Saturday, March 23, 2013

Homeschooling Posts

In my mind, it has been getting confusing about where to post my thoughts about homeschooling because lately my mind is focusing on both curriculum and on it being affordable or free.  So, I think I'm going to move all of my homeschooling thoughts over to my lovetopaint blog.  I am also going to move my page for free worksheets and sites that I love over there as well from this blog.  Making Things Stretch is going to stick to ways I find to save money, thoughts I have about being frugal, hobbies, homemaking, cooking, and recipes I come up with.  So, if you're interested in reading those thoughts, I'm going to post them over at  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Handwriting Practice

A few years ago, I started using Handwriting Without Tears for our handwriting curriculum.  I realized last year, though, that Handwriting Without Tears is really focused on public schools, not homeschoolers.  I wouldn't say they are unfriendly to homeschoolers (many homeschoolers use the program), but I wouldn't say they are exactly friendly either.  They are focusing their marketing and curriculum efforts primarily on equipping classroom teachers.  So, I haven't really wanted to purchase more workbooks from them.  I suppose that sounds silly.  In any case, I have my kids practice their handwriting each day during grades K-4.  In third grade, I do have my kids learn how to write in cursive.  I enjoy it and I think that it is beautiful.  I think kids learn a lot from practicing cursive.  It is often easier to write quickly than manuscript.  

I have found several great free printing and cursive websites that I am using, am going to use in the future, and have already used.  After my children have practiced the letters singularly, I am going to write a list of 4-8 words on large lined paper for them to copy 3 times each.  Another exercise is for them copy words out of a beginning picture dictionary and make their own picture dictionary.  One more idea is for my child to find their favorite picture book and copy it one sentence at a time as copywork/handwriting practice.  My daughter Sami loves to do this just because she wants to.

In terms of what letters to introduce first, kidzone groups the lowercase cursive letters into similar shaped letters.  I am going to follow this plan with Sami next year.  Handwriting without Tears lists their order HERE if you'd like to use other worksheets and follow their order.  With printing, I've found that most printing worksheets go from A to Z.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Corned Beef Hash

For St. Patrick's Day, I fixed corned beef in the crock pot, roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil, and steamed cabbage.  One of my husband's favorite meals after St. Pat's is a breakfast of corned beef hash.  I looked up some recipes online and this is what I ended up fixing:

Corned Beef Hash
Saute 1/2 small onion, minced with 2 Tbsp. of butter.  Add 2 cloves of garlic (sliced or minced) and 1/2 red bell pepper chopped.  Chop 1 1/2 cups roasted potatoes into pieces the size of a fingertip.  Add potatoes and 1/2-3/4 cup chopped corned beef hash.  Saute until well mixed and softened.  Sprinkle with pepper.  
No need to add salt.

The rosemary from the potatoes flavors it nicely.

Other recipes for hash call for adding beef broth, but my husband prefers it this way.  Chopped and softened, but not mushy.

One last note...  A friend lent us the a cookbook about how to use knives.  I learned a helpful tip from it that I hadn't known.  GARLIC  When it comes to chopping fresh garlic, peel the clove off the bulb.  Then, slice through the outer wrapping and slice the clove in half lengthwise.  You can pull out the germ if it has grown if you wish.  The germ is supposed to make it more bitter if it has grown.  The outer casing will peel off very easily now.  Slice and mince the clove of garlic.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How Do Foodies Go Gluten-Free?

I have had several friends go gluten-free and we tried at my husband's doctor's suggestion for a short time.  It's a challenging endeavor.  You have to completely change how you cook and eat.  I have a very good friend who's done an amazing job doing that because her husband has celiacs.  In her case, she needs a lot of family food recipes.  But, if you aren't cooking for a family and you are looking for more gourmet recipes with complicated tastes, then what do you do?  

Well, a few weeks ago, a new cookbook arrived in the mail.  It was The Complete Gluten-Free Whole Grains Cookbook by Judith Finlayson.  

If you are an adult who has just been diagnosed with celiacs or gluten intolerance or a gluten allergy and you love to cook, then this may be a great cookbook for you.  Who this cookbook is not for?  Parents with little kids (like me).  The recipes in this cookbook draw on a wide variety of gourmet flavors and combinations.  In the beginning, there is a section about how to cook and store gluten-free whole grains including corn, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, sorghum, and different varieties of rice.  What I especially like about this section is that the author explains how to cook many of them with a rice cooker, microwave, or slow cooker which makes it seem much more doable to cook these grains I'm not used to. 

The recipes are unusual.  They include a wide range of flavors, as I mentioned before.  In the breakfast section, you'll find a recipe for almond-flavored millet with cherries.  In the main dish section, you'll find southwestern turkey stew with cornmeal dumplings and salmon and wild rice cakes with avocado-chili topping.  For flours, she relies primarily on sorghum, tapioca, a little rice, and coconut.  Xanthum gum is also an ingredient you'll need for many of the recipes in this cookbook, though in very small amounts.  I found it to be most affordable to purchase Bob's Red Mill's Xanthum Gum at our local grocery store when it was on special one week for $6 a pound. I was surprised that sorghum was often the author's choice for flour.  My good friend explained to me that sorghum does have a distinct flavor that you have to get used to if you haven't cooked with it before.  So, if the sorghum flour isn't to your liking, I would try a substitution before giving up on a particular recipe.  I read on one blog that you can substitute white rice flour for sorghum, but that the author of that blog found this to make for blander recipes.  

Unfortunately for me, I can't say that I tried any of these recipes and that's because I know my little kids, who are normally my taste testers aren't quite as experimental as these recipes.  My plan was for my husband to be my taste tester, but that also didn't work out when he decided to not stay on the gluten-free track.  But, we have lots of foodie friends and I know from our conversations with them that these recipes would be right up their alleys. 

So, if you're a foodie who can't have gluten now--I'd try this cookbook!  Amazon does not have a preview available of the cookbook, but you can find one HERE on Robert Rose's website.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this cookbook for review from the Robert Rose Publishing.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Upholstery Stain

We've had our couches for ten years.  They're in pretty good shape all things considered.  But, one of them has had a stain on the right seat cushion.  It's not super noticeable--but I knew it was there.  I think it's always made my husband wonder how long they would last.  Today was our cleaning day.  Every Friday, I pull out my checklist and the kids' lists for cleaning.  I glanced at that spot when I was in the living room and wondered why I hadn't tried rubbing alcohol yet.  So, I went to the bathroom to get it out.  I grabbed a rag, squirted the liquid on the couch and began rubbing.  I was shocked to turn over the rag and see that it really had picked the dirt up off of the couch.  

I came back a little while later to check on it.  It looks great!  Yippee!  It reminded me that there are a lot of ways to save money.  One of the big ones is just making something last longer.  I'm hopeful our couch will now last a lot longer and save us some money in the process!

"Not so" free return shipping

Free return shipping sounds like an awesome thing.  It makes it sound like you can purchase something and return it if it's the wrong size, then get the right size sent to you--all for free.  Well...

not exactly.  

Or at least that's what I discovered yesterday.  I have really only returned things to Amazon.  Amazon does send free return shipping labels if an item was damaged in delivery.  If I receive something from a third party seller who is selling on Amazon, usually the return shipping cost falls with me.  

Yesterday, I had to return my husband's boots to Revzilla, a motorcycle apparel company.  Their customer service is easy to deal with.  But, I learned something important in the process.  The initial shipping to us is free and when they receive the returned item, the will send the replacement size for free.  BUT, the shipping to return the item to Revzilla is not free.  If you speak to their customer service, you can pay $7.45 and they will email a prepaid UPS shipping label.  

Zappos is another site that offers free returns.  But, on their website they specify that they will pay for the return shipping.  

So, the lesson I learned is to read the fine print!  Some return is shipping is free and some is not.  In this case, Revzilla was kind enough to give us a free return shipping label because this was the first time we had returned something to them.  

New Page

Along the top bar, there's a new page for free worksheets and pages I love.  I tend to post my curriculum reviews and homeschooling thoughts on my other blog:  But, I thought I'd post that page here, because this blog is all about the ways I try to save money and the arts of homemaking (ie. cooking, gardening, photography, etc.).  My plan is to update it periodically!