Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Menu Planning

A few weeks ago a friend asked me to explain my menu planning system, so here goes. First a little history...

My mom was blind so I started doing a lot of the family cooking when I was in high school. I think it was her that taught me to figure out what we would eat for a week, then make a list so that we weren't going to the store every other day and getting stuff we wouldn't use. I did that system when I got married and up until the birth of our 3rd blessing, Dasher. That's when I realized that the day I would sit down to figure out what we were eating was always a tough one and I had one of those days every week. So I switched to doing a menu planning/shopping day every two weeks. This worked good, but I still couldn't just visit the store only twice a month because we like fresh vegetables and milk. So I was still at the store once a week but menu planning every two weeks. Enter child #4 and that much more laundry, homeschooling and housework. At that point I had toyed with the idea of doing a massive monthly shopping/meal list but her birth definitely pushed me that way and that is when it started.

So what I do is this: First step, jot down what things we would like to eat each night. (I only plan out dinners. Breakfast is most always cereal, granola or toast, lunch is leftovers or sandwiches. Easy peasy.) I start thinking of things a few days before The Big Shopping Day. Sometimes it is a recipe I see on Tasty Kitchen, or one that a friend gave me or a child's request. Since I don't like pressure, I usually sit down the day before and figure out the menu. I write down all the days, having my calendar nearby so I can see if we have been invited to dinner, are having a church function or something else that would make dinner unique a certain night. Some days I plan for certain things; Fridays are usually pizza nights, Wednesdays with co-op are crock pot nights and Saturdays are sometimes fun food. To help me, I have made a list of family favorite meals that are in a Word document and I turn to this when my brain starts freezing up.

As you can see I also plan all the side dishes I would have that night too. I also tell where the recipe is found...CL means Cooking Light and JOC means Joy of Cooking. I list the magazine issue and page number to make it real easy on me.

After the menu is complete I start at the beginning and work my way down, looking at each recipe and ingredient list. I have two lists I am making, my Monthly Main List and my Weekly List. I make shopping lists for Costco, Winco, Trader Joes and Target on the Monthly Main List. For the first week of the menu everything goes on the Monthly Main.

Then when I get to the second week of the menu I only put things on the Monthly Main that are non perishable, and then start my Weekly List with the perishable things I need to buy. I always go shopping on Fridays, so every Friday is the start of a new 'week' on my menu and shopping list. On this list I might put what the item is for in parenthesis; bread can mean french, sandwich, baguette or rolls, so I make sure it is clear. (My Weekly List is in my purse, hence the folded paper below.)

I have a master shopping list on Word that lists everything we buy with regularity, toothpaste, baking powder, shaving cream, bird seed.....etc. I check our supplies and put on the Monthly Main List things that we are low on. I also have on the side of the fridge an ongoing list that, when someone notices that we are low on something, they write it there and then I know to stick it on the list.

So the picture-perfect way it should go is like this: I spend a day or two visiting those 4 stores, buying all non-perishables I need plus the fruits and veggies for that week. Then each Friday I pull my handy Weekly List out of my purse and buy what is on that for the week, usually at Trader Joe's and Winco. I add to that list through the week; if we need an extra gallon of milk, or if the kids ate all the Costco goldfish the first week (which happens more than I like).

As you can see above on my menu, I like to cook and I like to experiment on my family. (I am not sure how those Grilled Tomato and Brie Sandwiches will go over with the kids, but my Sweetie and I will probably love them.) This system can work even if you don't like to vary from the 10-14 dishes you might prepare for your family; just make out the top portion of your monthly menu, then repeat the recipes in the second half. And a lot of times I do all the menu planning, get to all the stores, and then the next week realize I forgot that very important can of chipotle peppers that has to go into the chili. So I do have emergency store trips, but not too often.

This was overwhelming the first few months I did this and I would spread the entire process over 3 or 4 days. But now I can usually do the menu/list planning in the morning, then hit the stores and see how far I can get. We usually get 3 stores in that afternoon, then one more the next day. But the best thing about this is that I only have to do this 12 times a year and that makes it totally worth it for me.

I would love to hear what you all do or if you have any suggestions for me. I am always looking to improve how I do it....

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That there are bugs crawling on me! Just kidding....we have noticed at night these roundish, flying, small bugs on our windows; attracted to the light. So this morning, Bookworm captured one for me in a plastic cup and I was trying to identify it on the internet. I couldn't really find it, but I do think that it is in the Hemiptera class and Homoptera order....I am not sure how that information is going to help me get rid of them though. But 15 minutes of looking online while hearing this bug frantically fly into the walls of the plastic cup has given me the heeby-jeebies....

What I'm reading:
Record books. I was proofing the kids record books all last week and then helping to judge our clubs' books yesterday.....and the Iliad is almost done. And by the way, all three older kids got gold on their record books!

What I'm listening to:
Early morning chatter going on upstairs and the air conditioning already coming on. It's going to be another hot one today.

What we're learning:
Our last week of formal school! We'll be wrapping up a couple of history assignments we missed last week due to the record book rush, finish the last unit in Total Language Plus and review the first 22 questions in the Shorter Catechism.

What I'm watching:
My Sweetie and I watched both the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum this last weekend. My favorite out of all three? Ultimatum.

What's cooking:
Tomorrow I am making a new dish called Pasta with Greens and Beans. I think I picked it because I like the name.

What I'm buying:
I'm happy that we finally found a freezer off of Craigslist that we were looking for.

What I'm thankful for:
My precious children that make me laugh everyday. Almost everyday. :-)

What I'm creating: I'm helping the children create 3-5 pound rabbits. To be in the market competition at the State Fair, they have to be between that weight. So the weighing and monitored feeding begins....

What I'm praying:
That I would find my true joy in Christ alone.

What I'm planning:
For friends to come over this afternoon after school for swimming!

What we did this last weekend: Sunday we heard a sermon from one of our missionaries who is on furlough from China, we had our first church picnic of the summer on the hottest day so far this summer (103 degrees), I judged record books then we finished the day at a friends house for munchies and fellowship.

What I'm looking forward to:
This weekend is our annual 4th of July party with friends....staying up late, games, volleyball and swimming. Our plans for the actual 4th are up in the air and then my Sweetie gets next Monday off. Yay!!

A picture to share:

~Dasher, making a splash.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Many Faces of Fair

In the last 3 weeks we have been to two County Fairs and our State Fair starts in 2 1/2 weeks. So Fair things have been on my mind and on my camera's memory card so bear with me and this post.

Before this year I was not really a Fair person. The admission can be pricey, the rides are basically carnival rides that are 4-5$ each (!) and after we had walked around aimlessly for an hour or two I was ready to go home. But that was before our involvement in 4-H. This seriously opened a whole new window into the world of Fair; quilts, guinea pigs, cakes, cookies, place settings (I didn't even know that competition existed), eggs and sheep are all on showcase and are judged. I also found that is doesn't cost that much if you buy your ride wristbands/tickets in advance and bring most of your food in.

Fair is many things.....

It is having a friend to go on a ride with just so you can hang onto them for dear life. (See Dasher next to her friend in the blue shirt?)

It is having a sticky, cool treat on a hot day with friends.

It is watching the sheep showmanship competition and trying to figure out what the judge is looking for.

It is having a stroller to fall asleep in.

It is getting to participate in a watermelon eating contest and getting watermelon juice all over your shirt.

It is having a grandma that goes on rides with you.

It is loving on your rabbit.

It is hanging out with your friends and being silly.

It is having a grandpa to go on rides with you.

It is being tall enough to go on the bumper cars.

It is getting to see some really pretty chickens.

It is ALL about the food.....
Cool watermelon.....

Fried zucchini.....

And those awesome funnel cakes which, like my friend said, you should only eat once every 10 years or so.

We are still not done; State Fair is coming up soon, but our family, as you can see, has had such a fun time so far this year at the fair.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That our rabbits eat a ton! I have to go out and buy another 150 pounds of feed today....

What I'm reading:
I am almost done with the Iliad, but I am not sure when I will finish it. This week looks like it is going to be a busy one...

What I'm listening to:
Bookworm playing the piano and singing.

What we're learning:
This week we are finishing vol. 1 of our history with the death and resurrection of Christ and learning about Cephalopods (octopus and squid) in science. But the big thing this week is the 4-H record books. These are due this weekend.

What I'm watching:
We don't belong to Netflix or have cable so the main way we get DVD's to watch is from the library. This last week I found Far and Away and we watched that on Friday.

What's cooking:
I'm making a new recipe called Mediterranean Chicken that looks really yummy.

What I'm buying: I'm doing research for a photo editing program; any of my photography friend have any recommendations?

What I'm thankful for: My Sweetie; he is such a great provider, loving husband and great dad.

What I'm creating: Ice cream this afternoon in our ice cream maker...I am trying to decide between Peaches and Cream or Chocolate Chip Vanilla.....or maybe both!

What I'm praying: That I will not let my children's sin and shortcomings irritate me; but to continue to have grace and gently disciple them.

What I'm planning:
To edit all the pictures I took last week at the fair.

What we did this last weekend: Saturday we went for a nice long bike ride with all the kids; our town here has great bike trails. Then Sunday afternoon we had friends over for swimming, Scattegories and fellowship.

What I'm looking forward to:
The older two kids have play practice this week and then we have our first church picnic this Sunday after church.

A picture to share:

~Nutsy enjoying an ice cream cone at the fair last week.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our School Year in Review

The 2009-2010 school year is winding down for us. We do continue to formally school through the middle of July, but this is the time when I evaluate how our year went and make decisions for next year. And since I always appreciate hearing everyone's opinion about homeschooling resources, I thought you could listen in while I had these conversations with myself. :-)

Mystery of History Vol 1. - I really, really liked this. A very biblical view of history with cumulative reviews every week. And for the first time, we were faithful to fill in a time line this year; using this one here that I wrote a review about for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Balancing the Sword - We read a chapter of the Bible in the morning when we begin school then read a chapter the nights we have family worship. We started in Genesis 1 in October and have just finished Deuteronomy. I really enjoyed the questions that were in the book and the discussions it caused our family to have.

Westminster Shorter Catechism - I only started this in January with the goal of doing one question a week so at the time of this writing we are on question #21. I am using Training Hearts, Teaching Minds by Starr Meade that we read together that really helps to expand the answers. The older two are memorizing the answers as we go while the younger ones listen in and do their best.

Total Language Plus - Last school year we did a heavy grammar year using Shurley English, so this was a good year to do a program that didn't focus so much on grammar. And that is my one complaint about TLP, it is missing some meaty grammar. But we really loved having spelling and vocabulary words be the same and also pulled from a great book we were reading for literature. The books we did this year were Caddie Woodlawn, The Bronze Bow and The Whipping Boy.

Simply Grammar - I knew going into this year that TLP was not going to teach enough grammar so we started the school year with this book. I did not finish it. In the beginning it was moving along at a good pace, but for my kids it began to move too quickly and the exercises were becoming too frustrating so we stopped in December. I did like the format of the book though.

Apologia Science - We did the Zoology 2 book, Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day.This was the first time we have done formal science and I really loved it. This is not a mamby-pamby science book; it seriously gets in-depth about God's creation, but in such a way that younger children can use it too. I am researching which title to possibly do next year.

Story Starters - I didn't use this resource as much as I thought I would; we had more writing assignments in history then I had planned on, which was fine with me. But I really love this book; it is a great way to get reluctant writers to write.

Math U See - Love, love, love Math U See....I am planning to continue this one too. All the kids seem to be doing well in it and enjoying the DVD's with Mr. Demme.

The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading - I used this with Dasher this year and she really made big improvement steps in her reading. What I especially like is that it is missing illustrations; those tended to be too distracting and made her guess what the words were.

Matres Magistres - Our co-op was a great addition to our learning this year. We studied composers, artists, hymns and memorized 2 poems and 2 passages in scripture. Our focus was on geography and ecosystems, with research, presentations and crafts that the kids did through the year.

Extra phonics resources - I used a lot more hands on stuff with Dasher this year; Bob Books, Pop for Sight Words, Rod & Staff Readers and a couple word games I picked up at thrift stores.

Miscellaneous Literature - These are some of the books we read aloud this year: Hittite Warrior by Joanne S Williamson, The Spartan by Caroline Dale Snedeker, Victory on the Walls by Frieda Clark Hyman and Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick. They were all excellent, although my kids found The Spartan to be a little dry. As you can see, I try to read books that fit where we are in history; I also have a book basket that I require the kids to read from on their own that has titles from ancient history in it. So next year, I will fill it with books about the early church and Middle Ages.

So the verdict? Most of the stuff I did this year I liked; but change can always be good. With my oldest now going into 8th grade I feel we do need to make some adjustments, like adding a foreign language, starting logic and digging deeper into vocabulary roots and composition. In the next few weeks I plan to do some research, read reviews and most importantly ask my homeschooling friends for their opinions. Thanks for listening in!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That I need to sell some rabbits. We are selling 2 of the 'teenager' does. They have really good pedigree and are going to be great breeding rabbits so if you live near me and know of someone....

What I'm reading:
I'm almost done with the Iliad and I have mixed feelings about it. More on that when I write a review post for all of you.

What I'm listening to: My son on the radio....he just won The Fish's Impossible IQ question!

What we're learning: We are coming to the end of Mystery of History's first volume and this week are studying Jesus' birth, his teaching and miracles and Tiberius Caesar. The other big thing the children are working on is their 4-H record books. These are pretty extensive - they have to write a 2-3 page story about themselves, record everything they did this last year in their projects, community service and club meetings and record their profits and losses. And the record books are due in two weeks!!

What I'm watching:
We watched one of my favorite movies again over the weekend - The Bourne Identity.

What's cooking:
I am planning a birthday dinner for my Sweetie this week and he requested yummy Tostadas.

What I'm buying:
This is my big shopping week so I am planning to go to Costco, Trader Joe's, Target, Winco and maybe Wal Mart in the next 48 hours.... :-)

What I'm thankful for:
That my Sweetie has a job! I am thankful that the Lord took us through a time when he was makes me so much more thankful for where we are now.

What I'm creating:
Shopping lists....

What I'm praying:
For patience and kind words as I parent my children.

What I'm planning:
I'm making plans for curriculum next year and deciding what stays and what goes.

What we did this last weekend: On Friday we went with some friends to see Shakespeare in the Park and saw A Midsummer Night's Dream. This production was very kid friendly and made Shakespeare not as dry as it can be sometimes. Most Sundays we fellowship with others from our church, but yesterday we went for a nice bike ride and then played some games with the children. It was very relaxing and made me realize how important a quiet Sunday afternoon with just my precious family really is.

What I'm looking forward to:
Our good friends have their county fair this week and are showing poultry and sheep so we are headed to another fair, this time as spectators, on Wednesday and Friday.

A picture to share:

A nice glass of Merlot out by the garden.....before the mosquitoes attacked.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That the allergies I have had for 2+ weeks now are really getting old and I am praying that they will clear up soon.

What I'm reading:
I had to renew the Iliad from the library this last week; I was really hoping to get it read before it was due but that didn't happen. I hope to get a chunk of it done this afternoon at the pool.

What I'm listening to:
Pages turning in the school room as the older ones work the books and Nutsy talking to herself as she plays with the dollhouse.

What we're learning:
Last week turned into a non-formal school week which was a good thing for us. So this week we started up again, studying the Battle of Actium and Augustus Caesar in history, mollusks in science and a review of catechism questions #18-20.

What I'm watching: Towels drying on the clothesline outside. I really love being able to line dry lots of things in the summer mainly because it really cuts down on the drying time. But I am not one of those people that loves the 'outside smell' on their laundry so when the clothes come in they go into the dryer with a bounce sheet for 5 minutes.

What's cooking:
Tonight I am making easy Potato-Onion Soup with french bread and balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping.

What I'm buying:
Our glass blender container broke last week so I need to go get another one. And yes, it was me and not one of my children that broke it.

What I'm thankful for:
For precious friends at church who notice the small things.

What I'm creating:
A clean rabbitry. This week it is my goal to get to the disinfecting of the rabbit, fun, fun.

What I'm praying:
I have been convicted lately that I am neglecting my personal prayer and bible time. I am praying that this week I will be faithful to spend time each day in the word and in prayer.

What I'm planning:
To take the kids to the pool later this afternoon. It is really feeling like summer now!

What we did this last weekend: On Saturday we (I should say the 2 guys) installed a new garage door motor, then yesterday we went to church, had our monthly fellowship meal then went to the assisted living center and helped with the service there.

What I'm looking forward to:
Tomorrow we have our last 4-H meeting with an end of the year BBQ, and that is all that is on the calendar this week which is very nice.

A picture to share:

~Roses from our garden.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Fair - The Breed Show & Rabbit Bowl

Friday morning, at the bright and happy time of 8 AM, the breed show started at the fair. A breed show is pretty simple. A judge looks at all the rabbits in a certain breed and judges them against each other based on the Standard of Perfection, a book published every 5 years that tells every detail about every recognized breed of rabbit.

Did you know there are over 45 recognized breeds? The breed we raise are called New Zealand. Then within each breed there are different varieties. A variety is determined by color. So obviously the variety of our rabbits is white, but there are also red and black New Zealands. Some breeds like the Mini Rex, have 15 varieties!

They also divide up the varieties into classes, based on sex and age.

So Dasher's rabbit above is a New Zealand white, and is a junior (under 6 months of age) doe (female).

Don't worry if you don't get this. I still don't get this and we have been doing this for 9 months now. The judge takes out each rabbit and examines it, and since I don't know squat about any other breed than the New Zealands, I'll just explain what he is looking for in our rabbits. Our rabbits are primarily raised for meat, so 60 out of 100 points goes to the body type. Like how full the hindquarters are, if the shoulders are too long or if the loins are pinched. He will also judge the fur, color and condition of the rabbit. While he is taking out the rabbit he is talking, describing what he likes or doesn't like in this particular rabbit. He doesn't have a microphone so everyone is crowded up to hear what he says; so that is why I don't have any pictures of him judging our rabbits, I was too busy listening. But here he is judging a Mini Rex.

You know right away how your rabbit does; he places them right then and there. So that was when we knew: Every single rabbit we entered got a ribbon! (I guess I do have to also tell you that our rabbits were the only New Zealands to compete anyway. There were 2 other rabbits in our breed class but they were disqualified.)

The last thing that happened for us at fair was on Monday and that was Rabbit Bowl. This is where the kids form teams, then are asked questions about rabbits; kind of like rabbit Jeopardy. They have buzzers and everything and keep score until a team wins 10 points. Mr. Lego and Bookworm were on a team that called themselves the Bunny Brigade.

They asked some really hard questions. Like all of us adults in the stands who had been coaching our kids were getting stumped.

How many varieties does the Havana come in?

What body type is a Polish?

Where is the loin?

Don't worry, I didn't know the answer to any of the above questions, although I would have taken a good guess at the third one.

Our team did answer some correct questions and did a great job up there, but ended up in 4th place.

Great job guys!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Fair - Carnival Rides

What would the fair be like without the carnival rides? And what torture that would be for the kids, walking by them for 5 days straight and not being able to tell tales about how they were?

So we decided to choose a day and get wristbands for the kids, myself and the grandparents. (My Sweetie was being a faithful provider and had to work that day.)

Mr. Lego and a friend took off and hit the nasty rides. Ones with names like Centrifuge, High Roller, Flippin' Out and Twister. Here they are getting on the Zipper:

This is the ride here (photo taken later in the day).

My dad and I went on the Zipper as our first ride of the day and we spun 4 times in a row in 6 seconds. It was a great ride. And it is a good thing I have the stomach of fighter pilot. (At least so far...)

So that is why I don't have too many pictures of Mr. Lego; he basically hung around this part of the carnival all day.

This is the cutie I was with the most that day...

We started out with the small rides....harmless little bumblebees.

Then the motorcycles....

And then my little sweet girl started looking around her and getting brave.

So she went on her first roller coaster BY HERSELF.

And she wasn't scared a bit, so she went again, and again. Then her eyes got bigger and we went on a bigger roller coaster, this one with a real dip in it.

By the 4th time she was hanging out the side to wave when she went by. This girl has no fear.

We slowed it down for a while by waiting for the merry go round....

And met up with Bookworm, Dasher and their friends.

The older girls were having a fun time going around on rides with 2 other friends and their mom.

Of course any carnival has to have a Ferris wheel. Here is Nusty and I on it together.

Now it was time for some spinning rides. And this part turned out to be Nutsy's favorite. So much so that we went on this one 10 TIMES. Yes. You read that right people. I went on this high speed spinning ride 10 times with my fearless daughter.

Of course Grandma and Grandpa got to go on a few rides together....

A side note here....ever since I can remember, my dad has worn a cowboy hat. When I was little that was how I would identify him in a crowd - by his hat, and now my kids do the same. He can usually be seen across the carnival with it on. :-)

Almost at dinner time my older kids ran up to me to show me this:

They had won 4 goldfish at a carnival game. So now they reside in an old vase on the school table.

Nutsy wrapped up her adventurous day by going on one of the highest rides at the fair, the Falling Star. (Who thinks up these names, anyway?)

Yes, she is at the top of that thing with grandma. I think the final total for her on this ride was 5 times.

We all met up at the Bumper Cars again.

This was such a fun time for the kids. It was neat to see their faces light up as they went on all the rides. And no one got least from our family. Of course we had to get cotton candy on the way out....