Sunday, September 28, 2008

Making Homemade Chalices

We recently started doing church at home. It’s a lot like doing school at home, but instead of doing school, we are doing church. Well, actually, we recently became members of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF). CLF is a virtual Unitarian Universalist church that serves UUs all over the world. Members may be too far from a brick and mortar church to attend services or may want access to UU resources from their wonderful lending library. There are many reasons why someone might join CLF.

We ourselves joined for several reasons. Our main reason was to find a spiritual home that met our needs. The closest UU church is over 20 miles away, and with rising gas prices, it was just taking a big chunk out of our monthly budget to drive there and back on Sunday, let alone any other day we wanted to attend a church event. The traditional church also wasn’t meeting our social and spiritual needs. We came from a large and very welcoming church in Norfolk. We know that not all churches are created equal, but we miss it dearly and our new local church just wasn’t making the grade. With such a small congregation, their Religious Education (RE) program was quite small. I think there were going to be about five children in each of the three classes they were planning to offer this fall, whereas in Norfolk we had to have two church services because there were so many children in the program. I am fairly certain that the smallness of the congregation here is due in part to our location in the country. The Bible Belt is not usually where you find a large grouping of liberal-minded religious folks. We will find another large UU church (hopefully at our next duty station), but for now, we are embracing church at home.

We have been very happy with CLF thus far, especially with their RE program. We receive a monthly email with directions for performing each week’s RE service, geared specifically towards the kids. The services embrace the seven principles, different religious holidays, and how to be a kind, loving, and accepting person. Today we learned about the history and symbolism of the flaming chalice, the symbol of the UU church. We then got to create our own chalices.

To make our homemade chalices, we used three-inch clay pots and saucers. We sat on the back porch with made-for-clay markers and paint and decorated our chalices. Justin and I took the pots, turned them upside down and glued the saucer to the top of the up turned pot. We now have individual chalices to light each Sunday morning when we do our services. I bought small tea lights to go in the top of each chalice.

Eventually, I would like to get a nice chalice to put on display somewhere, maybe in our dining room. I really like some of the ones offered at UniUniques, but wonder if I could make one myself. Maybe I’ll have to convince one of my Norfolk homeschooling friend’s clay-wielding daughters to make me one, if she has time between her “real” classes now :)

Either way, we now have chalices to light on Sunday morning to make our Sunday ritual complete.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome Fall!

I so love fall. Fall…the days start getting shorter, there’s a crispness to the air, leaves start changing color, pumpkins and squash abound. That is unless you live in the Sunshine State where it is still nearly 90 degrees and humid and you break a sweat walking to the mailbox. Yuck!

Well, for the rest of the country. Yeah for fall!

We ushered in the first day of fall with some extra yummy pumpkin bread. The kids and I have already scarffed down half of one loaf and I’m sure we’ll have the other loaf and a half polished off before bedtime tomorrow.

According to my can of Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin, ½ C of pumpkin puree provides 300% of a person’s daily nutritional needs for Vitamin A and has 5 g of fiber (20%). Not too shabby.

We love pumpkin bread, and pumpkin pancakes. I’m sure we would love just about anything with pumpkin in it, although I’m not sure that the fam would like pumpkin soup. That probably wouldn’t go over very well.

Because of our fondness for pumpkin, I have already bought our pumpkin seeds for next year’s garden. They are none other than Seeds of Change (certified organic) Heirloom Small Sugar Pumpkin. I saw them on display at our local organic store and couldn’t pass them up. They are supposed to be good for pies and work well in a small garden. I wouldn’t say our garden will be small, but pumpkin vines do tend to run amuck if left to their own vices. Seeds of Change has a nice web order site for organic and heirloom seeds. I need to get my order in soon so the seeds will be here ready for planting come spring. We had some pumpkin pie pumpkins in our little yard last year and they made wonderful pies, so I can’t wait to cook up and freeze our little pumpkins next year for lost of yummy pumpkin recipes throughout next winter.

If you’ve never cooked with fresh pumpkin, you should try it. It’s easy. You just remove all of the seeds and strings from inside the pumpkin. Slice the fruit into chunks. Place it shell side up on a pan and bake for about 1 hour at 325 degrees F, or until the pulp is tender. Scrape the pulp from the shell. I like to let my pumpkin drain in cheesecloth in a small container in the fridge for several hours so that it better resembles the “canned stuff.” To store, place desired amounts in individual storage containers or freezer bags and freeze for up to a year. To use, defrost in the fridge for about 24 hours before use.

Some great pumpkin information can be found at the University of Illinois Extension website.

I have a wonderful Pumpkin Bread recipe that I have been using for years, but today I tried the Pumpkin Bread recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion cookbook that I borrowed from the library. [Thank you Colyn for the suggestion. The cookbook is WONDERFUL and it will be on my list for Santa.]

The recipe really isn’t all that different from my original…a bit less sugar and the addition of a little baking powder, but I thought I would give it a whirl. Plus, as always, I had to add my own little flair to the recipe. So what you see below is my “new” Pumpkin Bread recipe.

Jaynelle’s Pumpkin Bread

½ C. canola oil
½ C. unsweetened applesauce
1 1/3 C. brown sugar
1 1/3 C. sugar
4 large eggs
2 C. (or 15 oz. can) pumpkin
2/3 C. water
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 1/3 C. King Arthur whole-wheat flour (I think it does make a difference)
½ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream together the oil, applesauce and the sugar. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin, and water. Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, stirring to blend.

Spoon the batter into two lightly greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until a tooth pick inserted in the center of one loaf comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and cool it on a rack. When cool, wrap the loaves well in plastic wrap or foil. [King Arthur recommended that the loaves be wrapped overnight before cutting, but who can wait that long for bread when the house smells so good!?!]

Happy fall!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why Do Children Keep their Rooms Clean?

Are most kids intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to keep their rooms clean?

A little Psychology 101 –

Intrinsic motivation is an internal drive to do something just to do it (an end in itself).

Extrinsic motivation is doing something in order to obtain or gain something else (a means to an end).

Santrock, J. (2004). Child Development, 10th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

So now, would you say more kids are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?

I personally am mixed in my response.

I was one of those kids who kept a very tidy room. Ask my sisters, I’m sure it made them sick. Everything had a place. I could always tell if someone had been in my room because things would have been out of place. I was one of “those” kids who would rush home to do my homework after elementary and middle school so I could organize some aspect of my room (yes, I know I was a loser). I would have to say that I kept my room clean for no other reason than I liked having a clean room. That’s intrinsic motivation.

I have come to the realization that not all kids are like I was. Some fall into the “extrinsically motivated” category and need a little push in order to get their rooms clean. Some examples of extrinsic motivators might be an allowance, reward chart, empty threats, punishment, etc. You get the idea.

My kids fall into this second camp. They have better things to do than to organize their rock collections ten times a day and make sure the lamp on their desk is angled correctly for the proper lighting of their writing journal. They are freer spirits than I, and I applaud them for that. I do, however, need to find the right extrinsic motivator so that they will keep their rooms clean (why couldn’t they have just gotten my organizational gene…that would have made life much easier).

Currently, an if/then system is working for Jakob. If his room is clean, then he gets to go outside and play, have friends over, or play on the computer/PS2 (this one is only valid on the weekend). He has been doing fairly well. When his friend comes to the door, he (remembering better than I) checks his room and gets it straightened before going out. There is always an inspection process that takes place before automatic approval. I go around the room checking under the desk and dressers to make sure that things didn’t “accidentally” find their way under them instead of away where they go. Jake’s doing great with this system, so I think for him, it will stay. I guess technically keeping a clean room qualifies for Chore Wars points, so he is also getting an allowance for his cleanliness as well (that is when we remember to add up our Chore Wars points…I’m designing a new chore system…I’ll keep you updated).

The if/then system is not working for Jolie. That is probably because she doesn’t have a close friend in the area to play with like Jake does, so she doesn’t care if she has to stay inside or in our yard. She also doesn’t care about getting an allowance, most likely because she is still somewhat young for an allowance. I’m not a big fan of reward charts, but if I have to resort to one I will. Physical punishment is not on my “To Do” list, so that is out. That only leaves empty threats. I’m pretty good at those…“If you don’t clean up your toys by X time I’m going to take them away/donate them/sell them/throw them away.” I know, I know. Not the best technique, but sometimes I just fly by the seat of my pants.

Well, tonight, those empty threats materialized into actual consequences. I told her that the toys that were out on her floor at 8pm were going to be taken away. She then said to me, “I’ll just buy them back from you like I did last time.” (Yes, last time I had her pay me $1 from her allowance to get her toys back.) So, at 8pm I went through her room and picked up three colorful bins full of toys (you know, the large ones that sit at an angle in that shelvey thing that I think many of us have). I know if I had been her, I would have been running around the room picking up toys as fast as I could before my mom had snatched them up…especially my most prized toys. Nope, not Jolie. I was irked that she thought she could just buy her way out of having to clean up after herself. Well, (probably) not this time! I hate to get rid of perfectly good toys, so throwing them away isn’t an option. I will probably go through them myself and let her “buy” back some of the more important toys from me (her LeapPad, Littlest Pet Shop pets, etc.), but not for a while. I’m going to see if she really misses her toys before I decide which ones she really needs back.

I’ve heard of other families who have had each child write down their top 10 toys (in order) and gathered up everything else and boxed it away. If it wasn’t needed or asked for after a set amount of time (not sure if it was weeks/months/year), it was sold or donated. That might be an option for us. We’ll see.

I’d like to see a reduction in the amount of toys we have around our place. Hopefully we can make a move from quantity to quality and nip our messy bedroom troubles in the bud.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sprinklers – True Backyard Fun

I got a two for one deal tonight. I got my lawn watered and the kids got to have some fun running through the sprinkler.

One child…Ahem…Jakob…Ahem…wasn’t pleased with my choice of water-playing device. I misunderstood him and agreed to allow them to play in the “sprayer,” thinking he meant the sprinkler, not the hand sprayer. So he was not happy with me tonight.

The other two had a blast. I don’t think Jensen has ever run through a sprinkler. He and Jolie took turns running full speed at the sprinkler, only to slow down and step over it. They were too cute.

Chester even got in on the action. He, like most dogs I think, tried to attack the water coming out of the sprinkler…or maybe he was trying to drink it. I’m not sure. You should have heard him…grrr…chomp, chomp, chomp…grrr.

My parents’ dog, Herk, used to do that when we would splash him with pool water. He would try to chomp the water as we splashed it at him. Poor Herk is getting up there in age. He will be 13 years old next month. I love you, Herk!

I'm Back

Well, at least I hope so. Things are starting to slow down around here, so I should be able to get back down to business of blogging.

Chief Initiation is now over, (congratulations all you new Chiefs!) so Justin will be resuming his usual, albeit rotating, schedule.

I am glad that we get to participate in Chief Initiation each year. We chose to join the Navy together (the same week we decided to get married), so I look at this as "our" career. Although I am just a CPO spouse, I enjoy the initiation process and watching as the Selectees grow during the induction process. Unfortunately, this year Justin just happened to be on "eves," so he was burning the candle at both ends...getting home in the middle of the night and leaving again before the sun came up...all to be there and support his SLUG (Selectee Learning Under Guidance).

We spent a fortune on this year's Selectees too! It seemed like there was some sort of fundraiser just about every day of the week. We said from the beginning that we were going to have to put aside money every month for Chief Initiation each year. It is worth it, though. The process helps to make the Selectees into the Chiefs you see today. Thank you seasoned Chiefs for all your hard work!

We have now been back at our "school" routine for about a month and have ironed out most of the kinks. The kids are getting their work done each day, despite the many activities we now find ourselves participating in....M=park day; Tu=PE; 1st W=Roots&Shoots, 3rd W (tentatively)=Lego Club; Th=park day; F=field trips and group activities. We are busy, but not yet over-burdened.

Chores have slipped a bit, so I might look into a new method for dividing up chores and accounting for allowance. Right now we change chores daily, but I'm thinking about changing it so we switch chores weekly instead. I'll keep you updated.

The house is quiet, so I better hit the rack (see, I really am a proud Navy wife...I even speak the lingo).

Hope to see you back here tomorrow...wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sleep Takes Priority

This has been a very busy week...actually, it has been a very busy month and it is only the 10th!

I have lots to blog about, but exhaustion has finally taken hold of me.

I'm hoping for some down time at the end of the week to get caught up on my blogging. It really is a form of relaxation for me, and something I look forward to.

But not tonight. I'm off to bed to try to get caught up on some much needed sleep.

Here is my nightly "Good Night" routine to send you off.

Jensen - "Good night...[in his loud whisper voice] you say sleep tight, Mom."
Me - "Sleep tight."
Jensen - "Don't let beg bugs bite...[again in loud whisper voice] MOM, say sleep tight!"
Me - [Fake snoring sounds]

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ice-cream Cookie Cups

Have I told you just how much I like dessert? People think I exercise to stay in shape. That is only part of it. I exercise every day so that I can eat dessert and still fit into my jeans. Sometimes I run a little extra so I can have two desserts. I usually try to fix up a recipe to make it a bit healthier so I don’t feel so bad for know, use some apple sauce for part of the oil/fat and add some milled flax seed for an egg. But sometimes, I just go for it, and run a little longer the next day.

I have had a hankering for ice cream sandwiches. I saw a potential recipe for Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches on the FamilyFun website that looked good, but decided to try their Ice-cream Cookie Cups instead.

The Cookie Cups were wonderful. We all loved them.

Jensen loved them so much that the little stinker stole one off the counter while I was eating mine and hid in his room eating it...that is until Jake tattled on him and of course I had to get a photo.

As usual, I altered a few of the ingredients from the original recipe. We don’t use shortening, so I used all butter instead. I also substituted brown sugar for the white sugar. The results were fabulous.

The recipe made 10 cups, so we have enough for another day...well, since stinker stole one, we have four left. Sorry, Daddy. We might have to have dessert tomorrow after you head to work.


Ice-Cream Cookie Cups

1/2 C. butter
2/3 C. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 C. flour
1/4 C. miniature semisweet chocolate chips.

Step 1
To make the cookie cups, beat together the butter, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract, beating until combined.

Step 2
In a separate bowl, sift together the salt, baking powder, and flour, then gradually stir them into the batter. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Step 3
Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flat disk, and wrap it in plastic. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Step 4
Heat the oven to 375°. Turn two 12-cup muffin tins bottom side up and cover 10 of the cup bottoms with squares of aluminum foil (use every other cup so there's some space between them). Grease the foil with shortening and set it aside.

Step 5
Unwrap 1 disk of dough, place it between 2 sheets of waxed paper, and roll it out to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out 4-inch circles of dough and place each one over a cup bottom, smoothing out any cracks. Repeat with the other disk, rerolling and reusing any scraps.

Step 6
Bake the cookie cups for 10 to 12 minutes or until light brown. Let them cool for 10 minutes, then remove the foil and cookies together from the muffin pan. Peel off the foil and let the cups cool completely on a rack. Just before serving, fill each cookie cup with a scoop of ice cream. Makes 10 cookie cups.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding the Right Homeschool Support Group

Each time we relocate, I spend a good amount of time looking for homeschooling support groups in our new area, hoping that one will be a good fit for us. I tend to start my search at Yahoo! Groups and type in my new city followed by homeschool. I usually find a few “hits” and check out each group's general description to see if they might be a match for my family. If they look promising I sign up for the e-list and start getting emails from the group(s) before we move. I will post an initial introduction to the new e-list, see what kind of responses the introduction gets, and just “lurk” for a few weeks to get a feel for the dynamics of the group before plunging in once we get to our new location.

I have recently found several other homeschool support group search engines that look promising:

LocalHS – has a clickable US map to find support groups according to state

Homeschool Social Register – you can search to find homeschoolers in your CITY

Homeschool support groups can come in all shapes and sizes...

Some groups are strictly email discussion lists that do not have actual meetings. I am on several of these lists, such as HomeschoolMilitary and UUHomechoolers. These specific groups are international and serve specific subtypes of homechoolers, in this case military and Unitarian Universalists. List members can bring up homeschooling or group-specific topics to discuss with others members of the group.

Other support groups serve specific areas. While in Virginia, I was on a Virginia homeschooling list so that I could stay up to date on issues specifically geared towards Virginia homeschoolers. Now I am on a general homeschool discussion list for my current state. It is important to be aware of any updated laws that might affect homeschoolers in your specific state, so belonging to a state-specific list is helpful.

I’ve found that the most common homeschool support groups are made up of like-minded homeschoolers living in fairly close proximity to one another. The group might be religious or secular (not relating to religion), have structured meetings or just promote park days. Each group is different, so it is important to find a group that meets your needs.

I personally look for a group that well organized, but not overly rigid. I like to see a nice mix of veteran homeschoolers and newbies, with a wide variety of kids of all ages, sexes, colors, and religious backgrounds. I lean towards a group that is primarily secular, with members that might be religious, but do not homeschool for religious reasons. I like a group that is fairly active…possibly having a weekly park day, an occasional field trip, and maybe a club or two if we are interested in attending (Lego, book, chess, etc.).

Shay Seaborne, a recently retired member of the Board of Directors for The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, contributor to the Life Without School blog, and an active member on several of my homeschooling e-lists, has a nice list of Rules for Operating Within the Homeschooling Community that I thought others might enjoy.

Shay's Rules for Operating Within the Homeschooling Community

Over several years of interacting with other homeschoolers, I've developed these personal rules for operating within the community. Perhaps you'll find some of them helpful in creating your own list of relational rules.

You don't have to hang out with people you don't like, just because they are homeschoolers. Take time to get to know people before you leap into commitments with them. Watch how they interact with others, including their children. Spend time mostly with those who are reasonably compatible, and with whom you are largely comfortable.

Find friends and start your own circles, but be open to newbies. You never know who may turn out to be a good friend. In addition, new members keep a group going strong, because a closed group eventually dwindles as members move away, finish homeschooling, or head in other directions.

Remember that a good group experience includes give and take. Don't overextend yourself; that only leads to resentful feelings of being unappreciated. Likewise, be sure to give something back, as you can, so you can feel good about your contribution to the group.

Understand that large groups of any kind will have more complicated dynamics. Smaller groups feel more personal and are often easier to navigate. While homeschoolers seem to be ever better at accepting differences in homeschooling methods, strongly differing parenting styles are a more challenging obstacle. Any large group will include those with marked differences in parenting style. Still, large groups can be a great resource for field trips, classes and other activities, as well as a place to meet potential new friends.

Set up your group activities according to their importance to you and stick to your vision. Learn to say "I'm sorry you aren't happy with what I am doing. Perhaps it is best that you create your own such-and-so." Sometimes it just takes time to find the right sort of group or sub-group to suit your individual needs. I move in several circles-varying in size and intent-some of which overlap, and others that don't. Were I to draw a representation of this on paper, it would likely be reminiscent of the surface of a pond during a light rain shower. Homeschooling allows you to create whatever pattern of circles best suits you.

Accept that groups may come and go. Homeschool groups form and disband depending on the individuals' needs. Each serves its purpose and can be enriching, but they will end as the participants' needs wane. When the door to one opportunity closes, it provides the freedom to open other doors.

Each homeschool family needs to access their needs and find a group that will help them along their educational journey. Know yourself and seek others that will support you in your pursuits, not try to change your vision.

I am no longer a newbie, but am not yet seasoned enough to be veteran homeschooler. I still like to bounce homeschooling ideas/problems/thoughts off of others who have been there/done that, but have enough experience to know the general direction of our educational path. I like to meet with an accepting group, but am not afraid to go it alone if necessary.

Every homeschooling family is unique and every homeschooling support group is different. Keep looking until you find one that meets your needs. If you aren't satisfied with what you find, don't be afraid to start your own.