Friday, October 9, 2015

Slow Cooking Dinner: Santa Fe Chicken

I thought I'd start a regular post -maybe once a week or so- about what we are cooking in the slowcooker these days, mostly because I need an excuse to try some new things. I had gotten away from using the slowcooker for awhile, but our evening activities this fall have given me new reason to break it out again. I tend to get into a bit of a rut with the slowcooker, so I am setting a goal for myself to come up with 25 recipes that everyone in the family likes.

This might take awhile.

 I have a couple of slow cooker cookbooks, Slow Cooker Revolution being one of my current favorites, but I just as often find ideas online. We don't tend to do a lot of red meat around here, so most of these recipes are going to involve chicken, or no meat at all.  I have found that ground turkey can be substituted for beef in many recipes with no problems, so I tend to do that a lot, too.

This week's recipe, Santa Fe Chicken, is one that I just kind of stumbled into, but I am so glad that I did. First of all, it is one of my favorite types of slowcooker recipe - just dump the ingredients in, mix them up, lay chicken over the top, and cook on low. Easy! Right before we went out for our afternoon, I set our rice cooker up, so we could have the chicken over rice. Rice cookers are a pretty awesome complement to slowcookers.

The recipe says to cook the chicken on low for ten hours, which I thought was going to be excessive. But I did start it around 9 a.m. and we didn't eat until 7 p.m., and it wasn't dry at all. What you do is shred the chicken up 30 minutes before dinner, then let it continue to cook. This works perfectly for us because Rose and I get back first, which means I can shred the chicken and then ignore it while we tidy up, feed the dogs, set the table, and wait for everyone else to show up.

I did think there was a bit much liquid in this recipe, but I did not drain the tomatoes; next time I think I will. I cut up some extra cilantro and scallions ahead of time and stuck them in the fridge to use as toppings. We served this with plain Greek yogurt over white rice and it was a six thumbs up! Which means it makes the list.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sonlight Summer Readers 2015: A Review

I ordered our first Sonlight Summer Reader Package this year and I wanted to take a minute to do a little post on our experience, which was very positive. Rose and I had a lot of fun choosing the summer reader package, because she got to choose a bonus book from several options being offered by Sonlight. For her bonus book she chose  A Tale of Gold, which ended up being the only "flop" in the bunch, only because I think she was a bit young for it. We shelved that title to try again in a few years, but every other book was very much enjoyed. It was pretty exciting to get that package of shiny new books in the mail when all of our school books were looking and feeling tired. We finished our last summer reader just a few weeks ago, so it took us a bit longer than a summer to get through them, but only because our summer was exceptionally busy.

She chose to read Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew first because of the horse on the cover, and we ended up getting another from the same series from the library, because she enjoyed it so much. I prefer the original Nancy Drew myself, but this was a fun, light read. Then we read Third Grade Detectives: Mystery of the Hairy Tomatoes. We got another of that series from the library as well.  I especially enjoyed reading these two books with her because they were her very first mystery books, and I adored mystery books as a kid (and still do). She had a good time speculating about each case. These are both very light mysteries - nothing at all scary.

Next up we read Elevator Family, which we both thought was hilarious. It's about a family who stays in an elevator for their vacation because the hotel has no vacancy.  Still More Stories From Grandma's Attic was next, which is a really sweet, old-fashioned book. Since Stories from Grandma's Attic is a Sonlight book that I had read with James,  I was already familiar with the storyline. Rose enjoyed these stories much more than he did, though. I think they were a bit girly and old-fashioned for his liking. There is a bit of religious content in this book, but no more than you'd find in the Little House series.

We wrapped up our summer reading with Year of the Baby, which we actually just finished a couple of weeks ago. This one was a bit slower-paced than the others,  but she did ask to read it most days and she has asked me to get her the sequel. So all in all, the summer readers were a great experience! Read-alouds are one of those things that tends to fall by the wayside around here during summertime, and having a new stack of books around definitely helped us to read more this summer.

Sonlight makes summer reader packages for elementary, middle, and high-school readers, and I did offer to get my older kids their own package, but they weren't interested. My boys mostly prefer nonfiction for their free reading, and Grace is pretty picky about what she will read.  So only Rose got a package this year, but we will definitely be ordering again next year and trying to convince her siblings to branch out and do likewise.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tweaking the Routines

We are already making changes to our daily routine, our homeschool routine and our chore routine, just a few weeks into our new school year. I am a big believer in routines lately, and the more we have going on, the more I rely on my routines to keep things going (somewhat) smoothly. Naturally I would love to sit down, write up my ideal routine on paper, and then have it work out perfectly...but that is pretty unrealistic. Routines need tweaking constantly, because life changes constantly. Following are a few of the changes I have made to help our routines work better for us.

Our Daily Routine

Walking the dogs: First of all, I have been trying to spend some time each morning walking the dogs, because I have found that the day runs much more smoothly with a tired puppy! This means I have to get up a bit earlier each day, but so far it is working well and it's nice to have some outdoor time first thing. Exercise, tired dogs, time in nature, quiet time.... some pretty good multitasking goes on if I can get out of bed early enough.

School starting later: I really do want to start school at 8 a.m., but it is just not working out. 8:30 is ambitious enough for us right now, and honestly we seem to get almost the same amount done whether we start at 8 or 8:30. We still stop at 2:30 no matter what, except on Fridays, when we stop around 11:30.

Less writing time: My least favorite tweak is that I had to cut back on my writing time. My goal was to write for ten hours each week, but right now that feels like too much. I really love writing, and in the past few weeks when I have been writing more, I have had time to submit some articles for publication, which is so exciting. I have found though, that squeezing in that much writing time made life feel very hectic. We are really only home two weekday afternoons each week, and I really need that time to take care of other things. Now on one of those afternoons I have an "office hour" when I make phone calls, catch up on email, research things, plan my next FIAR row, take care of my to-do list, plan our next week, make shopping lists, and things like that. On my second afternoon at home I plan to spend a good chunk of time on housework.  I still have a few evenings set aside to write for an hour or so, and I am still brainstorming ways I can find more time, but for now less is better. It would be much easier if I was one of those moms who could stay up half the night doing things, but I need my sleep! 

Our Homeschool Routine

As I said, I really wanted to start our homeschool day at 8 a.m. but it is just too early for us. I am usually up early, but some of the kids don't wake up until 7:30, and I don't like to wake them up. I figure if they are sleeping, they probably need it.  When they do get up, they like to play with the dogs a bit, and eat really slow, and then there are all the chores to do, and the puppy to take out (again), and before you know it we are way behind schedule. I hate always being behind schedule! So now I aim to start at 8:30, and if we are able to start early I get to feel like I'm ahead.  Other than that, there have been no real changes to our homeschool routine yet.

Chore Routine

I had originally assigned room cleaning tasks to specific days, but now I am back to my old housework loop plan. I kept the loop the same, but I only plan to work on it for two hours on Wednesday afternoons and one hour on Saturday (maybe). Anything that doesn't get done during those time slots will wait until the following Wednesday. We are still sticking with our morning, noon, and evening chore lists, but now the major cleaning is assigned to just Wednesday and Saturday. Housework is something I can't let totally slide, but I don't want it to take over the week, either. For now, this seems like a good compromise.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Our Lunch Time Homeschool Block

On to the next part of our homeschool routine...our lunch time block.

I have used lunchtime as "school-time" for quite awhile.  When the kids were younger they would take just about forever to eat their lunch, so I had time to eat, then do a read-aloud while I had a captive (and mostly quiet!) audience.  These days, we use lunchtime for logic. Last year we worked through the Critical Thinking books; this year, we are using Art of Argument. This is "officially" for Grace and Christopher, but my younger two both enjoy listening in and I am often surprised at how much they are getting out of it. 

So our lunchtime routine is: get lunch set up, get out the books, then eat and discuss. I will hopefully do a review of Art of Argument another day, but so far we are enjoying it. I usually have a bit of text to read aloud, then we all discuss the questions and illustrations. A fun feature of this book is that it includes mock conversations between Socrates and his students. We take turns playing the different parts, which gives me a bit of a break and keeps everyone from dozing off. We read and discuss until most people are done eating, then I just put a sticky note on the page we will start on next time.  We spend about 20 minutes per day on logic, much less than recommended in The Well-Trained Mind, but this is a subject that would be hard for me to fit in otherwise. I am just happy it's getting done!

Only a couple of block posts left to go. Next up is reading and discussing with my older two, which I do after lunch most days.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ten Things on the Last Day of September

1. The puppers poses. I've never had a pet that posed before and it's pretty fun. She actually seems to enjoy having her photo taken. We took a trip last weekend to our favorite fall farm stand to pick up chrysanthemums and pumpkins for the front porch. I always put this off far too long, so I am pleased to have the porch all ready for fall so early in the season.

2. It's kind of dark in the morning now, so sometimes if I think of it I light a candle, and that always makes me really happy. Rose insisted we get a couple of white mini pumpkins, and I am glad. I like how they look on the table.

3. But I also had to get some classic orange, because I love how they look lined up on the mantel. 

4. Rose is slowly copying out "The Year" poem from First Language Lessons Level 2, just like all of her siblings did before her. Eventually she will have a little book we can put together. She is planning to illustrate it, too.

5. We finally got around to doing some science experiments. James is working through TOPS Electricity and Rose is using Science Activities to focus on magnet experiments. Here, she experimented with iron filings on top of a piece of cardboard, by sliding a magnet around under it. The results are pretty interesting and she played with the magnets and filings for quite some time.

6.  We watched our first episode of "Our Night Sky from" The Great Courses, and I was very pleased with it! We learned about the constellations, some of the mythology behind them, and how to use the planisphere included with our package. We used the planisphere during our eclipse watching session and Grace was able to identify several constellations with it.

7. Rose is working on the second week of Writing Strands 2 this week. The first assignment was to gather items from around the house. She chose a piece of money from Costa Rica, a pencil, a rock, and a piece of sea glass. Then she practiced writing about her chosen objects in a sentence: "On the table there is a rock, a pencil, a piece of sea glass...." Seems like such a simple thing, but very effective - and fun! This writing program is working very well for us right now.

8. Poison ivy - it is not fun. I always thought I was immune to poison ivy, since we've had it in the yard for years and I've never had any problems with it. Apparently I am not immune to it. Really, really not immune to it. I'll spare you a photo of my super itchy, red legs that took me into the doctor this morning for a prescription that hopefully will make sleeping through the night possible. Fingers crossed.

9. In a second piece of non-fun news, we are going on about 10 days of someone being sick in this house. It's nothing terrible, just a bad cold that is slowly making its rounds. It appears to be finally wrapping up, lucky me being the last to get it. I had pretty much no voice for the beginning of this week, so read-alouds were sparse. Today I was able to read aloud to everyone and it was so nice. Made me remember how much I enjoy this part of my day!

10. Christopher is learning about gerund phrases in Analytical Grammar. I was a bit nervous when I saw we were due to start this, because I don't really do AG with Grace, she just reads and teaches herself. I do check her work though, and once she hit gerunds I started seeing all these strange-looking sentence diagrams and I was not looking forward to explaining them to Christopher (who does not do AG independently). It is going surprisingly well though.

And tomorrow is the first of October already!