Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Slow Cooker Russian Beef and Potatoes

Reasons I love my Crock Pot:
- I can prepare a healthy dinner in the morning when I've got the focus and energy.
- Whoever is home while it's cooking enjoys the aroma of slow-roasted food.
- Most or all parts of the meal being prepared in one location means fewer dishes to clean up.

Reason I love my Crock Pot even more on Tuesday:
- I appreciate being greeted by a ready meal when I return home from what I know will be a full day.

I'm hard pressed to think of a day that I don't like to get dinner planned and prepped early. But days like today, when I'm looking at a calendar that includes a homeschool co-op meet-up, a fall festival, gymnastics class, and a trip to the store for Halloween candy and costume supplies, I know that by the time I get home, I will not find great joy in making dinner. This is a bummer because I really do like to cook for my little family.

Because my kitchen is not currently stocked with many fresh veggies, today is a super simple slow-cooker day. I'm going with the most basic items: meat and potatoes. When I return home this evening, I'll toss a bag of frozen California mixed vegetables on the stove top to steam, and we'll have a quickly prepared, colorful, and tasty dinner.

Here's what's going into the slow cooker this morning:
1.5 lbs small baking potatoes, whole
1/4 cup butter
1 lb boneless beef sirloin
A heavy sprinkling of Penzeys Tsar Dust Memories Russian Style Seasoning

(This is approximately double the amount of butter I typically use in the slow cooker, but it's also about half the vegetables that I typically put in, so I want to make sure there are enough juices.)

This is going to be good.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Homemade Halloween Costume: Pippi Longstocking

We love making homemade costumes! We put them together for Halloween, occasional conventions, and, sometimes, theme parties. It's always a team effort.

Our crew:

Pip - the one who will be wearing the costume. She's responsible for choosing what character she wants to portray, assisting with shopping for materials, standing patiently for fittings, and not complaining about how long it takes to achieve whatever hairstyle the costume requires.

Mimi - the seamstress. I used to ask my mom to "help me" with the sewing portions of the costume. Now I am more realistic and I ask, "would you be willing to sew this?" She's pretty great about it, especially considering the random materials I sometimes bring her and that oftentimes she's creating a look without a pattern.

Chris - the sculptor and builder. He handles much of the detail work and anything that needs to be sculpted or painted (armor, amulets, shields, props, masks, etc).

Me - the gatherer and the hairstylist. I am often the one hunting in thrift stores and discount bins for the items needed to make the pieces, and making sure we stick to the budget of "as close to $0 as possible." When it's costume day, I'm the one helping Pip get dressed and doing hair.

Her costume for this year is currently in the works, but here's a peek at last year's look: Pippi Longstocking.

At the time, she loved the Pippi movies from the late 60s/early 70s so that was our inspiration.

Here's what we used, and where we got our materials:
Walmart - white tennis shoes, white cotton tights, small piece of checkered fabric, Rit dye in orange and green

Thrift store - women's pale green shirt, women's orange ribbed sweater, child's bloomers, striped baby swaddling blanket

Halloween store - comb-in hair dye

Our closet - wire hanger, sheet gripper, brown Sharpie marker, hair elastics, wire cutters or needle nose pliers

Chris cut the tights into very long socks. He then mixed up the orange and green Rit dyes according to package directions and dyed one each color. Rather than dipping the shoes, he took the laces out and painted one with each of the dye colors. When Pip put on the costume, we made sure the socks and shoes were opposites, and we used one sheet gripper to attach a sock to her bloomers to look like a single garter.

The green shirt remained as it was, and served as the basis for the dress. Mimi cut three patches out of an orange ribbed sweater for the front and back of the dress (you can see just a sliver of one in this photo). She then cut the swaddling blanket into an apron that crossed in the back and sewed that together, adding the checkered pockets afterward.

My job of turning Pip's hair red was more of a chore than I expected. When I finally got it combed through fairly evenly, I had to work quickly as the type of temporary hair color that we had purchased started to stiffen up after a few moments. I had already cut the straight bottom piece out of a wire hanger using the wire cutter on my needle nose pliers, and Chris held it across the back of Pip's head while I braided each side of her hair around it. After both braids were secured with elastics, I trimmed the end of the wire so that it didn't extend farther than her hair--I didn't want any other kids to walk into it on accident! Finally, Chris dotted some freckles on her face, neck, and arms with the Sharpie.

This costume turned out to be quite affordable, and very cute. Most importantly, Pip loved it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Homeschooling and Pen Pals

Last year, when Pip had just turned six and was starting to read on her own, my sister-in-law had the fantastic idea of teaching our daughters how to be pen pals. It was an easy sell since they were already best friends who had lived in the same city until not too long before. It was great writing and reading practice for both of them, and the letters they wrote back and forth, telling each other about the things going on in their daily lives, were absolutely precious.

She sweetened the deal with a pen pal box that she wrapped for Pip for Christmas. It was self-contained, and completely full of everything a kiddo might want for letter writing. Pip went nuts for it.

This year, writing to a pen pal is part of our weekly lesson routine. Pip currently has four--all cousins and friends in other states--so it usually works out to writing one letter to a different pal each week, each month. Sometimes, she has received a response by the time a pal's name comes back around, and sometimes she hasn't, and either way, it's totally ok.

If you would like to create a pen pal box for your child, or as a gift for another child, here is a list of items that have proven useful or fun or both. You can easily customize a box to fit a child's personality and interests. It's super simple, inexpensive, and so much fun!
- Box (Pip's is a decorative photo box from a craft store, but a shoe box would work just as well)
- Colorful stationery
- Pens and pencils
- Stickers
- First class postage stamps
- Return address labels for the recipient (Shutterfly sometimes offers them as a free gift!)


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Homeschooling and Zoo Membership

A zoo membership is something that we utilize year round. When the weather is nice, we enjoy the outdoor exhibits. When it's really hot, or really cold, or raining, or whatever, we venture indoors.

Because we know that we can come back whenever we'd like, there's no pressure to "see everything." There have been times that we stopped by to visit just a few exhibits. I remember at least one trip where we only went to the playground.

Besides free entry any time we want to go, our membership to Nashville Zoo also gives us free or reduced entry for a number of other zoos and aquariums. If you have or are considering buying a membership to any zoo or aquarium, see if they're a member of the AZA--the benefits might surprise you. 

Budget suggestion: if grandparents are asking what you or your children would like for an upcoming birthday or holiday, memberships that you can use all year make a great gift!