Friday, September 26, 2014

6 Ways to Use Ripe Bananas

Bananas are like candy in our house.  Well, maybe not quite, but they usually go quickly. I've started buying bigger bunches to keep up with demand, but I'm a banana snob and if a banana passes through that brief 1-day window of not-too-green-but-no-brown-splotches, I'm looking for other ways to use up the rejects.

1) Frozen Banana Slices

Slice the banana into 1/2 inch rounds and then freeze on waxed paper. Freezing the bananas disguises the mush and can be eaten straight from the freezer as a snack.

2) Banana Pops

This is the frozen banana slice's more glamorous older sister.  Cut a banana  in half and insert a popsicle stick into each half.  Freeze overnight (or at least a few hours).  Melt 1/4 cup chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of butter in the microwave, checking at 30 second intervals. Roll the frozen banana in the melted chocolate and sprinkle with toppings if desired, working quickly before the chocolate hardens.

Gavin's s'mores banana pop with mini marshallows and graham cracker crumbs

3) Waffles

We like this recipe because it is easy to whip up on weekday mornings before school. Be sure to grease the waffle iron generously because they tend to stick. They are delicious eaten with butter and real maple syrup!

4) Smoothies

If you plan ahead, you can freeze the bananas first, room temperature bananas work, too. These are some of our favorite varieties of smoothie: 

5) Banana Oatmeal

Make a pot of oatmeal and stir in 1-2 mashed bananas before serving.   You can eat it as-is or spice it up with pecans and chocolate chips.

6) Muffins

You can use whatever recipe you use for banana bread but divided it into muffins cups instead...or you can use this delectable recipe for banana crumb muffins!

What do you do with leftover bananas?

I'm taking a 1 week blogging break to work on a special project (coming in November), but I will continue to post throughout the week on my blog Facebook page.  Join me there!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

real life {week 4}

On Monday, I gave a peek into my day.  It was not necessarily a typical day because what is typical?, but a real look, nonetheless.

Every Wednesday during the month of September, I shared a photo from my real life.  

It was not always a glossy, smiley, arranged life because sometimes real life can be messy, noisy, and unscripted.

 I want to invite you to join me again this week.  What does your real life look like?

Monday, September 22, 2014


I love the Anne of Green Gables quote that says, "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

That's how I feel about Monday.  Monday is a fresh start.  Last week was busy and stressful, but today we had no where to go.  It was the first time since last Tuesday that we didn't have to get in the van and drive somewhere.

I got up when it was still dark to go for a morning run before Brian had to leave for work.  We are running 2 races together in October so today I was testing to see how fast I could run 3.1 miles.  When I got home, Brian said good-bye and the kids and I started breakfast.  Nothing fancy today, just whatever we could pull together-- toast, boiled eggs, cereal, etc.

The kids watched Wild Kratts on TV while they ate.  I got caught up on some e-mails and started folding the 5-6 loads of laundry that had piled up over the weekend. Soon everyone joined in with morning chores.  Owen cleaned the main bathroom.  Maddie unloaded the dishwasher and swept the laundry room.  Gavin took care of the pets. Ben straightened all the shoes by the back door, and Alaine made her bed and straightened the girls' room. 

Ben and Alaine both got out workbooks and did a few pages before deciding Duplos would be more fun! 

We started school almost precisely at 9 am. We had Bible time and prayer and then I worked with the older kids on music theory before they started their independent work-- math and English, plus 2 projects for art that they need to complete by Wednesday. I explained Ben's math assignment to him and then I used a few free minutes to get cleaned up from my run.

Owen finished school early so I helped him mix up and knead his first loaf of yeast bread. Then we all worked together to prepare a simple lunch.  We ate, did a whole house clean-up, and then the kids went back to the Duplos to make vehicles for Maddie's stuffed cat. 

The afternoon was filled with a variety of things. I made a new cookie recipe. Some of the kids played a Wii game they picked up at the library last week. Gavin worked on a science assignment. We read a few picture books.  I even sneaked in a 20 minute nap.

Later in the afternoon, Gavin went back outside to take care of the pets and then everyone went outside to play while I got dinner started.  Brian texted that he was on his way home.  Everyone was excited because we did not get to eat dinner together on week nights last week because of his long work days.  Brian and I ate dinner-sized steak fajita salads.  The kids had smaller salads with macaroni and cheese.  We all enjoyed slices of Owen's bread with homemade pumpkin butter.

It was Gavin's night to clear the table so he helped with kitchen clean-up and then the kids went back outside to run off some energy.  When the mosquitoes came out, it was back inside for cookies, baths for the littlest ones, and a stack of books on the couch.  While Brian put Alaine to bed, I let Ben practice reading out loud to me and then it was time for Jeopardy

What did you do today?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Learning with Littles

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

Today completes our seventh week of our eighth year of homeschooling!  There have been a few tears involved, mostly over math lessons.  I have raised my voice and regretted it.  Bad attitudes have surfaced and there has been occasional reluctance to do what I've asked. Our days are messy and  more than a little noisy, but I feel like we've made a good start. I am thankful for the Lord's hand that gently leads us through each day and for His grace that covers our shortcomings. 

Before I plan each school year, I bathe it in prayer and each curriculum choice is carefully decided. We've needed to tweak the daily schedule a bit since August, but our curriculum choices have fit each child and been just what we needed.  

But what about Alaine?  She turned four in September so she is not officially a school student.  How do I keep her happy and engaged without giving her too much freedom or leaving her feeling neglected during school hours? My ideas fall into three categories:

She works along with us.  Even as a crawling baby, Alaine was content to sit with us during school time and listen or play quietly.  Now it's even better because she can contribute.  She recites Bible verses along with us.  She takes a turn when we pray aloud at the beginning of the day. She does coloring pages for the birds we are reading about in nature study. She listens to the books we are reading for history or literature. While not everything we read captures her attention or is age-appropriate, she always gleans more than I expect. 

[A side note: My boys were not as eager to listen to chapter books when they were Alaine's age, but when Gavin was four, we started with The Mouse and the Motorcycleand he would play in the floor, keeping his hands busy with toy trains while listening. Owen and Ben were five before they could sit and listen without growing bored and fidgety.  The first book that captured Owen's attention was Beezus and Ramonaand Ben's was My Father's Dragon.]

She works on age-appropriate skills. Much has been written about not rushing children into a learning environment too early and not pushing them to excel before they are ready.  However, doing the opposite and holding back an eager child can also be unwise. When my kids express interest in holding a pencil and doing work at the table, I let them.

I have a small stack of dollar store workbooks set aside for Alaine, but I only let her keep one or two in her backpack at a time.  Right now she is working through one about beginning letter sounds.  It has pictures to color, words to say, and things to circle.  She's keeps a thick dot-to-dot book in her bag, too.  The numbers never go higher than 20 and she enjoys coloring in each picture that she completes.

Both Alaine and Ben enjoyed making their own All About Me booklet that I printed from a free PDF.

At Alaine's age, I am more concerned with fostering a love of learning in general than in drilling specific skills.  She knows her colors and shapes, she can say the alphabet and recognize sounds, and she can count to 30 so anything else she learns is a bonus. 

I  like to spend a little time on fine motor skills, too, like cutting, gluing, and holding a pencil properly.  Ben had difficulty learning to hold and control his pencil.  In fact, even though he's in first grade, it's still something we work on daily. This tutorial has helped immensely.

She plays independently while I work with the older kids.
  After an hour or two at the table, Alaine is ready to move on, but I need to know that she is occupied and happy. That's where a few tried-and-true independent activities come in handy.

I have a stash of busy bags that I keep way, way up high on top of our school cabinet.  She has to ask to get them down and it's a treat to dig through the bin and select the one she wants.  Sometimes I'll select one for her and she loves the surprise element.

I keep several sets of wooden dress-up dollsin the same place.  Several times a week, she asks if she can play with her "girls."  (Don't tell them I told you, but her brothers often join her in pairing up outfits and taking the "girls" on beach outings and tea parties.)

I ration out pages from her Usborne sticker bookand her Create-A-Face sticker book, too. (We bought the second book at Walmart for about $3!)

I let her play with a dry erase board and a few markers.  She draws pictures and practices writing letters.
She copies down strings of letters and then asks me to sound out the nonsense words she's written.

She plays dress up or races cars across the living room floor.

Her older siblings take turns reading her stories or taking her outside to blow bubbles.

I shared more ideas for keeping children engaged here:
How Do You... Keep Young Children Occupied During School Time?

Do you have any ideas, books, or free printables to recommend  for preschoolers?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

real life {week 3}

Every Wednesday during the month of September, I'm sharing a photo from my real life.  

It's not always a glossy, smiley, arranged life because sometimes real life can be messy, noisy, and unscripted.

 I want to invite you to join me each week.  What does your real life look like?

Monday, September 15, 2014

5 Signs We're a Nerd Family

1) Jeopardy! is an event at our house.  We put the two the youngest to bed by 7:30 and the rest of us gather in the living room to watch and call out our answers.  Owen is eight,  it's favorite television show, and he refers to Ken Jennings on a first name basis. We took a hiatus this summer while the show was in reruns, but the new season starts tonight!

2) Library day is a special day.  Sometimes it involves cheering, even when we were going twice a week during the summer months. The librarians know us by name and we often max out our cards and our hold limits.

3) We thrive on lists. We have grocery lists, lists of meals, to-do lists, books lists, lists of things to draw, school lists, lists of house projects... I even have a list scribbled on the margins of my master to-read list of what specific books I want to read and in what order during September and October. 

4) My kids use words like non-dominant and brute when they play.

5) I spent three hours with my book at the beach on Thursday while my family played in the waves. As we were leaving, one of the kids said, "Mama missed out on a great day!" to which I replied, "No!  I had a great day reading!"

Okay. So I guess I was the lone nerd that day.

Are you a nerdy family?  A hip family?  A crunchy family?  A traditional family?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

This is book 8 of the book challenge I'm doing with my sister, Kati.  I more than fulfilled the challenge a few months back after I read my 5th book, but I decided to keep going in an effort to finish off the entire list this year.

When Kati gave me the list of ten in January, I was not immediately drawn to Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon because I had never watched Downton Abbey (!).

Actually, I had watched one episode, wasn't excited by that brief encounter, and abandoned the series. This says two things about me. One, I don't like to jump on bandwagons.  If everyone else is doing it, I tend to run away!  And two, as a result I often arrive late to the proverbial party and can't believe what I've missed.

But I digress.

This summer I binge-watched all four season of Downton Abbey and knew it was time to read this book. I love books with glossy sections devoted entirely to photographs...and this book had four!  I turned to those sections repeatedly as I read. 

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is the biography of Almina Herbert, who became the Countess of Carnarvon when she married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  The book chronicles her life from birth to death, but focuses on her adult life, specifically the time during World War I and the early 1920s. I was surprised and interested to read how the family was involved in the discovery of King Tut's tomb!

While I liked the book, I'm a picky reader and  I'm finding that I enjoy memoir-style books over true biographies.

Now the countdown is on for the United States premier of Season 5... 114 days to go!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

real life {week 2}

Every Wednesday during the month of September, I'm sharing a photo from my real life.  

It's not always a glossy, smiley, arranged life because sometimes real life can be messy, noisy, and unscripted.

The answer to that question is yes, I am the only one who notices such things.

 I want to invite you to join me each week.  What does your real life look like?

Monday, September 8, 2014

You've Got Mail!

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know one of my favorite pastimes is reading.  It's a personal hobby, but I also spend large chunks of time reading with my kids, both for pleasure and for school.

I shared on my blog Facebook page in mid-August about a book exchange on another blog. It was nearing the deadline when I decided to participate. I had to compile a short wishlist and e-mail it to the hostess, Stephanie. She passed my list on to another participant, then sent me another reader's wishlist.  I got to choose a book from the list and mail it on its way(with or without some special little bonus goodies).

When I told Brian how much fun it sounded, he said, "So basically you are buying a book for yourself?"  I see his point, but I guess he didn't get the surprise element or the appeal of the social/friendship interaction.

Last Saturday I was inside alone cleaning and cooking in anticipation of dinner guests.  My toes were sore from a 9-mile run I had done that morning.  Brian was mowing the lawn and the kids were outside doing yard work and swinging on the tire swing. I decided to sneak a break with a cup of high-test hot chocolate when Maddie came running into the house with a package. 

My book exchange package had arrived at the most perfect of times!

My book exchange friend, Christy, does not know me and did not have any way to know what I like aside from the short list of books she was given, but I love that she included page markers in my very favorite of colors-- aqua and turquoise. 

A quick word on the books Christy chose from my wishlist:

Both books are outside of my normal reading comfort zone.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond is historical fiction and I tend to shy away from that genre.  However, two bloggers who have book opinions that I trust highly recommended this book, plus I've been reading more than my share of Newbery books this year so it was fitting that I read another.

Life After Life could be called fantasy and I read even less fantasy than I do historical fiction. Still, the story sounds highly plot and character drivenI first heard about it on another long Saturday morning run earlier this summer.  I was listening to my favorite running podcast, but the theme for the day deviated from the sport and instead centered on summer reading. The hosts were discussing can't-put-down novels and mentioned this one.

Do you ever challenge yourself to read books that are outside of your norm?
Have you read either of these two books?

Friday, September 5, 2014

What We're Learning This Year

I considered skipping my annual back-to-school books and curriculum post.  In fact, I didn't give it much thought at all this year, but when I put out the question on my Facebook page, the overwhelming response was, "Yes, please write it!"

So here goes.

{This post contains multiple Amazon affiliate links.}

As much as possible, I've tried to establish a group learning environment where we all learn alongside each other.  The kids range in age from Gavin who is almost 12 and in 7th grade to Alaine who is 4 and not formally in school so it can be a challenge, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

These are the subjects we learn together and the books or resources we use:

Music (weekly): Alfred's Basic Piano Course Theory, Level 1A

The three oldest are also working independently through Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum 5.

Either before or after our together work, each child has a list of  subjects to accomplish alone. For the first time this year, I gave each child a copy of their schedule so instead of me telling them what to do next, they can look at it and manage their own time.  I did not expect them to like that approach so much and I'm more than pleased at how they are showing initiative to finish their work ahead of schedule!

Gavin (7th grade, almost 12 years old)
Art supplement (weekly, starting after winter break): Let's Make Some Great Art

Maddie (5th grade, 10 years old)
Math (daily): Saxon Math 54
Health (weekly): Period.: A Girl's Guide
Art supplement (weekly, starting after winter break): Draw Me A House: A Book of Colouring In, Ideas and Architectural Inspiration

Owen (3rd grade, 8 years old)
Math (daily): Saxon Math 54
Health with Ben (summer): unit on the human body using various library books such as this oneand this one
Art supplement (weekly, starting after winter break): Let's Make Some Great Art

Ben (1st grade, almost 6 years old)
English (daily): Explode the Code series
Health with Owen (summer): unit on the human body using various library books such as this oneand this one
Music (summer): unit on Mozart using various library books such as this one

{This post contains multiple Amazon affiliate links.}

(I did not include a section for Alaine who is 4 years old and will not start kindergarten until next year. She comes to the table every day, though, with her pencils and crayons and asks to do several pages in her workbook. If anyone is interested in a list of workbooks, busy bags, books, and ideas of how I keep her engaged during school hours, I will be happy to write a post about that, too.)

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