Friday, March 28, 2014

Frugal Friday: Free Living History Shows

Some time last year I discovered a neat series by the BBC ... basically a small group of people go 'back in time' and live just as people did 'back then'. There are several different shows with an overlapping cast of experts in various fields; we have learned A LOT by watching these videos! I have not seen all of them but will put what I have found here for you all to watch (6 in all, each with more than one episode; I have only watched two all the way through to the end - Victorian Farm and Tales From Green Valley). A word of caution though, in one of the series the woman takes a bath. I get so frustrated with stuff like that!! Why do they have to show so much? It was not bad enough that I felt the need to censor it from my children, but then my children are all pretty much adults and have seen far worse. Even still, it just bugs me that they have to go showing so much skin.

Of course there are other things too like mild language and joking/humor that I do not agree with ... but once again, I've been much worse myself and my children have been around so much worse than that, so I am not willing to throw out the whole thing because of it. Some however might disagree with me. That's ok. You must use your own discernment. If this is something you would like to show your children, it's easy enough to watch the show yourself first and decide which episodes are appropriate for your situation.

One particular episode still sticks with me - when an expert basket maker (using the old methods of course) came and made a basket from start to finish. WOW! Very fascinating indeed. I had no idea so much went in to one basket. And their use of the hazel branches to make fences ... makes me wonder if we can grow hazel here? Those fences look very sturdy. I guess the dry stone wall was really neat too ... and thatching a roof ... and raising sheep ... and ....

Anyway, here they are. Enjoy ... or not ... it's up to you. Once again, I have NOT seen all of these ... some might be terrible, I don't know. Based on what I already saw, I cannot see it being too terrible????? But let me know if you see something I missed or something in one I have not seen yet that you think I would not appreciate. Also, if you think there are historical errors, please share!

Tudor Monastery Farm

Victorian Farm

Tales From Green Valley

Edwardian Farm

Wartime Farm

Victorian Pharmacy

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tasty Tuesdays: Do it yourself!

I'm going to share a story.

I grew up on fast food, hot dogs, mac & cheese, pb&j and other similar processed junk foods. Now, don't get me wrong here and go a direction I am not even heading! I'm not saying ALL of these things are bad or that we should NEVER eat them. I'm just painting the stage: I grew up on nothing but junk ... except when I ate at grandpa and grandma's house.

When I moved out, I had no idea how to cook, unless you consider knowing how to heat up microwave dinners and prepare packaged pastas (specifically: ramen and mac & cheese) knowing how to cook. Oh yes, I also knew how to open a can. We did not have money, so I visited the food pantries as often as was allowed. It was through the food pantries that I discovered a wider variety of foods, though in reality it was still very narrow! Lots of packaged foods like Hamburger Helper and other various flavored pastas and rices. I'd also get basic pantry items like flour and sugar. I did not know how to cook, so what was I supposed to do with flour and sugar?! I got a cookbook and began experimenting.

Hamburger Helper remained my favourite - it was so easy to make and I really felt like I was serving my children a good meal. I would cook the hamburger, prepare the packaged food, heat up a can of vegetables and serve a glass of milk. All four food groups, right?! At some point I had the idea to add in carrots and canned mushrooms. I already knew I did not like canned or frozen carrots, so I was forced to buy a package of carrots, peal them and slice them. At some point my Hamburger Helper meal further evolved to also include cheddar cheese. Now that's all four food groups in one pan!
1989 edition

Somewhere during this time I was really enjoying making cakes and cookies from scratch. I loved my cookbook! I'm not sure what year it was published [I think it's the 1989 one pictured at the left], but it's still my stand-by today ... very stained, dirty and old looking. It is one of the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook." Also at some point I realized that the only thing I was lacking in making my own hamburger helper was the gravy. So I learned how to make gravy and the rest is history. That was at least 16 years ago but maybe more.

So for my 'tasty tuesday' installation, I would like to encourage everyone to ditch the boxed meals and make your own.

The basic components are:
- Grain (rice, pasta, millet, quinoa, etc.)
- Vegetable (whatever seems right with your other choices)
- Meat (left-overs work great for this!)
- Sauce (homemade gravy or a homemade "cream of _____" soup) (a basic white sauce [start with about 2T butter, 2T white flour and 1c water or milk; melt butter, add flour and mix till a paste, slowly whisk in water/milk and heat till thickened, whisking often. ] with some flavouring added in.)

Extras that add flavor, texture and color:
- Cheese
- Nuts or seeds
- Dried fruits

And of course, spices such as salt, pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, etc.

You can even make your own dry mixes or at least some of the components to the mixes. I usually do not do this but I will make my own seasoning mixes like 'chicken bouillon' and 'onion soup mix'. 

So, what might this look like?

A beef and noodle hamburger helper would be good with beef (ground or chunks), carrot slices, mushrooms, onions, garlic, pasta, brown gravy, salt and pepper. Thyme would go well too. Beef bouillon may also be added for extra flavor. It helps to cook the pasta separate and add when the other is ready. Salting the pasta cooking water adds a little flavor to the pasta.

A lasagna hamburger helper would be good with ground beef, broken pieces of lasagna noodles, tomato sauce, basil, onion, garlic, salt, pepper. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese. You can even drop spoonfuls of cottage cheese around top before adding the other cheeses. Serve green beans and/or a salad on the side.

Chicken alfredo hamburger helper: use leftover chicken pieces, a white sauce with a little heavy cream and parmesan cheese added in, fettuccine noodles and broccoli. Season with a little salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Chicken rice: cook all the ingredients together in one pot; used left-over chicken that's ready to go. Saute an onion first, then add the rice and some veggies (may cheat and use a bag of frozen mixed vegetables), and the cooked chicken. Top with about 3 times the amount of water or stock as rice (so, if you use 1 cup of rice, add 3 cups of water or stock). Add salt, pepper and garlic. Add chicken bouillon of stock was not used. Cook till done (white rice simmer for at least 20 minutes; brown for at least 45).

The ideas really are endless!! Be creative. Write down what you do ... that way if you like it you'll know what to do next time and if you don't like it you'll know what to change. It helps to have honest critics! Ask your family: "Do you like this?" If they do not like it, ask if there is something they would change to make it better. Don't just throw out a recipe the first time if no one likes it! It might only need a small change or two. Sometimes however there are recipes that are total flops and not worthy of putting forth effort to alter and experiment. That's ok. Just move on!

When I make up a new recipe and we all like it, I am sure to write it on a recipe card and date it. Sometimes down the road I get new ideas for the same recipe or will note on the card what sides we like to eat with that particular meal.

Also, don't ever be afraid to write in your cookbooks!! It took me about four years to discover this idea. I began altering recipes and would forget what I did. Dah! Just make a note right in the book. How simple! You should see my basic cake recipe ... there are four or five different recipes I made up using that one recipe as a springboard ... that particular page is filled with notes all along the margins. Maybe that will be my next 'tasty tuesday' instalment? We'll see.

I am so thankful for those boxed meals; without them I might never have had the idea to try to do it myself. 

Happy cooking!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salmon Asparagus Salad

Simple and tasty ... in my opinion of course.

Here's how I make it:
- Have ready a bowl of salad greens. Drizzle with a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, a few spritz of Bragg's and a little salt. 
- Gently saute fresh asparagus pieces in olive oil. When done, turn off and stir in a pressed or chopped garlic clove. Sprinkle with salt.
- Top waiting lettuce with sauteed asparagus, chunks of canned salmon and some canned portabella mushrooms (if this is not an option, add some sliced fresh mushrooms to the asparagus ... or just leave them out altogether. I really like the canned portabella mushrooms and red peppers from Aldis; that's what I used in this photo.).
- Enjoy!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Flashback ... why not?

Just for the fun of it ... here's a peak into my past. Maybe I'll share some more some day. Maybe not. I was going through some photos to find one for someone else and ran across these ...

My dad's friend's pipe and shoes.

Danny and Me

Me and Danny ... always together

grandma made me do it ... it was a terrible experience :)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ambleside Online / Homeschooling

I know, it's been a while since I've posted. I have been busy doing other things more important than my blog (imagine that!) and besides that, I have been totally unmotivated to use the internet. Even still, here I am to share a WONDERFUL resource I just found this morning 'by chance'. This post will be listed under my 'frugal friday' posts even though I am a day late :)

So, last evening I was telling a brother about a book we all liked a lot called "The Sign of the Beaver" by Elizabeth George Speare. What a great book! I am so thankful we discovered it years ago ... that and many other great books using the free Ambleside Online curriculum. This morning the brother asked me the name of it again and I did a search to see if it was on Librivox ... it wasn't, but what I found was a whole list of books recommended by the Ambleside Online folks that are available on librivox for free listening. (that link is for the first 4 years; scroll to the bottom for the link to the next page, and so on.) And what was not for free to listen was free to read on Project Gutenberg. And what was not for free on either of those is not free to share ... but chances are, the library has them anyway, in book and/or audio format.

Now let me give you a little history.

When I first started homeschooling I got my hands on a book called "A Charlotte Mason Companion" by Karen Andreola. I have no idea how I came across it, but I am thankful I did. From there I found a book called "Charlotte Mason Study Guide" by Penny Gardner. Soon after that I actually drove 2 1/2 hours (one way) to attend an all-day conference put on by Penny Gardner to better explain Charlotte Mason and her ways with educating children. I was just in to my first year of homeschooling and knew I did not want to have 'school at home'. I was an atheist, so religion had nothing to do with it; I wanted my children to be able to think 'outside the box' and Charlotte Mason seemed to know how to foster that with what she called a 'living education'. Yes, she did use textbooks, but certainly not exclusively. Mostly she used the real world around us ... hence the term 'living education'. This seemed right up my alley as I loved to spend as much time as possible outdoors, enjoying the birds, the trees, the bugs, and so on.

At some point in this small period of time I found the website Ambleside Online. Here was exactly what I needed!! While I did not follow the plan 100%, I did adapt it to suit our needs. Also, I started at year one with the book list and began reading every book I could to the children (whatever our public library had). I would read to them each night, sometimes for two or more hours at a time. And more often than not, I would read to them during the day as well. This book list was an indispensable tool for us. Without it, I would have had no idea what books to read to the children!

Now, I do not agree with every book listed, but who cares. We had enough discernment to know what we agreed with and what we did not agree with ... and still do.

Without Ableside Online we would have never discovered books like the Little House series, The Story About Ping, The Burgess Bird Book, The Handbook of Nature Study, Understood Betsy, Heidi, Science Lab in the Supermarket, Lassie Come Home, Gone Away Lake, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Calico Captive, Tom Sawyer, The Story of Inventions, Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, and of course ... The Sign of the Beaver. There are so many more. I must admit though, I never could make it through The Wind and the Willows ... but I tried!!!

Reading these 'twaddle-free' books was such a great way for the children to learn grammar. They even had copy-work from the same books and enjoyed that a lot. Each child is different, so what works for one may not work for the other(s) but everyone likes a story read to them, right?!

It's interesting to look at my children's strengths and weaknesses now. Even though we did not do much 'book learning' for grammar, they still learned so much just by hearing and reading quality books and also by doing copy-work. 

For instance, Brianna was always good at reading. She learned when she was four and hasn't stopped since. She has also been a natural speller and can read stories in such a way that captivates the listener. But, believe it or not, she is not a good writer (besides poems; she's really good at that). She can produce an essay or story that's ok, but nothing spectacular, which seemed strange to me at first since she is so good at reading, has devoured every book she could get her hands on, and has a great imagination. It's just getting it from her head in to written form that she's not that great with. Good, but not great.

Tylor has always had a hard time reading and still struggles. He does best with 'just the facts' and has a hard time with fiction. To this day he still stops me when I'm reading, fiction or non, and says, "What's going on?" and we'll have to digest it a little for him. His spelling used to be terrible until (by his own choice) he got hold of Rod and Staff spelling, grade 6. You see, in that grade they start to really break down the roots of the words. He finally understood WHY the words were spelled like they were, and ever since then he has not had a problem with spelling. But would you believe it? He is the best at writing stories and essays, grammar and all. He has always impressed me with this ability.

Corban struggled with letters but did finally learn how to read when he was about 9 1/2 years old. Once he started though, he never stopped. I think he checked out every book about gardening and bugs at our local library. He also got a little bit in to trains, but mainly it was nature-type stuff. His writing and spelling to this day are absolutely terrible, no matter what method or approach we've tried to use. He just cannot spell (though he does still practice!!) Even still, he somehow knows how to write beautiful papers ... I just have to correct the spelling :) and give him plenty of time. Recently he has asked to go through a basic English book again; I might do it too just to keep my brain working.

I shared all of that to say again that each child is different ... and THAT is why I did not want my children in public school. Many years ago I had a vision for my children. I wanted them to KNOW how to LEARN and think for themselves. I am so thankful to report that I believe I have succeeded ... sometimes a little too well. Looking back now, the only thing I would change a little is to not have them on such equal grounds with adults. They were never afraid to question those older than them ... which is good, but it certainly has its place and there is a time to just be quiet and listen. It takes humbleness to just be quiet and let others do the talking, even if you THINK you have the answers. Just be quiet and see what happens. Chances are, you'll learn something!!!

Oh the joy of being a 'feminist' and a 'hippie' in my past life. I do believe there were some strengths gleaned from those ways of thinking ... but also some weaknesses that I am still trying to come out from under. Thankfully I live among some very patient people! ;)

There's so much more I could say here but that's all I have time for today. I pray this was helpful to someone.