. I then mounted the picture onto a piece of construction paper and cut it into 24 pieces. In theory, it will take them a little over a month to fill in the whole puzzle. At that time, a selection of larger incentives will be placed into a hat, and one will be drawn. These might include a trip to the $2 movie theater, ice cream, a game night, etc. 

The puzzle is kept by the posted school rules.

I was a little hesitant to do something so "school-like," but it's working beautifully. No one wants to lose a penny, and only one child has lost any so far. And the truth is, we all need some incentives, don't we? Sometimes those are intrinsic, but sometimes we need some help. We reward ourselves by buying something new when we lose a little weight, or by taking a trip after a particularly long stretch of work. I mean, even just taking a day off and playing "hookie" is appealing, right?

They aren't really concerned with the larger prizes, yet. So far, they are mostly excited about getting the pennies on Monday and the school store. I like that the puzzle is a longer-term incentive. Right about the time the pennies start to lose their luster, the larger prize should kick in. And that should rejuvenate them for a while.

How about you? Do you use any classroom management techniques in your home? In your home school? In your regular classroom? Any suggestions for fun prizes?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Making a New Friend

Yesterday Tiny Dancer spotted a new friend on our street. Well, they weren't acquainted yet, but she was burning with desire to make the acquaintance at once.

All day, she went to the front door and stared out longingly at the friend. This potential friend was outside all day, within steps of our front door. Sometimes she would peer out the door in wonder, and other times she would venture out to the step and sit down to watch.

I wasn't totally sure about this friendship. I mean, it wasn't the sort of friendship I would normally encourage. And yet... she was so sure.

So late in the afternoon, I finally agreed to inviting the new friend in.

Meet... Mr. Benedict. His evil twin, Mr. Curtain, is lurking somewhere in the backyard. 

Mr. Benedict has taken up residence in our home for the past two days. She sits and watches him all day long. She worries about whether or not he's eating. She makes sure he is getting air. We've had to read books to learn more about grasshoppers. 

I now know more about grasshoppers than I ever cared to know.

She knows we have to let him go tomorrow. She seems okay with that because, as she says, there are more like him out there. She has become The Grasshopper Hunter, and I feel a little badly for the unsuspecting grasshoppers in our neighborhood. They thought they were moving into a nice, quiet neighborhood. 

In truth, though, I am pleased to have her interested in the insect, even though he has been living on my dining room table for the past two days. He's been a great friend to her, and he's led to some fantastic conversation around the house. 

Maybe next time I will be more encouraging about new friendships because, after all, who can argue with a smile like that?