Resolutions Can Be Fun

NYE - sisters

The Z Sisters Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Being a bit slow on the draw, I’m not usually ready by New Year’s Eve to make resolutions, plans or goals for the coming year. Seriously folks, I’m still in recovery mode from Christmas at that point. So be it. I’m trying to clear away the cobwebs now and make a plan for this new year that has fallen upon me. Of course there are the usual “wishes” — eat healthier, more exercise, drop oodles of weight. I DO want to do those things but I have an issue with confusing discipline with punishment. Perhaps that’s something I can work on this year — reprogramming my brain to truly believe that adding disciplines is a form of helping (even loving?) myself rather than the punishment I conceive it to be. But for now, I want to set some goals that I really look forward to putting into action — things that will represent a life change and not just a one year commitment.

A few years back, having been inspired by the movie “Julie and Julia”, I set a New Year’s goal to try a new recipe every week. That was quickly altered to 52 new recipes in 2010. And yes, I did have to make about 10 recipes that final week of the year to meet that goal but meet it I did. This was probably the first time I followed through on a New Year’s resolution and it opened my eyes to the fact that resolutions can be really fun!

In more recent years, I’ve focused on a few more areas in my life that needed changing. I don’t remember if they were New Year changes or just mid-year revelations but I found it took about a year of exercising them before they started to become reflexive.

First off, I determined to be more open and flexible to accept the blessings God has offered to me through allowing Him to work through me. This meant working toward not waking up with a rigid agenda for my day.  It meant adding more margin to my life — a good topic for another post.  It meant waking up with a plan, but being open to altering it without complaint when the phone rang with a need, or someone in my home needed to focus on restoration instead of tasks. It meant adding the phrase, “Why not?” to my thought process. This is a continuing work in progress, but one that has added incredible depth to my life. It was the seed that began to germinate and grow into this blog.

NYE - Margie

My mom celebrated her 89th New Year’s Eve with us.

Ironic as it may be,  just as I’m in the middle of writing this, I got a phone call. This one was a sister-in-law saying she would take care of checking in on my mom for me this bitter cold afternoon which frees me up to stay cuddly and warm a few more hours and allows me to finish this post. Being flexible to what God has planned for my day has also made me much more willing to except these blessings as he opens up time I didn’t think I’d have. If you know me well, you know it’s a near miraculous change in my heart which allows me to accept help.

Moving on … At one point, God spoke to my heart and told me He didn’t ask me to fix or control the situation, but only to love the people he placed in my life. (The seedling to the sub-heading of this blog — “Love the ones God gives you.”) This has brought some healing and restoration to close relationships in my life.   God continues to bring people into our lives that can benefit from the spontaneous type of hospitality we have to offer, and this has greatly enriched our home. Making this change in my heart was a crucial step in strengthening my soul to be able to strong-arm my depression into submission. And guess what! It’s way more enjoyable to share love than condemnation. Who knew?

Last year, as a New Year determination, I decided to take action when a friend or I said, “We really need to get together.” Realizing how frequently that phrase is tossed about, and how seldom it is followed through, I determined when I came upon it I was going to follow it up with setting up a time and place. I know that is not a measurable goal. We are not supposed to say, “I am going to do more of …”; we are supposed to say something like, “I will reconnect with 10 friends this year.” That type of defined goal has it’s place, but I wasn’t looking for a checkoff list here. I was looking more toward the live life intentionally type of thing. For me, it worked. Looking back, I had many long and enjoyable walks and lunches with family and friends in 2014 because of this determination. So, I’m not going to check that off and move on now, I’m going to continue to make relationships a priority in this way, but I’m ready to add another aspect to my live life intentionally plan.

This will be a change of seasons year for me. I will be completing my 26 year career of home schooling my sons and possibly looking at an empty nest by this time next year.  Of course, this opens me up to the opportunity to pursue “career” options which might even provide an income.  (Oh!  The thought of having a second income!)  It also frees me up to consider ways in which I might minister to others.  It will be a year of deep reflection and considerations.  There will be time for that.

For now, this is what lies on my heart:

First – I want to be more intentional about offering appreciation.  This too is a topic for another post, but to sum it up, I am SO wary of pretentious flattery, that I often neglect genuine appreciation.  I’ve been becoming increasingly aware at how hard it is to WANT to bless someone who never appreciates what you do.  This is a lesson I want to change in our family dynamics and one which I’d like to pass on to the next generations.  I will start with working on it myself.

Secondly – I like traditions. They lay the foundations for memories. But, if you just keep adding traditions, they will soon become prison bars. Often, when people try something new, and it turns out to be fun, they want to add it to the traditions. Thus variety becomes monotony. Now, whenever we get together, or whenever we celebrate this event, we will add this activity or eat this food. My siblings, sibs-in-law and I  had an in-depth discussion on this topic. This is a tough nut to crack with my extended family as they are notorious for wanting to make everything a tradition. My sons tried to get me to understand the flaw in this thinking a couple of years ago and it has taken me a lengthy amount of time chewing this cud before I was really able to digest it. I think I’ve got it now and I want to approach this year with an intentionality* to add variety without making the variety a new obligation or … dare I say it? … to replace some of the old traditions with new ones?  (*My reference tools tell me “intentionality” is not a word; it should be a word.) The sibs/sibs-in-law discussion came to the conclusion that switching up what foods we bring to the holidays might be within reason, but everybody, including myself, jumped all over my brother-in-law when he suggested we could switch up who hosted each of the holidays. One step at a time.

God bless your new year.  I’ll be sharing where this season-changing year takes me as it unfolds.  Please share what you are actively working on changing in your life.

— Beth

Home School Help – Tending to Toddlers and Preschoolers


Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

Balancing Teaching Your Older Children with Tending to the Younger Ones

It is very easy to neglect your toddlers or preschoolers while trying to carry out your home school responsibilities. Younger children without a doubt, create a challenge for any mom, especially the home school mom.  We are torn between guilt and frustration as our younger children wander aimlessly about through their day, trashing the house and interrupting our teaching efforts. This post is to remind you that you are a family first, and a school second.

If you have read my earlier post on LESSON PLANNING, you will find that to be a great start in being able to make more time for your young children.  School-aged children with a weekly lesson plan in hand have far more direction and need far less of Mom’s constant attention.  In addition to making out a plan for your students, make out a plan for your pre-schoolers (even toddlers) as well.  How detailed you want to make this is up to you, but it should have at least these two things:  Every day you should have at least one special play activity scheduled.  You should also schedule at least one older child per day to spend an hour of playtime (or reading time) with the younger ones.  (Write their assigned time right on their school lesson plans.)  These two items alone could well give you two hours a day to focus on school without neglecting the little ones.  In addition, schedule time for you to spend with your younger children.  If you don’t consciously schedule it, it often gets forgotten.  I know it may not be possible to spend a large chunk of time, and maybe you can’t even get it in every day, but at least a few days a week plan an activity alone with this child.  It could be as simple as reading a book, playing hide and seek for 15 minutes, or letting them help you put groceries away.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Assign each older child at least one hour per week where they are scheduled to play with their preschool siblings.

Make sure each of your older children has at least one hour a week (each having their scheduled day/s) assigned to playtime with their younger siblings.  It would be best, but not necessary,  if these hours were scheduled at the same time each day.  Little ones thrive on routine.  It might also come in handy to give students a ½ hour assignment to play with the baby at those times when their brain needs a break.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour "assignment" to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

It might come in handy to give students a ½ hour “assignment” to play with the baby when their brain needs a break from the books.

Now, about those daily special play activities – Pick at least one item each day that is done only on that day of the week, during school time.  You can even call it their  “school”  if it helps.  A sample schedule might look like this:

Monday:  stringing beads

Tuesday:  playdough

Wednesday:  pattern blocks

Thursday:  popcorn play*

Friday:  painting

* By Popcorn Play I mean buy a 25# bucket of popcorn seeds from Sam’s Club and set it aside just for play use.  Dump it into a large, wide container (We’ve found a plastic toboggan to work particularly well, otherwise and underbed storage container will work nicely.) and let them play with it like sand — measure, pour, make roads, bury things.

You could even plan one activity for the morning and one for the afternoon.  The child should be where you can keep an eye on him, but try to plan activities that he can do without much assistance.  By allowing these activities only on the assigned days, it keeps the interest level high and your child will play at the activity much longer, thereby developing a healthy attention span.  Also introduce you child to daily chore assignments, and allow him to sit in on school when possible.  My 3 year olds loved to cuddle up on the couch when we were reading aloud even if they had no clue about what was being read.  It’s just a nice “belonging” thing to do.  If my boys were playing phonogram Bingo, we gave the preschooler a card and they’d tell him where to put the marker chips.  If they were using math manipulatives, their younger siblings were right beside them building things out of the same manipulatives.  Always let them sit in on fun stuff like science experiments and art projects.  And finally take full advantage of their naps!

I will write what could be a sample schedule, and then I will list lots of activity ideas.

8:30 chore time (some simple but contributing tasks)

9:00 free play or joining in on school activity

10:00 assigned morning activity (This would be the special activity chosen for that day of the week.)

11:00 play with sibling

12:00 lunch and recess (Get fresh air!)

1:00 nap

2:00 assigned afternoon activity (a second activity done only on this weekday)

2:30 Mommy Time!

3:30 free play

4:00 play with siblings while Mom makes dinner

You will note that I have included “Free Play” periods.  It’s very important that children are allowed some freedom in their day.  There should be times when he can explore, learn to entertain himself, or play as he desires.  The opportunity to do so is sadly lacking in today’s overly structured, schedule-packed society, and it’s not fair to the children.  Also, PLEASE, don’t plop that tot in front of a screen!  Granted, there are lots of wonderful things to explore TOGETHER on the internet — caterpillars morphing into butterflies for example — but really, REALLY limit the time your young children sit in front of a screen, be it TV, computer, tablet or phone.  And as much as possible do screen time along with your child rather than using it to babysit for you. That being said, I will now go ahead and list suggestions for things to do during the scheduled part of the day.

IDEAS FOR ASSIGNED ACTIVITES:

  • playdough

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

    Bring bath toys in the kitchen for water play time.

  • pattern blocks
  • popcorn play  (like sand play, only with popcorn kernels)
  • puzzles
  • play with water (much like the popcorn – Place a vinyl tablecloth on the kitchen floor with a plastic dishpan full of water.  Supply the child with a baster, funnel, cups, strainer and small toys to strain and let them have at it — under supervision, naturally.  When they are done, grab the mop and you’ll get a cleaned floor out of the bargain as well!)
  • sorting activities (sort by color, size, texture, category, likes/dislikes, …)
  • drawing / coloring
  • cutting, pasting & stickers
  • Duplos
  • Fisher Price Little People, Imaginext, or Adventure sets (These collections are easily built via rummaging.)
  • rubber stamps
  • digital books (This is one of my few suggestions for being in front of a screen.  Make this the exception and not the rule for reading time.)
  • listen to music (dance with streamers or bop a balloon to the music)
  • blocks (At about 1 year old, my boys particularly enjoyed dropping cube-shaped letter blocks through the hole in a plastic cereal container.  Eventually they moved on to building towers, then zoos and cities.)
  • toy animals (the hard rubber type – great for sorting, setting up a zoo,  or playing “survival of the fittest”)
  • matchbox cars
  • play food / dishes
  • practice cutting skills with old magazines (I am told by enrichment teachers that a number of our 7-8 year old students still cannot handle a scissors properly.  You need to give them practice in this skill.  There are plenty of “safe” scissors available.)
  • roller-skating in the basement (assuming you have slow kid’s skates!)
  • chalk on basement floor (a wet mop will take care of it)
  • build a blanket tent and look at books or camp with stuffed animals inside
  • wash windows (a spray bottle full of water and a rag)
  • math manipulatives (Pattern Blocks, Unifex Cubes, balance, Cuisenaire Rods, links, counting bears, dominoes, geoboards, fraction circles, etc.)
  • Tending to Preschoolers

    Math manipulatives can be used creatively.

    costume box

  • special videos (use sparingly)
  • puppets
  • obstacle course
  • decorate graham crackers with frosting and sprinkles *
  • make snack kabobs with toothpicks, mini marshmallows, pinapple chunks, cheese cubes, raisins, etc. *
  • magnetic letters or other magnets
  • look at photo albums
  • rhythm instruments
  • paint-with-water books
  • bean bag toss
  • weighing and comparing items with a child’s balance
  • practice dropping clothespins or pennies into a mason jar.  Count how many you get in.  Do it from a standing position with the jar on the floor or kneel on a chair and balance your arm on the chair back.

*allow them to serve the snacks they’ve prepared to their older siblings – if they dare eat them!

Okay, that’s enough to get you going.  Choose five or ten activities and assign each to a day of the week.  You may use additional activities  for Mom or Sibling time.

Don’t cast that child aside.  He will grow up all too quickly and is at a very precious age right now.  Be sure your home school doesn’t leave him a casualty.  God Bless your efforts.

Home School Lesson Planning

Lesson Plan Binders
The first few years that I home schooled, I would try to schedule out each week ahead of time.  Even so, sometimes I would wake up in the morning and wonder,“What were we supposed to do today?”  It’s amazing how brain dead you can get with mountains of laundry, dishes and papers to be corrected staring you in the face.  Several years later (Don’t wait that long!) I finally learned how to lay out a lesson plan that was easy to use and very effective.  I have used that same basic format for nearly 20 years now and we couldn’t function without it.   This has made a world of difference in our home schooling day and in what we accomplish in a year.  My method is not by any means the only method out there, and it may not be right for you, but for those of you struggling with how to plan your day this is well worth the effort.

I have created Lesson Plan Forms using the “table” tool in Microsoft word.  It is helpful to have all this information stored in your computer, but easy enough to do by hand as well.  You will want a weekly lesson sheet for each child.  This is a basic chart with the days of the week listed across the top and the various subjects or book titles listed down the side.  If you are planning for just one child a standard teacher’s plan book works fine.  I note on my master copy which subjects need to be done with Mom or siblings.  Across the top I have the child’s name and grade, the week number/dates  and a blank to record the number of hours for that week.  (In my state we have to keep track of hours.)

If you are doing this on computer, enter as much of the unchanging information into your table as you can, then highlight it, hit copy, and paste it 30-40 times (depending on how long your school year is).  You can then type in (or cut and paste) the various assignments for each week. You may skip this part if you don’t want to have a record on the computer of the whole year.   If you are doing it by hand, make a master chart for each child, then run 40 copies of each one.  I buy different colors of paper to print out our lists, and assign a color to each child.  It makes it easier to identify who’s list is laying under the coffee table and it gives the task list a cheery look.  Use bright colors!
Here are some blank forms you can copy if you prefer to write them out by hand.
Blank Lesson Plan PagesCreating Home School Lesson Plans

BREAKING DOWN THE BOOKS

Make a stack of all the books you plan to use for each child. If you will be using more than one book for a subject — for instance, reading a book about electricity, one having electricity experiments and one about Thomas Edison — make note of what order you wish to read the books.  If you are doing unit studies, determine how long you will spend on each unit and what books and activities you intend to use.  Now you need to decide how to break each book down into daily assignments.  Some books are easy.  With many text books it is obvious to do one lesson a day and reserve some days for tests.

Other books are not so clear cut.  They may only be used for a few weeks, or may not be broken down into easy-to-divide lessons.  I’ll page through these books, determine how much I think my child can handle in one day and break it down that way.  I might otherwise decide how many weeks it should take to complete this book.  I will look at the number of pages /chapters/lessons and determine how many need to be done each day or week in order to meet my goal.  For instance if my child is to read a 23 chapter book and I think he can handle 2 chapters a day, I know it will take 12 days to complete the book.  I’ll then decide if we can afford to spread it out over 3 weeks or if we’ll have to fit it into 2 weeks.

If I’m breaking it down by pages rather than lessons or chapters, I will actually page through the entire book to figure out where a logical place to break would be.  You don’t want to end the week two pages form the end of a section. In this case, I figure out how many pages we should average a day and try to break it close to that amount. In addition, you’ll want to note any special activities of field trips you  want to do when studying a book.

You don’t have to do every subject 5 days a week.  As  much as I am able, I try to keep each subject down to 4 days a week, and each day I alternate which subject gets skipped.  This way if we have a field trip or day off, say on Friday, I can schedule every subject’s  “off day” for Friday that week,  and not have to catch up. You should type out or write down your breakdown of daily assignments for each book.

Here’s a six week segment for a science book we used.
6 week breakdown for one book

Once you’ve broken down all the books you can transfer the daily assignments to your weekly lesson plans.  Here is where individual preference really steps in.  Because I store all this in my computer (where it’s really easy to cut and paste changes as we go along) I try to lay out the daily lesson plans for the entire year.  I usually spend my summer months doing this.  I know from experience that I don’t have much time or brain power to do this once the school year starts, and if it’s not written out it doesn’t  happen.  This can be an overwhelming task and you may prefer to fill out your forms week by week.  If you have a list of daily assignments for each book this is not difficult.  Just check off the assignments you’ve completed and you’ll know exactly where you’re at.

Here is what a weekly lesson plan incorporating all the subjects will look like.
3 versions of weekly lesson plan

There are some incredible benefits to having a plan such as this.

  • You make great progress, and those extra books
    that you’d really like to fit in some time actually get assigned and completed.
  • You hand your child the assignment sheet each week (or tape it on the wall) and both you and your child know exactly what needs to be accomplished.
  • If you file the paper at the end of the week you have a nice record of  what you’ve done.
  • It’s a great lesson and satisfying experience in setting and completing goals.
  • It places both the freedom and the responsibility of effective time management in your child’s hands.

My boys cross off each box as they complete it.  If your child is feeling particularly motivated he may whip through the tasks in a few hours.  If he is dragging his feet, you simply don’t allow school to be done (no TV, no play, no dinner if need be) until all the day’s assignments have been checked off.  My boys will occasionally decide they want a day off and work diligently for a day or two to get an entire day ahead. I don’t specify any order as to how they have to work through their day – as long as they get through the whole list.  School is no longer done or not done according to how frazzled Mom feels today.  It also makes my boys happy to know Mom is not going to just keep adding assignments to their day until they faint with fatigue!

Lesson Plans for Every Child

I hope this helps give you an idea on how you can organize your lesson plans.  For me, the important thing is that each child has their own sheet.  The teacher planning books are good for one or two children, but there’s just not enough room for larger families.

If this whole thing is too overwhelming for you, keep asking others how they do it until you find a system that works for you.  I’ve known people that just write out at the end of the day what they’ve done that day.  I personally am too tired at the end of the day (and lacking in the discipline) to take the time to do that.  Others will write a date in the corner of the workbook pages which shows when that page is to be completed.  Still others will just fill out lesson plans each weekend for the upcoming week.   If your system is not working, find a solution.  If it’s working well, stick with it.

UNPLUG and ENGAGE – 100+ Things OLDER Kids Can Do at Home to Learn, Relieve Boredom and Bless Others

Nothing ruins a summer so much as the phrase “I’m BORED!”  But letting your children pass the days sitting in the air-conditioning in front of some screen or another is not the answer to this problem.  Here are all kinds of things your older children can do to engage in life, relieve bordome, stimulate their minds and imagination and use their gifts to bless others.  [Check out my son’s stop-motion videos if you want to learn the value of stimulating the imagination.]  Here’s hoping that awful phrase is removed from your home this summer.  These activities are — for the most part — FREE!, child led (not a lot of parent involvement necessary), and can be done right in your home or yard.  Almost all of them don’t even require electricity much less a screen (although I do send you to some internet links to help you get started on some of them).  Print ’em and Post ’em.  When the kids even HINT at being bored, point to the list.  Enjoy!

Go here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/unplug-and-explore-60-things-kids-can-do-at-home-when-theyre-bored/  to see my list for younger children,
and here https://blessandbuild.com/2014/07/07/road-trips-unplugged/comment-page-1/#comment-160 to see my ideas for fun things to do in the car.

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

Alone or With Friends

  1. Learn  at least 3 different kinds of  SOLITAIRE.
  2. Learn to SHUFFLE and “bridge” cards
  3. Find old  FRAMES and/or old  FURNITURE (get permission!) and PAINT them with fun designs.
    DCIM100MEDIA
  4. Practice SPORTS SKILLS – dribbling, shooting, passing, free-throws, lay-ups, kicking, batting, pitching, volleying, archery, etc.
  5. LEGOS
  6. PAINT a masterpiece (If you haven’t got any ideas, try to copy a famous piece of art.)Imagination Station
  7. Practice DRAWING – I heartily recommend Mark Kistler’s books (or videos).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAcK9BY7Ymw
  8. Explore the world from a DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE with binoculars, magnifying glass or microscope.
  9. Have a KOOL-AID STAND.
  10. Gather, clean, and price outgrown toys and have a TOY SALE.
  11. CHALLENGE YOUR BRAIN with Cryptograms, Crosswords, Sudoku or Logic Puzzle
  12. Create a MAZE, with pencil and paper or with blocks or dominoes.
  13. Write a STORY.
  14. Complete a 500 piece PUZZLE.  (or more difficult if you choose)
  15. Use RUBBER STAMPS to make a collection of cards
  16. Learn ORIGAMI. – Get a book on how to do it from the library.
    origami
  17. Listen to AUDIOBOOKS  (Check your local library for a plethora of titles.)
  18.  CLIMB a tree.
  19. DECORATE your room.
  20. Build a TREE HOUSE.
  21. ROLLERBLADE
  22. Go for a BIKE RIDE. – With your parent’s help map out a 10 mile route and conquer it.
  23. Practice creating an outstanding AUTOGRAPH.  Your signature says a lot about you.  Make it stylish and unique.
  24. Make a MINIATURE GOLF COURSE in your yard or basement.   Use soup cans for holes.
  25. Learn some fancy JUMP ROPING moves.
  26. Learn some MAGIC TRICKS.
  27. Try a simple BUILDING PROJECT – shelves/bench/wooden crate/etc.
  28. Make an awesome COSTUME.
  29. Go on a NATURE HIKE.
  30. Create a SHELTER  out of branches, leaves, etc.  Sleep in it, if you dare.
  31. Press FLOWERS.
  32. Make PICTURE FRAMES  from twigs (or any other objects) glued onto sturdy cardboard
  33. Learn to KNIT or CROCHET.fairy garden
  34. Make DOLL CLOTHES.
  35. Create a  FAIRY GARDEN in a corner of the yard.
    http://www.themagiconions.com/2010/08/make-fairy-garden.html
  36. RE-FASHION old T-shirts.
    http://darlingadventures.com/?p=574
  37. Make BOOKMARKS.
  38. RE-CREATE your favorite book illustration.
  39. DESIGN your own GAME.
  40. Write SECRET MESSAGES with lemon juice on white paper.  When dry, hold paper over heating toaster to make invisible letters appear!
  41. Start a JOURNAL or write in one you already started.
  42. Organize your photos.  Create a PHOTOBOOK.
  43. Find and ant hill,  drop some crumbs or sweet liquid nearby and watch the ANTS do their thing.
  44. Play CHARADES.
  45. Draw/write a CARTOON STRIP of your own characters.
  46. Make a MAP of your bedroom, house or neighborhood.
  47. Find a PEN PAL from another country.  Share ideas about your cultures with each other.
  48. Collect sticks and mud and build a BIRD’S NEST.
  49. Create a family or neighborhood NEWSLETTER.
  50. Make PAPER AIRPLAINES.
  51. Learn to COOK a meal.
  52. Gather junk and discarded materials and turn it into a sculpture or other piece of art.  This is called FOUND OBJECT ART.
  53. Create a STOP-MOTION VIDEO.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuexL14O9L8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9115ZqfkXM4  (See how creative my kids are?)
  54. Learn some CARD TRICKS.
  55. Practice FANCY LETTERING – a great skill to have for making cards and signs
    CHALK ART  https://www.etsy.com/listing/175732200/jeremiah-2911-for-i-know-the-plans-card?ref=shop_home_active_21
  56. Start a BLOG.
  57. Learn to FACE PAINT.100_0071
  58. Learn to whistle, snap your fingers, swim, ride a bike or ANYTHING ELSE YOU’VE WISHED YOU COULD DO.  (Probably not flying though.)
  59. REARRANGE your bedroom.
  60. Learn to tie a variety of  KNOTS.
  61. Learn a new VOCABULARY word every week and try to use it correctly every day that week.
  62.  Play MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.
  63. Pitch a tent and CAMP OUT in the backyard.
  64. Learn to make SHADOW PICTURES.
  65. LIP SYNC to a favorite song.  Or just go ahead and learn to sing it —really well!

 

 

LEARN and ENTERTAIN

With Friends / Siblings

  1. Play BOARD GAMES.
  2. Play cards with a friend.  Look up “POPULAR CARD GAMES” and learn the rules and strategy.
  3. Play MARBLES.
  4. PUZZLE RACES – Using two puzzles of the same difficulty (100 pieces or less) Race a friend to see who can complete their puzzle first.  You can also do this with teams.
  5. MAKE A VIDEO staring you and your siblings/friends.hopscotch
  6. Play HOPSCOTCH.
  7. Set up an OBSTACLE COURSE and  challenge friends/siblings to beat your time.
  8. Have a water BALLOON TOSS or an egg toss.
  9. Have a WATER FIGHT with water balloons, water guns, big plastic cups or all three!
  10. Play FLASHLIGHT TAG.
  11. Play KICK the CAN.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Kick-the-Can
  12. Have a SCAVENGER HUNT.  Form teams and a list of things that must be found outside/ in the house/ in the neighborhood.  State a time limit and see which team can find the most items.
  13. Record you and your friends doing CRAZY STUNTS like posing as mannequins in a store window, asking a stranger for a bite of his sandwich, handing out candy bars to random passers-by, having a parade down your street, or protesting something ridiculous.
  14. Play FOUR SQUARE.  http://www.wikihow.com/Play-Four-Square
  15. Play photographer.  Have a friend take turns with you doing PHOTO SHOOTS of each other.

 

 

Be a Blessing

We Are Most Blessed When Blessing Others

  1. WRITE a Letter.set up fair
  2. Wash WINDOWS.
  3. Clean a SHELF or DRAWER in your room.
  4. Set Up CARNIVAL GAMES for the kids in your neighborhood or for your siblings. (If you want to get really into it – have the kids bring old toys in exchange for tickets and use the old toys for game prizes!)
  5. Memorize then  Recite BIBLE VERSES.
  6. Memorize then recite a POEM.
  7. Put on a PLAY.
  8. BAKE A TREAT for your family or neighbors.
  9. ADOPT A GRANDPARENT from among the many lonely people in assisted living.  Write them notes, visit them, make things for them.
  10. Make CARDS/PICTURES and send them to loved ones
  11. CLEAN your bedroom.
  12. Pull the WEEDS.
  13. Using family friendly movies, run a THEATER in your living room for friends (complete with popcorn!).
  14. Write “THANK YOU” cards to tell someone how they’ve blessed you — even if you haven’t received a gift from them.
  15. Create circus stunts and perform a CIRCUS for/with the neighbor children.Circus Lion
  16. DUST the house.
  17. BRUSH the pet.
  18. PICK berries or vegetables.
  19. ENTERTAIN a younger sibling or neighbor child and give mom a break.
  20. Play outside with a PET.
  21. Surprise a neighbor with a GOOD DEED.
  22. Host a TEA PARTY.
  23. BATHE a pet.
  24. READ to younger siblings.
  25. ORGANIZE a dresser drawer.
  26. Clean UNDER the BED.
  27. MOW the lawn.
  28. Create a list of “RANDOM ACTS of KINDNESS” you can do.  See how many you can accomplish.
  29. Hold a neighborhood BIKE WASH.
  30. Do a STORY HOUR  for the younger children in your neighborhood.

Road Trips Unplugged

Call me old-fashioned (and, of course, I am) but there are so many wonderful ways to entertain your family in the car.  I hate when I see kids plugged into a movie (even for a quick jaunt across town!), or when the teens in the car plug in their ear buds and tune out everyone else.  Here are some great ways to wile away the miles that help to engage all the passengers, expand attention spans and strengthen the mind.  

Toy Box / Lap Desk

Individual Lap Desk Boxes contain each child’s toys

Ready to Travel

Individual Snack Bags (healthy as you choose) for each child adds to the fun.

Go here for ideas on how to UNPLUG AT HOME . And here for over 100 ideas Older Kids can do to UNPLUG at home.

  • Alphabet Game This is a classic.   Watch the signs to find a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, in order.  You can play together as a team, or as my family prefers, every man for himself, in which case players compete to see who can complete their alphabet first. For younger children, you can allow them to just find the alphabet letters (in order) anywhere in the word.
  • Animal Alphabet Go around the car with each person naming an animal (or any other category you choose) that begins with each letter of the alphabet.  So first each person has to name a different animal that begins with A.  Then everybody names an animal that begins with B, etc.
  • Animal Name Game This game can easily pass an hour or two of time. It requires a bit more brain power than the other 2 alphabet games and ANIMALS seems to be the best category to use since you will need a vast number of  names.  It should be noted that “animal” can include anything in the animal kingdom — mammals, fish, birds, insects, reptiles, etc.  You cannot precede an animal by an adjective unless that is part of its actual name.  For instance, brown trout might be acceptable for B, but not a brown ant.   If necessary vote amongst the other players as to weather a named animal is acceptable or not.  For this game we use the letters of the players’ first name.  All players should have the same number of letters to work with, so pick a number.  If you have a Jim in the car, you might pick the first three letters of everyone else’s name or add the first couple of letters of Jim’s middle name to equal whatever number of letters you settle on.  Now you go around the car, each person naming an animal that has not yet been named that begins with whatever letter they are on.  Each player begins with the first letter of their name and progresses to the next letter when they can think of no other animals that begin with their first letter.  Once you progress you cannot go back to a previous letter.  Other people in the car may share a letter with you and you might want to progress before they use all the animals for that letter.  When you come to the end of your letters and can think of no more animals for your final letter, you are done.  Whoever can hold out the longest wins.  Names with double letters only count that letter the first time it shows up.  So, for a 5 letter game, Nathan John would use the letters N-A-T-H-J because the A and the N have already been used, and he might be in hot competition with Natalie since their first three letters are the same.  In a 5 letter game, Natalie will use N-A-T-L-I.  We had a friend in the car that went a full hour still on her first letter – C !
  • Sing songs, sing rounds, sing harmony
  • Audiobooks – choose a book that the whole family can enjoy and listen to a professional actor read it chapter by chapter breaking as needed.  OK, I know.  Technically, this is plugged in, but since the whole family is plugged in and engaging in the story together,  AND  because books stimulate the mind SO much more than movies, it stands.
  • Tell a progressive story Someone begins a story by telling a few sentences or maybe even just a phrase.  Then the next player adds another phrase/sentence and it continues around the car.
  • Make a progressive picture Very similar to the story telling except someone starts by making a squiggle on a piece of paper then passes the paper around with each person adding to the masterpiece.  Unfortunately, the driver gets left out of this game.
  • Trivia Cards Bring a pack of cards from that old dusty Trivia game and just quiz each other.
  • Deep Questions Kind of the opposite of trivia.  Either come up with questions ahead of time or have each person come up with a question on their turn and then everybody has a chance to answer each question.  These questions are of a more personal or thought provoking matter. Here are a few examples: What is one of your well hidden strengths? If you had $5000 to spend on others, what would you do with it? What kind of invention would you create if you had the know how/ resources? What character traits are good to look for in a spouse/friend/roommate? What is something you really want to work on this year?
  • 20 Questions One person comes up with a person, place or thing.  Everyone else gets to ask up to 20 yes/no questions to try to guess what it is.  Whoever guesses correctly gets to come up with the next thing to guess.
  • Create a poem Either create a poem together or assign a topic, have everybody create their own poem (write them down) and take turns reciting what you’ve written.  To make this a ton more fun, get a book or do a google search about different types of poetry for kids.  There’s so much more than just rhyming phrases.
  • 100 Mile Prizes –  Pack a box of small trinkets or treats.  Every 100 miles, let everybody choose a prize out of the box.  (Great way to use accumulated Happy Meal toys or Dollar Store gems.)
  • Map tracking This is becoming a lost art, but get a map of where you’re going and map out the route.  Have your children follow along on the map as you travel checking the cities as you go and estimating the time / distance to the next city / exit.
  • License Plate Phrases Another classic.  Make up fun phrases to go with the license plate letters you see.  Vote on who’s  phrase is the best.
  • Comic Books – Normally, I don’t promote fluff reading, but there is a time and place to enjoy Calvin and Hobs, Peanuts, Garfield or other comic style books.  The car trip is one of those times and places.  HINT:  We found that the kids who get car sick when reading in the care CAN READ in the car at night, with a book light.  It seems seeing the scenery/cars whizzing by out of the corner of their eyes is what makes them sick.  At night you don’t see all the outside stuff .
  • Name the states and/or their capitals This is how I learned my states and capitals.  My brother and I would quiz each other whenever we went on a road trip with our parents. Here’s a little help I memorized as a kid – how many states for each letter of the alphabet:  A=4, C=3, D=1, F=1, G=1, H=1, I=4, K=2, L=1, M=8, N=8, O=3, P=1, R=1, S=2, T=2, U=1, V=2, W=4
  • Researched Topic – With older kids, choose an interesting topic of discussion a week or so before the trip.  Everybody does their own research in preparation for the big drive.  Have an informed discussion of the topic once you’ve hit the road.
  • Light up toys at night — spinny, twirly lights inside a clear globe, glow bracelets, little lighted shapes that fade from one color to another —  these are all fascinatingly cool during the long night hours.  We found a toy like a magna doodle, except it glows –LOVE IT!!!

    glo doodle 3

    Glo Doodle

  • Search Books (Usborne) Honestly, I hate the Where’s Waldo and I Spy books.  But I LOVE the Usborne search books!  They have a preschool level, a primary level and an upper level elementary level.  I think these books served as a great help in preparing for the Animal Alphabet games.
Search Books by Usborne 2

Great Search Book Series Ages 6-12

Search Books by Usborne

1001 Things To Find series Ages 3-7

  • Origami  – get a good book on the subject and a pack of origami paper and a firm board on which they can fold.  Let the fun begin!
  • Modeling Wax – this soft, pliable wax is like playdough without the crumbly mess.  It’s not cheap, but Oh, SO worth it!  http://www.magiccabin.com/Art-Supplies/Stockmarand174;-Modeling-Beeswax-12-Pieces-4-Inches-x-1-12-Inches.htm
  • Goodie Bag for each passenger Let’s face it road trips and car snacks go hand in hand.  Give each child a gift bag or ziplock bag with their name on it containing an assortment of goodies for the trip.  This may include the individual juices and snack packs.  Or make your own little ziplock packs of (likely healthier) options.  This eliminates fighting over who’s hogging what and teaches your child to ration out their goods to last through the whole trip.  Hint:  ginger snaps are a good choice since ginger helps alleviate motion sickness.
Oldies Scanned July 2013 481

Blue Treat Bag within easy reach. Box of toys makes great lap desk.

  • Plastic box of car toys for each child with lid so it also serves as a table Invest in some covered plastic boxes (one size bigger than shoebox size)with smooth (slightly indented) lids – One for each child.  Fill the box with books/crayons/ paper/toys for the trip.  The box serves as a lap table for the child and provides a place to keep all their little items contained.  It the top is slightly recessed it provides a nice tray which helps keeps crayons and toys from rolling off.  Fun tip for night driving:  Use a clear bottomed box.  Place some glow sticks inside and flip it upside down to become a light table at night.  For readers, you might want to pack a little lantern in the box or a booklight to provide a reading light at night that won’t disturb the driver.
Toys in Travel Box

All these toys fit in one lap box!

Packed Box, ready to go traveling.

All packed and ready to go

Take the unplugged challenge … at least for large segments of your road trip, if not the whole ride. The car ride is half the fun!  Plan well and avoid the misery.  Engage your children instead of plugging them in.     Continue reading

Unplug and Explore – 60 Things Kids Can Do At Home When They’re Bored

 As I write this post, my grandson (having perused this list) is playing on the floor in front of me building habitats for his rubber animals out of building blocks and various containers of water.  His pterodactyl is taped to the ceiling fan and is flying over the entire project.   When he is done setting it all up, the Playmobile people (and, no doubt any real people that happen to be here) will tour this miniature zoo to admire his creations.

When my grandson comes to stay for the week, he almost never turns on the TV, and video games are non-existent.   Growing up, my boys always had access to the “I’m Bored List”.   I made lots of lists because in the middle of raising a passel of kids, the brain gets taxed.  My lists helped me come up with creative ideas when my brain was feeling less than inspired.  Often, you would find a list like this hanging on the wall for the kids to consult whenever they got bored.

PLEASE PEOPLE — unplug the children!  

Read how to UNPLUG on Road Trips here.

Admittedly, we have amassed a great collection of toys over the years, so you might not have access to everything listed here.  Customize this list with the toy collections you have in your home.  We have always kept sets separate in a bunch of clear plastic boxes.  It makes them far more accessible than if they are all mixed up or buried in the bottom of a toy box.

A great place to start collections of your own is at local thrift shops or rummage sales.  

So here you have my “I’M BORED LIST” geared more toward younger children.  This list is largely stuff kids can do by themselves, but use adult supervision when needed.   Can you add more ideas?

Also see my list for older children here.

 

 Child-reading-a-big-bool    Read Books

Color color

 jump rope     Jump Rope 

Playdough playdough

Science Experiments Science Experiments

Play with Water Play with Water

Play with Popcorn Seeds or Wheat Berries (Like Sand) Play with popcorn seeds or grain like sand

 Write a Letter   Write a Letter

   Play Card Games       card games

stencils     Stencils

basketballBasketball

 Paint  paint

Draw Pictures  draw pictures

Cuisennaire Rods  Cuisennaire Rods

Pattern Blocks  Pattern Blocks

fraction circles   Explore Fraction Circles

Kool-Aid Stand    Koolaid Stand

Playmobile Toys   Playmobile Toys

Board Games     Oldies Scanned July 2013 117

 Toy Traintoy train

play marblesPlay Marbles

Puzzles   puzzles

 Rubber Stamps rubber stamps

origami   Origami

musical instruments    Play Musical Instruments

Clean/Decorate Your Room  clean or decorate bedroom

climb a tree    Climb a Tree

Build a City(with blocks or boxes or in the dirt)Copy of blocks

Play on Swingset swingset

rollerbladeRollerblade

ride bike    Ride Bikes

Practice Writing with the Oppossite Handwrite with opposite hand

trampoline    Trampoline

Hopscotch    hopscotch

Lego’s     legos

     golf     Golf 

Set up an Obstacle Course   obstacle course

chalk     Chalk on Cement    

Learn Some Magic Tricks Magic Tricks

Wash Windows   Wash Windows

Time Yourself in Running (or doing anything else)stopwatch

think it throughThink-it-Through Tiles  (Discovery Toys)

Clean a Shelf or Drawer in your Room    clean a shelf or drawer

 rubber animals   Play with Rubber Animals 

water balloons    Water  Balloon Fight

Set Up a Fair      set up fair

 

     toolsPound Nails, Turn Screws, Drill Holes 

Pearler Beads    perler beads

String Beads, Cherrios or Pasta beads and pasta

 Oldies Scanned July 2013 056    Dress Up in Costumes

Nature Hike nature hike

 bible verses    Memorize Bible Verses 

Memorize a Poem     poetry

Put on Play     Put on a Play

Play Croquet     Oldies Scanned July 2013 255

     Oldies Scanned July 2013 327     Decorate your bike

Play Restaurant     play restaurant

  play store   Play Store 

Make a Tent/ Fort       Make a tent fort

Try Baking or Cooking   Something  (with adult supervision)     Oldies Scanned July 2013 342

 
2013 006     Practice Face Painting

 

 

 

 

 

Some How’s and Why’s of American Spelling

 

Granted, spelling is tough in the English language.   I used to be horrible at spelling before I learned how to teach it to my boys.  As is usually the case I learned a lot more as a teacher than I ever learned as a student.  Regardless of what spelling program we used, we would apply the following Spelling Rules and identify the Phonograms  in each word, thereby eliminating a great many of the “spelling exceptions”.

Phonograms 2

 Its overwhelming to try to learn all these rules and phonograms at once.  I find it works best to teach your child the phonograms, flashcard style, starting with the first 3 or 4 and then adding a few every day.  Some parents will also have the child write each phonogram as they learn it.  Daily review of all learned phonograms is essential.  For phonograms with more than one sound, teach them all the sounds IN THE ORDER GIVEN when you introduce the phonogram.  It won’t necessarily make sense to them right away, but later you can say, “The [a] is making it’s 3rd sound,” and they should know which sound you’re referring to.  You should provide a special reward when they’ve mastered the daunting six-sound [ough].   After they’ve learned the phonograms, I would have them underline all the phonograms (at least the ones with more than one letter) when introducing a new spelling word.  If the phonogram has more than one sound have them write a small number above the phonogram indicating which sound it’s making.  Teach the spelling rules AS THEY BECOME APPLICABLE  in their spelling words or in the words they are trying to write.  This sounds very tedious and laborious, and it is — at first.   You will, however, be amazed at how quickly your child becomes adept at it, and the constant repetition drives the rules deep into their memory.  In the beginning limit your word-marking to just 3 or 4 words a day.

Phonograms and Reading:
After I teach my children the first five phonograms, I start putting together short words with the phonograms they’ve learned and teach them how to sound them out.  So, with the first five phonograms  a-b-c-d-e  (2 days worth of learning so far) you can teach them to read bad, dad, bed, cab,dab … even cad if you want to give them a new vocabulary word.  (I would hold off on using any words with the 2nd or 3rd sounds until they are getting pretty comfortable with sounding out words.)  Continue creating new words daily utilizing the new phonograms they learn.

Phonograms and Spelling:
When your student has read a short list of  words that are made up of the phonograms learned thus far, dictate the words back to the child and have him write them out.   Any words that get misspelled should be repeated the next day.   When your child gets to multiple letter phonograms, he should underline each one in the word when he spells them out.  When he gets to words which use later sounds of a phonogram he should write the correct number above the phonogram.  I would use this process throughout learning all the phonograms and spelling rules.  Then, you can apply the rules/phonograms to any spelling program you choose to use.

Here’s the daily procedure:

1) Learn a few new phonograms.
2) Learn a few new words using the phonograms learned to date.
3) Spell any words you got wrong yesterday, underlining any multiple letter phonograms and numbering their sound if applicable.
4) Spell the new words introduced today.  Underline phonograms and number as needed.
5) Play spelling games with the words you’ve learned and teach spelling rules as needed.

 

Below are the spelling rules.  Click here for the Phonogram Chart

Helpful Spelling and Phonetic Rules
This is a collection of rules and tips I have picked up or discovered over the years. They are written here in no particular order. Parents should become very familiar with these rules so they can explain to their children why words are spelled the way they are. It is difficult to learn how to spell with the English language, but if you really get to know these rules, you will see there is far more reason and far fewer exceptions than you previously thought. Please note when I refer to the vowels’ “long sounds” I am referring to them making the sounds they make in these words: bake, be, pie, go and cute. When I refer to their “short sounds” I am referring to them making the sounds they make in these words: can, get, pin, not, cut. Some vowels make more than these two sounds. (see my phonogram chart)

1. The letters [a], [e], [o] and [u] usually say their long sound (their “name”) when they come at the end of a word or syllable. ([i] can say it’s long sound at the end of a syllable but often it will say its short sound.) ra-di-o, go, be-long, to-fu

2. Usually, a double consonant allows one consonant to stay with the first syllable, thereby allowing the vowel to say its short sound.
Compare: ba-by and ba-bble

3. When reading , pronounce only one of the double consonants (in the accented syllable) When spelling sound out both of the double consonants.   lit-tle, ban-ner

4. [c] will say “s” (its soft sound) only when followed by an [e], [i], or [y].
Whenever [c] is followed by [e], [i], or [y] it must say “s”.    city, since, bicycle
(The exception to this is rule #17 below.)

5. Unlike [c], [g] CAN say its hard sound when followed by [e], [i], or [y]– girl, get
but, LIKE [c], [g] can’t say its soft sound (“j”) UNLESS it is followed by [e], [i], or [y] gym, gem, region
(Now you should always be able to tell the difference between angel and angle!)

6. A [y] that is NOT preceded by a vowel will usually say the long “i” sound at the end of a 2-3 letter word. fly, by, cry

7. A [y] that is NOT preceded by a vowel will usually say “ee” at the end of word that is more than 2-3 letters or more than one syllable.
many, pretty, any

8. In English, every syllable has to have a vowel.

9. English words very seldom end in [i], [v], or [u] except for these exceptions: you, thou, hi (Some words from other languages will end in these letters — spaghetti, sushi, tipi, tofu, Hawaii)

10. There are 6 types of silent-e’s. They are as follows:
a. Silent-e helps the vowel to say its name. (Words ending in vowel – consonant – silent-e) cake, ride, cone, dune
b. Silent-e represents the vowel in words that end in the “l” sound and would otherwise not have a vowel in the second syllable.
lit-tle, pud-dle, wrin-kle
c. Silent-e prevents a word from ending in [i], [v], or [u] – see rule number 9.    blue, pie, give
d. Silent-e allows the [g] to say “j” or the [c] to say “s” – see rules 4 and 5.     hinge, since, rice, cage
e. Sometimes a silent-e will follow an [s] (presumably so the word will not look like a plural).    horse, sparse, house
f. Sometimes there is a silent-e for no particular reason.     are, come, some

11. [or] may say “er” only if preceded by a [w]– worm, world, word but it won’t always say “er” in this situation — worn, swore, sword

12. [ar] will usually say “or” if preceded by a [w]: warm, war, wart [exception: wary ]

13. Memorize the sentence: Her first church worshiped early on the journey.
It demonstrates the six different ways to spell the “er” sound. er – ir — ur – wor – ear – our
These are listed in order of frequency. Most often “er” is spelled [e-r] Remember that [or] will say “er” only if preceded by a [w].

14. Use[i] before [e] except after [c] and unless it says “ay” as in veil and vein.
To help remember the exceptions to this rule, memorize this sentence. Neither foreign sovereign chose to forfeit leisure to seize the counterfeit.

15. [sh] is never used at the beginning of a syllable after the first one unless it is the suffix “ship”. It is used at the beginning of a word or at the end of a syllable. [ti], [si], and [ci]are used to say “sh” at the beginning of a syllable later in the word.

16. [tion] says “shun” at the end of a base word

17. [ci] will say “sh” when followed by [al] or [ous] as in special and spacious.

18. [si] says “sh” when the syllable preceding it ends with an s, (ses sion) or when the base word has an s where the base word changes.
tense, tension

19. [si] (not ti or ci) can also say “zh” as in vision.

20. [su] sometimes says “shu”. — sugar, sure

21. [tu] sometimes says “chu” — picture, punctuate

22. One-syllable words ending with c-v-c (consonant-vowel-consonant) need another consonant before adding an ending that begins with a vowel. — hop >> hopped, bat>>batting

23. Words of two syllables that have the accent on the last syllable, AND that end in c-v-c need another consonant added before adding an ending that begins with a vowel. —  begin>>beginning

24. Drop the silent e on words before adding an ending that begins with a vowel (unless needed for c, g, u, i, etc. noticeable) bake >> baking
Note: judgment and argument are exceptions to that rule.

25. The letters l,f,s and z are often doubled after a single vowel saying its short sound. — fizz, dull, staff, will [not when the vowel says its long sound (its name) —  gaze, rule]

26. Other consonants may be doubled at the end of words too. —  egg, add

27. Sometimes i and o will say their long sounds if followed by two consonants.
roll, kind, folk

28. The letter [x] is NEVER followed directly by the letter [s]. excited, boxes, expect

29. The letter [s]never says “z” at the beginning of a word. : zoo, zebra

30. Drop one [l] when adding all, full or till to either the beginning or the end of a word.  — awful, until, always, alright

31. The letter combinations [dge], [ck], and [tch] are used only after a single vowel that doesn’t say its long sound. — edge, duck, stitch.
A short vowel can be followed by just a [c], but that is unusual (plastic, picnic),  however a long vowel or double vowel won’t be followed by [dge], [ck], or [tch] (rage, bake, teach).

32. If the letter [y] is not preceded by a vowel, change the [y] to [i] before adding an ending. — pretty >> prettier
This rule applies even if the ending begins with a consonant. —  fly>> flies

33.  When adding the ending “ing” to a word that ends with [y], DON’T change the [y] to [i] — cry>>crying

34. Don’t change [y] to [i] when it is preceded by a vowel. — play >> played

35. Specific names of people, places or things are capitalized.

35. The past-tense suffix [ed] says “d” or “t” after words that do not end in the “d” or “t” sound. —  laughed, baked
If the word ends in the “d” or “t” sound, the [ed] forms a separate syllable and says “ed”. — sledded, batted

36.  In English, the letter [q] is always followed by the letter [u].  Together they say “kw”.  queen, quilt, equal

Rice Bags

As I write this post, it is -13 degrees outside with a wind chill of 32 degrees BELOW zero.  I am hunkered in and very grateful for a warm house and the ability to stay in it today.  A friend was here visiting my boys this weekend and was going back home to Ohio which is under the same deep freeze.  He told me his apartment heater can’t keep up when temperatures go below freezing much less below zero.  I reached in my basket of rice bags and sent one home with him with instructions on how to use it.

blog posts 003

Our rice bag basket – note the mateless toddler sock on top.

Probably about 15 years ago a little girl that was over at our house told me her mom gave her a rice bag when her tummy hurt.  She then proceeded to describe it to me and I MAY have made my first rice bag that very night, or at least very shortly thereafter.  It’s a very simple project.  Sew together two rectangles of COTTON fabric (Cotton doesn’t melt.)  Fill it about ¾ full of rice and stitch it shut.   Microwave this lovey for 2-5 minutes depending on its size.  Now, tuck it in your sheets, lay it on your lap, wrap it around your neck, use it wherever it’s needed.  A 7” x 10” bag heated for 4-5 minutes and tucked under blankets will hold heat for several hours.  It is incredibly comforting to sore tummies and sore muscles.  When you get those way over-tired chills that nothing short of a hot bath will get rid of, a warm rice bag will chase them away.  I’ve made them square, rectangular, long and snaky (great for necks) and in a pinch, I’ve even filled a cotton sock with rice and tied it shut.

Many years after I’d started making rice bags for my family, a friend introduced me to the DELUXE version.  A rice PAD filled with rice, but sewn in little squares and with cloves and allspice berries sprinkled in the rice.  I’m very possessive of my rice pad.  They are a little more difficult to make, but still not too hard.  A nice size is about 15” x 18”.

Erased off Memory Card 300 Erased off Memory Card 299

Here are pictures of a two-faced rice pad I made for my Minecraft-loving great-nephew this past Christmas.

Here’s how to make a rice PAD :

Sew two pieces of fabric together around 3 sides.

Turn down ¼” of top (unstitched side) and stitch edge.

Turn bag right side out then sew columns about every 3 inches.

Put maybe ¾ cup of rice (with a few pieces of whole clove and whole allspice) down each tube.  Pack the rice as tightly as you can then pin across the top of the rice in each tube.  (Stray pieces of rice can break your sewing machine needles.)

Now make a line of stitching about ½” above the pins.

Repeat the process until you reach the top of your tubes.

I like to do a tight zig zag stitch across the top to finish the bag off

rice PAD construction

Other uses for your rice bag:

  • If you store your rice bags in your FREEZER, they make great COLD presses to use for injuries.  (Store them in a heavy Ziplock freezer bag so they don’t pick up freezer smells.)
  • We have used heated rice bags in our cooler to help keep hot dishes hot.  Works great!
  • I have been known to put a hot rice pad beneath platters of food on the table to keep the food warm.
  • Rice bags make great gifts!

Whether you make a rice bag, a rice pad or a rice sock, I hope you give this a try.  Let me know what you think.  Stay warm and cozy this winter.

The Christmas Plan

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OK, let’s be honest.  Holidays demand a lot of Mom.  If you’re not careful, you can easily get buried in all the preparation and miss out on much of the JOY of the Christmas season.  Been there; done that.   When I discovered my Christmas plan it reduced my stress levels by 75%.  Being a rather distractible type, I find it best to assign each week of December a particular focus.  Here’s how it works.

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Week 1 (the week after Thanksgiving) – Focus:  GIFTS

In this week I attempt to get all gifts bought and wrapped.   For me, this generally begins on Black Friday when the women in my family go on an all day shopping adventure.  In a good year, I get 90 % of my shopping done on this day.  That leaves the rest of the week for getting those gifts wrapped and tagged.  Way, WAY better than the days when I would stay up until the wee hours on Christmas Eve wrapping gifts after the kids were in bed.

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Week 2 – Focus: DECORATIONS

This is the week I do my best to turn our home into a magical Christmas environment.  Here’s a tip I learned one year that has made all the difference for me.  To avoid giving your house a cluttered feel, take down a lot of your home’s every day décor and replace it with the Christmas décor.  In the old days Christmas decorations just felt like adding more clutter to my already well-cluttered home.  Now it’s a refreshing break from the every day which makes a welcome return about mid January.  By the way, you can find TONS of Christmas decorations at great prices if you shop garage sales.  I’ve even found several of my St. Nicholas Square buildings this way, often complete with their box and packing Styrofoam.  I also pick up some items from the store at 75% off  in the days following Christmas.

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Week 3 – Focus:  BAKING AND CANDY MAKING

By waiting until week 3, I significantly reduce the number of days I’ll be wolfing down these sweet treats and the cookies will be fresher for the visitors and parties that begin popping up about now.  Below, I will share some of my favorite candy recipes.  Turtles are our specialty and we still work like a well oiled machine when my boys are around to help with assembly.  If all the stars align, I might actually get some plates of goodies put together to share with friends.

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Week 4 – LOOSE ENDS, REST and REFLECTION

Even before I came up with my 4 week plan, I understood that I should shoot to have all preparation completed a week before Christmas.  There has to be some margin and some time to focus on the spiritual side of the holiday.  At this point I change my Christmas music from traditional to Christ-centered.  I might find time to read short Christmas stories or to reread the original Christmas story in the Bible.  I try to find some time to relax, and enjoy some hot chocolate and cookies in the light of the Christmas tree.   We have occasionally also found ways to serve in the community at this point.  But there are still practicalities.  I also use this week to put the house in order.  Some of you are blessed to live in order.  We are not.  It takes a very conscious effort on my part to get there.  Also, while I do focus on completing the tasks in their given week, there are usually a few loose ends that don’t get done.  I try to allow enough time in this week to complete whatever needs completing.

Erased off Memory Card 268Erased off Memory Card 275   There you have it.  Nothing earth shattering, but it has made all the difference to me these last several years that I have applied this system.   Whatever you are doing, you’re likely doing too much.  Ask yourself and your family what really matters and make that your highest priority.  We gave up Christmas cards years ago; our outdoor decorations are pathetically simple; I reduced the varieties of cookies and candies;  homemade gifts seem to have fallen by the wayside.  We do make time to watch Christmas movies, go out with friends,  take in some Christmas concerts.   I don’t do much formal hosting during December – just an open house on the night of the 25th – though we do enjoy when friends just drop by informally.   Let’s go easy on ourselves.  Christmas is not about who can check off the longest to-do list.  It’s about remembering our purpose: to love God and those he gives us.  Be embraced in the love of Jesus.   Have a blessed Christmas.   

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As promised, here are some of our favorite candy recipes.  I don’t make all of these in any given year, but turtles and peanut butter balls are an absolute must.

Cream Cheese Mints

3 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ tsp. peppermint extract
3 c. powdered sugar
food coloring if desired
extra fine granulated sugar

Combine cream cheese and extract.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar with electric mixer until mixture is smooth.  (Knead in the last of the powdered sugar with your hands.)  Knead in food coloring.  Sprinkle candy mold lightly with granulated sugar.  Make small balls and roll in the granulated sugar, then press into mold OR flatten with the bottom of a glass.  LET AIR DRY OVERNIGHT on waxed paper.  Can be frozen up to 1 month.  Makes 6-8 dozen.

Fudge

Place in a large bowl: 

12 oz. Semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla* (or peppermint extract)
1 stick butter, softened

 Place in a heavy kettle:

6 oz. Evaporated milk
10 large marshmallows
2 cups granulated sugar

 Bring to boil stirring constantly.  Boil 6 minutes.  Pour over ingredients in bowl and stir until butter and chocolate chips melt.  Put in greased 8” square pan.  Allow to cool and get firm.

*For an extra special treat, add 1 tsp. of cinnamon to the vanilla extract version.

Peanut Butter Balls

2 c. peanut butter
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
2 c. powdered sugar
¼ c. (½ stick) butter
1- 1½ lb.  Ambrosia brand REAL milk chocolate chunk, melted.

Mix together everything but chocolate.  Form into ¾” balls and place on waked paper on cookie sheets.  Freeze for at least 2 hours (but probably not more than 24 hours unless tightly covered).

Melt chocolate according to package directions. [I melt it in a double boiler, but the microwave works too.]  The important thing is not to get the chocolate too hot.  Before melting, cut off two 1” x 1” chunks and set aside.  After the rest of the chocolate is smoothly melted, remove it from the heat and drop the reserved chunks into the chocolate.  Stir continually until the chunks have melted completely.  This is called tempering and should prevent the chocolate candies from developing a white haze on the top.]

The key here is to keep the peanut butter balls well frozen before dipping; take out only as many pieces as you can effectively work with at a time.  For an experienced “dipper” that might be about 50.   Drop frozen peanut butter balls into melted chocolate one at a time.  Quickly remove with two spoons, making sure it is completely covered with chocolate.  Place on wax-paper lined cookie sheets and allow chocolate to harden for a few hours.  (If you are in a hurry, candies can be hardened in the freezer in about 15 minutes, but hardening on the counter seems to make them less melty.)  Store in tightly sealed container away from heat.

Turtles

 2 – 2 ½ pounds real milk chocolate
1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 lb. pecan halves

 Place unopened can of milk in large kettle well covered with water.  Bring to full boil, then reduce to simmer.  Simmer 3 hours adding water if necessary to make sure can remains well covered with water.  Allow can to cool before opening it to reveal the caramel.

Melt chocolate 1 lb. at a time.  [I melt it in a double boiler, but the microwave works too.  The important thing is not to get the chocolate too hot.  Before melting, cut off two 1” x 1” chunks and set aside.  After the rest of the chocolate is smoothly melted, remove it from the heat and drop the reserved chunks into the chocolate.  Stir continually until the chunks have melted completely.  This is called tempering and should prevent the chocolate candies from developing a white haze on the top.]  Spoon small amount of chocolate onto wax paper and swirl into 2” circles.  Place pecans on chocolate circles.  If pecans are very large, use one whole pecan plus 3 half pecans.

Turtles

Spoon ½ teaspoon caramel onto center of candy.  Cover with melted chocolate sealing caramel in while leaving tips of pecans sticking out.  Freeze for 10 minutes.

This works best as an assembly line.

Assign one person to be the chocolatier.   He makes the 2” chocolate circles then sends the pan around the table.  When it comes back to him, he tops the turtles with chocolate.

Another person or two can place the pecans on the chocolate circles and then pass the pans on to the caramel man.

The caramel man (all my helpers were sons) drops a small dollop of caramel in the center of the pecans, then returns the pan to the chocolatier.

If there are helpers to spare, put one person in charge of running the pans to and retrieving the pans from the freezer.  They can also peel the hardened turtles off the waxed paper and place them in an airtight container.

If you are fortunate enough to have yet another helper, put that one in charge of chocolate melting.  He can melt the next batch of chocolate while the assembly line is using up the previous batch.

If you are doing gift bags, another person can be in charge of filling and tying plastic bags of turtles and then placing them in the gift bags and attaching labels.

Peanut Butter Patties

(The girl scouts have got nothing on us!)

Sandwich peanut butter between two Ritz crackers.  Dip in melted milk chocolate and set on waxed paper to harden.  Yum!

Peanut Clusters

1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 lb. salted peanuts
(may also add in 6 oz. chow mien noodles)

Melt chips.  Stir in peanuts (and noodles) until well coated.  Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper and refrigerate.

Peanut Brittle

1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ c. sugar
1 c. water
1 cup light corn syrup
3 Tbs. butter
1 lb. raw Spanish peanuts

Butter two 12 x 15 cookie sheets.  Keep warm.  Combine soda, vanilla, and 1 tsp. water.  Set aside.

Combine sugar, 1 cup water and corn syrup in large kettle.  Cook over medium hear, stirring occasionally, to 240 degrees.

Stir in butter and peanuts.  Cook, stirring constantly, to 300 º.  DO NOT BURN!  Remove from heat.      IMMEDIATELY stir in soda mixture.  Pour half of mixture onto each warm baking sheet.  Quickly spread as thin as possible.  Cool on counter.  Break into pieces.

Cinnamon Glazed Pecans

1 egg white
1 Tbs. water
1 lb. pecans
¾ c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

In large bowl, eat egg white and water until frothy (not stiff) then dump pecans in mixture and stir to coat well.  Mix cinnamon, salt and sugar in a small bowl, then pour over pecans and stir to coat well.  Spread in a single layer on greased baking sheet at 300°  for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes.  Remove to waxed paper immediately upon taking out of oven or they will get stuck to pan.   Ready to eat after they have cooled for about 5 minutes.

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Melt white or milk chocolate in microwave.  Dip pretzels in chocolate.  Set on waxed paper and freeze 10 minutes.  (This is a great way to use up the extra chocolate after making turtles or peanut butter balls.)

Even Easier Chocolate Pretzels

Buy the circle shaped pretzels.  Line cookie sheet with foil.  Unwrap chocolate kisses (or white hugs) and place one in the hollow center of each pretzel.  Bake at 350° for 3-5 minutes, then flatten with a knife and remove from foil as soon as it is cool enough to handle.  This is made especially interesting if you use the white chocolate/peppermint “hugs” that come out at Christmastime.

If you, like some of my family members, are particular about proportions and would like more pretzel to your chocolate, you can do this same thing using the square “grid” kind of pretzels.  Set kiss on top of one square and after you take it out of the oven, make a sandwich out of it by squishing it with another pretzel square.

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

6-16 oz.  pretzel twists
2/3 cup vegetable oil
½  cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Pour pretzels into a roasting pan. In a medium sized bowl mix together vegetable oil, cinnamon and sugar. Pour over pretzels and stir to coat. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes, removing twice to stir.

Orange Creamsicle Truffles

 Makes 20 truffles

1/4 cup butter
Zest of 1/2 orange
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 tsp orange extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Red and yellow food coloring (optional)

Pour white chocolate chips into a mixing bowl, set aside. Melt butter along with orange zest in a small saucepan. Stir in cream and scald mixture. Pour hot cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve over white chocolate chips and using a rubber spatula press zest against sieve to release orange oils into mixture. Allow mixture to rest 1 minute, add orange extract and optional food coloring to white chocolate chip mixture then stir until smooth.

Cover mixture and refrigerate 2 hours or until firm enough to handle. Scoop mixture out by heaping teaspoonfuls and form into balls then roll in powdered sugar. Freeze truffles 20 minutes then enjoy.

Store truffles in refrigerator as they will soften at room temperature or freeze for up to 1 month.

My Thanksgiving Plan

For most of my childhood, Thanksgiving (as well as  Christmas, Easter and Mothers’ Day) meant going to the local all-you-can-eat-buffet with my parents, siblings, grandparents, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom’s side.  We looked forward to these events every time.  I felt we were lucky to be able to go out to eat on holidays — that is, until I met my husband’s family and experienced a home cooked Thanksgiving meal.  I fell in love with this holiday tradition.  For years I glided along, being invited to my in-laws, and eventually my sister-in-law took on the tradition.  But time moves on.  Lives change.  Eventually, the day came when Dennis decided we should have our own Thanksgiving dinner – just he, me and the boys (ranging in age from like 2-10 at the time).  I had never cooked a turkey, but, I was willing to give it a try.  Now, I’d like to say we had a warm and wonderful time preparing the meal all together, but that isn’t exactly how it went. 

That first year I worked alone in the kitchen. Dennis and the boys watched football; I had a little pity party.  I missed being with the bigger family.  The following year, I made sure to have a 4 hour movie on hand which I enjoyed on a small TV on the counter while I made the dinner.  By the 3rd year, the movie was replaced by an audio book.  At this point I started kind of enjoying my cook-all-day and enjoy-a-good-book while the guys bonded over football  kind of Thanksgiving tradition.

Over the years, I polished my methods and began to take pride in the dinner I presented, eventually feeling comfortable enough to make this meal for extended family as well.  Now, making the Thanksgiving meal is something which brings me great pleasure and I am grateful that I was forced to learn how to do it.

Being who I am, I had to develop a plan.  So, at the risk of being considered neurotic, I am going to share with you my schedule, along with the recipes.  Perhaps this is your first time making the Thanksgiving meal, or maybe you might be looking for some new recipes or are trying to figure out how to manage all the steps. Or maybe, you, like me,would  just like to have everything in one place. If nothing else, it might give you pleasure to glance at my schedule and shake you head at what a nut I am.  Use whatever works for you.

Making recipes from scratch is my preference.  (Though I used canned cranberry sauce.) Obviously there are lots of shortcuts that can be taken to lighten up the schedule.  I’m giving you my recipes and the schedule as an example.  Adjust it to whatever works for your family. 

Three things I’ve learned that make everything more manageable:  Mashing potatoes is a bit of a timing issue.  You have to mash them right when they’re just soft enough.  Letting the potatoes sit in the water too long (or even draining, but not mashing, if my memory serves me) makes them get really pasty.  Mashing them while you’re trying to pull all the last-minute preparations into place is a real nuisance.  My solution – mash them 1-3 hours before the turkey is done and transfer them to a crock pot to keep warm.  The other thing I do to free up my oven is cook the turkey in a Nesco (plug-in roaster/oven).  I get a big bird (about 20 pounds)  and sometimes it barely fits in there, so that’s something to keep in mind.  Also, you don’t get that nice golden skin on top, but you DO get really moist turkey and a freed-up oven – a good trade-off in our opinion.  I’ve found stuffing the bird to be a lot of mess and waste, so I throw and onion and some celery in the bird’s cavity to help flavor and moisten the meat and put the stuffing in a casserole dish and bake it.  Look below for my schedule and recipes.

BONUS THANKSGIVING IDEAS

  • My siblings and I decided many years ago that we would “give” Thanksgiving DINNER to the in-laws.  Each of us eats with our in-laws, or now our growing individual families, but in the evening my side of the family gathers together at one of our houses for a dessert buffet followed by cards and board games.  It’s a great tradition that alleviates the pressure of trying to be at two different places for the Thanksgiving meal.  Plus it allows the forty or more of us to get together without overburdening the hostess.  Whoever is up to it brings a dessert to share and there’s always plenty.
  • Here’s anther fun idea.  Have each person write down 5 things they are thankful for.  Throw all the papers in a basket and read them off one paper at a time.  Try to guess who wrote each paper.
  • Alternatively, keep a Jar of Thankfulness all year long.  Have family members write down throughout the year (or just for the month of November if that works better) different things that fill them with gratitude and place them in a jar.  Read through the jar over your Thanksgiving dinner.
  • A friend of mine, who is much more ambitious than I, made several pilgrim costumes which her younger children would dress in for the Thanksgiving meal.  I love this idea and have visions of doing this for my grandchildren someday though I haven’t followed through on it yet.  Maybe someday we’ll just make that the theme and have adults and children come in costume.  I can dream, can’t I?
  • Give the children lots of Thanksgiving words and words that rhyme with them and have them create and recite a poem for the family.

However you spend Thanksgiving, may your day be filled with gratitude to God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon you.

Jordan Carves the Turkey

Thanksgiving Menu

Turkey (1/2 – ¾  lb. per person)
Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy
Honey Kissed Acorn Squash
Corn
Orange
Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Whole Berry Cranberry Relish
Biscuits
Dennis’ Jello
Spiced Apples
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie

Thanksgiving Cooking Schedule (Recipes to follow)

Night Before

Make Jello

Make Pies

 

6-7 hours before dinner:

Place onion and celery in cavity of a fresh or thawed, rinsed turkey, rub turkey with oil, sprinkle with Lawry’s Salt and place (breast side up) in Nesco at 325°*

Put Giblets on to boil along with an onion, celery, 2 carrots, salt and pepper

[ * Baste Turkey about every 1/2 hour or so.  Figure on cooking for about 20 minutes per pound.  Turkey is done when meat thermometer, inserted in thickest part of breast, reads 185°.]

5 hours before:

Make Stuffing; place in greased casserole and chill.

Peel Potatoes and place in cold water

 

4 hours before

Boil washed, but unpared Sweet Potatoes

Prepare Glaze for Sweet Potatoes

Assemble Sweet Potatoes (except marshmallows) and chill

 

3 hours before

Quarter Potatoes , bring to boil, boil about 20 minutes  until mushy

Assemble Green Bean Casserole then keep chilled

Whip Potatoes  with butter, salt and milk, and put in Crock Pot on low

 

2 hours before

Make spiced apples

Prepare Squash and Filling

 

1 hour before

Bake Squash

Put Beans in Oven

Put Stuffing in Oven

Make Gravy and place in small crock pot to keep warm or keep chilled until needed.

 

45 minutes before

Fill Squash and return to oven

Sweet Potatoes and Apples  in oven

 

30 minutes before

Prepare Biscuits

Top Beans with Onions and Take cover off  of Stuffing

Put Corn on to Boil

 

15 minutes before

Take all casseroles out

Put Biscuits in oven

Take Turkey out to carve

Place cranberries in dish and place on table

 IT’S SHOWTIME!

Thanksgiving Recipes

Dennis’ Jello

1  6-oz. pkg. orange jell-o
1   3-oz. pkg. cherry jell-o
2   11-oz. cans mandarin oranges (or 15 oz. crushed pineapple)
1   20-oz. can crushed pineapple, chilled

Dissolve orange jell-o in 1 c. boiling water.  Add undrained oranges to jell-o.  Set in refrigerator to cool until slightly thickened.  Stir occasionally.  When jell-o thickens enough that fruit doesn’t all float to top, pour it into a slightly oiled mold and allow to set overnight.

Dissolve cherry Jell-o in 1 c. boiling water.  Add undrained pineapple. Pour this layer over orange layer.  Allow to set at least several hours.  Invert mold onto plate when ready to serve.

Pie Crust

1 tsp. salt
2 c. flour
2/3 c. Crisco brand vegetable shortening
6 Tbs. water

Cut salt, flour and shortening together with a pastry cutter until crumbly.  Add just enough water to make dough soft.  Mix with fingers just long enough to blend and make dough stick together.  (Over-handling will make a tougher crust.)

Divide dough in half and roll out to desired size (about 2 inches beyond the diameter of the pie plate).  Gently fold in quarters and lift to pie plate.  Carefully unfold and fill or crimp.

Makes a top and bottom for a 9” pie.

Pumpkin Pie

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin
12 oz. evaporated milk
2 eggs
¾ c. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Single (unbaked) pie crust

Blend all ingredients and pour into crust.  (Make high edges on crust – you will fill it.)  Bake at 425° for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350º  and bake 40-50 minutes longer.  Knife inserted in center should come out clean.

Pecan Pie

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 c. light or dark corn syrup
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ c. pecan halves
1 – 9 inch unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350º.  Stir together everything but the pecans, until well blended.  Stir in the pecans and pour into the pie shell.   Bake 50-55 minutes until knife inserted halfway between center and edge of pie comes out clean.

 

Beth’s Turkey Stuffing

12-14 oz. Pkg. Dry unseasoned bread cubes
3-4 c. chicken or turkey broth (See “to make stock” below)
1 med. or large onion chopped
8-9 stalks of celery (with the leaves), chopped
1 c. butter
2 tsp. crushed sage
1 ½ tsp. thyme
¼- ½ tsp. black pepper
1-2  tps.  salt

Sauté celery, onion and spices in the  butter until tender.  Toss in large bowl with bread cubes.  Stir in broth.  Place in buttered casserole dish. And bake at  350º for 30 minutes covered, then uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more.

Gravy:

To make stock:  Simmer several celery stalks, 2 pared carrots, 1 onion, 2 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, turkey neck and package of giblets in 2 ½ quarts of water for 1 ½ – 2 hours

To make giblet gravy:  Strain stock and set aside for gravy.  Place stewed vegetables and giblets in blender.  Pick meat off of neck and add to blender being sure not to get any bone.  Add about 1 c. stock to blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add back to stock.  [Optionally, add sliced, cooked mushrooms to gravy.]

Bring 1 quart of strained stock to boiling.  Put ½ c. flour in
1 c. cold waterand shake to smooth consistency.  Whisk into broth slowly.  Add   1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper.  Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thick and bubbly.


Orange Glazed Sweet Potatoes

6 sweet potatoes (yams)
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. grated orange peel
1 cup orange juice
2 Tbs. butter
1 c. mini marshmallows

Wash potatoes, but don’t pare.  Place them in a pot and cover with water.  (Add 1 tsp. salt for every cup of water.) Bring to boil, then boil for about 30 minutes until tender.  Cool with cold water, then peel skin away.  (It come off very easily.)  Slice in chunks and put in 2-3 qt. casserole dish.

Place sugars, salt, orange peel, butter and ¾ c. orange juice in sauce pan.  Whisk cornstarch into remaining ¼ c. orange juice until smooth.  Add cornstarch mixture to sugar mixture whisk together.  Heat on medium heat, stirring continually until thickened.  Pour hot juice mixture over potatoes in the dish.  May refrigerate at this point.

Sprinkle marshmallows over top of potatoes.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes until marshmallows are golden.

(Marshmallows could also be mixed into potatoes before baking.)

 

Green Bean Casserole

12  oz. package of frozen green beans
1 – 10 ¾ oz. can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup
¾ c. milk
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. pepper
1 can French fried onion rings

Blend milk and Worcestershire sauce and pepper with soup.   Stir in half of the onion rings.   Stir frozen beans into this mixture and pour into buttered casserole dish.  Bake, covered at 350 º for 30 minutes.  Top with remaining onion rings and bake15 minutes MORE, uncovered.

Spiced Apples

½ c. raisins (option:  Soak raisins in Amaretto for a couple hours ahead of time,)
4-5 apples of assorted varieties, pared and sliced thickly
½ c. orange juice
½ c. water
1/3 c. sugar
2 Tbs. lemon juice
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutme
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. flour
2 Tbs. butter

Bring everything but flour and butter to boil and simmer to desired tenderness.  (Drain raisins before adding.) Remove 1/3 cup of liquid and set aside to cool slightly.  Stir butter into apple mixture.  Whisk flour into cooled liquid until smooth.  Add to apple mixture and heat until thickened.  Serve warm.

Buttermilk Biscuits

½ c. shortening
1 ½  c. buttermilk

DRY INGREDIENTS:
4 c. flour
2 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt

Sift or whisk dry ingredients together.  Cut shortening into dry ingredients.  Add buttermilk and mix with fork. Knead dough a few times on floured counter until easily handled.  (Only long enough to have dough hold together.  Over-kneading makes for tough biscuits.) Pat out in circle to about ½” – ¾“ thickness.  Cut with small glass or bisuit cutter.  Place on lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 450° for about 10 minutes – until lightly browned.  (14 large biscuits)

Honey Kissed Acorn Squash

2 acorn squashs, halved and seeded
8 oz. crushed pineapple, drained
¼ c. chopped pecans
¼ c. sweetened dried cranberries
¼ c. plus 2 Tbs. honey
¼ c. butter, melted
Optional: ground nutmeg

Bake squash cut side up, uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine pineapple, pecans, cranberries, honey and butter.  Scoop mixture into center of each squash.  Return to oven for another 30 minutes.  Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.