Jan 25, 2011

My Multi-Tasking Dog: A Chew Toy and Toothbrush in One!

Too bad the toothbrush is mine!!
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Jan 23, 2011

Menu Plan Monday

Hi, all y'all,
I jumped back on FlyLady's bandwagon a couple of months ago and her Habit of the Month in November was ---ta-da---Menu Planning! After 2 months now I feel I'm really getting the feel for this after having had false starts in the past. As a homeschooling mom (read full-time volunteer educator) I have to get routines like this going to save my skin.
But this is the first time I've posted to MPM since last spring, so here goes for this week:

Monday: We travel to coop. Need a meal ready on our return. Therefore Crockpot to the Rescue!
Beef Stroganoff in the Crockpot

DD slices the shrooms. Check out the manicure!
Nothing challenging; I'll just follow the directions on the Lipton Beefy Onion Soup Mix package. This took about 5 minutes to put together because I bought beef already cubed. I speed-sliced my mushrooms (with the 10-yo's help!) using my egg slicer, a tip I learned from my Pampered Chef consultant.

Here's the recipe if you want to know if it's something you'd want to make (or if YOUR package doesn't have the recipe on it).
2# boneless chuck steak, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
10 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Beef Onion Soup Mix
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1 can (15 0z.) diced tomatoes
1 container (8 z.) sour cream

1. In slow cooker, toss beef with flour. (This tip alone was worth trying the recipe. I've always gotten another dish dirty doing this separately.) Stir in remaining ingredients EXCEPT sour cream. Cook covered  on Low for 8-10 hours or HIGH 4-6 hours until meat is tender.
2. Stir in sour cream. Serve over hot cooked noodles.

Tuesday : A busy day at the barn AND a busy night at Pioneer Girls Club with a staff meeting for leaders this week. We need quick and easy. It's usually the night I treat (myself) to a frozen entree.
This week: Lasagna a la Stouffer's and a green veg and crusty bread.

Wednesday Bible Study in the morning and some errands ( or not if we get the predicted messy weather :-o  )
Either way, this looked good and easy:
Grilled Bruschetta Chicken
scalloped potatoes, a green veg

ThursdayA stay-at-home day.Yeah! I want to try new vegetarian dishes. I had most of these ingredients on hand.
Vegetarian Moussaka

Friday TGIF!
D-I-Y Pepperoni and Anchovy Pizzas using frozen bread dough. Salad.

DH's Choice. He loves to cook and I love to let him!

Acorn Squash Soup. We had this in December and I've been thinking about it ever since.

We'll see if the Mid-Atlantic gets snow this week. If so I better stock up on bread and milk NOW!! (LOL)

Head over to Menu Plan Monday for lots, lots more dining ideas.

Starry, Starry Winter Nights: HNS Winter Wednesday Challenges

Pop quiz! What is the best season to star-gaze? No, not summer, but WINTER! The freezing cold air, if you have any where you live, makes for super-clear skies free of moisture and its attendant pollution. Think about it. When do most cities issue air-quality alerts? Good, you got that question.

Besides, star-gazing in winter encourages us to get outside for fresh air when we're wanting to the least. The days are shorter so you don't have to keep the kids up nearly as late to see stars as you would have to in summer. And it's kind of a hoot to be walking around in the dark bundled up like polar bears!
So along comes one of the Queens of homeschooling helps, Barb the Harmony Arts Mom , with her Winter Wednesdays to give us lots of nature study in a season when we least expected it.
We are following Ambleside Online's Year 3 schedule, and have been enjoying Charles Kingley's The Heroes (which you can read here free online) about some of the human (or part-god, part-human) heroes from Greek myth such as the stories of Perseus,and Jason and the Golden Fleece. Once again, I am surprised and delighted at MeiWei's enthusiasm for this book after just a couple of readings.

To expand on her learning, we have added some casual study of the constellations that correlate with the characters read.
The Dover coloring book, Constellations of the Night Sky by Bruce LaFontaine has many outline drawings both illustrating scenes such as Perseus with Medusa along with drawings of the constellations that would be found in the night sky.
I have Mei color while I read, then if it's a constellation, she places star stickers where the stars would be--indicated on the coloring page--in various sizes associated with the magnitude of those stars. Some of the more important stars she labels such as Sirius.

We will be looking for some of theses constellations using simple locators like Klutz's laminated pocket-size pullout, "Backyard Stars". The plastic and portable size would make this a great thing to bring along to a camp-out.
Another online resurce for constellation outlines is Crayola.com's connect-the-dots coloring pages.

We always enjoy Handbook of Nature Study's "classes". The new Winter Wednesdays will encourage us to get outside even in winter, the best time of year
for sky-gazing!

Jan 22, 2011

Works For Me Wednesday: Microfiber Cleaning Cloths

Back when I had  a baby (she will always be my baby, as she knows, but this is when she was a really SMALL baby) I pledged to use cloth diapers for healthful and economical reasons. I remember my mom getting really excited, not for my pledge to go the extra mile for her new granddaughter, but for the DIAPERS! She wanted them for dust cloths. Said used ones were the best because after all that washing (she didn't mention the wearing),  they would be lint-free and yet were the most absorbent cloths out there. I've followed her advice and have used them myself especially for applying furniture polish (that happens about twice a year, mind you).
But NOW we have the 21st C.equivalent---or improvement! Microfiber cloths!

These little beauties do it all. I bought the Quickie 4-pack starter set at the Mart of Wall. They come with the hip neon green kitchen cloth for counters and appliances; the camel colored one for furniture; the blue for glass and mirrors; and the silver for metal finishes like stainless appliances. They heave different surfaces for the different jobs. You can also get them individually. (There other brands out there, some of which I've tried, but these are the best I've used. Compare for thickness and size.)
   They are amazing! You don't even need chemical cleaners to make them work (though sometimes I cave). They can be used dry or wet with just a little water. What makes them work is the ability of the microfibers to grab and hold the dirt. It's like microscopic Velcro! If you have rough, chapped fingers like I do, you will actually want to slather on lotion before using them because they will even stick to  your skin!
   In the morning, Father R always needs to wipe the fog off the mirror after showering to finish his "toilette". He had been grabbing the handtowels for this which did get the fog but left its own "fog" of lint. I hung out the blue glass/mirror cloth. He's a tough sell but he was elated! It got the mirror so clear! (I was thrilled too: no more lint-removal follow-up.) 
   The green kitchen ones are thick and hold GALLONS of water. The counters get dry and polished in one or two swipes.
   In my house, people were born with fingerprints so stainless appliances always look like the police were there on a case. The silver one is the only thing that has ever returned the look of them to showroom quality. With no cleansers.
  I already admitted I don't polish furniture much, so since it's not April I can't report on the brown one, but I trust it will live up to its brothers' reps.
   Now we can save money, trees, and landfill space on paper towels, and safely get the under-age set to clean without the fear of those nasty chemicals. So here's to lots of help and happy cleaning!
works for me wednesday at we are that family

Jan 20, 2011

Nature Notes: This Really STINKS! (caution: grossness ahead)

Are you familiar with this little guy?
We are.

He, and his five and a half million relatives, have moved onto our street after running out of room in places like the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
He is a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys. Linguists: think halitosis. Scientific knowledge here).

He is about the size of your thumbnail, gentle, sits still for long periods of time, flies short erratic distances with a very loud buzz for one so small, doesn't bite or sting or eat holes in your clothes. He is quite comical when overturned, waving his front legs like a swimmer doing the breast stroke upside down, until he reaches the surface and rights himself in one flip!

Hey There, Stink Bug!
Stink Bug Poetry.
 So what can be the harm?
Here it is: he makes every effort to live up to his name. If you touch one, this seemingly harmless critter emits from some vent an odor that, after a year of exposure, I still can't quite describe. But I'll try. It's sort of a chemically-burnt-hair and slightly rotting-food sweet/acrid kind of stench. Like a really bad knock-off of an already really cheap scented candle. Hopefully the Yankee Candle people won't be inspired to create "Invasive Insect." It won't sell, guys.

 And this is how powerful it is:
If it gets on your hands because you were trying to remove him, it WON'T WASH OFF! So then your sandwich is ruined because when you raise your lunch to your mouth, instead of the aroma of a grilled bacon-cheeseburger, you get stench! 

Lentek BV01 Rechargeable Cordless Handheld Bug Vacuum
Bug Vacuum. Bad idea.
 If you step on one--just one!--the room is temporarily uninhabitable.  Don't even think of removing it via your vacuum. You will now simply spread the fumes throughout the house. If you're hoping the dog or cat will eliminate it through play or curious tasting, they won't.

Approved Method of Disposal
 But the worst part of all is that he doesn't drop  in alone. He brings friends by the dozens.

Hiding in curtains
 We first noticed them a year-and-a-half ago, a couple here or there. A mild curiosity, we had heard of reported infestations in NJ , but figured by the benign behavior of the few we saw that Jersey-ites were just looking for media attention. (I'd love to see those "Real Housewives" reactions!) We didn't even notice a smell. We just had fun playing "flip the stinkbug." That was in March '09.

Things changed radically this past summer when the Halyomorpha halys "family reunion" took place in our neck-of-the-woods. Instead of a "few", they were seen everywhere. By October they were clinging to screens and sunny walls by the scores. They buzzed along oblivious to anything in their path, smacking right into us, flying into our cars, our homes, our clothes.

INSIDE Mei's bedroom window

At this point I learned that it was mating season. I also noticed that their gas had hit a new level of noxiousness. From that I deduced that female stink bugs must find this odiferous perfume a turn-on. Sexy.
Within a few weeks, however, the orgies ceased and we could at least open our windows without them falling on our heads. They seemed to be disappearing too! Perhaps they would die off!

Dead one on windowsill

Another dead one


Coming in the sliding door

Some did. Not enough. The rest started finding winter residences. Of course they don't snowbird like the local senior population. They just move INSIDE. I have found them cuddling in the curtains, sunbathing on the windowsills (to keep up that healthy, brown exoskeleton-tone, I guess), sticking to the carpet, and in the evening coming out of all their other unseen hidey holes to curl up near the hearth. One of those hidely holes turned out to be my own mattress, discovered when I changed the sheets. I had been sleeping with one!

Hinding behind Master Bed
 The last two straws came this week. The first was Stink Bug v. Snooze Alarm. I was just rolling over for those most-valued extra few, when I heard the sound of incoming over the bed. Then it landed in my HAIR. I brusquely swiped the thing to the ground. It responded to my hand's attack with its signature reply. Curling back into my little fetal position, hand under chin, I couldn't get cozy when every intake of breath smelled like rancid axle grease. Unarguable wake-up call. If everyone had that experience, there would be no one ever late for work from sleeping in. Think of the increase in productivity. It could end the Recession!

Overwintering Kit for Stink Bugs, Lady Bugs, Boxelder Bugs, etc
Overwintering Kit for Stink Bugs
 Then just the other night during a quiet  family dinner by candlelight with the crackle of a nearby fire, my eye caught sight of a dark object floating in Mei's MILK.  If  you stick your head out the window, you can still hear the ten-year-old's screams.
I've been thinking what the truly phobic must be going through. There must be a lot of new business for pyschiatrists in the Mid-Atlantic these days. Come to think of it, it might be fun to through a few bugs into the homes of those "Real Housewives of New Jersey!" Speaking of hearing the shrieks!
Here's how I, the Nature Lover, deal with them. Can you say "Fiery Furnace?"

Burn, Stinky, Burn

What about you? Got Stink?

Jan 19, 2011

Winter Day at the Barn

MeiWei and Miss Katie round-up Dude for lesson time
A surprise snow blanketed the horse farm as thoroughly as the trainer blanketed the horse on this frosty day.
MeiWei has been riding for four years now, and last winter switched barns to ride where there is an indoor ring, allowing for riding in any weather, any season. The trainer is a sweetie and all the horses are good, ol' boys. I love going there for the scenery, taking Mr. Bingley along and getting MY exercise while Mei gets hers.
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Jan 18, 2011

Do You Want Paper or Electronic with That Curriculum?

I am indebted to Blossom at North Laurel School for her meritorious efforts in cataloging all (or almost all) the Ambleside Online curricula that is available for use on the Kindle. At the turn of the year I always find myself re-evaluating our schooling and looking ahead to the next grade (I say singular "grade" because we are in this .02% of homeschool families with only one student). The thought of curriculum fairs--an excuse for shopping with the girls--fills my head and urges me onward through the dark days of winter (of which in truth I don't mind because they give me an excuse to go to bed earlier and sleep in later).
    Last year I had the notion, with that partly-Scottish blood kicking in, to do a side-by-side economic analysis of the cost of "paper" books vs. e-books to determine if I would be doing our budget a service by investing in a Kindle rather than obtaining curricula in the usual format. Alas, I could not justify it: too few books for AO Year 3 were downloadable. ("Tell Amazon you would like to see this book available for the Kindle!" the searches would always chirp.) It IS possible that my somewhat limited (zero) understanding of the Kindle's Wi-Fi capabilities, which would allow for accessing public domain books online from sources such as Project Gutenburg   , misled my calculations. Or whether that generation of Kindle had even been rolled out yet. It's hard to keep up. They change faster than hemlines on Paris runways.
    So I donated plenty of bread to well-deserving Mom-and-Pop curriculum dealers, especially the USED curriculum dealers. (Score one for the tight-fisted Scots.)
    But now, Blossom's blog convinces me that I've hit the break-even point! (Oh, joy, a toy!) And then she points us to another Jimmie "I'm-a-Homeschool-Mom-with-30-Hours-in-My-Day"  lens on Squidoo.com (love you, Jimmie) that not only gives us all HER reasons for buying--ready?--not one but TWO Kindles, Hers and Little Hers, but includes a video from Simply Charlotte Mason.com comparing the different e-book readers including the iPad. 
   Ok, now I'm really in trouble because NOW I have to decide if it's wiser to buy the iPad for a "little" more and get all its bells and whistles or go with the e-reader because I could sorta trust MeiWei with it. Great. I love decision-making.
    What would you choose?


Jan 17, 2011

Needling Me

I know God has a plan for everything, so is it a sign of a fallen world or really His desire that Christmas Tree Needles should proliferate until Easter?
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Glitter Grouse

I think glitter should be sold with an NC-17 rating--available for sale only to consenting adults who know how to use it safely and without harming themselves or the environment, especially the indoor environment better known as my house. What might be "pretty" glimmering on paper is akin to slime or excrement on my furniture, carpet, clothing, kitchen counters, washing machine, washCLOTH.....It's used in one end of the house and I find its evidence three rooms away. Send it back to Tinker Bell; I'm done with it!
Now how am I going to get rid of these little early Valentines from my DD without scarring her psyche?
PS Let's add sugar cookie sprinkles to that list of controlled substances too.
What's on your grouse list?
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1 for 1: Book Challenge

                                                One for One in '11

 I've stumbled upon the blog "52 Books in 52 Weeks" before and was overwhelmed at the very thought, not to mention the execution, especially for me.  It took me at least 3 months to get through some Jane Austen books. How could anyone who does more than read by the fading light of the afternoon eating bon-bons while reclining on a fainting couch possibly have time to read a book a WEEK? A MAGAZINE a week would be a challenge!
But "52 Books" gives bonus points/grace to those who tackle more than Oprah's Book Club selections. You're allowed to read a classic a month for instance. I might be able to do that with a prod.
I really liked the category options, especially the Well-Educated Mind list. Since homeschooling MeiWei using Charlotte Mason and Ambleside Online, I feel the push personally to become better-read. (Can't have the child out-educate me!) So the challenge of 3 selections each from 4 of the five categories. Here's the page from "52 Weeks" WEM list.
But first I have to finish Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford.

What are you reading--just for YOU?

Jan 16, 2011

One for One

Well, as you can tell from the previous post, I've either been incredibly busy, so much so, that 1) I can't post or 2) am uninspired or 3) stymied by guilt from not writing and that guilt breeds more putting off,  and on and on it goes.

So now I'm excited to write something and here it is.
                                                          1 for 1.

That doesn't sound like much, does it? But wait. It might get better.

I was thinking at the end of December 2010 how much I'll miss a year whose date had so much pizazz to it. C'mon, how much fun did everyone have saying "twenty-ten"?! And thinking about how the two numbers have a fractional relationship (my made-up math term).
 And it had real eye appeal. 2010. People don't have another year to look forward to for coolness until 2020. Unless you count 2012 when the world ends. But that's another topic.

It was an even number, divisible many ways. (Though not evenly by 7, but even then the answer is a way-cool repeating decimal value. Try it.) It was also the start of a new decade unless you're one of those killjoys who insists that a decade---or Millenium, remember that ruckus around 2000?--doesn't truly begin until the end of this year. 

2010. It had everything going for it. A rock-star among dates.

Now it's 2011. Not divisible by anything that I can find except the old definition of Prime (divisible only by one and itself, which is not impressive even in that way when the number is already rife with 1's.) It doesn't hold its own visually or audibly. No balance, no sexiness, no ring like 2010.

So what can I say about 2011? Is there any hope? Can this sad, unbalanced, odd, prime number inspire?

I say, Yes! The answer lies in those double 1's.  Here is the germ for a great year for me to make resolutions. Don't snort. These will be resolutions that I can live with: short, sweet, manageable, forgivable.

The resolutions --or maybe just -tion!---will be just 1 thing for 1 period of time, whatever I choose at that time. See? 1 for 1. Easy!

For instance: blogging every day for one week. Now that wasn't so bad, was it? (Not saying that's the first thing I'll do, mind.) 
Or walking 1 mile a day for one month (and dropping one size?)
Going for one whole day without using a curse word. (Major challenge.) 
Thinking one kind thought about a loved one every day for a week.  And posting it. Thinking one kind thought about ME and posting it.
Praying for one minute a day for a year. Probably should start with that.

I can do more than one at a time too, but I don't want to overload and blow it all. I am cursed with an All-Or-Nothing-At-All mentality. Explains why I haven't posted in almost a year. That curse of needing a perfect post and waiting until I had time to make one. Which never comes.
So I will start this week with 1 (or 2) things.

The first will to be to post once a day for one week. First Day, done!

Jan 1, 2011

Christmas Week 2010

We arrived in Eagles Mere with little snow,but great ice on the lake and most importantly on the pond! Mei and Father R  immediately laced  up while I watched  from the shore catching up with the Christmas Week crowd and giving Mr. Bingley a chance to meet and greet the neighbor hounds.
MeiWei practicing her moves
   Tai joined "Fred Mertz" to ski at Elk Mountain and had a blast. Great conditions and mild temps. Her old crotchety parents with their assortment of aches and pains--back, hip, plantar faciatis---stayed home. Too bad! We might have gotten up Mei's courage to take a Wee Ski lesson if we had been able to watch her back! A party-fest lasted two nights over the New Year's weekend with a lively dinner at the club, a few of us together to toast Dick Clark, and a follow-up on the First for games and gab. The worst of the warming trend held off just long enough for everyone to get a last skate in before heading home. A nice kick-off for 2011.
***Confession: These pics are last year's; I didn't get any for this Christmas,
the camera having been left at home.
So just imagine this scene with no snow but glassy ice!

What, Me Journal?

I like the idea of blogging without guilt which I read about somewhere on another blog. It's the one thing that bouyed my faith in myself through this very long gap of posts from last spring. So rather than feel like a failure or that I have to start over or delete this blog,or worse MAKE EXCUSES, I am going to just pick up right here.

Something I've been doing since last summer is journaling. I bought a day planner from Simply Charlotte Mason , the old fashioned kind with a week-view and inspirational quotes by Charlotte herself on "willfullness" and how to combat it, and made a pledge to myself that I would write in it everyday. Since August when I purchased it, I've been pretty consistent. The part I like is that the limited writing space frees me and constrains me at the same time. I'm constrained, rather like Twitter, to keep my reflections few, and I'm freed from feeling my entry has to be voluminous and therefore  spend much time on it.  I intend to keep up with this. I can see the use, if nothing else, of making a note of something now that I would like to refer to later, like Christmas plans that failed. (not too many :-) )

I plan to make that another "1 for 1" pledge. Maybe "once or (or twice) a week for one year". It'll be a first (no pun intended).



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