Sunday, December 08, 2013

Making Memories: Christmas Elves

We've been invaded. Maybe infested.

It started on the first of December. We woke up to see this on our table.

The little green ribbons each had a line of a silly elf song. When Sweetling had put the ribbons in the correct order, they sang...
We are Christmas elves,
And our jolly selves...
The days we'll count down
Till Christmas comes round,
O, We are Christmas elves.

Behind the elves was a folder with the following transcript....

The Great Assembly convened at half-past Cookie o'clock on Counting Eve. Four hoondred and twizzenty elves are in attendance. Insufficient sprinkles and party hats led to procedural delays, but emergency pixie stick rations have been distributed and the Czar has taken the podium.

The Czar of Twinkling Toes (CoTT): All rise and dance. The Assembly recognizes the Right and Mischievous Count Von Marshmallow (CVM) in today's proceedings.

Sales, commercials and waaaaay too dry fruitcake,
Do not a holiday make.
Where's all the MAGIC? The LOVE, the FUN?!
We're talking CHRISTMAS, for heaven's sake!

We need JOLLY, and SPARKLES and...
All elves lean in
ANTICIPATION! To grace just one family's dwelling.
Once we do our part, the cheer will do its...
Joy will spread far beyond quelling!

CoTT: Let the record show that the Right and Mischievous Count Von Marshmallow has not made a motion. Count, Assembly Law requires that you either put forth a motion at this time or cede your rhyme.

CVM does the electric slide.

CoTT: Thank you, Count. Please continue.

CVM: My jabber is just, and my solution is simple,
I've even found the right family's home!
I've searched the Earth over--you can trust this dimple--
Their imaginations are like fertile loam.

We'll send a contingent, we have 25 days,
to inspire and scheme and make messes!
We'll travel tonight; there will be no more delays,
We'll return with tales and successes!

CoTT: Do we have a second for the Count's proposition?
Dr. Peppermint jingles her bell.
CoTT: Thank you, Dr. Peppermint. The Assembly will now vote. All in favor, jingle.
The room erupts in jingle bells.
All opposed, cough out snide remarks.
The hall is silent.

CoTT: Let the record show the proposition has been approved unanimously! Operation Countdown will be implemented immediately. Wee elves are on the cake!
Dr. Peppermint: Please let the record show that the Czar meant 'case.'
CoTT: What? Why would we want a case? Is there a cake _inside_ the case?
Dr. Peppermint: ...No?
CoTT: What? There's no cake? You mean the case is filled with solid...frosting?! My fellow fae, this is--
Inaudible. Inaudible. The crowd is too raucous. The Assembly is dismissed and a search ensues for the case of frosting.

We weren't quite sure what to make of the elves at first. And perhaps, the elves weren't quite sure what to make of us, or perhaps they were a little shy. At any rate, they just sat on the table all day on Sunday. Other than having to brush off a few sparkly sequins that they had spread all over the table, no one in our family took much note of the elves.

The next morning, we woke up to find that the elves had left this on our bathroom mirror.

Sweetling brought me the report. She also told me that the elves had, fortunately, used the vis-a-vis markers. Otherwise, said she, the elves might be in big trouble.
The next morning, Toa of Boy woke up and immediately asked where the elves were. I told him that he should eat his breakfast before he looked for them. He would have, except that there were no plates in the cupboard. Instead there were these three signs.
I began to worry that perhaps our elves had a bit of Nac Mac Feegle in their ancestry.

Fortunately, the elves were found not too far away in the pantry, where they had assembled a sweet surprise.
We had powdered sugar donuts for our morning snack at 10.

The next night, the elves pulled the penguins into their fun.

Toa of Boy had a few comments to make about the elves' spelling skills.

The next morning, we learned their understanding of printed game rules didn't seem to be much better. Said Sweetling, "I don't think the elves know what game they are playing."
You can just glimpse the Uno cards marking 20 more days in the background. The 2 is upside down.

They can nail a candy cane trapeze though.

Chess and flux might be beyond the elves, but they proved proficient with the Wii. They left an 18 in the case with the Wii disc. Sweetling discovered it when she and Toa very kindly put the Wii-motes away and cleaned up after the elves.

It isn't all overnight tricks either. If you don't watch these little guys like a hawk, they sneak off during the day for more play.

And sometimes, we think they might sneak off for black-ops missions.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Making Memories: Homemade Whoknew?

Cranium has a great game (one of their manys) called Whoonu. But, truth to be told, we prefer our homebrewed version of the game. Here's how it works.

Materials needed:
  • creativity
  • index cards
  • pencils
  • scrap paper for score keeping

First, you need to cut a bunch of 3x5 index cards into halves or fourths or something. Basically you need several small cards for each person to write on. (Say 8-15 cards per person depending on how many players you have and how many rounds you want to play).

Second, you distribute an equal number of cards to each person. Each person also needs a pencil.

Third, each person writes one specific thing that people might like on each card. (If your index cards are lined on one side, write on the lined side). The more specific the better, so as to avoid duplicates. So, "Graeter's double chocolate chip ice cream" is a better bet than "ice cream". These can be nouns, activities, whatever. Players need to complete this step without discussing or comparing what they write on their cards. Print neatly so that others can read your card easily.

Fourth, all the cards are placed face down on the table and shuffled. (Given the nature of the card quality, just put them in a pile and mix them up a bit. Think back to your "Go Fish" days when your five year old hands were too clumsy to shuffle cards correctly.) After they are shuffled, the cards can be neatly stacked.

Fifth, each player is dealt four cards. It's perfectly all right to get some of the cards you wrote. That won't matter during game play.

Now....actual game play progresses as follows.

One player is chosen to go first. You can go with the youngest or the oldest or the player whose birthday is next or roll a dice or whatever. That player is the first "judge".

All other players pick ONE card from their hands that they think the judge will really like. They lay their cards face down in front of the judge. The judge mixes up the cards and then turns them face up and reads them all aloud.

The judge then puts them in order from the card they like best to the card they like least. This can be a difficult process and the judge is encouraged to think it through out loud. Other players can contribute suggestions and try to sway the judge's opinions as long as they do not reveal which card they laid down.

Once the judge has ranked the cards, the cards are scored. For a game with 6 players you score 10 points for the favorite, 7 for the second favorite, 5 for the next one, 3 points, and then 1 point for the least favorite. (You can adjust the scale for more or fewer players as needed. Make the favorite worth 12 points or take off the 1 point score or whatever. But each player should be able to get a score each round.)

Once the cards have been scored, the players claim the cards they laid down, and their scores are recorded on the score sheet. REMEMBER, the players get the scores of the cards they played, regardless of who the author of the card was!

All players draw another card to have four cards in their hands. The player to the judge's left becomes the new judge.

Play continues until all the cards are gone or until the majority of the players vote the game over. We've never run into that as a problem. In fact, we sometimes play till all the cards are gone....then go cut up another bunch of index cards.

Sweetling and Toa of Boy played the homebrewed Whoknew? with their cousins the day after Thanksgiving. I found the stack of cards they made and have to share them.

  • Being the all powerful super sugary epic insanity merican of taco incorperations EVERYWHERE
  • DoctorWho
  • Slippery Ducks
  • Nyan Cat
  • The M.r fluffy friend.
  • Minecraft PVP
  • Pecawn PIEE
  • orange
  • Jumpropes
  • Hobbits
  • Hungers Deens
  • Girfar Jiggle Stand
  • DerpDerp Day
  • being a ninja
  • Phineas and Ferb
  • one direction
  • freddy
  • Charades
  • dry ice & soap
  • Gravity Falls
  • bubble gum
  • Cookie Clicker
  • hump day
  • Smokey the Bear
  • singing
  • children
  • otters
  • Pokemon
  • creepers
  • Beagles
  • PoP music

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Menu: with links

Once again, this isn't for you....this is for me. Not to sound selfish or anything, but there you go. Of course, you are welcome to use the recipes and the links....but I need a quick reference guide while I'm in the kitchen.

My sister makes a spreadsheet with all her recipes, ingredients, prep work, times, etc. I have a list on the kitchen whiteboard and this post. (though I will add cooking start times and dates to the kitchen whiteboard list.)

Here we go:

Thanksgiving Day:

Turkey (The Jedi is picking up our pre-ordered smoked turkey from SmoQ on Wednesday afternoon.)
Gravy (I have no idea. Put out a plea on Facebook. Likely going to end up buying a jar. Yuck.)
Stuffing. (Stovetop. It's what my family likes best. I aim to please.)
Sweet potato casserole. (prep wed, bake thurs)
Mashed potatoes. (in the crock pot. I think I'll boil and mash them the day before and pop them in the crock pot to heat up the morning of. Also, the Jedi hates sour cream. Substituting velveeta cheese. I swear it will work.)
Snow Peapods (minus the mushrooms, cause I want my kids to eat them)
Rolls (prep and prebake Wed, finish Thurs)
Caramel Apple Nut Pie (the Jedi picked up a frozen one from GFS. I just need to bake it Thursday a.m. or Wed p.m.)
Pumpkin Pie. (I have a yummy recipe for deep dish pumpkin pie. but this year I'm just going to bake traditional pumpkin pie. Recipe on the can, because I'm not even baking it down from a whole pumpkin this year.)
Flourless Chocolate Cake

Day After (Thanksgiving Repeat with cousins who left us for Florida. The traitors.)

All of the above reheated, PLUS

GF version of Sweet Potato Casserole (yeah, I don't know. I'm going to use GF bisquick in place of the flour and cross my fingers and hope.)
Brazilian Cheese Rolls
Peach Pake

Two for Tuesday: GF Cheese Rolls; Snow Peapods

Both of these recipes come to me via Christopher Robin, who knows my google-fu skills are weak. I have no where she originally found them.

Sweet Tiff from co-op was kind enough to bring me a bag of tapioca starch (same thing as tapioca flour). That saves me from hunting it down at the grocery store!

GF Cheese Rolls....better known as
 Brazilian Cheese Bread
                                                                      ...who knew?

Simple and gluten-free Brazilian cheese bread, or Pão de Queijo, made with tapioca flour, milk, eggs, olive oil, and cheese.

The recipe as presented is fairly basic. Feel free to dress it up a bit with herbs or spices of your choice.
•    Prep time: 5 minutes
•    Cook time: 15 minutes

•    1 egg*
•    1/3 cup olive oil
•    2/3 cup milk
•    Scant 1 1/2 cups (170 grams) tapioca flour
•    1/2 cup (packed, about 66 grams) grated cheese, your preference, though we got the best results from Mexican farmer's cheese - queso fresco
•    1 teaspoon of salt (or more to taste)
Special equipment recommended:
•    One or two mini muffin tins. Mini muffin tins are about half the size of a regular muffin pan. The muffin openings are about 1-inch deep, and 1 3/4 inch wide at the top.
*It helps when baking with eggs to start with eggs at room temperature. If you don't plan ahead (that would be me, usually) you can put the egg in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to gently take off the chill of the fridge.


1 Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease a mini-muffin tin. Put all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You may need to use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender so that everything gets blended well. At this point you can store the batter in the refrigerator for up to a week.

2 Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until all puffy and just lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes.

Eat while warm or save to reheat later.

Note that Brazilian cheese bread is very chewy, a lot like Japanese mochi.

Yield: Enough batter for 16 mini muffin sized cheese breads.


Mushrooms and Snow Pea Pods
When making this for my family on Thanksgiving, I think I will have to omit the mushrooms. I do want my children to at least try it! I'll half all the spices and broths and such to reflect the reduced volume. But what I'm posting here is the original recipe, with its original amounts.

  • 6 oz mushrooms, button, fresh
  • 6 oz pea pods, fresh or frozen
  • ½ t sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t sherry
  • 2 T chicken broth
  • 2 T cooking oil

  1. Stir fry oil and pea pods for one minute.  Add mushrooms and stir fry additional minute.
  2. Add salt, sherry, and sugar, stir fry one minute.
  3. Add broth, stir fry one minute.
  4. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cincinnati Dayscapes: Arcade Legacy

Looking for a fun, reasonably priced, indoor activity for the family to enjoy?

Let me recommend Arcade Legacy in Cincinnati Mills mall.

Arcade Legacy is packed full of lots of old and new arcade games, a row of pinball machines, three tables of console games, two 'big screen' projections (one with a console game and one with guitar hero...i think...), plus a ddr machine, a ping pong table, and likely a few other things that I'm forgetting. ALL the games are unlimited play included with the price of admission.

Friday nights are family nights. The whole family (everyone living in the same house) gets in for $20. You can also add in a few friends for $5 each.

How long can you stay? As long as you want. Can you leave and get something to eat and then come back. Absolutely. You get a wristband when you pay that's good for the whole day. (I even saw one family bring in Little Ceasar's pizzas and eat at a big table that looked like it was set up to be a snack/food table....but I would recommend calling them and verifying that outside food is ok before you plan on it.)

We went tonight and met our Florida cousins who were in town for Thanksgiving and friends and cousins of cousins. Toa of Boy got to hang out with his Minecraft posse.

We stayed for three hours and had a great time. Absolutely a win of a place!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Daybook: Shoeboxes and Tetnus Shots


Outside my window...the birdfeeder needs to be brought in, cleaned, and refilled. The TWO birdfeeders need to be brought in, cleaned, and refilled. I think I'm beginning to see the downside to this hobby.

I am thinking...that I am not coming out from my little penguin blanket cocoon until the temperatures are once again consistently above 60. Also, cocoon is a weird word to spell.

I am thankful...for the fifty-eight Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes a small group of co-op students packed up today.

In the kitchen...I stopped by Aldi's on the way home from the shoebox packing party. I picked up a refrigerated pizza, a box of hot wings, a box of sweet bbq wings, and a box of chicken tenders. Move over Martha Stewart.

I am wearing...a penguin blanket. Under that is my pink turtleneck with the pretty little snowflake necklace a Brunswick elf made for me, jeans, and unicorn slippers. I am a living fashion plate.

I am's a secret.

I am the dentist sometime this week I hope. Toa of Boy has a loose tooth. The loose tooth looks suspiciously like a permanent tooth and not very much like a baby tooth.

I am wondering...can I make my Thanksgiving rolls on Wednesday? They won't be warm on Thursday. But, they'll be done....and that's worth a lot. Also, we have six people for Thanksgiving. And two pies and one cake. And I think I need to add another baked good. Ooooo....I know! Peach pake! 

(Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey footnote here. I went to bed at this point on Monday evening and am writing the rest of this daybook on Tuesday morning. Thus change in tense and day and what not.)

I am reading...haven't started Ender's Game yet. I am doing a Bible study on the life of Abraham called The Magnificent Obsession. I'm just using the participant's guide, not the book by Anne Graham Lotz.

I am hoping...that this week comes together as easily as the last couple weeks have. I've gone off my 'to-do' list and am trying to take a Mary approach to life rather than a Martha approach. But, that's hard to do on Tuesday morning when all I can think of is all the stuff that needs to get done.

I am looking forward cousin and his family coming over the Friday after Thanksgiving. They moved to Florida last fall and we haven't seen them since. Sweetling and Toa of Boy really like getting together with their kids and we really like getting together with the grown-ups. We used to get together at least once a month....but alas, those good times had to come to an end.

I am learning....that my pediatrician's office doesn't have Toa of Boy's shot records on file. I kind of think that in the five years we've been a patient there, someone should have asked me about that on one of our well-child visits. Instead I find out when I call to make sure Toa of Boy is up to date on his tetnus vaccine because he took a nasty fall in the woods last night. I'm a little miffed about this.

Around the house...don't ask me about the house. The house needs vacuumed. The laundry needs done. The dishwasher needs unloaded. The bathroom needs cleaned. The tub needs scrubbed. The house is not in a good state this morning.

I am pondering...there have been a few other 'glitches' at my doctor's office. Every time one of those happens I think about switching to a pediatrician for the kids. But, I don't really want to wind up in a group of pediatricians where its spin the wheel to see who sees your child. I like having a family doctor that sees both me and the kids, who knows my family, who supports homeschooling, etc. So, I never switch doctors. I like my doctor; I don't like her office staff.

A favorite quote for today...elephants. It's not a quote, but there is a herd of elephants escorting Sweetling around the house this morning. Last night the discussion was, if we had access to a shrink ray and could make elephants small enough to be house pets, what would a good size be for a pet elephant?

One of my favorite things...God's hand is on my day and on my life. I don't have to worry about the big picture. I just have to be faithful moment-by-moment. That's hard enough in itself.

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Tuesday: tetnus shot? Call the dentist. Call Lazer Kraze and pre-pay to save our spot for Wednesday. Vacuum and clean.
Wednesday: laundry? school. Lazer Kraze.
Thursday: grocery store. school. Y classes.
Friday: Week TWO of the Jedi's holiday time! We might be going to the range. Also, I need to bake and decorate cake for a first birthday.
Saturday: Vaya's baby's first birthday. Dr. Who's 50th anniversary special. Originally a souffle was to be made that morning, but the birthday party preempted that.

A peek into my day...
No peeks. No peeks for you. Some horrible person forgot to take a SINGLE picture at our shoebox packing party. That horrible person could kick herself for that right now :(

---Format courtesy of The Simple Woman's Daybook.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Week in Review: Achoo!

Of all the great weeks with the great projects that I didn't take the time to write about, it's the week where a cold kicked our butts that I'm blogging about.

We limped through this week.

On the plus side, Sweetling has a new weekly schedule that seems to be working really well for her.

Last week she got everything done, including the first art lesson from her Artistic Pursuits curriculum, something that hasn't happened yet this school year.

(This week, not so much, but I'm counting the new schedule as a win.)

For Toa of Boy, I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Minecraft is the best thing that has happened to Toa of Boy's education. Usually, he flies through his schoolwork so that he can get on Skype with his Minecraft buddies. Again, this week, not as much. This week both Toa and I struggled to function through sinus congestion. We skipped fractions altogether. We spent extra time just reading.

But, since it's been a while since I've blogged, let me take this chance to do a quick update on one change we made to Toa's curriculum that I really like.

A few weeks ago, we started using the book Spelling Power.

It promises spelling in just 15 minutes a day (which was my selling point to get Toa of Boy on board). It doesn't lie.

We start with a quick pre-test of spelling words. We set a timer for 5 minutes. I read the word from the awesomely organized word lists. Toa repeats it (so I can check his pronunciation. If he doesn't pronounce it correctly, he won't have much of a chance of spelling it correctly.) Then he writes it, and we check his spelling. If he can spell it correctly, we move on to the next word. If he can't, we immediately spell it correctly in the 'words to learn' column. We get through a good amount of words in just five minutes. When the timer goes off, we are done with that section.

Generally, Toa only has a couple of words in his "words to learn" column, so we don't do the 10-step study sheet every day. (That's not how the program is designed, but Toa feels rewarded by not having to do the middle section every day.) So, when Toa has accumulated at least five words in his "words to learn" column, we take 5 minutes and do the 10-step study sheet. It's fast; it's simple; and it's effective.

Lastly, I write his 'words to learn' on small cards that accumulate in a little plastic box. (I take 3x5 index cards and cut them in quarters.) He picks an activity card (lots of different hands on activities) and spends five minutes practicing a few of his word cards. Each time he practices a word card, I mark it with a little penciled x. When he has practiced a word card three different times I clip it in a 'completed' stack. When he has about 15 or so 'completed' cards, we retest those words during the first 5 minute spelling block. If he spells them correctly on that second go round, I throw the card in the garbage. (Again, this is a little different than how the program prescribes. The program suggests retesting the words to learn the very next day. I find that delaying a few days really helps to guarantee that Toa has mastered the word.)

Toa likes using a timer. He likes knowing that each section of spelling only takes five minutes. He likes that he is only spending time studying and practicing words that he needs to learn. This is by far the most successful spelling program we have tried. It has been so successful, that Toa of Boy (whose most hated subject for years was spelling) has come to me and requested words to be added to his spelling list because he wants to learn how to spell them. That, my dear friends, is a successful spelling program.

Despite limping through the school work, this week ended on a spectacular note. Every year, the Jedi spends some of his unused vacation days (those that won't roll into the next year). He manages to take every Friday off in December, and many Fridays off in November. This week was the first of from here until 2014....we have three day weekends!

To kick off our holidays, we packed today with fun activities. We went to an 11 o'clock showing of Thor: The Dark World in 3d! That was awesome!

After the movie, we came home for 'specialty' sandwiches. I make a habit of grabbing yummy loaves of flavored bakery bread off the discounted day-old bread rack at the stores. We slice them and load them with ham and turkey and cheese (and veggies for those who want it). Then I slather them with butter and grill them and serve them with a side of fresh fruit. It's like a gourmet deli sandwich.

The Jedi got a little yard work done and I got some co-op emails done. We had time for a nap. Then we had spaghetti for dinner and went to see Despicable Me 2 at Danbarry dollar saver theater.

We capped off the night with dessert at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. (Delicious pizookies and strawberry beignets.) Back at home, everyone wound down by spending time on their own computer activities. (Toa played Minecraft; Sweetling is probably on some forums chatting about Thor; the Jedi is leveling up a rp character; and I blogged.)

Perfect, perfect start to the holiday season!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Simple Woman's Daybook: Jumping Back into Blogging

I know. Months without blogging and now, what, three posts in one night?

I wanted to write this on Monday at co-op....but, co-op is a busy place.

I really want to get back to blogging regularly. Ideally, I want to have at least two posts a week...a Two for Tuesday and a Week in Review.

But first, I need to get over my guilt at having let my blog slide, forget all the posts that I meant to write, but never did...and just start blogging again.

Easiest way to do that is with a Simple Woman's Daybook. Don't worry about my "to-write" list. Just focus on the now.


Outside my window...
Last week I put up a bird feeder. Two in fact. In my front yard on a double shepherd's hook. I can see them from my kitchen window. (Yes, my kitchen faces the front of the house.) I got two bird identification guides from the library and signed up for project feeder watch. So far it's attracted several house sparrows, three cardinals (one male and two female), a pair of house finches, and at least one chickadee. In my backyard, I think I saw a Northern Flicker.

I am thinking...
Writing is hard. Writing is so hard.

I am thankful...
For how well school is going with both kids this year. This is what homeschooling should be, I think. Sweetling has a really, really heavy workload, but it's mostly things that she wanted to learn. Her new weekly schedule seems to be working well for her. And Minecraft is the best thing that has ever happened to Toa of Boy's education.

In the kitchen...
Fish tacos were not as yummy as they sounded. Oh, the fish tacos Sweetling made a couple of years ago from scratch were delicious. The frozen fish stick tacos I tossed together after a long day at co-op were about as good as one would expect frozen fish stick tacos to taste.

I am wearing...
Jeans, unicorn slippers, an old college honors society sweatshirt, a wool wrap. I was wearing electrically heated gloves that plug into a usb cable or something while I type, but I took those off to facilitate the nose wiping. Sexy, I know.

I am creating...
Germs. Maybe a year of pies. Not at the same time though. My pies are germ free. Thus I prove that I am sexy and have great marketing skills.

I am going...
To see Thor: The Dark Planet on Friday. The Jedi is home every Friday for the rest of the year. It's one of my favorite parts of the Christmas holidays. Agents of Shield next Tuesday has a Thor tie in. Thus, a movie trip is in order.

I am wondering...
Where I can buy an inexpensive elf on the shelf. I need an elf. I've given up on a house elf, but think an elf on the shelf is withing my power to acquire.

I am reading...
Ender's Game. Or re-reading it. Toa and I are reading Michael Vey and the Prisoner of Cell 25 together as his literature read aloud. I've read all three of the Michael Vey books, because it was my job to pre-read them, of course. Not that I got sucked into the story line and had to find out WHAT HAPPENED. That never happens to me.

I am hoping...
To get over this cold soon. Toa of Boy has had this lingering cough for at least a week now.

I am looking forward to...
Fridays. I love having the Jedi home for several three-day weekends in a row.

I am learning...
That I can't tell the difference between a black-capped chickadee and a carolina chickadee. Personally, I think it's very unfair that an Ohio girl should have to worry about a carolina chicakee, but apparently Cincinnati is graced with both varieties. Lucky me.

Around the house...
Clutter. I suffer with severe flat-surface syndrome. Fortunately, there is a medication derived from the cocoa tree that can relieve my symptoms.

I am pondering...
Why, at 11:10, I just got an email from my daughter whose school night bedtime is supposed to be 10:30.

A favorite quote for today...
"I shot a superior officer in the chest." (Simmons, Agents of Shield).

One of my favorite things...

How quick the Jedi is to help me, fix things for me, and take care of me.

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Wednesday: pick up Sweetling's holds from the library. Bellydance class at the Y was on the list, but we'll see how much energy the cold leaves me with.
Thursday: Y classes, if the energy is there. Though, I think I can do the stretching class and skip the stability ball/core strength training.
Friday: Thor.
Saturday: house cleaning party at a friend's before her surgery, shoebox packing at church, gaming :)

A peek into my day...

Slept in. Fed the dog. Stared at the snow on the ground. Snow. No birds at the feeder. Made my breakfast. Started my devotions. Got a shower. History and Bible with Sweetling and Toa. Vacuumed. Swept the kitchen floor. Sorted and started laundry. Made and ate lunch and watched Code Lyoko prequel with Sweetling. Transferred laundry, straightened my hair, took Jupiter for a walk. Not a jog. I'm not jogging in the cold. I can't figure out how to stay warm and not sweat. Did school with Toa. Figured out the bird I saw in the backyard was probably a northern flicker. Wrote two blog posts. Let my family scrounge for leftovers in the fridge. Played hookey from evening Y classes. Watched Downton Abby and ate tacos. Watched Agents of Shield with Sweetling and the Jedi and drank hot chocolate. Ignored the laundry still in the machines and wrote this blog post instead.

(add your picture here)
You'll note there is no picture. I think I should make another goal for Friday be "ask the Jedi to teach me how to get pictures off of both my phone and the camera. I can't do either.

Two for Tuesday: Gaming Recipes

This first recipe was discovered by the Jedi at a potluck at work. It was appropriately called "Crack Dip" for it's additive qualities. He brought the recipe home along with an injunction that we must make it on our next gaming night.

We did.

It was well received. And very well named.

It isn't healthy. Not even remotely. Don't come here for healthy recipes.

Crack Dip

  • 1 lb. Bob Evans sausage regular or hot (red wrapper)
  • 2 blocks cream cheese cubed – do not use low or no fat (why would you even consider that?)
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes with diced chilies – do not drain
  1.  Brown sausage in pan. (Usually grease is cooked off but drain if needed.)
  2. Add cream cheese and Rotel tomatoes.
  3. Blend until creamy smooth. (Can be transferred to a crock pot to be kept warm.)
  4. Serve with tortilla chips. (The 'scoops' variety works very well.)
I don't have a picture. Sorry. Don't come here for pictures either.

This next recipe I have for you comes from ShugarySweets, which is my new favorite source of dessert and snack recipes. I didn't change anything, not a thing, from her directions. They were perfect and the treat was sinfully good.

So, pretty much, I'm bringing you crack and sin today.

I 'm just going to give you a link to her outstanding recipe and steal a picture from her blog so that you know how much you need to visit her blog and make this recipe. It does make a lot, so be prepared to take it to a pot luck, or cut up the leftovers and make little thank-you presents for teachers or secretaries or something.

Trust me, you won't regret making these. Your waistline might regret it, but I can't help that.

Year of Pies

Back story:

Late last winter, I brought home from the library the book, A Year of Pies. Because, after all, my family needed a year of pies.

We tried three recipes from the book, and found that they weren't quite the sweet, old-fashioned flavors we were looking for. They were good and they were unique, but they weren't the comfort food that I expect in a pie.

(Sweetling called them "Hippy Pies." There was, in fact, a recipe for a fern pie made from freshly harvested fern fronds, but we didn't try that one.)

The book did have the absolute best recipe and directions for a pie crust that I have ever encountered. And that includes the personal instructions and tutoring of my Mammaw, who was the best of country cooks.

Those beautiful step-by-step directions and the clear accompanying photographs made the book a treasure of a find.

There is no way I can do those pie crusts justice by reposting any of them here. (And yes, pie crusts, plural. The book had butter-shortening or all butter traditional crusts as well as four different types of crumb style crusts.)

You must find, beg, borrow, purchase, steal a copy of this book to learn to make the most flavorful, flaky, perfect crusts ever:
Nevertheless, there was some disappointment in my home over the actual pie recipes. That, and Toa of Boy felt cheated that "A Year of Pies" didn't mean three hundred sixty-five pies.

This fall, when the weather was cooler and it was time to start baking pies again, I got the book back out of the library. I need that perfect pie crust recipe.

The return of the book sparked a dinnertime conversation about what "A Year of Pies" might look like. A pie a day is just crazy. A pie a week is possible. Very, very possible. But, a pie every OTHER week is much more realistic.

So, from now until I get tired of doing this, I bring you....

Mrs. Random's Year of Pies. 

I might even sweet talk the Sweetling into making a graphic for me.

Now, the first pie I bring to you is a crustless pie. This will give you time to find a copy of Ashley English's incomparable crust recipe. I'm serious about this. Don't settle for a crust that's adequate or even one that's pretty good. Go for the best. Ashley English is the absolute best.

In the meantime, I'll be super ambitious and try to share three crustless pies in November.

The first, and the best, was originally titled "Fudge Pie". I'll post the directions exactly as they were given to me, and add my notes in little parenthetical italics. (Like this.) The original recorder put in his own parenthetical comments. Don't get confused. Clearly mine are the wiser quips.

Here is the fudge pie recipe. It serves 8-10 people, or 1 chocaholic  The changes for the chocolate chunk variation is at the bottom.

It comes from a cookbook called "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen"

11 tablespoons (1 stick + 3 tbsp) butter or margarine + more for greasing pan
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts (pecans are better)

Place an oven rack in middle position, preheat to 350 degrees. Melt butter and chocolate together in a double broiler, stirring occasionally. (Seriously, use a double broiler.)

Combine sugar and flour in a large bowl, mixing them together. Add eggs, mix well. Add vanilla, salt and walnuts (pecans) and mix again. Add melted butter and chocolate, mix until thoroughly combined.

Heavily rub bottom and sides of 8-inch or 9-inch pie pan with butter. Pour mix into pie pan and bake for 25-35 minutes. Insert knife into pie after 25 minutes, repeating every 2 minutes until knife comes out clean (or almost clean, as my knife never comes out totally pristine).

Remove pie from oven and let cool on a rack, then move pie to the refrigerator for at least several hours (I prefer overnight). Serve it cold, cutting it into slices. (Ok, it does need to chill some. It never survives overnight in my house. It's lucky if it gets to sit for a couple of hours before I'm serving it up.)

For the chocolate chunk variation, it is the same except for the following:

-- Instead of 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cut back to just 1 cup (I went to 1 1/4 cups.)
-- Use 3/4 semi-sweet chocolate chunks instead of 1 cup chopped walnuts (I like 3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, because they are easier AND 3/4 cup chopped pecans. What is this 'instead of' nonsense?)
-- It seems to be ready right at 25 minutes, maybe a couple minutes longer, but no more than that.

Public Service Announcement: This pie is highly addicting. It might be concentrated magic. You can bring it to someone and garner their lifelong servitute after they have partaken in its amazingness.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Boy Sleepover

Toa of Boy had three good friends spend the night. I love posting quotes and snippets about their time together. I'm that sort of mom.

Dinner was pork chops and baked potatoes, because Toa of Boy wanted a Minecraft dinner. During dinner one of the guests shared a list of bugs he had eaten, including three live flies whom, he said, he was certain he could feel crawling around in his belly. After dinner he gave me his tried and true recipe for roasting crickets. You catch the crickets and put them in the freezer to put them in a coma. Meanwhile, line a baking tray with aluminum foil. Remove crickets from freezer and pull their legs and wings off. Place them on the baking tray and bake....though he wasn't sure the exact times and temperatures but assured me that I could find the directions online. (Because you all know that roasted crickets is just moving right to the top of my menu plan. Not.)

Then, while the Jedi set up a Minecraft lan party in the basement, the boys played bull fighting up and down the hallway. They took turns being the bull and the matador. Casualties befell both man and beast. Minecraft was played until bedtime, with two breaks for grapes and popcorn and later for cake and ice cream.

Breakfast this morning was bacon omelets and cinnamon rolls. My house now smells like bacon and boy sweat.

Currently they are playing "divorce mode" on one of the Wii Mario Bros games. I can't keep track of all the titles. I'm super impressed with the fact that there is virtually no arguing going on while they are playing.

Here are my favorite quotes from the morning and evening--

"No one fall into the creeper pit. Its full of zombies, so now it's a death pit."

"Yeah but, I had to hit you."

"I shot you through the skull, so you are dead."

"Superman is wimpy."

"Let's play a game. The first person to talk looses." Followed quickly by, "I hate that game."

"That was delicious. Too bad it's gone now."

"I'm hungry."

"Can we have chocolate cake for dinner and pork chops for dessert?"

Friday, September 27, 2013

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

We've been making our own ice cream for some time now, maybe a year or more. We rarely buy store made any more. And we consume a gallon a week. Yum.

And when I say "we", I mostly mean the Jedi. He is the Ice Cream Master.

The rest of us just kick back and enjoy the deliciousness.

Until now. dun-dun-DUN!

I wanted some butter pecan to go with my tub of Heggy's hot fudge. (Best hot fudge on the planet, by the way!) So, I looked up a recipe for butter pecan....and then I changed it drastically. The recipe below makes a gallon of ice cream. Go big or go home.

Here's what I did...

Butter Pecan Ice Cream


  • 2 qts heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla

  1. Melt butter in small frying pan. Add pecans and cook for 3 to 5 minutes until just beginning to brown. DON'T BURN THEM! Remove from heat.
  2. Whisk 4 eggs in a mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. Measure brown sugar into large pot. Slowly add cream and stir till sugar is smoothly blended. Heat over medium high burner while stirring till cream just begins to simmer. Again, don't you let that yummy cream scorch. Remove from heat.
  4. Now you need to temper your eggs. Here's how. You need to grab a ladle full of your cream and slowly pour it into your eggs while whisking them. Repeat. The goal here is to slowly bring your eggs up to the temperature of your cream. If you do add the hot cream mixture too quickly, your eggs will cook. Gross. You don't want bite sized chunks of eggs in your ice cream. Again, gross.
  5. When you have a hot mixture of eggs and cream, slowly stir it back into the pot with the rest of the cream. Turn the heat back on and bring it close to, but not to, a simmer. (The original recipe said test for doneness by inserting a spoon. Mixture is done when it coast the back of a spoon and you can wipe a clean stripe off with your finger. I have no idea what that's talking about. All I can say is, you are dealing with raw eggs. Make sure you get them to a germ killing temp and keep them there for a couple minutes.)
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Stir in vanilla.
  8. Transfer your pecans to a small container and put them in the freezer. Transfer your cream mixture to a large container and put it in your fridge. It needs to cool down and get chilled before you can make ice cream.
  9.  When the cream is honest to goodness refrigerator cold, then make ice cream in your ice cream machine. When the cream is thick and done being processed in the machine, then stir in the pecans, transfer it all back into a large container, and put it in the freezer to harden off. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Two for Tuesday: Strawberry Lemonade & Peanut Butter Pie

Two for Tuesday is back!

One of my goals for myself while I'm on a self-imposed Facebook fast is to get back to regular posts on my blog.

Thus, the return of Two for Tuesday :)

First up..... strawberry lemonade.

This stuff is to die for! We had some strawberry lemonade at Longhorn Steakhouse (where we went for our anniversary dinner.) It was yummy, so I found a recipe on my phone. We stopped and picked up strawberries and lemons on our way home. The next day was Saturday. The Jedi ran the smoker and put three racks of ribs in. We had another family over for dinner, and I made this strawberry lemonade.

The drink we had a Longhorn was good.....the homemade stuff was much much much better.

Warning, it can be a bit labor intensive, so I recommend recruiting a couple of children to help. I'm all about free child labor.

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 4 cups water, divide
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (4 to 5 lemons)

  1. Combine one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a small sauce pan. Heat and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixture is clear. Remove from heat and let it cool.
  2. Rinse and hull your strawberries. (Or give this task to an older child to be working on while you are making the sugar syrup.)
  3. Put strawberries and one cup cold water in a food processor. Run it till the mixture is pretty smooth. Transfer to a pitcher and stir in 2 more cups of cold water.
  4. Cut your lemons in half and juice them. THIS IS NOT THAT HARD, even without a fancy juicer. Check out this video on how to juice lemons with a fork. (And again, grab a couple of kids to help.)
  5. Pour the cup of lemon juice and the cooled sugar syrup into the pitcher and stir.
  6. You may know chill the mixture for up to 8 hours. (It will need stirred again before you pour it.) OR you can serve it right away. 
  7. Either way, when you are ready to serve, fill clear glasses two-thirds full with ice. (Yes, the glasses do need to be transparent; this is too pretty to hide behind opaque plastic.) Then pour your homemade strawberry lemonade over the ice. I like to pop a pretty colored straw in the glasses too. This will make enough to fill 8 glasses. 
And my second recipe for the day is...peanut butter pie. 

This one is nice for these last dog days of summer because it doesn't require much, if any, baking. I threw this together at the last minute when I needed something to take to a friend's house. I didn't have a prepared graham cracker crust on hand, so I made one. Sweetling and the Jedi don't care for chocolate, so using Oreos as a crust wasn't an option. (I did have heavy cream on hand. I pilfered the Jedi's ice cream making ingredients and bought another carton for him from the store the next day.)

Here's the recipe I used, and aside from swapping out the crust, I followed it and it worked perfectly. It's late, and I'm lazy, so I'm just going to post a link.

I didn't put shaved chocolate on the top, but I did make the hot fudge sauce to put on slices. The hot fudge sauce was ok, but it wasn't Heggy's. I'm still on a quest to find a hot fudge sauce recipe comparable with Heggy's. I also made a strawberry sauce from scratch, for the non-chocolate lovers....but I was told that the strawberry did not go with the pie as much as I thought it should. I was told that caramel would have been a better topping option. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Menu Plan

Again, super boring. Don't come to this blog for bling. I got no pictures and no witty comments. Just a list of days and some recipe links.

Wednesday: Beef and Rice Enchiladas

Thursday: Chicken Alfredo

Friday: Cheddarwurst and Mac and Cheese

Saturday: leftovers?

Sunday: Japanese Beef Bowls

Monday: Rotisserie Chicken, butter noodles, broc n cheese

Tuesday: Manicotti

MAKE AHEAD for Monday--

Bacon and Egg Cups

Pepperoni Pinwheels; Ham and Cheese Pinwheels.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Perfect Blueberry Muffin

I have no idea how I had the good fortune to stumble across this recipe. All I have of it is a food splattered print-out in Toa of Boy's recipe binder. The corner of the print out has a url for I have to credit that site with the recipe.

Here it is. Truly and without exageration,
 The Perfect BlueBerry Muffin.

Muffin Ingredients:
  •  1 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg, room temp, beaten (yeah, I'm not sure how well I follow the room temp part)
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
 Topping Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1  1/2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 400 and line muffin tin with liners.
  2. Mix dry muffin ingredients together in a bowl. (I always wonder why recipes specify 'in a bowl'. Do they think I might get confused and mix up my flour in a hat?)
  3. In a small bowl (not a hat), whisk milk and egg together. Add oil and whisk.
  4. Add milk and egg to flour mixture and blend with a wooden spoon until all the lumps are out. The batter will be thick. Like, playdough, what have I done wrong, type thick. Don't panic.
  5. Gently fold in blueberries. (This is really tough to do in playdough, but you don't want the blueberries to bust open.)
  6. In another bowl, because hats are for heads, combine topping ingredients and cut in the butter.
  7. Spoon batter into liners. Do not fill to top.
  8. Generously sprinkle topping crumble unto muffins. Generously = pack it on, baby.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. 
  10. Let them cool for 10 minutes or so before trying to remove them from the pan.
  11. Be amazed at their perfection.

Menu Plan

Absolutely no pictures or cute explanations. Just the bare bones list. I should have left to jog with dog an hour ago. I got to bed a a good time last night AND the night before, and yet both mornings I feel exhausted. The moral of the story is that I should have stayed up playing Minecraft. 

Wednesday: Pork Chops

Thursday: Baked Sloppy Joe Tacos

Friday: Mozzarella Pepperoni Chicken Roll-ups

Saturday: leftovers
Saturday gaming snack: Buffalo Chicken Pull-Apart Bread

Sunday: Thai Coconut Curry

Monday: Apple Ham Hotcakes

Tuesday: Leftovers

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This Week's Menu

I've been just writing our weekly menu on the kitchen whiteboard, but this week I have a lot of new recipes I want to I'm making a blog list with links. This helps me find the recipes quickly and easily when it's time to cook.

Wednesday:  I'm going to the grocery store in the morning, and then I'll be at Christopher Robin's house during dinner. Family will have to fend for themselves, so I'm thinking something easy like Italian Sausage Subs.

Thursday:   Sweet Hawaiian Crock Pot Chicken. I'm skeptical of this one. The photo definitely looks like the meat has been browned, yet the recipe doesn't include that as a step. Here's the recipe. Judge for yourselves. (I'll serve it over jasmine rice, however it turns out. Maybe sugar snap peas too.)
2lb. Chicken tenderloin chunks
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
Combine all together, cook in Crock-pot 6-8 hours...that's it!
***Edit to add: I was right. The recipe produced nothing remotely resembling the photo. I won't be making this again. The flavor combo was nice, I just need a different set of cooking directions. This is not a dish that cooks well in the crock pot. 

Friday: Phineas and Ferb and Avengers! Woo hoo! Pizza oven pizza?

Saturday:  Slow Cooked Steak Fajitas. These just looked too good. I'll have to substitute something else for the salsa. (or make my own, tomato free salsa, which is so not happening the day before grocery day.) And I'll have to pull out half the meat before I add bell peppers. Otherwise the Jedi will be a sad, sad man. 

Sunday: I'm going to a Thai cooking class with Christopher Robin. This means the family is on their own again. Hmmmm..... maybe just some grilled ham sandwiches.

Monday:  Chicken Crescent Bake. Another Facebook find. This recipe violates my goal of cooking from scratch. Too bad. (Serve with baked potato? It needs something green to go with it. Wish my family would eat green beans.)

 2 cans of low fat refrigerator crescents
1 can of healthy low sodium cream of chicken soup(26oz)
1 cup cheddar cheese
2 boneless skinless chicken breast

I boil my chicken breast then shred, roll out each individual crescent, place about a Tbsp of shredded chicken in center and roll it up.

Bake on 350 for about 5 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Pour Cream of chicken over the top bake an additional 10 min top with cheddar cheese and bake for 10 more minutes.

Tuesday:  Night before grocery shopping. I should be very responsible and make it a leftover night. But, in case I'm not feeling responsible, we'll have Bacon omelets and buttermilk biscuits

Lunch Options:

Stuffed Zucchini. I have three zucchini, some leftover rotisserie chicken, and some stuffing. (And some shredded cheddar cheese.) I shall stuff the zucchini with the hodge podge of other stuff and bake it. It shall be delicious. Behold, I have declared it so.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Sweetest Diagrams

I had typed all this out on the page of our intended 2013-2014 curriculum, but it became way to long for that list. It deserved its own post. So here it is:

At the homeschool convention this spring, I attended this great workshop by Elizabeth O'Brian. She started the workshop by showing a slide displaying the following sentence...

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And she asked each person attending the workshop to take a minute or two to paraphrase that sentence to explain what the sentence was about, what it was saying. Easy, right?

Apparently, wrong! She told a story of a college professor who gave his class of students the same assignment, and then she put up a few slides of the answers these students gave. I was dumbfounded. I wish I could remember them, but they were so far off base, so completely whacked, that now I couldn't even begin to accurately share them.

Anyway, I went to the workshop to check out a grammar program for Toa of Boy. I thought my little architect-to-be would like looking at the blueprints of sentences and seeing how sentences were constructed.

I walked out having had such a great time diagramming sentences (yes, I am that much of a nerd), that I thought Sweetling would really dig this too.

So, once a week, Sweetling is going to pick a sentence, any sentence she wants from any source, and the two of us are going to diagram it.

I also signed up for Elizabeth's free newsletter. Every two weeks she sends out a grammar 'challenge'. A couple of weeks ago the question was...Do you know when to use every day versus everyday? I sat and thought about it, and realized I wasn't sure. I read her article about it, and then I went to ask Sweetling (and impress her with my awesome grammar knowledge.) I asked Sweetling if she knew what the difference was between everyday as one word and every day as two words. Then I waited for her to ponder and be perplexed, so that I could jump in with my awesome new grammar knowledge. Instead Sweetling very matter-of-factly stated, "I think 'everyday' as one word is an adjective, but 'every day' as two words is an adverb phrase or something."

Or something indeed.

Sweetling isn't lacking in the grammar department.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Sweetling's Portfolio 2012-2013

This was Sweetling's first year taking all high-school level courses in co-op. Because of the number of advanced courses she was taking in co-op and the advanced history course she undertook with her father, we decided to split some of her other courses into two years, taking half a semester over the summer of 2012 and during the winter co-op break, and then finishing the course in the summer of 2013. So, for the first three courses in her portfolio, we completed half of the course and will be completing the second half of the course from July to September of this year.

Algebra 2 (Semester 1)

We used Houghton Mifflin's Algebra and Trigonometry Structure and Method Book 2.  The first chapter started with a basic review of algebraic concepts.

We worked through inequalities, linear equations and linear inequalities in two variables, functions, products and factors of polynomials, rational expressions, fractional coefficients, fractional equations, and triangle trigonometry.








One Year Adventure Novel (Semester 1)

This was an amazing curriculum and Sweetling poured lots of time and effort into it each day, spending hours writing and fleshing out ideas, characters, and themes for her own adventure novel. The curriculum itself was broken into two semesters. During the first semester, the part we accomplished this year, the young writer learned how themes and types of conflicts and dilemmas both moves the plot of a good adventure novel along and gives the story as a whole meaning for the reader. This involved a lot of reading of other quality novels and the viewing of some great movies.

All the actual writing in this first semester was "preliminary" writing, but it does demonstrate thought process and story construction.

From the beginning of the process:

1.    The Way Things Are- The heroes of the story are from the 21st century American suburban town of Northbrook, Ohio. Throughout the course of the story, they travel from Northbrook and another world known as Pantheos.
2.    The Hero- Our hero is Victor, an athletic, fearless 16 year old boy. The story also focuses on his best friend, Tristan, a shy, short, pudgy, intelligent 10 year old boy.
3.    The Story Goal- Victor’s girlfriend, Alyson, has fallen in to a trance and is completely unaware of the outside world, and only brushes her hair and sings. He must gather worthy bearers of the Components of the Pantheon, which consists of the four physical elements- earth, water, air, and fire- and the four elements of the abstract- suffering, love, competition, and harmony- to free her.
4.    The Villain- Standing in Victor’s way is the ghost of the evil sorcerer Askari, who put the trance on Alyson, and his servants, the necromancer Muti, the puppetmaster Zamira, the shadow mage Basit, and, new to the group, none other than Tristan’s brother Paul.
And two samples from later in the writing process. Says Sweetling, "I couldn't pick my favorite, so I picked both"--

 Pick one of the three techniques for creating suspense and write a short scene about your hero using that technique:

“Look sharp, Tristan.” Victor warned the young boy standing beside him.

“Are- are you suggesting that there’s something here?” Tristan asked, hoping the answer would be “no”.

“There’s always something at the end of a dark corridor, Tristan.” Victor answered with confidence.

“Fair point.”

The two of them walked out into the dimly lit room that the dark corridor let out to.

The walls were made of perfectly chiseled granite, and they were lined with torches.  A desk with tools on it suggested that this room belonged to a woodworker.  A large chest sat right beside it.

Standing in the middle of the room was Zamira, the puppetmaster who worked under Askari. She pushed a lock of hair off her face and giggled- which, if it were any other girl, would be cute, but knowing that she was about to kill them, was quite creepy.

Victor gritted his teeth.  “Zamira.” He said disapprovingly.

“I see you’ve made it in one piece, Victor. Quite impressive…” She said, backing him against a wall.

“…but don’t let it happen again.”

“What do you want, Zamira?”

“Oh, nothing…”

The chest by the desk started to rattle, and eventually the rusty hinges gave. Out of it crawled six marionettes, each one holding a knife and smiling cheerfully as they marched towards Victor and Tristan.

“…but mostly to watch you die as Askari marches towards glory.”

Victor’s eyes widened.

“Knives.” He said, mostly deadpan but with a hint of fear.

“Yes, what about them?”  Zamira replied.

“They’ve got knives.”

“Ooooo! Victor, you’re not scared, are you?” she taunted.

“I- no…”

“Here you are, the great and mighty Victor Compton, scared by silverware.

“…No. I’m not that kind of… not that kind of coward…” he said uneasily, sounding as if he hoped that saying those words would make them true.

“I think you are!”


“You know what I think? I think you’re doubting yourself.  Here you are, confronted by one of the few things you fear, but you won’t admit it! You won’t admit it to anyone else, and you won’t admit it to yourself!”

As she was talking, the marionettes surrounded Tristan.

“Victor, help me!” he cried.

“Tristan!” Victor screamed, running towards him.

Suddenly, two marionettes grabbed Victor’s arms and pinned him against a wall before he could react.

“What are you doing to him? Let us go! I’m not going to fail him!” Victor screamed at her.

“Look at that! Still clinging onto hope at your darkest hour! It’s the only thing that’s kept you going this long! It’s what makes you you! But without it, where will you be? Going…”

A marionette grabbed Tristan.


Another one menacingly raised its knife right above Tristan’s chest, as Zamira grabbed a knife of her own.



Write an exchange of dialog between your Hero and your villain in which each reveals the inner motives of the other:

Victor ran into the inner sanctum of the Temple Of Fire. As he got down on his knees to catch his breath, he heard a voice say to him:

“Ah, Victor, so nice of you to finally meet me in person.”

He looked up and saw a ghost sitting on one of Muti’s medium glyphs. Victor thought he recognized the ghost from the drawings that Victor and Tristan found near the portal to Pantheos. The man that looked like this was identified as Askari by the writing… Could it be? …

“Though I can’t exactly say this counts as ‘in person’, but it’s the best I can do right now.” He held out a hand and, as if he was actively trying to confirm one of Victor’s worst fears, he said “I’m Askari, by the way. Nice to meet you.”

Victor got up, reluctantly moved to “shake” Askari’s hand, but drew back at the last second. “You know why I’m here, Askari, so don’t even try to pretend that you just want to make friends.”

“Why would I offer such a foolish pretense? I only want to establish common ground.”

“Such as?”

“You and your Bearers are going to die, I’m going to resurrect my beloved, and together we’re going to take over the world and I’m going to rule it as its rightful Caliph. That must be what you’re thinking, isn’t it?”

“…Possibly. I mean we’ve only found three of the Bearers so far, and you’ve got all three of them. Plus I lost Tristan.”

“And yet you came here all on your own. You must be so dedicated.” Askari said.

“Why wouldn’t I be? I’m trying to save Alyson- and Tom now, too!”

“But at what cost? Your precious Alyson is the entire reason that I have Thomas and that Tristan was taken by the authorities! Not to mention what you’ve put yourself through!”

He turned to Muti, who was instructing Basit, Zamira, and Paul in how to draw the medium glyph they needed to complete the resurrection.

And in the middle of that glyph lay Alyson, unconscious.

“Progress?” Askari yelled at Muti.

“The glyph is almost complete.” Muti said, not one hint of emotion betraying his face. He turned towards the teenage girl that was currently brandishing a knife. “Zamira, I require the golden vase.”

“Yes, sir!” Zamira replied. She got up and walked over to Victor. “You’re cute. Can I have some of your hair when you’re dead?”

“I… hope that opportunity never comes up.”

She skipped over to a supply room.

“What’s all this about a golden vase, then?” Victor asked.

“Oh? Don’t you know?”

Victor shook his head.

“Well, resurrecting a human without its soul is easy. Muti does that all the time.”

“And that’s how a zombie’s made.” Victor reasoned.

Muti nodded in confirmation.

“But, to bring back their soul… that requires a little something… extra.

“Such as?”

It was Muti’s turn to speak this time. “One of their most prized possessions, one of their creations, whether artistic or practical in nature, a visual representation of them, a piece of writing in their own language, preferably from the one who is being resurrected, a representation of their favorite memory, and an object treasured by their most beloved person,” he recited from rote.

“Those objects all act as tethers to connect the soul in question to the physical world,” Askari continued. “I gave her the golden vase, which was once full of perfume, as a gift. That satisfies the ‘object from their most beloved person’ requirement.”

You gave her the vase?! Was this some cold, tactical move to get her to fall in love with you?!” Victor asked.

“Contrary to what you may believe, I am capable of emotional attachment to someone.”

“But if she didn’t have weird demi-god magic that could conquer and/or destroy the world, would you still be trying to resurrect your ‘beloved’?”

“You have put you and your so-called ‘friends’ in life threatening danger over and over and over again, all for a girl! She’s clearly the most important thing in the world to you, but you need to ask yourself- is she worth it?

“I— she’s—”

“In this very room sit three sorcerers who are all more powerful than an army of Victor Comptons would be! There’s nothing you can do to stop the resurrection now, and, once it is inevitably finished, attempt to keep Alyson alive will only lead to the continued existence of the harbinger of destruction! The question you need to ask is: are you still going to try to save YOUR beloved?”

Basit, the shadowmage, shouted out in a booming voice: “Enough! Is! ENOUGH!”

Suddenly, from behind Victor a hand made of shadows that was as big as Victor’s torso pulled him down to the floor. Victor squirmed and struggled, but the hand kept its grip on him.

“I despise these futile remarks and displays of sentimentality! Let the bloodshed commence!”

An evil grin crossed Askari’s face. “I thought you’d never ask.”

He turned to Muti. “Progress?”

Muti drew the last line and then nodded.

“Then let the bloodshed commence.”

Muti put his hands on the glyph and started to mutter a spell. As the spell continued, the ground started to shake and the glyph turned into fire.

Zamira knelt down in front of Victor.

“Remember when I was attacking you with marionettes when we were in the inner sanctum of another temple, and I called it your darkest hour?”

She put her face right up against Victor’s.

“I take that back.”

American Literature (Semester 1)

In keeping with her extensive study of the early history of America, Sweetling read several classic works of literature from 1630 to shortly after the Civil War. Novels and pieces read were Winthrop's A Model of Charity, excerpts from Mather's Essays to Do Good, Whitefield's A Method of Grace, Longfellow's Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and excerpts from The Song of Hiawatha. Also read were The Sign of the Beaver, by E.G. Speare, Johnny Tremain by E. Forbes, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott.
For each literary work, Sweetling answered several reflective questions for each chapter. This was Sweetlings first real foray into academic response writing, and her written responses show a lot of growth.

from her first reading/writing assignment--
The Gift of the Magi
2.    Christmas is a time of joy and happiness as we celebrate the savior’s birth. Though gifts, strictly speaking, are better than the alternative, some people manage to have Christmas without presents.
3.    Self-sacrifice to help people in need is a good thing. Self-sacrifice for no reason is not.
4.    Della and Jim’s gifts were ultimately rendered useless, but they still cared enough about each other to give up their most precious possession to complement the other’s.
5.    The title is explained at the end of the story, where he explains that the magi started the tradition of Christmas gifts, and they were wise, and the characters’ gifts to each other were wise.

from a later response of her choosing--

 Call Of The Wild: Chapter 2
1.    “The law of club and fang” represents the fact that, in uncivilized circumstances, being the best fighter is ideal because it means you get to keep living.
2.    Buck may have naturally feared being trapped in the snow as opposed to only fearing it because of his forthcoming feral nature, as the first description of him being scared of being trapped comes before he undergoes the most noticeable (so far) transformation from housepet to wild dog, but the book explicitly sates that his fear was “a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forebearers.”
3.    Moral nature is not a “vain thing” or a “handicap” as the author describes it because, although it does limit what we are allowed to do, it also holds people accountable for their actions against others and protects us.

Survey of Ancient Rome

Sweetling read Famous Men of Ancient Rome, completed a timeline of the Ancient Roman world, watched a History Channel mini-series on the Rise and Fall of Rome, read the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and supplemented the study with several library books on various aspect of Roman history, culture, art, and life.

Foundations in Romans

As an extension of our study of Rome and the Gospels, Sweetling worked through an exhaustive line by line, verse by verse study of the book of Romans. She read other commentaries about each chapter and looked up words according to their original Greek usage. She broke each section down in an outline. This is a sample from the middle of the course (it looses it's formatting on the blog, so sorry)--
Romans 3:21-26
1.    Main idea: we are saved, not by the law, but by Jesus
2.    Contrast:
2.1.    Key contrast word v 21—BUT
2.2.    Contrast—Up until now, Paul has been discussing the law. Now Paul begins explaining God’s righteousness *apart from* the Law.
3.    Repeated word: Justify (Strong’s Concordance: G1344)
3.1.    “to render righteous or such he ought to be
3.2.     to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered
3.3.     to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be”
4.    Repeated word: Faith (Strong’s Concordance: G4102)
4.1.    “conviction of the truth of anything, belief; in the NT of a conviction or belief respecting man's relationship to God and divine things, generally with the included idea of trust and holy fervour born of faith and joined with it
4.2.      relating to God-- the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ
4.3.    relating to Christ-- a strong and welcome conviction or belief that Jesus is the Messiah, through whom we obtain eternal salvation in the kingdom of God
4.4.     the religious beliefs of Christians
4.5.      belief with the predominate idea of trust (or confidence) whether in God or in Christ, springing from faith in the same
4.6.        fidelity, faithfulness
4.7.        the character of one who can be relied on”
5.    Repeated word: grace v 24, (Strong’s Concordance: G5485)
5.1.    “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
5.2.    good will, loving-kindness, favour
5.3.        of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
5.4.    what is due to grace
5.5.     the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace
5.6.       the token or proof of grace, benefit
5.7.       a gift of grace
5.8.       benefit, bounty
5.9.    thanks, (for benefits, services, favours), recompense, reward”
6.    Unknown word: propitiation v 25 (King James Version), (Strong’s Concordance: G2435)
6.1.    “relating to an appeasing or expiating (atoning), having placating or expiating force, expiatory; a means of appeasing or expiating, a propitiation
6.2.        used of the cover of the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies, which was sprinkled with the blood of the expiatory victim on the annual day of atonement (this rite signifying that the life of the people, the loss of which they had merited by their sins, was offered to God in the blood as the life of the victim, and that God by this ceremony was appeased and their sins expiated); hence the lid of expiation, the propitiatory
6.3.        an expiatory sacrifice
6.4.        a expiatory victim”
7.    Narration: God has provided righteousness apart from the Law, which the Law and the Prophets give witness to. The righteousness comes through faith in Jesus. Both Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and both are justified by the grace given by Jesus. God gave us Christ as a sacrifice of atonement. Jesus bled and died to save all who have faith in Him. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness and in doing this He left the sins of those who were faithful before the death of Jesus unpunished. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness to justify those who have faith in Him.

Traditional Logic 1

Together, Sweetling and I worked through the first year of Traditional Logic from Memoria Press, with Sweetling acting much more as the teacher than I was capable of. (I wrote a brutally honest blog post about this here.) Most of the exercises were true/false, workbook style answers that don't lend themselves to portfolio samples. But, some of the exercises required writing her own logic statements. Here are some samples of Sweetling's logic statements.

Contradictory proposition-
No whales are space whales. Some whales are space whales.
 Contrary propositions
All self-destruct buttons are necessary. No self-destruct buttons are necessary.
Subcontrary propositions
Some vegetables are leeks. Some vegetables are not leeks.
Subalternate propositions
 All pigtails are teal pigtails. Some pigtails are teal pigtails.

Vocabulary from Classical Roots

  We completed book D in the great series Vocabulary from Classical Roots. A blog post about how our vocabulary lessons typically go can be found here. Or, here is a random sample from Sweetling's workbook.

America: The Building of a Nation

This course was put together and directed by my husband. He conducted it very much like a college course in both style and content. Every week, Sweetling had a hefty reading assignment from America: The Last Best Hope by William J. Bennett. Sweetling also read Common Sense by Thomas Payne, the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and selections of writings from various founding fathers. One evening a week was set aside as history discussion time, where her father would ask her quesitons about the origins of the nation, the events in history, the reasoning and motivations behind different actions. Sweetling would be expected to give a reasoned answer with support from her readings. On a separate evening each, they would watch selected history documentaries and discuss those.

 The following courses were taken through the Learning Tree Co-op--

Spanish 3

 Sweetling's first semester grades were reported to me as follows:
Homework 93%; Oral grade 99%; Quiz Grade: 95%; Test Grades 92%; Semester Exam 95%
Her second semester grades were:
Homework 97%; Quiz grade: 94%; Test Grades 95%; Semester Exam 96%;
Final Grade: 96%

American Sign Language 2

I haven't yet received grades from the instructor. I do have a written report Sweetling did as one of her homework assignments. For space sake, I'm just posting the first two paragraphs here, but there is more to the report.

The syntax of ASL is not influenced by FSL (French Sign Language) as some might think, as ASL existed in its earliest form at least a century before FSL was brought to America in 1817. However, the vocabulary of ASL is influenced by FSL- 60% of its vocabulary is from FSL.

ASL is also not influenced by English; it is a visual language suited for Deaf people. English is heavily structural, ASL is more vivid. English is strictly a string of phonemes arranged in a specific order; ASL utilizes visual cues to expand the meaning. English uses a MSVO word order (modifier-subject-verb-object), but ASL is more flexible; the emphasis on a word, not its role in the sentence, determines where it goes.  ASL uses directional verbs, inflections that are not used in English (and vice versa), and classifiers. Facial expression has a grammatical function; it marks questions and negatives.

Drawing 1

Included drawing from still lifes as well as reference photos. Included a variety of techniques and mediums.

My favorite piece:

General Science

The class completed Apologia's Exploring Creation with General Science and did the accompanying lab work. For all the classwork, lab write ups, tests, and homework, Susan received 385.5 out of 382 possible points.

Shakespeare and Elizabethan Theater

The class learned about William Shakespeare, the culture he lived in, the globe theater, and what performances were like in Shakespeare's day. They read adaptations of and excerpts from The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and Midsummer Night's Dream. At the end of the co-op year, they memorized, made costumes for, and put on a performance of an abridged Midsummer Night's Dream. Sweetling performed as the love-sick Helena.

Additional and independent learning-- 

Sweetling continues to pursue a multitude of interests and independent projects outside of her formal curriculum and education. There are far too many of these for me to post them all here, and some of them I am only vaguely aware of.  But I want to include a few for our own remembrance.


Sweetling received a Manga style cookbook as a Christmas present from her most fabulous aunt.  She's enjoyed making several recipes from the new cookbook and has also learned how to make sushi (a birthday present from the same most fabulous aunt).

Korean Alphabet: 

This is from a Facebook post that my husband made--
Another example of why we homeschool... My wife and Sweetling went to a homeschool convention today and stopped at a Korean restaurant. When they got their menus, Sweetling covered up the English side and then proceeded to sound out the Korean side. My wife was blown away by this so Susan explained to her dumbfounded mother that she had taught herself the Korean alphabet in her spare leisure time. She then wrote out a thank you note to the restaurant staff in Korean. To be clear again, she's never had instruction in this language. 

 Sweetling made, from scratch, an outfit for a costume contest at a local convention and won the award for her age category. (She is the young Amelia Pond from Doctor Who.)

She is also working on sewing a plush octopus character featured on a series of youtube vidoes. However, this project is not completed yet, and I am told that Tako Luka doesn't want her picture taken until she is finished.

More Art: 

Sweetling continues to draw anime and manga characters in her free time. This is one she made to enter an online contest--


Sweetling has developed an interest in vocaloid technology.  While the software itself is pretty expensive, Sweetling found out about and got permission to download a free trial version that she could use for a few days. In that short time, she figured out how to use the software, wrote her own lyrics and music for several songs, and programmed the voice software to sing her songs. I am not as techno savy as my daughter, and I have no earthly idea how to access the saved mp3 files she made of this experience. (Sweetling to the rescue! I'm told that clicking this link will play the song automatically. The song starts at the 7 second mark, so be patient.)

Tae Kwon Do:

Sweetling earned her black belt in January of 2012 and this school year moved into the advanced belt class. She also competed in a small in-school tournament in February of this year. She placed in her group, but as the prize she brought home was chocolate, which she doesn't care for, she wasn't super-excited about her reward.


Sweetling participated in the teen and adult division of an Awana pine car derby and placed third in a design category for her "Ride from Outer Space".

This summer, Sweetling went on a youth mission trip where her group undertook service projects in rural Pennsylvania. She used some power tools for the first time and helped in the construction of a deck...

painted a trailer home....

and helped build a bird house from the leftover scraps of wood.

Last, as a capstone to our year our family took a three week trip to several important/historical sites in the east. We visited--

  • Colonial Williamsburg
  • The Pentagon
  • The U.S Capital Building
  • Arlington Cemetary
  • The International Spy Museum
  • The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
  • The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
  • Gettysburg Battlefield and Memorial
  • Independence Hall in Philedelphia
  • Hershey, PA
  • a piece of the Atlantic Boardwalk in Wildwood NJ
  • Shofusu Japanese House and Garden 
There is way too much to sum up here. That trip has its own series of blog posts, which I am still in the process of writing. A friend of ours called it "The Patriot Tour".