June 29, 2013

My New Favorite Summer Recipe

I hope you were able to find some new and refreshing recipes from this week's Mid-week Morsel.  I have found my own new favorite summer recipe.  I've been thinking for a couple of weeks about what recipe I'd use.  Maybe I should write about our Greek salad, or my homemade cole slaw.  I just couldn't decide.  Fortunately, I didn't have to. My daughter picked out some fresh peaches at the store last week, and wanted to make something with them.  She decided to make peaches and cream.  Too bad I didn't have any heavy cream. We looked around for some other peach recipes...peach cobbler, peach melba...nothing seemed appealing.  Then it hit me.  My family loves my homemade banana pudding.  Why not make peach pudding?  So we did.  I used the same pudding recipe from my banana pudding, substituting the peaches for the bananas.  It's delicious!  Creamy, refreshing, and oh so peachy!  Here's my new favorite peaches and cream pudding recipe.

Peaches and Cream Pudding

1 C. sugar
2/3 C. flour
4 C. milk
6 egg yolks
3 tsp. vanilla extract
2 peaches

Halve and thinly slice the peaches. Set aside. Separate and beat the eggs in a bowl. Set aside. Combine flour and sugar in a medium saucepan.  Add milk and stir.  Add a small amount of the milk mixture to the eggs and stir together.  Then, add all of the egg mixture to the saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and constantly stir...and stir...and stir.  You might want to have your phone, or a book with you.  You're going to be stirring for a while, but don't worry, it's worth it.  After around 20 minutes the mixture will begin to thicken.  Remove the pudding from the heat when it clings to the back of a spoon.  Add the vanilla extract to the pudding after it is done cooking.  Layer the peaches in a serving bowl or individual dessert cups with sprinkles of cinnamon. Pour the warm pudding over the peach slices and refrigerate.  Serve when cold. Makes 6-8 servings.

I hope you enjoy our peaches and cream pudding.  I'm sure it would be delicious with other fruit as well.  Perhaps I'll make it using blueberries or strawberries.  Yum!  Please feel free to share your new favorite summer recipe in the comments.


June 26, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: Summer Recipes

I love summertime!  The long days.  The sense of freedom that comes with no school, no homework, and no after-school activities. Okay, not as many after-school activities.  Unfortunately, it also comes with sweltering heat that makes you want to live off of sweet tea and ice cream.  For this week's Mid-week Morsel I've gathered up a trio of websites to help you find your new favorite summer recipe.  Brown-eyed Baker lists 185 summer recipes sorted by course.  Simply Recipes has a neatly alphabetized page of nearly 100 summer recipes.  Finally, if you have a favorite summer ingredient, Taste of Home's Summer Recipes page categorizes it's summer recipes by main ingredient.  These inviting recipes are sure to help freshen up your summer menu.


June 22, 2013

Summer Science Fun

Summer is a great time to help children discover their inner scientist.  There are so many things just waiting to be explored.  Things that grow, things that crawl or fly, and things that react.  Science is all around us.  Science is cooking, gardening, weather, and so much more.  You don't need to be a rocket scientist to teach science to your children.  All you really need to do to make everyday activities a science lesson is encourage your children to really observe what is happening, then explain the why and the how of it.  Of course, if you're a supermom you can do a little research on the topic and find an actual lesson plan or some worksheets, but that isn't required in order for children to learn.  All that is needed is some information they didn't know before, and some fun.  For example, our first science project we are doing this summer is making rock candy.  We browsed a couple of websites that taught us how crystals form.  Then we found a recipe and instructions for making rock candy.  We've been observing them for several days, enjoying seeing how much they have grown from day to day.  Learning never tasted so good!  I've been searching the internet for other ideas for science projects we can do over the summer, and decided to share some of my findings with you.

Have a kid or two who absolutely love dinosaurs?  Just think how much fun they will have making their own fossils!  Rock Hound Blog has a great idea for making your own amber fossil.  Dr. Cavanaugh's website lists instructions for making mold fossils, cast fossils, trace fossils, and whole animal fossils.  

Perhaps your children are backyard explorers.  When my boys were little, they could always be found digging in the backyard. They loved bugs and worms.  Home Science Tools sells everything a backyard explorer could need or want.  They also give instructions for making an insect collection, building a wormery, and making your own compass.

My daughter on the other hand, loves to be in the kitchen.  She really wants to learn about the science of cooking this summer.  Education.com shares ideas for baking a chemistry cake, making glue out of milk (which I didn't even know was possible), and a tasty idea for using cookies and frosting to explore how to mix colors.

No matter where you live, you have weather.  It is everywhere.  Children are either fascinated by it or scared of it. Weather Wiz Kids has explanations and experiments that are sure to appeal to both.  I particularly want to try to make a cloud, make a rainbow, and make lightning.  They even have an experiment that explains why the sky is blue!

The world around us is an amazing place, and we can learn so much by simply slowing down and exploring it.  What science explorations are you doing this summer?  Let me know in the comments below.


June 19, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: "Safer, Smarter Kids" Abuse Prevention Curriculum

This isn't the post I expected to publish this morning.  I had a post about summer recipes all ready to go.  Then I checked my Facebook account.  I read a suggested post in my timeline which stated that "90% of children with a disability will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and only 1-3% of those cases will ever be brought to light."  Wow.  That stopped me dead in my tracks.  The post continued on inviting readers to attend a free webinar tomorrow, June 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm for information about a curriculum developed specifically to teach children, including those with special needs, about abuse prevention.  I immediately knew that I needed to move my summer recipe post to next week and share this with you all.  Register for the webinar, or visit Lauren's Kids to learn more about the program.  Please share this information with other parents in your life, especially those who have or work with special needs children.


June 15, 2013

My Tips for Starting Your Own Blog

"Coffee Cup And Laptop" by Ohmega1982
courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Let me start this post by stating that I in no way guarantee that you will have a successful blog just by following my suggestions.  I am neither a professional, nor an expert.  I do not make money by blogging.  It is a hobby of mine. This is simply the advice I would give to a friend who asked about starting her own blog.  I would love to have input from any readers who also blog.  What has worked for you?  What hasn't worked the way you thought it would?  Here are my top 5 tips for getting started.

1. Choose your subject and audience.  You may have one specific subject you feel is your area of expertise, perhaps cooking or crafts.  Your audience will be more broad. You will want to write your posts so that any person interested in that subject will be drawn to your blog, and not feel excluded.  This may include men or women of a variety of ages. On the other hand, you may wish to cover several subjects on a regular basis.  Take my blog, for example.  I write about all areas of motherhood.  I cover many subjects; cooking, education, crafts, family management, etc.  My audience is more narrow.  While I'm careful to write my posts in a way that no mother feels excluded regardless of her location, race, or beliefs, my posts are definitely directed at mothers with children at home. (However that doesn't mean you have to be a mother with children at home to enjoy my posts.) Knowing what you want to write about and who you are writing to are critical in helping to determine your style of writing.

2. Find your voice.  Once you determine your style, you need to find your voice. Your voice is your personality, the particular way you speak. No one says things the exact way someone else does. Your readers will identify with you more and feel more comfortable with you if you let your true self come through. When I first started my blog, I felt as though I needed to be more formal. I tried to write so that readers would think I'm smart and knew what I was talking about. Looking back, I can see that some of those posts were kind of stuffy and had no personality. No one wants to read the rants of a robot. We all relate better to people who can just be themselves.

3. Get organized.  Before you start publishing, make a plan. How often do you want to publish posts? Are you doing this for fun, or do you plan to make money with your blog? Questions such as these can help you plan ahead. They can also help you answer other questions. For example, I do not plan to make money off my blog, so I have chosen to use Blogger, a free publishing platform. I am not going to spend money to publish posts that I write for fun. (That's not to say that you can't make money off of a blog that is published with Blogger.  I'm just referring to the fact that Blogger is free.)  If I were writing a blog for a company or for a project that I intended to grow into a company, I would be more willing to spend money to ensure that I could customize the website to fit my brand exactly. One final thought on getting organized. Create a separation between your personal online presence and your blog's online presence. Consider creating a separate email address and online profile just for your blog. Should your blog become the next big thing, you don't want your personal contact information available to the whole world.

4. Plan ahead.  I highly recommend spending a little time brainstorming topics and actually writing a few posts to have on hand. There is nothing worse than knowing you are scheduled to publish a post tomorrow and you can't think of a single topic to write about! There have also been several times that my life has gotten so busy that I simply didn't have time to get my post written, even though I knew what I wanted to write about. On those days I was very happy that I keep a small stash of posts that are written and ready to publish. I also use my Google calendar to "schedule" posts. This really helps when I have a great idea for a Thanksgiving post, but it's February. I simply add the title to my calendar in November so I can remember that I have a draft sitting in my file.

5. Build your audience.  Depending on what you write about and how you publish, there are different tools available to you to help build your audience. You can join blogging networks that promote each other, you can use social media to make your blog available to more people, and you can use promotions and giveaways to encourage others to read your blog. In addition to publishing my posts on my blog's website, I create links to each post on my blog's Facebook and Google+ page, which are both public pages. I also tweet about each post, and pin it to my Pinterest boards. It will take some time to build an audience. I started my blog in August of last year. In my first month of blogging I had a total of 106 page views. Last month I had 537 page views. I'd still like to grow a lot more, but I'm very happy with the readers I have so far. I recommend inviting friends and family to read your blog & to share it with others they think might enjoy it. Use labels, tags, and hashtags to make your posts more likely to be found by people using searches to find information.  I always include labels at the bottom of each post to help search engines find my post.

Which publishing platform you choose, how often you post, and how you advertise are all personal preferences.  In the end, my best advice is to find a subject you love and to be yourself.   Follow your heart.  You are sure to find others out there who share your passion.


p.s.  If you do have a blog, please leave a link in the comments below.  I'd love to read it!

June 12, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: Boredom Busters for Work From Home Moms

The modern economy doesn't really support the one income family model.  However, many families, like mine, still choose to have a parent at home with the children.  More and more of these stay-at-home moms are running their own businesses from home.  This week's mid-week morsel is all about keeping your kids busy while you are productive.  Spark Plugging is a website dedicated to work at home resources for home-based entrepreneurs.  I found a wonderful article there listing 94 ideas to keep kids busy.  Whether you work from home for money, or just to keep your sanity, this list will certainly help reduce the number of times you hear, "I'm bored", this summer.


June 8, 2013

"Hand"made Father's Day Gifts

Father's Day is almost here, and like many Moms I find myself wondering what gift to give my husband.  He's a very practical kind of guy.  He doesn't need a lot of extras.  If he does need something, he buys it.  Naturally, my thoughts turned to handmade gifts.  Surely, there is something the kids and I can make for him.  After all, handmade gifts are always more special than anything store-bought.  After a few Google searches, and browsing a few Pinterest boards it hit me...we should make him a "hand"made gift; a gift made up of the kids' hands.  It's perfect!  The kids will only be this age and size once.  Next year they will be older and bigger.  As they continue to grow, this gift will become more and more special.  I've put together a list of ideas for budget friendly gifts created by children's hands you can make for the special father in your life.  I'll start the list off with our gift this year.   I put letter stickers on the cardstock (be careful not to press them on too hard), painted the kids' hands, and pressed them over top of the stickers.  Then I carefully peeled away the stickers to reveal the negative space letters.  Three $2.50 frames from our local dollar store, and mats made out of construction paper make this a fun and affordable gift.  (Oh, and if you don't have enough hands for each letter, consider painting a heart over the "a" instead of a third hand.)

Dad Handprint Wall Art

What about you?  What are you giving for Father's Day this year?  Are you buying a gift or making one?  If you are making a gift, please share it with everyone in the comments below.


June 5, 2013

Mid-week Morsel: Button Up Your Organizational To-Do List

If spring is for cleaning, then summer is for organizing.  At least, it is for me. As a stay at home mom whose children go to school at home, I can't tell you how many projects get pushed back until school is out for the summer. This is our first full week without school and it is being spent cleaning out and organizing school supplies, and any other pile of disorganization I might find tucked in a corner or under a bed...or on top of my dresser.  For this week's Mid-week Morsel I thought it would be appropriate to share a website I've found full of resources for organizing everything, Buttoned Up. Whether you're just trying to find your home under the clutter, or planning a major event like moving, at Buttoned Up you're sure to find articles, tips, and even printables to help you on your way.


June 1, 2013

10 Summer Reading Strategies

How important is summer reading to your child's education?  Very.  According to literacy expert Julie M. Wood, Ed.D., "The few months of loss in reading skills compounds over the years; by the time children reach middle school, those who haven't read during the summers may have lost as much as two years worth of achievement."  Those words become even more important when you consider this statement by The Children's Reading Foundation, "Up through third grade, children learn to read. After third grade, they read to learn. If they read poorly, they learn slowly. Academic failure by a student in high school (including dropping out) is almost always preceded by academic failure in middle school or junior high. In turn, academic failure in the mid-levels is generally preceded by failing to learn to read at or near grade level by third grade."  In short, allowing your child to slide back a little on reading each year can contribute to his or her struggling in all of his or her classes in high school. That's a pretty heavy statement.  Don't let the weight of the matter overwhelm you, though.  I have put together a list of ideas to help your child not only maintain the reading level (s)he ended this school year with, but maybe even gain a little.

The first step is to know what level your child is currently reading at.  It is important to choose books that are on level or just a hair above so that your child is continually being challenged to improve.  Think of Goldie Locks & the Three Bears. Books that are too easy will not teach your child any new words, or help him or her understand more complex sentence and story structure.  Books that are too hard will only confuse and discourage your child from reading.  Books that are just right will hold your child's attention while slightly challenging his or her abilities.  If your school has not informed you of your child's reading level, A to Z Homes Cool and The Homeschool Hearth both list free reading level placement tests you can administer at home.  

Great, now you know your child's reading level.  But how do you know which books are at that same level?  It's not as hard as you might think.  There are two common reading level scales, Accelerated Reader and Lexile.  However, reading levels can also be expressed on a letter scale.  Benchmark Education makes it easy to switch back and forth between scales with their conversion table.    Okay, on to actually finding the books.  If you have an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, Level It Books is an app which can scan the ISBN of a book and tell you it's reading level.  If you don't physically have the book, you can type or speak the title, author, or ISBN to do a manual search for the reading level.  Unfortunately, I haven't found a comparable app for android, so...for the rest of us, Barnes & Noble, AR Book Finder, and Scholastic all have databases that are searchable by book level.  Finally, if all else fails, simply ask your local children's librarian.  Ours has been very helpful in finding books that are not only on level, but also very interesting.

Last, but not least is the list that was the actual inspiration for this post...10 ways to make summer reading something your child actually looks forward to doing.

1.  Create a rewards system.  You say bribery, I say rewards; it's all the same.  And children love it!  If reading isn't at the top of your child's to-do list this summer, use the things that are as rewards for completing his or her summer reading.  Perhaps your child is a video game junkie like mine are, simply establish a "time spent" scale.  For example, 1 hour of time spent reading earns 20 minutes of time spent playing video games.
2.  Take turns reading outloud.  Reading outloud isn't just for beginning readers.  Even older children enjoy lying back and listening to a good story.  In turn, having your children read to you builds their reading and public speaking skills, and gives you an opportunity to evaluate their progress and comprehension.
3.  Use series books to encourage reading the next book.  Do you have a child who can never seem to pick out a book because they all might be boring?  Series books are a great way to keep the momentum going.  Find series your child is interested in to keep him or her reading all through the summer.  My sons have used this tactic for years.  It started with Captain Underpants in elementary school. Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter carried them through middle school. It then matured into the Drizzt Do'Urden series in high school.  KidsBookSeries.com is a great place to find series for your child's reading level.
4.  Read comic books or graphic novels.  Reluctant readers may enjoy reading comic books or graphic novels.  They are also great for kids who are typically visual learners.  My daughter is currently reading a series of graphic novels about Norse myths.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
5.  Read about their interests. Let's face it, novels aren't for everyone.  If this is true for your child, find books about subjects your child is interested in.  Perhaps your child is a history buff, or is really into a particular sport.  Maybe your child has been swept up by the Monster High cartoon craze.  Help your child find both fiction and non-fiction books related to his or her interests.  Did you know that there are currently 6 Monster High novels, and another one coming out this fall? My daughter has read them all because she is just crazy about the cartoon.
6.  Enlist help.  There are so many new books coming out all the time that it can be hard to keep up with what is out there.  Talk to your local children's librarian.  Children's librarians specialize in knowing what new books are out, who they're appropriate for, and if they are any good.  As I said before, ours has been a tremendous help.  We are on a first name basis, and have even exchanged email addresses to keep in touch.  If you don't have access to a good library, use the internet.  Many great librarians publish lists and recommendations to their library's website, or even have a blog.
7.  Set goals.  This is similar to the use rewards idea, or more accurately, is to be used in conjunction with the use rewards idea.  If your child isn't one who will sit down and read on his or her own, set goals regarding how long (s)he reads. This can be for each day, week, month, or even the whole summer.  Goals can made for how much time is spent reading, how many pages are read, or even how many books are read.  Rewards can be set for attaining various levels of the goal.  For example, meeting the weekly goal can earn renting a movie for movie night, and meeting the monthly goal can earn going to the movies for movie night.
8.  Bring the books to life.  Books are so much more enjoyable and memorable when they become real.  There are so many ways to get creative with book projects that I could write an entire post about it.  I'll save that for another day. For now I'll just say, get creative; think outside the book report.  Have your child write a song or poem, or write an alternate ending for the story.  Create a poster, illustrate his or her favorite part of the story.  Make a lapbook.  One of my daughter's favorite projects for her Literature Studies class was the one she made when they read Beauty and the Beast (not the Disney version).  Her project was to pretend she was a realtor hired to find Beauty and Beast's dream home.  She researched actual home listings and created a PowerPoint for her class featuring pictures of the home and why it was the perfect house for them.  My point is, there are endless possibilities when it comes to projects.
9.  Participate in your local library's summer reading program. Most libraries have summer reading programs that combine crafts, entertainment, and prizes to encourage children to have fun reading.  Sometimes the best encouragement comes from someone other than Mom or Dad.  If your child resists reading because (s)he feels it is something you are making him or her do, maybe seeing other kids having fun reading or being encouraged to read by the librarian will be just the encouragement (s)he needs.  Even if your child is a willing reader, participating in a summer reading program is a great way to share his or her love of reading with others.
10.  Join (or create) a book club.  If your child is a social child, joining a book club is a great way to get your child more interested in reading while making new friends.  Book clubs can be as small or large as you want them to be, and can read books specific to the interests and skill level of the children participating.  Check with your local school, library, or book store to find out about book clubs that already exist in your area.  If you can't find a book club that suites your child's needs, consider creating your own.  Our local library has a book club for adults.  It also already has great programs for teens, and pre-schoolers, but nothing for anyone in between.  My daughter approached our librarian about creating a book club for tweens.  The librarian thought it was a great idea.  They are currently brainstorming ideas, and hope to have it up and running when school starts this fall.