Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine: Free Digital Issue

Want a fresh look at summer activities? Need encouragement for the upcoming school year? Want to make reading interesting or help a struggling reader?

Then take a look at the brand new summer digital edition of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. TOS is offering a digital issue of the magazine totally FREE! No strings attached!

Enjoy this free gift from TOS—no registration or email address required to view the magazine. (Take a peek here.) The magazine is filled with a wealth of information and beautiful pictures. It's guaranteed to have something for everyone. So, don't forget to share the link with your friends by clicking on the share button at the top of the magazine pages. They'll be glad you did!
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Wordless Wednesday: 7/27/11

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Tasty Tuesday: Italian Dressing

Now is the time to reap the benefits of laboring in the garden. Yea! All that hard work is paying off. What better way to eat up all those yummy veggies than in a salad with homemade dressing. 

1 cup vegetable oil                          1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup red wine vinegar                 1 tsp prepared yellow mustard
1 tsp salt                                          1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp sugar                                       1/4 tsp dried minced garlic
Mix all ingredients in a glass container with a lid. Shake well. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using for the best flavor. Shake well again before serving.

Gather your ingredients.

Pour everything (in proper amounts, of course) into a container. We used an empty condiment bottle. 

 Shake, shake, shake!

After a few hours in the fridge, it's ready to go. Head to the garden (or the grocery store, farmer's market, friend's house, etc.), pick the yummiest produce, and prepare your salad.

Pour and enjoy!

Did you notice the mustard in the first picture? Ground, not prepared. That's what happens when the original recipe is not thorough. That's ok. I gave the finished dressing a good squirt of the yellow prepared mustard and shook it up again. The extra seasoning can't hurt, right?

To tell you the truth (since I always do), I really think the dressing needs a few more spices. It's a little bland for Italian. Maybe it's because I had only 1/2 cup of vegetable oil and had to substitute the rest with olive oil, which has a very strong, distinguishable flavor and could have masked the other ingredients. It is very good, but needs a little something. That's one of the great benefits of making things yourself. You can adapt it to fit your taste buds. Need to cut back on sodium? Add less salt. Diabetic? Replace the sugar with Splenda. Want a little heat? Add red pepper flakes. Make the recipe your own. That's what I love about cooking.

Do you have a favorite dressing/condiment recipe? Please, share! I'd love to hear them. 
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Make It Monday: Painted Cotton Shooters

You want an activity that produces huge smiles and this much excitement???

All you need is a little paint, some cotton swabs, and a loadable toy gun. A large piece of paper is optional.

 Dip a cotton swab into the paint.

Load the painted cotton swab inside the cocked toy gun.




Feel free to stand as close as you need to the target.

What a shot!

If you're feeling very confident, try 5 bullets at once!

And when the gun that you bought at the dollar store 3 years ago, that's already been duct taped together and has lost the tip, suddenly breaks and will no longer will cock, switch your tactic to darts.

Take careful aim . . .

It's a direct hit!

A great big attaboy (or girl) to the first person who correctly answers how many cotton swabs are in that picture.

Hmm, not all the shots had such precision.

When you're all done playing, simply hose off the paint on the the playset.

And on yourself.

* Take Warning: If you use the wrong settings on the camera, your pictures will be grainy and turn out awful, and you'll be embarrassed to publish them on your blog.

But the smiles will be so precious that you'll use them anyway.
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Monday, July 25, 2011

Pantry Surprise 7/25/11

I put Zac down for a nap, mopped the kitchen floor, and went in the basement with the other two kids while the floor was drying. Now that it's summer, we haven't spent too much time down there. Jake and Alyssa like going down and doing schoolwork at their desks. I love when they ask, "May I do this page, please?" I'm thankful they think learning is fun and not a chore.

While they were completing some workbook pages, I was trying to organize our hopefully-soon-to-be-new-classroom. I came across a box of noise putty that we used as prizes when we were in charge of junior church. My kiddies were thrilled to each get a container to play with.

They carried their putty with them everywhere they went, even outside in the sweltering sun. They showed me how the putty melted from the heat. It turned to slime and made a mess of their hands. This produced many smiles and replies of "Ewe! Gross!"  

A while later, I stumbled upon this scene. (Technically, both containers were in the fridge at first, but by the time I got a chance to take a pic, one of them had been removed.) The kids informed me that since the putties were so "melty" they needed to harden in the fridge, like chocolate. Smart kids! 

You can find the complete list of Pantry Surprises here.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Friend Friday Link Up

Isn't it fun to meet new people and follow new blogs? And make more friends?? I think so too!

I'm participating in the New Friend Friday link up over at Molding Minds Homeschool. Here are the directions as given in the original post:

"1. Add your blog using the Mr Linky at the bottom of the post.

2. Post a small blurb linking back to this blog post.

3. Follow at least 3 of the blogs already linked.

4. Comment on their blog letting them know that you are following from Follow Me Friday at Molding Minds.

5. Follow anyone that comments on your blog.

The last is very important as that is what makes this work! Any type of blog is welcome to participate as long as it is FAMILY FRIENDLY. Have fun and I look forward to meeting some new friends! Be sure to give the linky a few minutes to refresh before putting your info in a second time. It can take up to 5 minutes sometimes."

Even if you don't have your own blog, go ahead and visit some of the ones listed. You never know, you just may find a new favorite! Or new second favorite, that is. {wink}

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Theory Thursday: Color Concoctions

Two scientists insisted that they needed to conduct a series of experiments. They transformed my kitchen into a laboratory.

They gathered their test tubes and secret ingredients . . .

 . . . and the experimenting began.

These scientists were extremely careful in their selections, making sure not to cause any adverse reactions.

Scientist Jacob discovered that when he poured the red mixture into the blue, a new purple potion was created.

They also learned that mixing blue and yellow resulted in a green blend.

And adding the green liquid made the solution . . . remain green.

The experiments required complete concentration. This research was of the utmost importance.

And what were they making with all these solutions???

Why, popsicles, of course!

We used Sun Drop (green), Red Pop (red), Juicy Juice orange-tangerine (yellow), ice blue-raspberry Kool-Aid (blue), Crystal Lite orange sunrise (orange), and  Emergen-C Blue (purple). If the colors were not quite the shade I wanted them to be, I added a drop or two of food coloring.

My little scientists had so much fun pouring the contents of the different test tubes into their beakers and watching the colors mix and blend into new shades. 

They especially liked eating their experiments. All in the name of research, you know.

They learned about color combinations and even cooled off a little from the high temps outside.

The experiments were a success! But think what they could do with more resources. Does anyone want to sponsor their evolving research? All donations are non-tax-deductible and can be made payable to Raising Leafs. All proceeds will be used to further their experimentation.

I wonder what concoctions they'll create next. Strawberry-Pepsi-mocha? Or grape-green tea-orange juice?? Or chocolate milk-lemonade-root beer???  

Or maybe I'll leave the mixing to the scientists and stick with taking the pictures.  
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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 7/20/11

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Tasty Tuesday: Mock Girl Scout Cookies: Peanut Butter Patties

Everyone loves Girl Scout cookies, from the traditional thin mints to the sophisticated cranberries and white fudge. With a dozen varieties, there's something to satisfy every taste bud. I know. I sold over a thousand boxes during my green-uniform-wearing years.

But what do you do when you get a craving and the cookies are out of season???

You make them yourself, of course! 

Homemade Peanut Butter Patties a.k.a. Tagalongs
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature               3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar                                                                            1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 large egg                                                                             1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract                                              2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat until smooth. Add in egg and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the bowl, if necessary. Add in vanilla. Beat until smooth. With mixer on low, add in salt and flour. Mix until completely incorporated and dough is uniform. Shape dough into a cylinder with a diameter of about 2-3 inches. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze for at least 25 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice dough into 1/8 inch disks and place on baking sheets, about a half inch apart. Once you have made 30 cookies, wrap up the cookie dough, freeze, and save for another time. Bake for 8 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool completely.
3. Mix together peanut butter and powdered sugar. Form into small disks and press onto cookies. Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl for 30 second intervals, and mix well after each interval. Coat cookies completely in chocolate and lift out with a fork. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and let set, or freeze to speed up the process.

Most of the time, I let the kids help me measure the ingredients, but other times, I prepare everything before calling them into the kitchen. This time, they were playing "store" in the boys' room, and I couldn't bring myself to interrupt them. I arranged everything before we started.

The making of the cookie dough was pretty uneventful. Dump. Beat. Pour. Blend. Empty. Mix. Scrape.

Meet Jacob. This is the boy who wears jeans and long-sleeves in the heat of summer and naught but his undies in the frigidity of winter. Anyone else think this is odd???

I questioned the 2-3 inch diameter written in the directions, but promptly obeyed. By the time the cookies were done baking, they were exactly 2.5 inches. Much too big, in my opinion. The real peanut butter patties are 1.75 inches in diameter.

I started mixing the peanut butter and powdered sugar with a fork. Once it was mostly incorporated, I finished combining it with my hands.

The kids had fun playing with the edible "dough." They flattened it, rolled it, and sneaked a few tastes. Along the way, they happened to make a couple rounds for the cookies. Completely by accident, I'm sure. They were having too much fun playing to worry about finishing the cookies. That's where I took over.

Since the cookies were huuuge, I had to make more peanut butter filling. I used another 1/3 cup of each ingredient. We ended up with a tiny bit left over, which we rolled into little balls and popped them in our mouths. Didn't want it to go to waste, ya know!

Can you see how thick this chocolate is? That was even after I added 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to thin it a bit. I almost had to frost the cookies in order to cover them with the chocolate. Then, I had to scrape off the excess. This step was very frustrating and time consuming. I suggest adding more oil to make the process easier.

Again, I had to melt more (1 cup) to have enough to cover the bigger cookies.

I'm sure you can see the difference between the real Girl Scout peanut butter patties and our mock cookies. Ours are big, dark, and look homemade. The packaged ones are small, light, and more uniform. Both are melting in the extreme heat.

But how do they taste???

As expected, Jake liked the Girl Scouts', Alyssa liked the mock ones, and Zac gobbled them both up.

The chocolate was the distinguishing factor. The semi-sweet chocolate was much richer than the "real" cookies. I think milk chocolate would be a better match.

Both varieties are yummy. I may try this recipe again with the above modifications.

If you get the urge to try them yourself, let me know how they turn out!

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Make It Monday: Marble Painting

I had plans for an outside painting craft, but with temps in the nineties and a heat advisory in effect, I switched to an indoor project instead. It's always smart to have a backup plan.

Painting with marbles is easy, cheap, and provides plenty of smiles all around. 

We started with dipping the marble into the paint and then rolling it around the paper by shaking and tipping the box. (We used a USPS medium flat rate box, cut in half.) Jake and Alyssa had a lot of fun watching the blank canvass become streaked with splashes of color as the marble bounced around. The final product had a somewhat speckled look.

We eventually just squirted the paint directly on the paper. It became a game to try to get the marble to roll through the paint, spreading the color over the paper. If there was a big glob, the marble would get stuck in the goop until the kids shook the box enough to loosen it and make a design. As Jake broke up the dollops, he would proclaim, "I'm destroying it!" This technique of placing the paint right on the paper was their favorite. And it certainly was the most colorful too.

Ten pages, plenty of paint, and an hour later, I called it quits. If they had their way, they would have rolled and bounced, wiggled and jiggled until they used up every last drop of paint they could find.

And then they would have made their own. They're crafty like that.

Want to see their painting in action? Watch our video of marble painting. It's guaranteed to bring a few smiles.
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Theory Thursday: Water Sensor

So it was Thursday and the girls went to the store leaving Jake, Zac, and me here at home alone. I thought it would be a good time for Jake and me to do one of the electronic circuits in the kit we used for Theory Thursday: Electronics 101. I pulled the kit out and Jake got all giddy, he tends to love science and electronics like his daddy. As I flipped through the book to find a quick simple circuit I started to realize that Jake was probably able to do this by himself. I had to help him identify the resistors he needed but he put the entire circuit together by himself, except the battery that somehow I didn't realize was in the schematic, I added that once I realized we needed it.

Now I didn't take a lot of pictures for this one, above are all the pictures I took. All that is shown is the building of the circuit. Below is the video of the circuit in action, along with a lesson learned.

So we learned something, had fun, and made a mess all in like forty-five minutes or so. We even had the mess cleaned up before mommy came home.
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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pantry Surprise 7/14/11

We are constantly finding Legos everywhere - on the living room floor, on the kitchen counter, in all the bedrooms, in the bathroom . . .

  . . . and in the pantry. Jacob is obsessed with Legos. Obsessed, I tell you. (Though there could be worse things, I suppose.) When he gets a new set, he immediately puts it together, and then turns around and takes it apart to build and design a new creation. I'm always amazed by his creativity.

I'm not always amazed when I step on a stray piece that has been neglected off to the side. Or when I find one in Zac's mouth. 

Technically, I guess the safest place for him to forget a Lego would be in the pantry. No one can step on it, and it wouldn't end up in Zac's mouth since he can't open the door . . . yet.

Now, if only Jake could construct a Lego padlock for the fridge to keep Zac out of there too . . .
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 7/13/11

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Tasty Tuesday: Cherry-Strawberry Jam

This was my first time making jam. Can you believe it? It was even my first time canning. *Gasp* Crazy, I know. They're both things I've always wanted to do, but just never got around to doing.  Until now.

We still had about 3 cups of cherries left after making the cobbler. I had planned to make a pie, but decided on this recipe instead.

2 1/2 cups finely chopped or ground sour cherries
2 cups red strawberries
5 cups sugar
1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered fruit pectin

1. In a large kettle, combine cherries and strawberries; stir in pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. 
2. Add sugar; return to a full rolling boil. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. 
3. Remove from the heat; skim off foam. Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-in. headspace. Adjust caps. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

I don't own a cherry pitter. I meant to borrow my mom's since it makes the whole pitting cherries thing much, much easier. Not to worry though, I had a plastic drinking straw. You simply put the cherry on top and pull it down onto the straw, leaving the pit at the top. Ideally, you need three hands: one to hold the cherry, one to hold the straw, and one to hold the camera. Alas, I have only two. Such is life.  I had to settle for pitting it, wiping off my hand, and snapping a picture. If you're not photographing, don't feel bad about not having a third hand.

The cherry pitter is a much faster process than using the straw. You also get a much neater hole, instead of a mangled cherry. (The appearance doesn't matter when making jam since the cherries are chopped.)

One more tip - don't pit the cherries near a drainer full of clean, drying dishes. I splattered cherry juice everywhere . . . and I was being careful! A pitter is a much cleaner process. 

I absolutely love my food processor. It is a magical tool. You dump in cupfuls of fruit, pulse for seconds, and get perfectly chopped  mush.

But beware! It may be "too loud" for some. 

Isn't that beautiful? Alyssa and I were ready right then and there to grab a straw and slurp away. Mmm, it smelled sooo good already. All we needed was a little vanilla ice cream, and we could have whipped up some shakes in no time!

But no, back to the jam . . .

After combining those shades of red, she added the thickening agent, the pectin.

She stirred it up some more, let it boil, and added the sugar. Personally, I suggest trying to get all the sugar in the pot. You can, however, do what you choose. It's just a preference of mine to contain the sugar with the other ingredients. I know, I'm silly like that.

Here's where it really gets fun! As the mixture comes to a boil, the pectin starts to do its job. The liquid thickens and bubbles. It gets frothy and fills the pot. It was like having our own volcano oozing hot, red lava right there in the kitchen. Thankfully, the volcano didn't erupt!

We canned a few jars. (Jarred a few cans?) Having never canned before, I was almost skeptical that it wasn't going to work or that I would do something wrong. It was pretty exciting when I saw that they did indeed seal! Yea!

The jam was incredibly yummy! It reminds me of strawberry-rhubarb pie (my favorite!) It goes perfectly with freshly baked homemade bread. Delicious! I would definitely make this again . . . after I buy a cherry pitter.

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