Thursday, February 27, 2014

7 Things I'm Learning on the Way to a Half Marathon

Linking up with Emily Freeman to share a few things I learned in February
...also linking to The Month That Was (@ Creative Home Keeper).

7 Things I Learned in February
(While Training for a Half-Marathon)

1) Mittens are the way to go. When  temperatures drop below freezing, gloves do not cut it. I've heard it said that gloves are like putting 10 individual popsicles in their own wrappers.  Yes! Mittens let fingers share body heat and keep hands warmer. 

2) Whether I am hungry or not, I must eat immediately after a long run.  I learned this the hard way.  After one of my first long runs (8 miles), I didn't feel hungry.  In fact, I felt slightly nauseous so I waited before grabbing a snack.  By the time, I decided to eat, I was shaky and weak, plus I was sluggish and run down the rest of the day.  I didn't feel "normal" again until almost 24 hours later.   Now I know to eat right away to begin replacing my body's glycogen (energy) stores.

3) Nutrition mid-run isn't a bad idea either.  I know it's important to fuel your body if you are going to be running for longer than an hour, but I didn't like the idea of taking in the artificial nutrients of sports gels or chews. I experimented with a few options and settled on carrying pitted dates with me when I do my long runs.  They look like giant raisins. I love them because they are sweeter and chewier than raisins but less sticky, if that makes any sense at all.

4) While we're on the topic of food, training for a half marathon makes me hungry.  I look forward to every single meal.  I literally go to bed thinking about what I'm going to eat when I get up.  I've always eaten breakfast out of necessity, not desire...until now.

5) Music motivates me for speed runs.  Podcasts keep me occupied on long runs.

6) Running with a partner makes time go by quickly. Brian has no interest in running long, but he does run a mile about 3 times a week. Whenever we can coordinate it, I run my first mile with him before continuing on alone.  It's amazing how fast that first mile passes.  I wish I had a running partner to stick with me for longer mileage. 

7)  I curl the toes on my left foot when I run.  I catch myself doing it out of habit, but I pay for it later.  So far...3 blood blisters and 1 black toenail.  I'll spare you the photo for that one!

Monday, February 24, 2014

4 Classic Books I Want to Read in 2014

I have a hard time motivating myself to read classic literature. I read often and I read a lot, but my reading time is my down time and quite frankly, I don't want my down time to be challenging.  I'm a lazy reader.

Often, though, when I break out of my comfort zone and read a classic, I enjoy it and am glad I made the effort .  Usually, too, I find that it was not nearly the painstaking process I was anticipating. 

In 2014, I am challenging myself to read 4 classic books.  I'm assigning one to each season  of the year to spread it out a bit. 


I read To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee last week.  I binge-read on Saturday afternoon to finish the last 50 pages or so.  I chose it because it has been on my mental reading list for probably 10 years.  Plus my dad has told me more than once that it is one of the best books he's ever read.  It. was. phenomenal.


I got The Secret Gardenby Frances Hodgsen Burnett free for my Kindle last year, but never even read the first page.  I may have read it once as a child, but if I did, I don't remember much. I do remember loving the movie version.


I've started to read The Yearlingby Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings twice before and never got beyond a chapter or two-- not because it wasn't a good book, but because something else always came along to distract my reading.   When Kati put it on this year's Sisters Book Challenge, I knew this was my chance to start it...and finish it this time!


The Scarlet Pimpernelby Baroness Orczy was on last year's Sisters Book Challenge, but I never got further than putting it on my Kindle.  Both of my sisters have read it and loved it, though, so now I need to join their party.

How about you?  Do you read the classics?  Do you have a favorite?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

This Is How I Teach Spelling

One of my children is not a natural speller.  That's a nice way of saying that one of my children is a terrible speller. Not only that, but he told me that spelling isn't important as long as he can read what he has written. 

I have experimented with a variety of teaching methods.  We tried spelling lists.  We tried word families.  We tried doing nothing at all with the idea that a combination of reading good literature and maturity would work their magic. 

It worked and it didn't work. 

My student learned how to memorize spelling lists for a quiz, but he would forget how to spell the same words in his writing. Word families meant nothing to him.  The literature/maturity method worked for my other two spellers, but the terrible speller still didn't care.

This year we've stumbled on something that is working.  We aren't calling it spelling.  We call it writing because we are  focusing on the whole package of spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and creativity

Now, instead of memorizing and drilling a list of random words, my children pour their creativity into assignments that mean something to them...and the spelling practice is a secondary benefit!

Click the links below to use in your homeschool!

Easy Writing Prompts for Young Writers
This set of 12 writing prompts is for the beginning writer. Each prompt is followed by two blank lines for writing.  Expect complete sentences and proper punctuation, but focus on creativity. 

This set of 10 writing prompts is all about animals!  Geared towards older children, there is plenty of room for your budding writer to expound. 

Lego Writing Prompts @ Homegrown Learners
Download writing prompts in themes such as Christmas Writing Prompts and Back to School Lego Prompts!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Rest of My Kitchen Adventures

Sourdough bread was my pet project during January and the first part of February, but that didn't stop me from experimenting with other taste treats, too. It was not unusual for me to cook dinner, do the dishes, and then make another sink full of dishes in the evening as I puttered around the kitchen trying something new. It's funny, but I used to close up shop in the kitchen immediately after dinner.  If it didn't get done during the daytime hours, I was too tired to do it after 6.  But this winter, I have found a natural rhythm of cooking and baking after dinner. I've had successes and  two definite flops.

Inspired by the book Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (affiliate link), I tried yogurt first.  I was amazed at the ease of the entire process.  I used whole milk which I heated on the stove.  After adding yogurt cultures, I put it in the warm oven overnight and by morning, we had yogurt!  My kids love yogurt and I was motivated to make my own because store-bought yogurt is laden with sugar.

My third batch of yogurt got a rebellious streak.  It just did not want to set as thickly as we prefer.  It was thicker than milk, but too runny for the youngest kids to eat with a spoon.   I reached out desired consistency by straining it through a cheesecloth.  That's more complicated than I would prefer on a regular basis, but it did provide a container of whey that I can now use for more baking!

We are still experimenting with how to flavor our yogurt.  We've tried jam, but a few of the kids thought the yogurt was still too tart.  We tried adding sugar (still far less than store-bought) and vanilla, but it made our yogurt watery.  Owen and I have had the best luck.  I enjoy the yogurt without any sweetener at all, but a handful of handmade granola adds a perfect punch.  Owen, my pickiest eater, surprisingly loves the yogurt without much sweetener either, though he  loves a sprinkling of mini-M&Ms as a special treat.

Originally, I had planned to also attempt a crock pot yogurt for comparison, but the stovetop/oven version was so simple, I decided there was no need for an alternative.

Verdict: Win (with a few bugs to work out)  

I spotted another recipe in Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (affiliate link) for marshmallow fluff that I whipped up (literally) on a snow day while the kids were outside making snow angels.  I whisked until my arm ached, but I eventually got about 2-3 cups of marshmallow. 

Maddie enjoyed a peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich, but after the first day, the marshmallow was too stiff to spread.  She says the flavor is still good, but her sandwiches are a little lumpy!

Verdict: Meh.


For all twelve-and-a-half years of our married life, Brian and I have been looking for a way to enjoy steak that does not involve a grill or a restaurant bill. This was Brian's favorite of all our food experiments.  I found this recipe for restaurant-style steak.  I used sirloin, not filet mignon like the recipe suggests, but even with a cheaper cut of meat, I was still afraid I might ruin it.  Not so.  Our steaks turned out perfectly juicy, tender, and flavorful,  and Brian declared them "awesome."  We had dinner guests on Super Bowl Sunday and I used the same recipe for another success!

Verdict:  Definite win!!


One evening, we popped our own popcorn on the stove and the smell reminded one of the kids of the kettle corn we always buy when we're on vacation.  The next time I popped corn, we tried this recipe for kettle corn.  While it had the same crackly consistency as kettle corn, the flavor was bland.  Plus the sugar browned too quickly and burned at the bottom.  Definitely not a repeat recipe.

However, we decided to try the caramel corn recipe from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (affiliate link), and thought it was wonderful.  We tried eating it before it cooled and the caramel was too sticky, but when we were patient enough to let it cool, the flavor and texture was ideal.

Verdict: Kettle corn-- flop!  Caramel corn-- win!


My most recent experiment was with this ketchup recipe. It had the look of store-bought ketchup and it smelled almost like store-bought ketchup, but it had a strong vinegar flavor.  Two of our kids like ketchup, but they thought this ketchup was too tangy.  Brian and I liked it, but it reminded us of a sauce instead of ketchup.  My other criticism is that the recipe says it yields 12 servings.  Instead, it filled a 30 ounce bottle!

Verdict: Flop

Saturday, February 15, 2014

1, 2, 3: a Weekend Recap

a pictorial look at our weekend

1  We got the weekend started on Valentine's Day morning with a special family breakfast.  I posted a menu the night before and the kids were so excited that one of them told me the next morning, "I had such a hard time going to sleep last night, it felt like Christmas Eve!"

The most anticipated taste treat of the morning was The Pioneer Woman's Chocolate-Covered Cherry Smoothies

The three oldest designed their own Valentine's to hand out at breakfast.  I printed out Valentine paper airplanes for the boys.  Alaine was thrilled to tear open the cellophane from a box and discover three miniature chocolates inside.

After the dishes were cleared, we gathered back at the table for a regular school day.  Ben asked if we could take off for the holiday and I had to convince him that we could work through this sort of holiday.

2  On Friday afternoon, Brian and I had the opportunity to go out while my sisters came over to share dinner and watch movies with my kids.  It was a win-win for everyone (except maybe Aunt Kati who was persuaded to watch Despicable Me 2 after dinner).

We got to eat a steak dinner and do a bit of shopping alone.  Our best "find" of the night was a basket large enough to hold the pile of throw blankets and the 7 Snuggis that have camped out in the corner of my living room throughout this long cold winter.

The group left behind at our house made their own pizzas with heart-shaped pepperonis and snacked on white chocolate dipped pretzels. They had a festive table, set with the Valentine napkin rings that the kids made the day before.  I neglected to get an "after" photo of their handiwork, though. 

3 Saturday dawned early.  Not bright, but early. It was a cloudy cool gray day, but Brian and I were registered for a 2-mile race and we weren't about to miss it. 

I shared after my last race how I set 2-tiered goals for myselfa primary, attainable goal that I'll share beforehand if anyone asks and a more ambitious goal that I keep to myself.  My primary goal today was to complete the race with a faster time than this same race last year. I knew I could do that easily since last year's race was the first race I had ever entered and I needed to stop to walk for parts of the course. My more ambitious goal was to complete the course in between 16 and 17 minutes.

It started to drizzle as we set off from the starting line, but it was light and mercifully, it was calm with no wind. I ran my hardest and crossed the finish line with a time of 16:35!  (That's the official race time, though my watch calculated 16:47.  Either way, I met my goal!)

Brian worked hard for this race, too.  Though his job keeps him physically active and in shape, he had to train before feeling ready to run 2 miles without stopping.  On Thursday, he came down with a head cold and thought he might end up needing to walk instead or drop out altogether, but he persevered and ran the whole course.  I'm proud of him! 

What did you do this weekend?  My Sunday plans are far less ambitious.  I plan to catch up on sleep and then spend a relaxing afternoon at my parents' house before beginning another whirlwind week of school, several lunch invitations, a return to the kids' homeschool gym class, and continued half-marathon training. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Upstairs Room

Without setting out to do so, I read three Newbery Medal or Honor books in the second half of 2013.  I didn't read them aloud to my children.  I read them as part of my own pleasure reading. Never underestimate the quality, the story-telling, or the depth of children's literature. 

{For what it's worth, I thought The Wednesday Warsby Gary Schmidt was superb, One Crazy Summerby Rita Williams-Garcia was good, and  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweilerby E. L. Konigsburg was only mediocre.}

As part of this year's Sisters Book Challenge, Kati recommended I read The Upstairs Roomby Johanna Reiss which was a Newbery Honor book in 1973.  Despite starting it on a hectic week, I zipped through it in two (busy) days. 

The Upstairs Room is an autobiographical account of the author's time spent hiding with her older sister for two years in German-occupied Holland. While the book is packed with fact, it reads like a story. There are well-developed characters, and natural dialogue is included.

"Annie" recounts the boredom of passing the days as quietly as possible while staying away from the windows.  She tells about the monotony of never feeling fresh air in her nostrils.  She recalls the joy of being allowed to join her host family for a risky meal in the downstairs dining room. 

While this was a book written for children (in fact, the author wrote it as a record for her own daughters), I would hesitate before putting into the hands of someone too young.  The book includes a bit of language, mostly spoken by the rough, yet loveable, farmer who houses the girls.  The subject matter could be a dicey for young children also, but while the author does mention the concentration camps, she does not address either in intimate detail.

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