Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef and Veggies

It pains me to waste food. I make sure that precious little gets thrown out in our house. So when I was making coffee this morning and saw the "priced to move" piece of meat I had bought yesterday, I knew I needed to get it cooked today so it would not be lost. I also had a handful of produce that was all still okay, but on the verge of unusable. Enter the slow cooker.

I adore my slow cooker and use it year-round. It doesn't heat up the kitchen, it requires very little clean-up, and I am able to put dinner together in the morning when I'm feeling energetic and have it ready in the evening when I might otherwise think, "let's all just eat a bowl of cereal." Because we definitely have a bowl of cereal for dinner sometimes.

Here's what went into to the crock:

One single-serve Mott's Granny Smith Applesauce
A slab of boneless beef (approx 1lb)
A dousing of herbs de provence
Two yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1/3 of a package of celery, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
10 carrots, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces

I set the slow cooker on low and went about my day. Approximately 5 hours later, I got this text from Chris: "Crockpot smells good!!" And when Pip and I got home from a full day, about 9 hours after the cooking began, we sliced a tomato to go with it, and dinner was served. It was delicious! 

There were some leftovers. If they're not eaten for lunch in the next day or two, I'll prepare some corn on the cob or potatoes to fill out the meal and we'll enjoy them again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Homeschool Record Keeping

I eased into homeschooling during Pip's preschool years. Not only did it give me the confidence to go forward with it, but it also gave me the opportunity to toy around with different methods of record keeping. I was glad to have that time, because during those early years I figured out my favorite method of planning and recording our lessons. You can find more about my method here.

As we began her kindergarten year, though, I wanted to make sure that I was keeping up with all information required by the state. We're in Kentucky; if you're here, too, the state's Department of Education homeschool information packet is published here.

At the end of our academic year, I laid out everything I had been saving in a plastic tub since last August. This included math and science workbooks, art projects, assignments brought home from co-op, performance and recital programs, award certificates, weekly and monthly calendars I had created throughout the year, and photos. I went through piece by piece and decided what was pertinent to keep and what was being recycled.

This is what I saved. I probably recycled two to three times this amount. 

All weekly and monthly calendars made the cut. They serve as a record of attendance, and outline our daily lessons and activities in detail.

I selected several pages from Pip's math workbook and one full unit from her science workbook that are good examples of her work. I chose about five writing samples, and a pretty big pile of artwork. (I do love kids' artwork, and especially my child's!)

I kept all Pip's award certificates, performance programs, and any documentation of participation in special events. I also went through the digital photos I had been taking all year and created a collage for each month. (I waited until I had a credit from Shutterfly and then ordered them all at once--I love their customer appreciation perks!)

Although I was feeling pretty good about this collection of information, I consulted the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website for their recommendations about what records to keep for younger students. To complete my summary of the year, I created a document that included the following suggested items:

- materials and memberships used
- extra-curricular activities
- limited participation activities
- projects, awards, and achievements
- life skills acquired
- field trips taken
- volunteer experiences

Some of these items may not apply to all students at such a young age, but I intend to use this year's record as a template for the coming years and I thought it better to include them than not.

Following the HSLDA recommendation I also included a copy of Pip's birth certificate and immunization records.

When everything was compiled, it fit neatly into a single manila folder. I might put it into a cute binder at some point in the future, just for fun, but for now, it's a tidy complete record and readily available if I need it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Favorite Sale: Old Navy

Thrift and consignment stores are my favorite places to go for clothing for my family of three. I enjoy the hunt, and I can often find garments for each of us that are in new or like new condition. More on that another time.

Outlet stores can be great, too. But that's not what I want to talk about today.

For the items I prefer to purchase first hand, Old Navy is one of my favorite places to shop. Their clothes are current and fun, and their sales can be amazing.

Take last weekend's haul, for example. I was in the Carolinas, and I stopped by Old Navy in Spartanburg. It happened to be a big sale where everything in the store was marked down, but I made a beeline for the girls' clearance racks. I entered the store with a $5 off coupon from a previous purchase and I was determined to spend it before it expired.

Pip is growing like a weed, and swimsuits are something I like to buy new. She had a few odd and end pieces--mix and match options are her favorites--and I hit the jackpot with this sale. All the swim items that I selected were already marked down because they were "missing pieces" or "online exclusives," but then they were an additional 50% off. The shirt was thrown in because my sister in law found a coordinating one for my niece and we thought that was just fun.

The total I paid for these 5 items was $10.76. The receipt says I saved $5 because of my coupon. But the original retail of the items (if I calculate the bottoms as half the price of their 2-piece swim suits, since they're not normally available alone) was nearly $64. That's a savings of approximately 85%. Another way to look at it is that it cost just over $2 per piece. That's a great value for items that I know will be worn until they are worn out.

Old Navy has these giant sales every once in a while. I accidentally walked into this one, but I was glad that I did.

Disclaimer: If you look closely at the receipt you'll see that this purchase was charged to a Gap credit account. We do not live on credit, and I am not encouraging anyone to open a credit card, particularly a store credit card. This is an account that Chris and I opened years ago, when we were planning to buy several garments from Gap (we were enticed by the discount we got on the first purchase). This is one store account that we never closed; there's no fee, we pay it off any month that we use it, and we receive rewards for shopping at the Gap family of stores, which I do every few months.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lessons (Un)Planned

I started Pip's kindergarten year thinking I needed a lesson planned for every subject, every day, all ready to go at the beginning of each week. While this certainly works for some families, it did not work for us. What I learned over the first couple of months was that if I had a general idea of what I wanted to cover, and had the materials for the week readily available, we would eventually get to it all by the end of the week. Or we wouldn't, and it would be pushed to the next week. By allowing myself and Pip more fluidity--one of the perks of homeschooling--we found a great rhythm, and she was excited to do what she was enthusiastic about at the moment. What kid--or adult--isn't?

As we enter her first grade year, I will continue using the planning and record-keeping method that seemed to best fit our situation last year. At the beginning of each week, I make notes of any subjects I intend for us to discuss, gathering reference books, noting page numbers, bookmarking websites, finding videos, scheduling related outings, and compiling any other hands-on materials. As we progress through our learning time, I use a chart like the one below to make notes of what we actually complete each day. I use the bottom portion to record her sports, lessons, activities, field trips, and any other learning-related events during the week.

At the end of the week, I type up my handwritten notes. This gives me an opportunity to reflect on what we've done and see what items will be carried over to the following week. It also gives me a neat record of what we've covered. At the end of our academic year, I will have prepared documentation of all completed lessons as the basis of my annual summary. Here's a completed week from this past year.

This system is likely to evolve as Pip gets older, but for now, it's a great fit.