Monday, September 26, 2016

Quick and Easy Taco Soup

Hello everyone!!!  I was recently asked about my "go to" meals.  In particular, what meals do I make when we are on a tight schedule.  I have found through lots of trial and error that it really isn't about a fast recipe, as much as, it is having ingredients on hand and preparing a head of time.

I thought Taco Soup would be a great recipe to share.  We live in Texas so I just assumed everyone already had their own version of this soup but then a friend of mine encouraged me to share it anyway.  There is nothing fancy about this recipe but it is super good and very EASY!  I also think it is extremely versatile.  You can serve it by itself, over Spanish rice, with tortilla chips or Fritos, tortillas, and also cornbread.  As leftover, you can strain the liquid but use the meat and all the other goodies over tortilla chips with lots of cheese - makes great nachos!

Here is the ingredient list.  I try to have all fo the canned goods on hand at all times.

1-2 lbs. hamburger (browned) - you decide how much you want to use
1 packet ranch seasoning
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can hominy
1 can pinto beans
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel
water (add until it is the consistency you like)

After browning and draining the meat add all other ingredients.  Bring to a boil and then down to a simmer.  Eat right away or allow to simmer for how ever long you have. :)  This is really great the next day.  If you are in a huge rush, make it the day before, keep in fridge, and then reheat.

When serving, I like to top the soup with sour cream, jarred jalapenos, and Monterrey jack cheese.

This recipe is so forgiving, you can pretty much use whatever you have on hand.  If you want less beans omit one can, if you want more spice use the spicy Rotel.  You decide...it is impossible to mess this one up! :)

I will add a picture as soon as ours is finished! :)



Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Happy, Safe, and Learning

A couple of years back we were in the middle of a super hard day, week, season - EVERYTHING seemed hard.  While I was having a bit of a "moment" a dear friend asked me three questions:

1.  Are your kids happy?
2.  Are your kids safe?
3.  Are your kids learning? 

You see, I was in the middle of a fit because I "clearly" thought I had lost my mind about the decision to homeschool.  It had been a rough few days and I had myself convinced that I didn't know what I was doing.  Well,  I was sure of one thing...I was pretty sure we would all in up in counseling. :)  In my moment of self-inflicted drama, these three questions seemed to reign in my perspective.  I took a deep breath and asked myself the questions.  To my surprise my answers came easily and quickly...YES, YES, YES.  As much as I felt like things were NOT going accordng to the perfect image I had in my mind, the answer to all three questions was truly yes.  All three of my kiddos were happy, safe, and learning.  

These three questions are also the reason why I get so worked up when people knock homeschooling.  To me, it doesn't matter what style of education you have picked for your child (public, private, Montessori, homeschooling, charter, etc.), if you can answer "yes" to all three questions you have made the right choice.  The first thing I thank God for every morning is that we live in a country where can CHOOSE our child's education.  It is our choice as their parents to make the best decision for each child.  What a blessing that is!

There is a funny misconception about homeschooling that we often laugh about.  It goes something like this, "Homeschoolers...oh, they are just weird."  The truth is we (all people) tend to view something as weird if it is different from ourselves.  Ouch...that little piece of truth hurts, doesn't it?  We are all guilty of it.  At some time or other we have all put someone in the "weird" category simply because they were not the same as us.  What is funny is that "they" are probably thinking you/I/we are weird, as well.  :)  

I wish ALL MOMS could just support one another's decisions.  It reminds me of how opinionated people get about breast feeding, potty training, and pretty much the correct way to handle every phase of parenting.  Why is it that when someone does something differently from what we consider "normal" it automatically causes us to become hyper defensive?  Lets just get over ourselves and support one another.  After all, we are all just trying to make sure our children are:  happy, safe, and learning.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

5 Tips for Getting Through the Hard Homeschooling Days (with a touch of sarcasm and sense of humor)

"Go to your room!"

"Do you really want to go down that road?"

"Do you love this earth?  Do you want to stay on this earth?  Do you need to be reminded who brought you into this earth?"

Oh my!  Does any of this sound familiar?  I think every mom at some point has said something similar to the above.  Now add this...

"....because I am not only your teacher, but your MOTHER!"

Yep, ladies and gentlemen (that would be my husband...I think he is the only man that reads my posts), homeschooling is NOT FOR THE WEAK!  Oh sure, if you look on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram or read blogs (mine included), homeschooling looks like a walk in the park...a fun little day of tip toeing thru the tulips.  It appears to be filled with fun crafts, experiments, and field trips.  As much as you do have beautiful moments and share so many joys with your kids there are THOSE days.  You know....those days that no one talks about.  Those days that you find yourself in the pantry (with the door closed) eating chocolate chips out of the peanut butter jar because there is no time or patience to actually make something.  Your children have pushed you to the edge, they have worn out every, last, drop of patience.  You have switched hats between Mom, Teacher, Counselor, Principal, Custodian, Nurse, Lunch Lady, Campus Security and the day is no where near being over.  Since, you homeschool and all your homeschooling moms/friends are busy homeschooling you cannot call anyone.  The option to call up a girlfriend and go grab lunch, coffee, or get a pedicure does not exist.  So, as you roll in your self pity you just assume your house/school/office/security guard station is the only one that runs like it is a complete looney bin.  Why are these children so feral?  You have not raised them this way...they have turned on you!  How are you suppose to handle THOSE days because those days are not pictured and "liked" and "hearted" on Facebook?!

Let me tell you, I have had my fair share of days like that.  In fact, yesterday was one of those exact days.  One of my children (who shall remain nameless) decided the assignment was not to his/her liking.  Not only was it not to his/her liking he/she decided to drag it out making it painful for everyone.  Now, I tell myself all the time that some day the stubborn trait that runs firm through all of my kids will be a blessing.  They will never be pushed around.  They will stand firm in their beliefs and values.  But on a day like yesterday it just seemed like a stubborn mule would have been easier to move.  When you homeschool all of the lines cross like one big plate of spaghetti.  You juggle hats like a BOSS but sometimes the crap (sorry) just rolls downhill...and you are at the bottom.  Actually, if I am being accurate, you are at the bottom and under a huge pile of laundry but that is a post for a different day.  

So, since I am trying to convince myself that I am not the only homeschooling mom who has CRAP DAYS (sorry, it just keeps coming out), I am going to attempt a short list of helpful tips.  See, when you say "helpful tips" it already makes it sound a little bit better.  Now, before I begin, let me make it very clear.  I have not figured out how to keep from having THOSE type days.  These kids of mine are human and their mom/teacher/principal/security officer.... is also human.  We are going to have days like this (sometimes weeks or months) but as my wise grandma always said, "This too shall pass."  Here are some things that I find helpful.

1.  I must mention prayer and God first.  Seriously, the only reason I started homeschooling was because God literally shoved our family into it.  It wasn't a soft, gentle approach - He full on shoved.  However, He has made sure that we are successful and really do love each other at the end of each school year.  I have learned more about grace and mercy in the last five years of homeschooling than my entire life.  When you are having one of those days pray and pray hard.  Go to your room, shut the door (lock it if you have to, maybe even prop a chair under the door knob), drop to your knees, thank Him for those little blessings (remind yourself that your children are BLESSINGS), and then ask Him for the wisdom and guidance you need.

2.  Have a secret stash of chocolate on hand at all times!!!  Yes, chocolate and a hiding place (mine is the pantry, laundry room, backyard, garage, and my closet).  When you are frantic you need options!  Better yet, while your are hiding and eating chocolate also PRAY.  God is not picky about where you pray and He will not judge you for eating while you pray.

3.  Have a TRIBE.  I have a short list of people that I know I can text at a moment's notice.  This is especially helpful if you need to vent and the kids shouldn't hear what you are venting about (most likely them).  Pick your tribe carefully.  You need someone who will be compassionate; who will remind you that you are doing a good job.  But then you also need another tribe member that will kick you in the booty, tell you to put your big girl panties on, suck it up, get back out there, and teach those BLESSINGS.  Your tribe may be two people or it may be ten.  Either way, they are crucial to your sanity.  It is so easy as a homeschool mom to feel like you are alone.  Call on your tribe!

4.  Stay off of social media.  When you are having one of those days DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT get on social media.  Because while you are in the pantry stuffing your face the last thing you need to see is your friend from high school who is a size zero in a picture with her "perfect" kids AND she is eating a cupcake....  This will send you over the edge because in this moment your blessings are very much reminding you that they are not perfect and you are in the pantry eating anything you can find.  You can worry about your jeans and how they fit later.  You do not need her picture to remind you.

5.  When things have settled down and you have regained perspective, remind yourself (maybe even write it down) why you chose to homeschool.  Take the kids to the park or go get ice cream (yes, even if their behavior doesn't deserve it).  Getting out of the house will help everyone.  Remind yourself that you can do this...that you are doing this...and you are doing it well.  

These were our co-op shirts from last year.  

I think they are very fitting for this post. :)

The blessing built into THOSE days is that you appreciate the really great days so much more.  When we sit back and think about it, there are so many more great days than "those" days.  Your blessings are getting a quality education, they will graduate, they will move out of the house, they will give you beautiful grand baby blessings!  This will happen, it must, it is the only thing keeping you going...wait, I think I may have gone a bit far on that one.  Sorry, it is the peanut butter talking and there is very little air in this pantry...

You've got this!  Through prayer, peanut butter, and chocolate you can do this!!!



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Chocolate Cake in a Mug Recipe Link

Hello!!! The kids and I had such a great time making our Monday night, chocolate cake - in -a mug.  It has become quite the tradition.  My oldest has Boy Scouts every Monday night and my other two kiddos share my serious love for chocolate.  LOL!  :)  One Monday night awhile back we were bored and decided to get in the kitchen.  The mug cakes have been happening every Monday night since.  We have thought about trying different types but then we always go back to this one.  It is super gooey and rich; a lot like lava cake.

I originally saw the recipe on an episode of the Pioneer Woman.  She was demonstrating different recipes that would be easy to make in a dorm room.  I had all the ingredients on hand, gave it a try, and there you have it - Monday Night Cake - In - A - Mug! :)

Instead of typing out the recipe I decided just to add the link.  Since it is not my recipe, it is only right that I send everyone to the actual page.

Pioneer Woman - Chocolate Cake In A Mug

Also, if you would like to see the kids helping in the kitchen click the following link to the Right Where We Are Facebook Page (Click Here).  They did a great job.  I think they felt like they were on the Food Network. :)

This is a picture that I took awhile back when I was planning to do a post on our Monday night tradition.  It cracks me up because the smile on my son's face is so relaxed and natural.... :) LOL

We had a great time making our little video.  I had received a suggestion from a friend to make a cooking type video.  I decided to do this one at the last minute.  If you have any other topics or recipes you would like to see feel free to leave a comment below or message me on Facebook.  

For those of you who always read my posts and now watch our humble, little videos, THANK YOU!!!  I know how busy you are and it means the world to me that you spend a small part of your day with me. :)



Thursday, September 8, 2016

Our Report Card System

Yet another great aspect to homeschooling are the many options when it comes to grades.  Some families do not take grades at all, others do more of a daily/participation grade, while some operate on a full grading system.  There really isn't a right or wrong way, it is strictly your opinion on the matter.  For our family, it works best if I keep actual grades and then give a report card at the end of each grading period plus a final report card at the end of the year.  My kids do not know any different so to them it does not seem rigid or harsh.  In our house it is a positive part of our classroom.  I would never use grades to make the kids feel shameful or bad about themselves.  We use grades as a motivator to do your best.  Now, I know there are plenty of homeschooling families that would disagree with me but for our family grades work.  That is why we homeschool right??? We can mold our strategies to what is best for our families.

I feel like a broken record but like I have stated before, I keep a lesson plan book for each school year.  Instead of keeping a separate grade book, I record grades in the lesson plan book.  I have looked at various homeschooling software but I really do prefer doing it myself.

When it comes to the report cards, I break our grades down into four categories (and then by subject):
Tests
Quizzes
Daily Graded Work
Participation (you could also call this completion grades)

Here is a good example.  When my son completes his daily math assignment, I grade it on the spot.  I let him know which math problems were incorrect.  I reteach or review any concepts right away while it is still fresh.  Then he will re-do the math problem to make it correct.  That is daily graded work and I consider it a 100.  He completed the work, we addressed any issues, and he was able to grasp the concept and correct the work.  All of this happens right away.  Sometimes if I am working with one of the other kids, the work will be set aside for me to grade as soon as I can.  However, we ALWAYS correct work and review any missed concepts on the same day.

Now with quizzes and tests, those grades stand firm.  They must make any necessary corrections but I do not change the original grade.  This is just my way of prepping them for later in life (and college :)).  I want them to understand the importance of studying and preparing for a test or quiz.

Since I am able to address things on the spot, their grades are very high.  Again, another perk to homeschooling.  They basically have a personal tutor.  Moi! :)

On report cards, I will typically give a "weekly" grade.  Instead of writing a 100 for every single assignment, this gives them the same grade but saves my sanity.

We do have a  couple of subjects that are really just experience at this point.  For example, I added Spanish this year.  All three kids are working on it but it is really just for exposure.  So, instead of killing myself and them with Spanish quizzes and tests, everyone gets a participation grade.  If they are actively, and diligently working on their lesson, they receive a 100.  Again, this can be done with weekly grades.  I do spot check them to make sure they are retaining their Spanish vocabulary but it is not grades.  Again, if there is an issue, we fix it on the spot.

This is a picture of my youngest son's report card.  He is in 3rd grade so I do not weight his grades.  His grades are evenly averaged together for each subject.  I noticed I did not have Vocabulary coded the correct color for this picture.  It should be blue because it is graded work.  I also give a report card to our first grader.  Her's is very similar to this one except she does not have quite as many tests, etc.

This is the first year I added weight to my oldest son's grades.  He is a sixth grader so I feel it is important for him to begin understanding the value of a weighted grade.  I picked four subjects to weight this year:  Language, Math, History, and Science.  Now the weights were dependent on the curriculum.  For example, Language has tests, quizzes, and daily graded work.  But Math only has tests and daily graded work.  I adjusted the weights according to the specifics of each subject.

Here are two examples:

Language - We are using ABeka which offers tests, quizzes, and daily work
  • Tests 30% (it is important to make sure you have more than one test on the report card, otherwise that one test would be 30% of the entire average - same goes for the other categories)
  • Quizzes 20%
  • Daily Graded Work 50%
Math - We are using Saxon Math and only using the tests and daily lessons.  I could increase the weight of the tests but since this is his first year with weighted grades I decided to stick with 30%.
  • Tests 30%
  • Daily Graded Work 70%
This is my oldest son's report card.  He is a 6th grader, therefore, he has four subjects with weighted grades.  I have listed the weights (at the top) in correspondence to the Key and color coding of each category.

So, there you have it.  I am always impressed at how excited the kids get for their report cards.  Also, we make it a big deal to show Daddy.  He also really takes the time to look over each subject and grade.  

For some this system would seem like the biggest headache.  For our family, it works and it works really well.  :)


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Monday, August 29, 2016

Classroom Motivators: "Chill Pill" Jar and Ticket System



Last week I posted 5 Ways We Keep Our Classroom Organized.  Today, I want to touch on two ways I keep my kiddos motivated.  Of course, we always stress the importance of trying your best and having a strong work ethic, but let's face it, we all enjoy tangible motivators. 

We have two main motivators in our classroom.  The first is our "Chill Pill" jar.  This was a fun back-to-school gift from my mom.  She purchased a small glass jar and filled it with Craisins and M&M's.  We currently have Skittles in the jar and I see candy corn coming in the near future.  :)  The kids and myself enjoy a couple of pieces, a.k.a. chill pills every now and then through out our school day.  Sometimes I use them to reward the kids for working diligently.  At other times, I use the treats to motivate them to push through a long assignment.  I also use the treats to distract when one of my kids is feeling frustrated with a new concept.  Then there are days when candy just makes the day better! :)

Our second motivator is our ticket system.  We have used this system for a couple of years.  For every hour of productive, diligent school work, I give each kiddo one ticket.  The ticket can later (after our school day) be turned in for electronics time.  Electronics in our home is anything that plugs in the wall (ANYTHING).  My daughter coined the term, "pluggables".  One ticket is worth 10 minutes with a pluggable. :)  They also receive tickets for various chores around the house.  They usually earn about 6-7 tickets per day (60-70 minutes worth of pluggable time).  It is funny to watch how each child saves and spends his/her tickets.  Our oldest hoards his tickets.  His bucket is filled with at least 100 tickets.  While our youngest son spends his immediately.  He never has extra tickets in his bucket.  Our daughter falls somewhere in the middle.  Thankfully, our kids love educational shows such as Sea Rescue and Wild Kratts.  I will often count those as "free" because they are great well-rounded shows that are very much an extension of school work.

I love to hear what other home school moms use to motivate their kids.  I think it is very important to stress hard work even without a reward.  However, I think we can all agree, everyone loves a treat! :)


Friday, August 19, 2016

How We Found the Diameter of the Sun

I would have to say, out of all our subjects, science is our top favorite.  I use Answers in Genesis as our curriculum.  This curriculum is designed to use with multiple aged kids, which is perfect for our family.  I primarily use this curriculum with our boys (3rd grade and 5th grade), however, our 1st grader likes to listen and participate with the experiments.  I also do a second science lesson for her (ABeka 1st Grade - Discovering God's World) which is more age appropriate.

Our experement yesterday, took us outside to use the sun and shadows.  The purpose was to calculate the diameter of the sun using a "pinhole projector".


To make the projector:
1.  Use a needle, push pin, or even very sharp pencil to poke a hole through an index card.
2.  Tape the index card to the end of a yard stick so that the card is perpendicular to the stick.
3.  Tape a second card (without a hole) to the opposite end of the yard stick, also perpendicular.


Next you have to move the yardstick around until the top index card (containing the hole) places a shadow over the bottom index card.  We were surprised how much we had to angle the yardstick to get the shadow to match the bottom card.  If you look very closely at the picture above, you will see a small white circle on the card.  We had to draw a line across the circle.  This had to be done three different times.  The boys took turns and let me tell you, that little circle moved all over the place.  It was so hard to keep it still.  It also didn't help when the person holding the stick would purposely move the circle, while the person on the ground chased it around.  It looked a lot like a cat trying to catch a reflection.  :)


We decided maybe we should switch "stick operators".  This particular operator was a little more serious about keeping the circle still.  :)  


This is a great picture to show the top index card with the hole and then the bottom card showing the light through the hole.  From there, we measured the three lines (by 16th's of an inch) and then took an average.  Our average was 5/16 in. which is roughly 0.3 inches.


From there we followed the formula provided in our book.  We divided the diameter of our images 0.3 inches by 36 inches (because the distance between our cards was 36 inches) which equaled 0.0083.  Then we took that amount and multiplied it by 93,000,000 miles (the diameter of the sun).  This gave us an answer of 775,000 miles.  

Now the actual diameter of the sun is 868,000 miles so we were really pleased that we got relatively close.  At the end we discussed why our calculations were different.  The kids agreed that since our projector was homemade and not an actual instrument, the calculation could not be exact.

All in all it was successful.  Now my little confession...  My husband came home on his lunch break and checked my math.  AND...I...DID...IT...RIGHT...  I think I was more impressed and excited than the kids!  LOL