Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Should I Homeschool Preschool? Part 2

This is Part 2 of my series "Should I Homeschool Preschool?"  My oldest son just turned 3, and my husband and I have to decide whether or not to send him to preschool.  In Part 1, I talked about the main two reasons why other moms I know send their 3/4 year-olds to preschool:  1) Socialization and 2) Time alone for mom.  After talking it over, we decided that these two reasons aren't enough for us to send our son to preschool.  Here's why:

1.  Socialization 
 When people talk about socialization, they often include kids spending time with peers, learning how to share, and learning how to make friends.  It can also include learning how to listen to a teacher and follow directions.  So far, socialization sounds great.  But what about negative aspects?  I'd like to shield my 3-year-old from bad behaviors like hitting, throwing, and talking back.  I also don't want him to pick up bad attitudes such as defiance and disrespect for authority.  Moms I know who send kids to school are always battling bad behaviors/attitudes learned from peers.  Of course he'll be exposed to all of these eventually, but I'd like it to by under my supervision, addressed with a Christian worldview, where I can show him the correct behavior/attitude.

Many of the positive aspects of socialization can also be achieved at home.  My two sons learn how to respect authority by learning to obey and respect me.  They learn how to share and play with peers by playing together and by playing with friends.  We also go to church every week, and the boys get to spend time with peers, listen to a teacher, and follow directions in their classes.

2.  Time alone for mom 
I admit, this reason for sending my son to preschool sounds sooo attractive.  What mom with little ones doesn't want a few mornings off to clean the house, go shopping ...whatever I want!

But, then reality sets in:  I have a one-year-old at home, too, and he's not going to preschool.  Plus, we're planning on having more kids and homeschooling all of them, so I'd better get used to having little ones underfoot.  I need to practice doing everything with the kids during the day and not see it as a burden, but a blessing.  After all, teaching kids about real life is one of the reasons we want to homeschool.  I want my boys learn how to shop smart, clean the house, cook dinner, etc.  

My main coping strategy for having the kids home all day is a strictly enforced naptime (and bedtime, too, so my husband and I have some time alone).  My awesome mother-in-law homeschooled her three kids, and she had a mandatory quiet time until the kids were at least 5 years old so that she could have a break.  Even if they don't fall asleep, I expect both boys to sit quietly in their room for at least an hour every day.  They can play quietly, read, or talk together, but they have to stay relatively quiet and not come out of their room until I come for them.  This gives me a chance to blog, nap, work out...whatever I want, it's my time off!

Next week in Part 3, I'll be asking the question, "What about academics??"  After all, I've had two posts on preschool and I haven't even mentioned curriculum yet.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1:  Why preschool?
Part 3:  Academics and currriculum
Part 4:  Money and expenses

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Image courtesy of chokphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, January 25, 2013

Easy, made-from-scratch, baked Mac 'n' Cheese recipe

Yummm, made-from-scratch, simple, delicious mac 'n' cheese!  As convenient as the blue boxes are, they can't compare to the creamy, cheesy goodness of the homemade version.  The whole family loves this dish.  I think we can all agree, even the pickiest eater gobbles up macaroni and cheese!

I've tried to make this dish several times with different recipes.  Most recipes start off by making a white sauce on the stove.  Every time I've followed a recipe like that, it's been disappointing.  First off, it takes a lot of time and effort to stand over the stove and baby the sauce.  Second, it always tastes a little grainy, not smooth and creamy.  Maybe I'm not making the sauce correctly?? 

Well, it doesn't matter anymore, because I discovered how to make homemade mac 'n' cheese in one step--no stovetop, no grainy sauce.  You just mix everything together, pop it in the oven, and enjoy your delicious, cheesy macaroni!  I like to add ham and peas to make this a one-dish meal.  Just serve with a salad and veggies, and you have a simple lunch or dinner.

What you need:
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas (optional)
  • 1 cup diced ham (optional)
  •  2 1/2 cups milk
Let's get cooking:  Makes about 8 servings.  Total time:  90 minutes

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Spray 8 x 8 inch glass pan with nonstick spray.

2.  Toss together the cornstarch and cheese in a mixing bowl until the cheese is coated.  (This helps the cheese stay creamy as it melts)

3.  Add pasta, spices, peas, and ham and stir together.  Pour in the milk.

 4.  Pour the mixture into your glass pan.  It looks really milky, but don't worry.  The noodles will absorb the liquid as they cook.

 5.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake 40 minutes.  Remove the foil, then bake 25-30 minutes more until the cheese on top is browning and the liquid is absorbed.  Let it rest 10 minutes before serving.

See?  I told you, easy-peasy cheesy noodles :) 

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Homeschool Preschool? Part 1

My older son just turned three (check out his awesome Spider-Man birthday cake!), so my husband and I have been talking about the possibility of sending him to preschool this year.  We've known for a while that we want to homeschool our sons when they get into kindergarten.  But what about preschool?  It wasn't something I had really thought about until several friends started sending their little ones.

Since we're planning on homeschooling later, we're leaning toward not sending our kids to preschool at all.  But I also wanted to know why other moms send their kids and what their kids do at preschool.  First, to decide whether I wanted to keep my son at home.  Second, if I do decide to homeschool preschool, I may want to incorporate some of the activities and curriculum from a traditional preschool.

The first question I had about preschool was, "Why should I send my son?"  I've asked many moms I know who send their kids to preschool why they send their kids.  There were only two answers that I received, over and over:

1.  Socialization.  This is the #1 reason that I heard from moms for sending young kids to preschool.  And, it's also the first argument that several people have made to try and convince me to send my son to preschool.  I'm assuming from what other moms said that "socialization" here means preschool allows the child more time around peers his age. 

2.  Time alone for mom.  For many moms, this seemed to be the deciding factor--their sons making friends was a nice bonus, but the real advantage to preschool was 3 hours alone every week.  As a mom of two little ones, I am not criticizing at all.  I admit, it does sound nice to have a break for a few hours. 

That's it--out of all the moms I talked to, these were basically the only two reasons for sending their kids to preschool.  These weren't the answers I was expecting, and I had to wrestle with the fact that they initially sounded pretty appealing.  Allowing my son a morning with friends away from me sounds like a pretty good setup.

However, after thinking about it more, my husband and I decided that these two reasons were not enough for us to send our son to preschool.  I talk about that in my second post in the series.

Other posts in this series:
Part 2:  Socialization and time alone--my response
Part 3:  Academics and Curriculum
Part 4:  Money and Expenses

Image courtesy of chokphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How to prevent clumped shredded cheese

Our family loves casseroles, homemade pizza, enchiladas, and plenty of other recipes that require generous amounts of shredded cheese.  

I like to buy the giant 5 lb blocks of cheese and shred it up myself.  It's cheaper, healthier, and tastier than buying pre-shredded cheese.  I usually just shred it all up and freeze it.  The only problem is, after a few days in the freezer all the cheese has turned into one giant clump.  I've been known to hack at it with a meat tenderizer trying to break it up.
 Then I discovered a simple solution:  cornstarch!  After you shred your cheese, just sprinkle the cornstarch on top and gently mix it in.  I used 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch per pound of cheese.  Then fill a gallon-size freezer bag about 1/2-full and lay it flat in the freezer, with nothing on top.  (This also helps the cheese from clumping).
That's it!  I've tried it with mozzerella and cheddar cheese, and it works just as well with both.  I've used the cheese in a bunch of different recipes, like pizza, grilled cheese, even on salads--and I can't tell any difference in flavor or texture.
Enjoy your clump-free cheese :)

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

DIY How to Patch Jeans

For the last three years I've had little boys to chase and play with on the floor.  I find myself crawling, crouching, and bending all day long.  Of course I love playing with my little guys, but it is very hard on the knees in my jeans.  Most of my "everyday" pants that I wear around the house have holes worn through the knees.  I guess it's trendy to have holes in your jeans, but some of my holes keep getting bigger and bigger as I continue to crawl around on the floor every day.  And, it's really cold to walk around with two giant holes in your pants when it's snowing outside!  

Rather than tossing all my holey jeans, I decided to try and patch them.  But, I remember when my mom used to patch my pants when I was a kid...let's just say it was anything but cute.  I wanted to still be able to wear my favorite jeans out of the house, so I had to find a creative way to patch them that didn't make them ugly.  
I found my solution on Pinterest (of course!), where I found this great tutorial on how to cutely patch jeans. When I tried it on my first pair of pants, I followed the tutorial's directions.  First, I used a double-sided fusible to bond the patch fabric to the inside of the jeans. 
 Then I used another layer of fusible web to bond a denim patch behind the fabric to add extra stability.  Finally, I added some cute embroidery.
 The problem was, after just one or two washings the inside of my jeans looked like this:
There were several drawbacks to this method:
1. The fusible web I used didn't bond the fabric strongly enough
2. I'd have to add a lot more embroidery to secure the patch.
3.The edges of the patch were already starting to fray.  (I guess I could have pinked the edges to help with this problem)
4.  Using a fusible web made the patch too stiff and uncomfortable to wear.
5.  The embroidery floss recommended wasn't strong enough for heavy use, and it started to fray.

I decided to try again on another pair of pants without using any fusible web.  I was much happier with the results this time, so here's my version of a cute jeans patch:

What you'll need:
  • 1 pair of holey jeans
  • 1 scrap of bright patch fabric
  • 1 scrap of corderoy (or other medium-weight material to back the patch)
  • Coordinating thread (I used a fun rainbow thread)
  • Sturdy needle for hand-sewing through denim 
Let's get mending:

1. Cut a piece of fabric and a piece of corderoy, about 2" wider and longer than your hole.  I used a zig-zag stich to sew the two patch fabrics together.  This will prevent the fabrics from unravelling.

2.  Pin the patch to the inside of the jeans, centering the fabric over the hole. 

3.  Turn the jeans right-side-out and hand-sew the patch to the jeans.  If you have thinner thread, you'll probably want to double it so it's sturdy enough to hold the patch on.  I used a backstitch about 1/4" away from the edges of the hole to securely attach the patch.

You could also add some decorative embroidery stitches like I did on my first pair of jeans.
Have fun looking cute, saving money, and rescuing your favorite jeans from the scrap pile!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Pink Chalk Fabric arrived!

A few weeks ago, I was a finalist in Pink Chalk Fabric's Handmade with Love Tutorial Contest!  My hanging kitchen towel tutorial was one of the top 5 chosen in the "Gifts for Friends" category.  And I won a $20 gift certificate to Pink Chalk Fabrics!  The hardest part was deciding what to buy, as there are dozens of awesome fabrics to choose from.  I finally decided...not to decide, haha. 
I ordered a Bits and Pieces bundle, where they send a random assortment of print remnants.  That way, I didn't have to actually make a decision, and I also get to sample a bunch of delicious fabrics!
  Yesterday, my scrap bundle arrived!!  I'm so excited, there are over a dozen fun, funky, and beautiful fabrics. 

Here are some of my favorite fabrics:
Buying new fabric is always fun, and it inspires my creativity.  But, it's not so good for my overflowing fabric stash--I think my hubby had mixed feelings about this purchase :)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Homemade Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

I loooove this chicken and broccoli casserole recipe--and so does my family.  Actually, everyone I've ever made it for has liked it.  Once I made it for a family at church through our meals ministry.  I delivered it, and 30 minutes later the mom called just to tell me that her kids never liked casseroles, but they gobbled up this one.  That was a shining moment in my culinary career :) 

I think the big secret with this casserole (or any casserole I cook) is that I make it from scratch.  No goopy cans of cream-of-something or powdered soup mixes.  Just simple ingredients, all baked together into hearty, comforting deliciousness.  

This recipe does take time to make (over an hour), but it's worth it!  Plus, it makes a lot, so you could even divide it into two casseroles and freeze one for another dinner.
What you need:  for one 9 x 13 casserole, about 10 servings.
  • 5 cups cooked white rice
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups broccoli, chopped
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 Tbs flour
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 Tbs oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large chicken breasts (about 1 lb) cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 recipes (about 1 1/2 cups) homemade breadcrumbs
Let's get cooking

 1.  Cook the rice according to package directions.

2.  Lightly steam the broccoli.

3.  Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Whisk in the flour.  Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer until it's thickened slightly, stirring every few minutes so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat and stir in pepper, salt, garlic powder, and mushrooms.  Set aside.

4.  In a second skillet, heat 1 Tbs oil.  Saute onions over medium heat until soft.  Remove from pan.

5.  Heat 1 Tbs oil in skillet over medium heat.  Cook chicken until browned and cooked through. 

6.  Spray a 9 x 13 glass pan with cooking spray.  Mix together rice, broccoli, mushroom sauce, onions, and chicken.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese on top.  Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is turning golden and the casserole is heated through. 


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