Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kids and Dishes

Pretty much since my kids were born, I've had them eat on plastic (melamine) plates.  One year, I used my birthday money to purchase some seahorse plates and bowls that I found on clearance at Target.  I picked up a few more at garage sales over the years that we've been using for nine years now.  

Recently, I realized that my kids are getting older.  Well, actually, I've known it for some time.   Growing up means so many things--in a practical sense.  First, it's growing out of sippy cups to regular cups and it's growing out of baby bowls to regular plastic dishes and then on to ceramic dishes.  

I find these transitions stressful.  Spilt cups of milk or juice, potentially broken dishes.  It's stressful to me.  We all have thresholds of what we can handle and cope with.  

At our house, we have a box of plastic cups that won't be going away any time soon.  But, my husband and I knew it was time for the kids to start using ceramic dishes.  

Our main set of white dishes are two sets of Pfaltzgraff Gazebo that I bought eighteen years ago.  Half of the bowls have broken over the years, though.  So, we knew we needed bowls for the kids to eat out of.  It's the dish we use most in our home.  At a nearby kitchen store We found some white bowls for a dollar each.  We bought 9--three sets of three since we have three children.  We bought a few extra--room for breakage!

Then, last Saturday, I found a set of white china dishes from West Germany.  It was a mishmashed set with a different number of bowls, large plates, serving bowls, creamer and sugar set.  It's rather funny really.  There were 4 large plates, 1 small plate, 8 tea cups and saucers, 4 very small bowls, 6 medium bowls, 5 soup bowls, a gravy boat, a creamer and sugar dish.  But, for $3, that was okay with me.  

They came home with me that morning and after being washed, joined our other white dishes.  They fit right in.

I've been surprised that so far no dishes have been broken.  The kids have liked the different size bowls and things are going well.  It hasn't been as hard as I expected--for them or for me!  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been conducting standardized testing in our home all week, so I wanted to make some cookies at the end to celebrate.  I pulled out my go-to recipe that my mom made for years and that I've been making all of my adult life.  The Nestle Tollhouse Recipe has never worked for me and I've tried it several times over the years.  Anyways, my mom always called this recipe "Mrs. Field's recipe", but we're not exactly sure where it came from. After searching the web, I found it on  HERE.  The only difference in the ingredients between this recipe and the one I make is that I only add 1/2 tsp. of salt (not 1 1/2 tsp.)

My directions are quite different, though... So, here's my recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookies (medium size batch)

1 1/3 cup butter
1 1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 tsp. vanilla

Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla well so that there are no lumps of butter in the mixture.

4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 generous shakes of the salt shaker

Mix well and add  2 2/3 cup chocolate chips.  It will be a very crumbly mixture.  Don't worry.  (You can also add 1 1/3 cups chopped nuts if you wish.)

This is where my kids and I stop for a break.  We grab spoons and each get to eat one spoonful of cookie batter.  It's not batter, but it doesn't have eggs in it and once the crumbly mixture gets into your mouth, it tastes just like good 'ol cookie dough.  I probably end up taking about 3-4 Tbsp. of mixture in all out of the bowl, but it doesn't affect how the cookies turn out.  

Now, add the eggs-- 2 of them.
Cream well.  It's amazing how it all mixes together.  But, it does!

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  In my oven, it takes 12 minutes.  So, the first time you make a batch watch them closely after 8 minutes to see how long your oven likes to have the cookies in there.  Take them out when you see a little golden forming on the top edges of the cookies.  This is one of those recipes that you play with--bake them to how well you like them cooked--soft, medium, or crispy.  I always leave them on the tray after I pull them out for 3-4 minutes to let them cook slowly for a few more minutes.  

You can half the recipe and it still works quite well!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Menu Planning and My Weaknesses

A month ago, my husband asked me to try planning our family's menu week by week instead of monthly as I've been doing for several years.  His reasons was a good one.  He wanted to talk about the menu each week.  Our middle daughter is a very picky eater and we've trying to figure out what to do.  This was one of our ideas--to think through our meals together.  

But, as with a lot of things in life, time often escapes us and though we discussed it the first few weeks, we also stopped discussing it after another few short weeks.   And then all the other things I needed to do crowded out my weekly menu planning this week.  It was a disaster.  Each day I was stuck (except for Tuesday which is always tacos) trying to come up with something.

I have found that I plan better month by month.  I'll sit down at the beginning of the month with a calendar sheet and write a dinner plan for each day in the month.  Often I'll switch things around as we go through the week based on the needs of our family, but I have choices to choose from.  Two or thee dinner options is a lot easier to choose from than the unlimited possibilities in all of my cookbooks when meal time comes around!  

I do plan on showing my husband my monthly plan and talking about it, but I'm going back to my old habit--I like to organize and plan, but I do it imperfectly!  

PS We have made a little progress with our picky daughter--she actually ate lunch yesterday at an Indian buffet and tried several new foods.  I don't want to give up trying to help her experience different foods or sacrifice what the rest of our family enjoys.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Saving Money at the Dentist's Office

Things I've learned about Dental Care...
I just walked into our school room from the kitchen and realized that my mouth was closed.  Yay!  This is a good thing.  Even an important thing!

At my last visit to my dentist, I had a small cavity that was beginning to form in between my two front teeth.  Oh, no!  My dentist explained that this is the worst spot to have a cavity because it has to be replaced more often than other places in your mouth.  He asked if I had had a cold recently.  


He then explained that more plaque forms on your front teeth when your mouth is open.  He asked me if I kept my mouth open all the time.

Yes.  I do.


I realized that when I'm not talking, my mouth naturally is rests with my front teeth on my bottom lip since I have an overbite.  

I went home and resolved to change this habit.  I do not want a cavity on my front teeth!  

Now when I wake up at night and realize my mouth is open, I shut it.  When I'm standing anywhere and realize my mouth is open, I shut it.  After several weeks, I realized that there's been a lot less plaque on my front teeth.

Yay!  It's working.  

I told one of the high schoolers about this a few weeks ago at church.  (Yes, I know I come up with strange topics of conversation.)  The girl replied with a biological explanation for this!  She already knew!  My husband and I happen to play and sing to accompany music at our church.  So, earlier that morning I had glanced around the room.  Almost everyone closes their mouths!  It was very funny to me to realize that I am such an oddball.  

I'm glad to know now why I've had so much plaque on my teeth all these years.  I'm hopeful that I'll be able to save us some money by closing my mouth!  He he he.

There is one other note that I wanted to share about my dentist.  He's big on not filling cavities unless he has to, because once they've been filled, the filling gets bigger each time it has to be replaced.  He recommended to me that I rinse with a fluoride rinse each night.  I've been able to keep a lot of small cavities from growing by using it over the past eight years.  Thankfully, Walmart and Target both sell generic fluoride rinses now and ACT isn't the only option.  

Dental insurance is expensive.  And often it isn't worth it.  I've calculated what we contribute every month to my husband's dental plan and so far it has been worth it for our family... but not by much.  If you don't have any dental insurance, there is one option so that you can have access to a reduced dental fee schedule.  Insurance companies negotiate with dental providers (and medical providers) a fee schedule--which lists what they will pay the dentist or medical provider for each service they provide.  This fee schedule is reduced from what you would normally pay out of pocket if you just walked in off the street.    Vital Savings by Aetna is such a plan.  My mom and mother in law both have this plan and it has saved them a lot of money.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

If Only I'd Printed It...

Last week, I purged my computer of nonessential files.  If you're anything like me, a lot of junk files you don't need pile up in your documents folder.  I have been meaning to do it for a long time and finally got it done.  Of course, I discovered a casualty of this purge this morning...

I have been using Homeschool Tracker to track our attendance and field trips for the past five years.  I have used the free version and it's worked out great for what I've needed.  When I opened the program this morning, all of my data was gone.  I've printed off past years attendance and field trips, but I hadn't printed off any of this year's information yet.  Unfortunately.   I must have purged the file that held my data in my computer cleanout last week.  It's gone.  Completely gone.  My memory doesn't have it and neither does the computer.

I'm pretty convinced that computers solve a lot of problems, but they also create new ones.  I think I'm going to go back to keeping a calendar in the front of my teacher notebook.  I don't need to spend $20 on a planner each year for attendance.  My plan is to simply circle the days we do school and write a number next to each month for how many days we do school each month.  Every state has different requirements for homeschooling and attendance.  Pennsylvania requires 4 1/2 hours each day.  I would keep a different kind of paper calendar if I worked there.  But, Maryland doesn't require specific attendance records.    Attendance records that I keep are for my own benefit and records.  

I'm disappointed that I accidentally deleted the file with my records for Homeschool Tracker, but it just reminded me that sometimes computers can break and sometimes human error can lead to problems with a computer's memory too!  I loved Homeschool Tracker because it was free and I like the reports that it creates, but it's not foolproof as I discovered today.  

If you're looking for a paper calendar to record attendance on, Donna Young's website has a variety of different calendars.  Or if you want to find forms in one spot and pay a one time membership fee, I use the forms on Mom's ToolBox Here.  I don't like to purchase memberships to sites (I much prefer finding free resources!), but I did join this site several years ago and have been glad to not have to waste time searching all over the web for household and calendar planning forms that I want.  I did make my own student planner this year, though, because I wanted a form that would work specifically for the subjects we study.  It took me a few minutes to make on Excel and I've modified it through the year as our needs have changed.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Confession of an Organized, Distracted Person: Me

A long time ago, I wrote a post about living with distractions while homeschooling.  Distractions are just a fact of life.  I think I would describe myself as an organized person.  I like to organize.  For me, it's easier to get things picked up if there's a place for things.  Another thing about me is that I usually am tackling five things at once--strangely enough because I want to.  There are so many things I need to do and that I want to do.  So, I try to compensate for all the moments when I forget things.  

One of my systems that I have found works for my family is that Friday morning before we do our school work, we clean our house.  I made simple lists for each of my kids with their jobs.  The lists have worked really well.  They're wrinkled and worn, but they get looked at every Friday morning.

This morning I decided to make another list to help my kids and me.  I made the chore lists so that I wouldn't sound like a broken record and so they could learn to be independent.  This morning I made a list for another job my kids have--setting the dinner table.  My girls have the job of setting the table at night, but they often forget things--even silverware!

I made a pdf file of my list to share that I've posted Here.  

I'm hopeful that will help our family dinner preparations go a little smoother and that we won't be missing as many things from the table in days to come!