Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Homeschooling Year 1 Review: What I learned

Our First Day of Homeschool for 2014

Okay so our first year homeschooling was rough.  There is no sugar coating it.  Toward the end of the school year I was ready to throw in the towel.  To the point that Señor Hotness contacted the school, and I began drilling the kids on the standardized test they would take as a re-entry assessment.  Then we did something simple but kind of radical (for us anyway).

  We banned the TV.  We didn't get rid of it, but we did unplug it and banned it from our house during the week, and it is only watched by the kids during quiet time on Saturdays and Sundays.  (I will confess that they watched TV almost non-stop during our month long summer break.  Things got ugly.)  Do you want to have your children explore their talents?  Read more?  Play better together?  I can tell you getting rid of TV watching is the way to go.  Our house is more peaceful without the TV.  My ladies fight less, and I find that my patience is better when there isn't a constant amount of background noise happening behind the noise we already make.  Believe me when I say the mini horde produce more than enough noise all on their own.  Cutting the TV revitalized our family, and gave me the hope that homeschooling really could work in our home.

Another thing homeschooling taught me was not to skimp on breakfast!  While cereal is quick, easy and tasty, brain food it is not.  My crew was drastically less cranky, and much more able to get work done and concentrate when we had a good home cooked breakfast.  Our favorite is doing breakfast hash, muffins, oatmeal, or homemade granola.  Cereal is a rare thing now.  What about pancakes you ask?  I will confess that we don't ever eat pancakes for breakfast.  Pancakes are a dinner meal around here.

I learned that family style learning is awesome, but certainly not all the time.  At least for us.  So we do a few things family style, and then we break up to finish out our school day.  What do we do family style you ask?  We do scripture study, and handwriting family style.  Everything else is more independent.

I learned that life is happier, neater, and I get much less screamy when everyone pulls their weight in the chore department.  No matter how small.

I learned that individual desks aren't necessary, but sure are nice.  Thanks to some really awesome people at church who gave these to us (you know who you are).  I will be forever grateful.  Our girls get WAY more into doing their work knowing that they have their own special place to do it.  They also want to dress these up so stay tuned to see what we do with them.

I learned to never undervalue the need for a really good pencil sharpener.  I bought our first electric one from Walmart.  It broke within the first week.  I bought our second from an office supply store, but I made a huge mistake when I bought the mid-grade one thinking it was still better than the Walmart variety.  It was, but we still managed to kill that one within a month.  So then I went in and got their most expensive model.  Sometimes how expensive something is really is a good reflection of quality.  This one while it looks simple is a workhorse, and has withstood all kinds of wear and tear.  Destructo Girl even tried to sharpen her eraser in this thing.  After I got the eraser out it was as good as new.  The downfall of having such an awesome sharpener is that it can literally sharpen a new pencil down to a nub if you aren't careful.  You've been warned.

I learned that a well stocked crayon box...or two...or three is a truly priceless tool for homeschooling smaller kiddos.  Each subject lesson for the younger kiddos is nothing more than a few minutes long, and doesn't take long to complete.  So whats a kid to do in a house with banned TV?  They LOVE to color, and are crazy about mazes (here is our favorite site for free maze printables).  So what we do is have coloring time between each of their lessons which lets me help my older girls with their work as needed.  Heaven bless crayons.

I learned the value of uplifting music.  While the songs playing on the regular radio may not be bad, they also don't cultivate a feeling of calm, happiness, and focus.  So during school hours we often listen to the Mormon Music Channel, which is a free online streaming radio station.  We have discovered that this sets the tone for the day we want to have.  We save the more energetic tunes for after school hours.

I have learned that if we take a short 15 minute cleaning break every couple of hours our house is much less likely to feel trashed by the end of the day.  A less trashed house equals a much happier mom, and a much happier mom equals a much happier teacher.  Which equals much happier students in a learning environment not stifled by clutter.  In all honesty we struggle with this one.  I will find myself having a hard time not being lazy, and dragging the horde down with me into laziness.  Its a work in progress.

I have learned that a laser printer is worth its weight in gold.  THE. END.

I have learned that a detailed meal plan is a lifesaver.  Its better if I'm not having to think up a meal on the spot while I'm already managing several other things.  Its nice to look at a menu to see whats for dinner, and then prepare accordingly.   This too is a work in progress.

So long story short I am a fickle person, and while I told many people that we were putting them back in public school...I lied.  We made changes and are keeping them home, and why wouldn't I when my kids are this stinking awesome.

Miss E my 7th grader is trying out jazz hands

Miss H my 5th grader, and Miss P the photobomber.

Miss A is my sassy 1st grader.

Miss J wasn't happy at all to be taking start of school pictures without her stuffed animal entourage, but Miss P was more than delighted with another photobombing opportunity.

Miss P is always game for another photo-op.

Any and all pictures at our house ALWAYS have to include a funny face picture.

I'm looking forward to this upcoming school year when my ladies and I will learn together.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Super Fudge!

Prepare to be amazed!  This is the most incredible, and insanely easy fudge recipe that you will ever encounter.  No joke

So about 10 years ago my awesome older sister Melissa shared this awesome recipe with me.  It is so incredibly simple that even the most novice of cooks could make it.  Which, I'm sure, is what my sister was thinking when she shared.  Just kidding. 

Super Easy Fudge:
1 bag of semi sweet chocolate chips (milk chocolate works too)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of peanut butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Assemble all your ingredients, and have them close at hand.  Once you start this recipe progresses very quickly.

Place your chocolate chips in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Be mindful of the heat.  

This next step is very important.  Keep your husband's grubby fingers OUT of the chocolate, or there will be no fudge.

After you get the chocolate chips in there toss in the peanut butter.

Continue to stir together until fully melted and smooth.  Then remove from heat.

Stir in the nuts.  It will look delightfully lumpy.

Then its time to stir in the sweetened condensed milk.

Thoroughly mix in the condensed milk into the chocolate mixture.

Then pour into a square pan to cool in the fridge.  After a few hours you will be in business, or you could simple put a small portion in a bowl to sample while the bulk cools in the fridge.  Not that that is what I did or anything, but that would be a way to get to snack immediately.

This recipe works with milk chocolate fine, but I personally prefer darker chocolate to straight up milk chocolate so that is what I use.  I also am not a huge fan of overly sweet treats so the presence of the peanut butter helps tone down the chocolate and the sweetened condensed milk.  

So enjoy and Happy Eating!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Impenetrable Parisian Inspired Hope Chest

I should have known this was going to be a somewhat difficult project from the very beginning.  When you show up at the seller's house, and immediately face plant in their front yard it sets a precedence for how things will go.  Luckily the sellers didn't witness my disgrace.  Señor Hotness and the next door neighbors, however, were not spared.

I found this gem on craigslist for $60, and immediately thought of my two oldest girls.  In our house no one gets their own room, but my two oldest girls, Miss E and Miss H, do get to share a room free of the truly smaller of our horde.  We have been working on trying to make it a more grown-up room to reflect their tweeness.

Now the bigger girls are in love with anything Parisian, or more precisely anything that has to do with the Eiffel Tower.  So that was our inspiration moving forward on this project.

When I acquire a new piece I bring it home, and look at it for a while before I finalize how I'm going to finish it.  This piece was no different.  So it sat in my front room for months.

Classy looking right?

Mmm, faux drawers.  With real drawer pulls!

Now that tapestry covered top is the envy of great-grandmothers everywhere!

Before we left the sellers house the seller locked this hope chest to make it easier to move.   I watched her, and she gave me the key that she used.  I kept it in a special place, and for once I didn't loose it.  I will admit that what she used didn't seem to look how I thought it would, but I had watched her use it so it worked right?  I have since come to believe that we bought this from a magician because when I went to unlock this with the key provided it didn't work.  It didn't work to the point that I almost broke the key off in the lock.  I needed this open so I could remove those awful drawer pulls.  I really hate fake drawers so those were going to be done away with in its reincarnation.   So I looked up how to pick a lock.

I present to you, the unpick-able lock!

The small key in the right of the picture is the key the seller provided to me for the lock.  All the other things were items I used to try to pick the lock.

 When picking it seemed like it wasn't going to work I looked up how to drill a lock out.

I absolutely destroyed this lock, and still it didn't come undone.

Two days later I was still super stumped when a friend came over.  Took one look at it, and asked me why I didn't just unscrew the hinge on the back.  At this time I will just go ahead, and admit that my problem solving skills are not always stellar.

Finally being smart and unlocking this the smart way.

Look what I found stapled on the lid...inside the chest...where it can't help me.
 At this point it was time to start painting it.  I was doing this project with my two oldest girls, and the painting portion of this project was the perfect thing for them to do.  So I used some paint we had left over from our family room (Benjamin Moore Wythe Blue.)  I used it to make chalk paint, and guess what peeps.  I actually measured it out this time just for you all.  So here goes.

Backwoods Babies DIY Chalk Recipe:
2 tsp Plaster of Paris
1 tsp water
1 cup paint

Mix the plaster of paris and water until a paste has been formed, and then stir into the paint.

After you get a hang of this, measuring won't be necessary, but until then this one works fine.  Also be aware that mixing in the plaster of paris will sometimes lighten the color of your paint.  

They decided that their pajamas would make good painting clothes.

Here it is all painted out.  They left it slightly streaky in spots, but I think that makes distressing it better.  You don't want it super streaky, but a little bit will add depth to the overall finished product.

Starting to put the glaze on.

After I finished up all the glazing I put one coat of polycrylic on to dry.

Then I started taping out our feature.  We were wanting to put a mirrored harlequin pattern on the front.  After I got it completely taped out I brushed polycrylic on the tape edges to help eliminate bleeding under the tape.

My partner for taping was Miss P, and she was so kind that when I went to take a bathroom break she removed most of it.  Apparently it was slightly skewed, and she was just doing me a favor.  That what I told myself anyway. 

I added a bit more tape so that the only area left open was the area that required paint.

I used this pewter grey acrylic paint to paint in the diamonds.

I used scrap paper to shield the finished painted area.

I was going to be using Looking Glass by Krylon to make the harlequin have a mirrored look.

Before I spray painted it I sprinkled water onto the diamond areas.  I wanted the diamonds to look like aged mirrors.  When I was reading about this type of spray paint I came across how to do DIY mercury glass.  So I was trying to simulate that on this chest.

Here is the splotchiness of it as it is drying.

Be warned sometimes no matter how carefully you remove the tape you might accidentally remove some of the paint.  So if you look at this picture closely enough you will see where I had to repaint one of the wedges. Also be warned that the Looking Glass Spray only really looks like a mirror when it is sprayed on the backside of glass.  So the affect I was going for didn't pan out.  Total bummer.

I helped Miss H staple our Eifel Tower fabric over the great-grandma tapestry fabric, while Miss E took our picture.  She was beyond hyped to get to use the electric stapler.

Okay moms do any of you ever try to strike a balance between being the crazy Aunt, whose furniture crinkles when you sit on it because everything is covered in a plastic slipcover, and feeling like you are constantly having to remove stains from your cushions.  I present to you, lamented fabric!  This is a water resistant fabric, but doesn't crinkle when you sit on it.  I found it at Hobby Lobby, and almost did a happy dance when I realized it was 40% off.  When I was looking at it I did all I could to tear the fabric.  I pulled on it with all my might, and even tried to shove a key from my keychain through this stuff.  It didn't so much a scratch or stretch it.  I knew then that this was what I needed.  While my older girls aren't mess makers they do have three little sisters that love to playing their room that are.

Even the over played with now eyeless Ariel thinks its divine.  Its okay to feel totally skeeved by this, I know I am, but every time I put Ariel in the trashcan she always gets discovered by one little girl or another.

So because I was using the Looking Glass paint wrong instead of having these awesome tarnished mirrored harlequins.  I just had a bunch of diamonds that looked like they had sustained water damage.   I wasn't happy with it.  I was ready to repaint the entire harlequin area and start again, but my girls didn't want me to do anything to it.

It is even more apparent in the front shot how awful it had turned out.  So the ladies and I struck a bargain.

What I did here was tweaked my glaze.  I only have dark dark brown (barrista) glaze.  I added some of my pewter grey, and mixed it up so that it was a grey brown.

Using my grey-brown glaze I dry brushed the diamonds again.

Miss H took these action shots of the process.  While Miss J tried her hardest to photobomb every picture.  This is the only successful one.  You can actually see her purple dress in the background.

In this picture the left side has been tweaked with the extra glaze, and the right side is still the original.  See how the more distressed look of the extra glaze makes the distressed silver diamonds work.  So this was our compromise.  I didn't refinish the entire thing, and the girls were ok with me adding some extra distressing.

I'm LOVING this finished look now.

Most importantly the ladies also LOVED it.

They loved it so much in fact that it prompted a fun sister photo shoot.

No photo shoot is complete with out the requisite funny face picture.

They have been making big plans for the things that they plan to keep in this.  I purposefully left the place where the lock had been so that we can replace it in the future so that they can have this to keep their treasures safe from little sister fingers that might try to get at them.

The total cost of this project was $66 dollars for the hope chest, and the lamented Eiffel Tower fabric for the top.  All other materials used for this project were things that I had on hand.  This was one of the most fun projects I have done so far since I got to do it with my big girls.  I had such a good time with it that I am trying to figure out what I can have them help me with on the next one.  So get out there and make something pretty.