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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My Mom's Macaroni and Cheese-- Healthified!!

I'm going to tell you something and just give it to you straight: My mom makes the best the most incredible mac n' cheese in the world! Back in the day when I was a tyke there was a church covered dish dinner. As the story goes, my dad stood up to share something and ended up going on and on about how good my mom's mac n' cheese was. I was in the crowd thinking, "well, of course it is!" My mom was in the crowd mortified. She never made it for the church again-- but lucky for us 4 kids, she kept making it almost weekly for us. Seriously, whenever I have a baby my mom will say what can I make for you. Mac n' cheese. Or she'll ask what we'd like when we come over for dinner. Mac n' cheese. There is one small problem-- my husband hates baked mac n' cheese. It pains me to say this, but he was raised on the boxed orange crap and won't eat mac n' cheese unless it's orange. I'm not gonna lie, it did cause some dinner time rifts earlier on in our marriage. BUT, we have reproduced and three of our four kids love baked mac n' cheese just like their mama(my daughter truly is daddy's girl... sigh). So at nights when Daddy has to work, I'll whip some up. It's no where near what my mom makes because she must add some love that's all her own and I also have to confess that for years I somehow managed to curdle the cheese and milk mixture which led to many, and I mean many, teary nights. But, I've got it down pat now and decided to up the healthiness factor of mom's mac n' cheese so it can be a one dish vegetarian meal. And it was gooooooooood. The boys and I devoured it. So, here's what you'll need:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

From Lawn to Garden-- Eating Our First Veggie

This week areas about 20 miles from us were hit with a massive hail storm. We were unsure if we would also be pelted so as fast as we could we rushed to cover as much as we could to protect it from the possible impending doom. We used jars, bowls, glasses, laundry baskets, and tarps to secure our little plants safety. Thankfully, we were spared and just as quickly as we covered everything, we had to uncover it once we knew the danger had passed since a humid warm front moved in and we didn't want anything to wilt.
Tonight as we were eating our dinner out back we noticed a radish poking its red root above ground and so with a little tug up it came. My husband was overjoyed and it fueled his excitement for all our gardening work.
We quickly cut it up into four small pieces and test tasted the first fruits of our labor--- and it was delicious! I've never liked radishes before but this was much better than any I've had from the grocery store (or that accidentally snuck onto my salad plate).
Thankfully more radishes will be picked later this week when we can get a decent amount all at once to make oven roasted radishes. After this first batch is done, we plan on planting more since they grow so quickly.
We also discovered that we have our first few pea blossoms on the snow pea plants!
The lettuce is growing but seems to kind of plateaued. I plan on researching some organic homemade fertilizers this week but would love to hear from you if you have a tried and true one that works.
The white and red onions are growing super fast! The chives have been doing well but my daughter shared with me tonight she picked a few slender whisps to eat since they smelled so good. Oh brother.
We have some little swiss chard shoots doing really well.
Our tomato plants have been taking off for the most part.
We have three pole bean trellises back near our shed and not all of our seeds sprouted so I'll go in this week and spread out the ones that did a bit more. Something small has been eating the leaves off these so I'll also be looking into grub pest control.
Zucchini and the regular cucumber plants have sprouted this past week also. About half of our cucumbers that we planted grew so I'm debating on whether to plant more or to just spread the current ones out a bit.
So, that's what is going on at our little Urban Daisy back yard vegetable garden. This week I did get a little discouraged because while doing some canning research I found that you should grow approx. an acre of food per person in your household! Yikes! We don't even have a half an acre of land! I had to take a step back and realize that, yes, there are people who can grow so much more than us or are more experienced and produce greater yields; however, we are doing more than noting. And sadly, nothing is what most people do. There has been so much joy in doing this project. So much excitement in tasting that first little radish. As we drive around seeing very few backyard gardens it breaks our hearts. To think that was us-- well, I'm glad we've changed and been encouraged to continue on. We are no experts. No gardening geniuses (that's for sure)... BUT if we can do this, anyone can! So can I encourage you to plant something this week?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

From Lawn to Garden Week 12-- We have fruit!!!

Lots of warm weather mingled with some decent rain storms means that our plants took off!
We woke up to a beautiful morning! The first thing on the agenda was for my husband and three oldest kids to plant our blueberry pushes. They arrived from True Vine Ranch in excellent condition as promised. They are three year old plants and one of them already has at least 50 blueberries on it! While they prepared the ground and added peat moss and pine chips, I painted the kitchen ceiling. Finally. My little one year old played nearby with some containers as we checked a big to do item off our home improvement list.
After we finished painting and my little guy went down for his morning nap, I headed out back to join the others. I showed my daughter how to hoe in between the beds.
Our peas are growing nice and tall. We have homeschooling friends down in Virginia who harvested their first pea this week so hopefully in a few weeks we will join them!
Our radishes are doing super well-- they are an instant gratification seed! They grow so rapidly and we are really looking forward to them being done shortly but for now it's fun to see how quickly they grow. You can also see our carrots which are slowly but surely growing. I did plant a few more seeds today as we only have 14 carrot plants right now and we will see if they mature.
The lettuce plants are now about 4-5 inches high and growing quickly. We have them planted at all different intervals so they all aren't ready to be picked at once.
Newly planted this week and beginning to grow are our pickling cucumbers and regular pole beans.
We just planted purple pole beans and hopefully those too will begin to sprout and grow (Isn't my little helper adorable?!)
Behind the shed we were going to just fill the entire area with new soil since this area used to be stone driveway. However, when my husband decided to switch to an easier compost bin we had leftover lumber from my previous attempt that I never had time to finish. So, we hammered them into some awkward beds, filled with soil, and now peppers and zucchini are growing there. We still need to plant our regular cucumbers back there and that will be our last big thing to plant. The corn also got planted in between the one side of the shed and fence in a 9x5 seed rectangle and I am a little bit skeptical about how it will do. This is more of our year to learn how to grow corn and this is our trial run. If it works, awesome, if not, we will learn how to improve it next year.
The three year old grape vine has two little bunches of grapes! The kids are ecstatic! Well, honestly, mom and dad are as well! This is the first fruit of our labor that we can visibly see so far and it fueled confidence and excitement into our morning of work. The strawberry plants continue to do well and soon we will begin plucking their blossoms.
So there you have it... lots of growth and excitement! All of our seedlings that we grew over the winter are now planted. We have 40+ tomato plants growing and I planted a row of canning tomatoes today as well, ya know, just in case we need more. We have decided to call our little backyard garden the Urban Daisy seeing as the first summer that we lived at our home I planted daisies from seed and they come back every year so the name sort of pays homage to our first "grown from seed" plant.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Homeschool Year in Review 2013-2014

It's hard to believe we finished up our fourth official year of homeschooling! Wow! I still feel like we're newbies on one hand and on the other moving into the more seasoned club. This year was a learning cure-- it was my first year with three at the table and one baby. One very demanding baby. Don't get me wrong we adore him and couldn't imagine a day or second with out him. However, he did have a bit of colic when he was little and even as the months went by there where very many days that I taught and stood rocking a fussy baby. He also took a long time to learn how to nap-- it just didn't come naturally to him and in all fairness, the house is a much louder environment for baby #4 compared to baby #1 (who also didn't care for naps as much as our middle two). That being said I think this left me with a feeling that we didn't do all that we could have done, we skipped a lot of the hands on activities, and some days, we were truly surviving and not thriving. However, we will not always have a newborn as a part of our school year and it was a season. And a lot of times it was a very good season. I would nurse the baby while my daughter did her reading lessons. This forced me to sit, relax, and listen to her. It also allowed my oldest son to become a more independent learner which is something it turns out he excels at.
This year was my 4 year olds first official year doing school with the older kids. He did amazing! Seriously, I am really looking forward to teaching him to read as he is so eager and like a little sponge. He had his own Bible apologia coloring book to do along with the big kids during Bible time which he really enjoyed. He had explode the code books that we did which he also really enjoyed. To kind of round out his time with us, I picked up additional little workbooks with him while we were at various stores. He generally listened into our history lesson as well and if he could, did some of the hands on crafts that the older kids did. One area we are going to have to work on this coming year will be his speech and listening while mommy does read a louds. He likes to hum or under-talk while I'm reading and it gets distracting. I do plan on speaking with our family doctor about his speech as he physically cannot make certain sounds. He gets a little frustrated as he knows what should come out and struggles with the right sound. Next year he will officially be doing kindergarten/1st grade work. He will advance with his reading lessons and math and I have a feeling he will be like my oldest son who just hungers and thirsts for knowledge.
Our 7 year old daughter who started the year as a 6 and a half year old and ends as a seven and a half year old really seemed to get a lot of help from doing her explode the code books and spelling books. She still struggles with the "aha" moment with reading and so we will continue working on that next year. She did do really well with BOB books and I think I'll order a few more sets to continue to build her confidence as we work towards that moment where she takes off. She has also come along way with math and did well with the Singapore books. She also loved her Draw Write Now books and I hope to get her more for next year. She struggles with wanting to quit before she's ahead and not putting her all into her lessons. When she wants it and puts her heart into her work, she blows me away. Getting her to that point is the challenge. She did like our Apologia botany series I think more than my 8 year old and has requested next year we do one of the animal books. She loves animals and I hope we can put together some special field trips as we study birds of the air and fish of the sea (which means we can explore mommy's favorite animals== sharks!!!== in greater detail== yay!!).
Our eight year old continues to amaze me. He does all of his spelling, logic, explode the code, and art on his own. Some days he was even able to do his math without help. We tackled division, multiplication, fractions, geometry, and more together and my little fellow math lover and I bonded over numbers. That's not to say we don't have some areas to work on-- attitude. If he gets told to try again or do it over, well, its not pleasant. This is a character issue and even more then I'd like him to memorize math facts or spelling words, I want to work on his heart issues in this matter. He also has horrible handwriting. Phew, I feel like I needed to get that of my chest, BUT next year, he will probably have a few books to help us really get it under control and more legible. We will also be adding in a foreign language and hopefully getting back to music lesson(sadly, this was one thing that we let go as we learned to manage a household of 6 and just adjust).
For me personally, this was a tough year. The baby still doesn't sleep through the night which means I don't sleep through the night. We also had a rough flu in march, kitchen makeover in November, and a long snowed in winter. It left me feeling a little more emotionally raw if that makes sense and I'm thankful that this was the first year I did a Bible study at our church. It wasn't always easy to get too, but I sure did need that. It was our first year without a TV in the home and I loved it! I feel like the kids haven't missed it, my husband and I have grown closer together, and now I wonder when we had the time before. I also had to let myself off the hook== I couldn't do it all and didn't plan as well for the year as I coulda shoulda would have. This next year I prayed about it and instead of beginning in July, we won't start back up again until August. After a lot of prayer and talking it over with my husband, once we made the decision I felt so much peace about our next year. I am going to use the extra time to prepare-- I mean really prepare. Have copies of history tests all made in advance, daily activity boxes for probably all four kids but at least the younger two, a workable schedule, art projects prepared in advance, and hopefully, an entire first floor of our house mini makeover. Since I work from home and have my desk in our main room, our school area, and our first floor play area as well as dining room all together-- we need to just get a system that works a little better. Our plan is to get a newer computer table that could possibly fit two computers in the future, replace our coffee table with an ikea expedia shelving unit, and repaint the room. We have grown as a family and spend so much time in this room and we'd like to make it work better for us all. Getting rid of the coffee table will open up play space and changing our desk situation along that wall will allow us to store more things neatly and effectively.
What we loved about this year: BOB books, explode the code, Draw Write Now, Spellwell, Singapore math, and mystery of history.
We were kind of meh about botany-- it was really detailed and not that that's a bad thing but I think sometimes they kind of couldn't really grasp one or two concrete things since so many facts and terms were coming at them. I also liked our notebooks from the year before for astronomy a bit better. Also, apologias Bible was awesome, but next year I'm on the lookout for something that will cater to a 5-9 year old a bit more.
Next year we will be adding (Lord willing): Studying French, Musical composers, handwriting, a new Bible curriculum, character training books (we did these maybe two years ago and they were neat and I just found more books in the series so I'm excited), and possibly typing or a computer program for my older two. Mommy will be a bit more on top of things and it's my goal to put together activity boxes per child per day. Something they can do independently while I work with others or even with a buddy. I'll also be getting my 5 year old a new copy of teach your child to read in one hundred easy lessons as this did help my oldest son and a very begrudging little girl reader. I'm also hoping to plan out some awesome read alouds-- we did those the second half of this year and loved them! Every morning we began our day with scripture reading and a chapter or two of a book and it was so sweet. I love sharing literature together. Pray for us as we prepare to change some things and for a smoother less bumpy year.
What about You? How was your homeschool year and what are you looking forward to next year?

Monday, May 12, 2014

From Lawn to Garden Post 11

I really need to get up on the roof and take a new picture but spend most of time outdoors weeding and planting and then weeding some more. It is very therapeutic sometimes while the kids are napping and resting to slip out back and weed for 20 minutes. As much as they keep coming, if we don't get them while they're small we will have a garden of weeds instead of food which would be right back where we started from. We are trying to do this as organically as possible so weed killers are out of the question. Before I share some pictures of the gardens progress, I'd like to share WHY we are doing this. Our two main reasons are: financially. The cost of food is skyrocketing and we like to eat healthier organic options because of the other reason being that food is being overly chemically modified. Your food travels on average 1500 miles from where it was picked to your grocery store. This means to make the trip, food needs to be treated to go further. This makes it more harmful to eat and more expensive to purchase. Back in the days of my grandparents, they lived in an Italian community where milk was delivered, bread was baked by Mr. Ricci, and nearly everyone grew and canned a substantial amount of their own food. I can remember sitting with my grandmother shelling peas and helping my grandfather pull weeds in his garden. Somewhere along the line of my parents generation, food began to travel further and become more processed. Things like kraft mac n cheese and fruit snacks became kids food staples. The way people ate shifted. We are hoping to go back, back to when the answer to where does your food come wasn't solely answered with, "The grocery store." I asked my kids this question just to see what they said to see if what we have been doing has had any impact on them and they rattled off, "Well our eggs come from the S. farm, our milk from the other farm, and we have vegetables growing out back, and somethings from the grocery store." I'm not going to lie right here, I was beaming. Hopefully our kids will continue the tradition of eating better and more locally.
Now, Onto the garden. We have been building trellises and here I am working on a compost bin. Don't get too excited though because I haven't made much progress. The trellises took priority and we have all but one finished. Woo-hoo!
This is our first regular blue pole beans. Very excited for them to begin growing.
Good news-- our strawberry beds are completely finished and are now growing plants. We won't get any berries this year as we will be picking the blossoms to strengthen the plants for future years, but it's exciting to think that hopefully next year we won't have to go berry picking. We ordered our strawberries from Eden Brothers and are so far pretty happy with them. Also, our two blueberry bushes are due to arrive this weekend and are already more mature plants so we should be able to pick some this summer! We ordered those from a small family farm that just does blueberries (warning, do NOT order from Dimeo-- horrible reviews and customer service).
Our grape vines are beginning their new growth and seeing as this is their third year, hopefully we will get some grapes!
Moving along to the vegetables, the peas are really taking off! We measure them by which piece of twine they're at and last week they moved up two pieces!
The beans, lettuce, carrots, radishes, onions, chives, and arugula are all doing well. I did break down and spread some pine mulch around some of these to try and slow down the weeds, but other than that, everything is doing well. The radishes were doing so well that I ended up planting more on the border of our tomatoes...
... which are finally being transplanted outside. Gradually. I've got them under crates to deter the birds from eating them and so far it's worked. I do have an update on the bunny. Our neighbors cat got the better half of him. The upper better half that is. I guess that is another natural method of pest control.
We did take a break this weekend while my husband blessed me tenfold over three days as we celebrated mother's day. He managed to surprise me with a trip to one of my favorite places in the whole world Longwood Gardens by taking the backroads. I had no idea where we were going hence the gardening clothes from that morning still being worn-- but it ended up working since we got caught in several downpours. I'll tell ya though, the rain brought the fragrances of all the blooms to life! It smelled amazing!
On Sunday we went and spent the day with my mother and siblings and we had so much fun! We took walks, played baseball, kickball, ate dessert, and just enjoyed one another's fellowship.