Nailed It or Failed It? The Pinterest Challenge

In CategoryNailed It or Failed It
ByDeb

Even after I bullied them into the first Pinterest Challenge, my Twitter buddies wanted to do it again.

This made me happy because I had so much fun last time, and also because it meant they were still willing to hang out with an old bossypants such as myself.

I originally thought I’d to a project making a blanket out of old sweaters, but the original Pin didn’t go anyplace useful. Undeterred, I googled some ideas. I love the idea of making a blanket out of sweaters! What could be cozier?

After spending half an hour looking at various tutorials, I remembered that I don’t own a sewing machine.

Even after I remembered, I kept looking.

Eventually, I came to my senses and decided to keep hunting for a project worthy of the Challenge. I got off easy last time, chucking Magic Erasers in the toilet, then watching them lay there and do nothing.

This month, we traveled to St. Louis, and are staying in a house with no stove or oven. I do have a crockpot, and electric skillet, and a minuscule toaster oven.

Mostly we use the toaster oven to make break-and-bake cookies after the kids go to bed.

Don’t judge.

ANYway, this seems like the perfect opportunity to try out some Pinterest recipes.

The first one that looked good is called No Fuss Crockpot Orange Chicken. This sounds yummy. The directions begin first brown chicken in a skillet…

I did not get any further than that, because I absolutely refuse to dirty a skillet when making an Easy Crockpot Meal. Sorry.

I decided on Crockpot Chicken Tacos, mostly because I already make this anyway and knew my people would eat it and it’s easy and essentially I manipulated it into being part of the Pinterest Challenge. Not very sporting of me, was it?

Chuck into crockpot:

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, a tablespoon or so of homemade taco seasoning (another Pin I tried and adopted. It’s a twofer!), half a jar of salsa, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a couple dashes of soy sauce. Cook on low for 6 or 8 hours. Serve on fajita-sized tortillas with cheese and sour cream. Inhale.

Yes, that is a paper plate. I never claimed to be Martha Stewart, people.

Also, I put the cheese under the meat, so the heat from the meat melts the cheese. It’s very avant-garde.

* during this meal, I was heard to say, “Dude. You are not having a tantrum about cheese. Do you even hear how ridiculous that sounds?”

Verdict? Nailed it! This meal is a hit and it’s super easy. You can also make it with beef, just use any cut that does well with a long cooking time. It’s good in burritos, on baked potatoes, and probably (as the Pinner says) as a base for tortilla soup.

Another night, I tried Crockpot Grinder Sandwiches. Basically, you just take a big loaf of bread, slice it, and stick sammy ingredients in between the slices. This seemed super easy and like something everyone would enjoy.

But then. I could not find the right kind of bread. I discovered my cheese was moldy. And even though I bought the smallest loaf of bread at the grocery store, it still would not fit inside the micro-mini crock pot. And then I couldn’t find my bread knife, so I had to hack at the loaf with a chef’s knife and could not make thin enough bread slices. Jim went out on his lunch hour to buy cheese and the grocery store only offered swiss and colby-jack, when CLEARLY I asked for havarti and provolone.

Really, is there NO END to the injustices I must endure?!?

In spite of all these obstacles, which vexed me for at least 30 minutes while I assembled the sandwich, they turned out pretty good. With better equipment and planning, I can see these getting a regular spot on the menu. Especially since we ate outside picnic-style, and the kitchen remained clean(ish).


Try not to be jealous of my excellent camera skillz. Envy is not becoming.

Verdict? Worth another try.

I also made my Mexican Gumbo, served over some Bird’s Eye Microwaveable Frozen Brown Rice. I could not find my usual enchilada sauce spice mix, but I did find Frontera Enchilada Sauce in a packet and it worked great. I managed to misread my own recipe, and put 2 TABLEspoons of cumin instead of 2 TEAspoons, but it still turned out fine. I like cumin.

Overall score?

But I still wish I had an oven…

Click over and see if how my pals did. They are less lame than I, and chose some great craft projects.

Homeschool Resources for Pre-K and Early Elementary

In CategoryHome Schooling
ByDeb

Homeschool Awesomeness

OR:

Educational Toys that will Occupy My Kids for Entire Minutes in a Row While I Check My Email

Believe it or not, I have been asked a couple of times for these kinds of homeschooling suggestions, so I thought I would put them all in one place. These are the tried-and-true items that my kids have played with consistently, sometimes even quietly. These are the things that were invaluable when I needed Little to occupy herself while I did schoolwork with Big.

Now, previously I have fallen into the trap of buying every single manipulative known to man from every single online homeschool super store on earth. I love educational stuff, and before we sold our house, I bought it almost compulsively. We probably have eight million counters. We have fraction blocks, 3 dimensional plastic geometric shapes, balances, clocks, microscopes and plastic ice cubes with bugs in them.

The UPS man came to my house every week.

I have learned, however, that a lot of stuff, while fun, is not necessary. If you have four billion Legos in your house, you don’t need counters. Unless they are on sale and are really cute. The following is a list of things I would buy again, and things that both kids have enjoyed consistently over a period of years.

• Multiple Magnetic Whiteboards Hung at Kid Level
Firstly, because every kid loves a whiteboard that is theirs and theirs alone, that they can scribble on with abandon. Give them some washable dry-erase markers and let them go to town. Secondly, because a lot of my other suggestions require a magnetic whiteboard, and I don’t want it to be a surprise. I like to get nice big ones, say two feet by three feet. It’s also a good idea to anchor them firmly to the wall. Drywall anchors are a girl’s best friend (these are my favorites).

• The Little Red Tool Box from Scholastic
I have seen these sets at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. The Little Red Tool Box is more than your average magnetic refrigerator letter set. There are multiples of upper and lower case letters, and there are multiple pictures to go with each letter. It’s fantastic. Very handy for random toddler spelling, sound/picture matching, and figuring out which direction the Q faces. It is the best letter set on the market, in my opinion.

• Magnetic Tangram Shapes/Pattern Blocks
These are fantastic. They are large foam shapes, and are easier for little hands. Also, it’s geometry-ish. Here are the typical Tangram shapes, and here are generic pattern blocks. Older kids who really love pattern making might enjoy the Fractiles. Why stop with tangrams, though? Get magnetic everything – Cuisinaire Rods, Money, all kinds of stuff

• Polydrons
Seriously, Polydrons are the best thing ever. Educator’s Outlet has a TON of great stuff, and these things are one of my favorite finds. They are geometry-ish, and if you have kids who like Legos, they help satisfy the builder urges. I actually just added the Bridge Builder Set to my Christmas Idea List for Big.

• Wedgits and MagnaTiles
Again, satisfy that builder urge. My daughter loves Wedgits even more than my son, so you never know what is going to click. I found a giant classroom set of MiniWedgits on sale at Timberdoodle last year. The MagnaTiles are very expensive (in my opinion), and we only have one set that their grandma bought them. These would be good in particular for the pre-k group.

• Hidden Picture
Yep, Hidden Picture from Highlights. Remember that? My daughter LOVES Hidden Picture. She has recently decided that Hidden Picture with Stickers is superior to all other Hidden Picture products. Well, except the app on my phone.

• Geography Puzzles
GeoPuzzles are terrific. Learning + Playing + No Mom Necessary is a winning formula in my book. Chuck it at them and go surf Pinterest.

• Leapfrog Videos
I never wanted to have a video teach my kids anything. It felt like a cop-out. But you know what? These videos are GREAT. When I first started homeschooling, I had a terrible time teaching the letter sounds to Big. I was new, what did I know? Out of frustration, I got Letter Factory. Both kids knew their letter sounds inside of a week. And then I bought all the videos. Because I am a quick study that way. I also learned that learning is learning and it doesn’t matter where it comes from.

In addition to being a Compulsive Educational Toy Purchaser, I also generally Refuse to Pay Retail. Places like Learning Resources, Educators Outlet, and Timberdoodle routinely have terrific clearance sales; and if you are patient, you can score great stuff at seriously discounted prices. Barnes & Noble will give homeschoolers an Educator’s Discount card, and if you are close to a big store, you can buy great homeschooling supplies for 20-25% off.

I hope I’ve given you homeschoolers with young kids some ideas, especially those of you with demanding kindy/1st graders AND demanding toddlers. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.

Happy Homeschooling, y’all!

To all you poor readers who neither homeschool nor have little kids, we can talk about the Real Housewives. Can you BELIEVE that Countess?!?! And Theresa and Caroline! They are all cray-cray! It’s fantastic!

NOT Back to School – A Day in the Life

In CategoryHome Schooling
ByDeb

Not Back to School Blog Hop

I am awakened by the warm sun streaming in through the open french doors of my bedroom. Sheer white curtains billow softly in the morning breeze, revealing glimpses of an azure sea sparkling below. I stretch luxuriously, then pad downstairs to make a hearty breakfast of farm-raised bacon, freshly gathered eggs, and homemade cinnamon rolls to fuel my family before they enthusiastically dive into their work for the day. I cradle my mug of organic green tea as my children greet each other with sweet hugs and kind words. After our repast, they return the kitchen to its normal spotless state, then begin clamoring to start school, which takes place outside in a glorious field of lavender….

*snort*

I am awakened by the sound of my childrens’ shrieking voices as they argue over which episode of Phinneas and Ferb they are going to watch after shoveling in what remains in their cereal bowl after they’ve dotted the kitchen in milk and Cheerios. They got up with Jim half an hour ago and I know I should get up before he heads to work. Plus, I have to pee.

I stagger down the stairs and grouse at everyone to turn the television off and quit hollering at me about Legos until after I’ve had some coffee. I get some coffee-laced sugary milk and settle in front of my computer.

After an hour or so, I remember that we are homeschoolers, and attempt to round up the kids. Big convinces me that he needs 15 more minutes because there is a forest fire/hurricane/alien invasion in Jerkly-Massim (his bizarrely-named Lego city). That’s fine with me, I just had a brilliant blog post idea about dried pee and I want to write it down before it’s lost to the abyss of Sleep-Deprived Peri-Menopause Brain.

Eventually, I get everyone settled at the table, and alternate between encouraging Big that yes, he can do his math problems, and gently chastising him to quit whining and get on with it. I also say things like, “People! There are TWO babies and ONE mommy, so one person at a time, please!” and “STOP MAKING THAT NOISE.” and “Dude! Quit messing around with the letter tiles and get with it!” and “FOCUS!” and “no, you may not have a snack. quit procrastinating and do your work.”

…and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam.

Big finds all kinds of reasons why this whole thing is interfering with his plans for the day, and I am waiting for the moment when he realizes that all his negotiating and complaining is actually what takes so long; and Little smugly crows how much she just loooooves school. At least until her hand starts hurting and it’s too hard to write a proper 3. This year, school is going to be a lot more than pink glittery stickers with a small side of cartoony math workbooks, and I’m mildly curious to see how she’s going to take the news.

I check Twitter on my phone and am relieved to find my friends there to listen to my whingeing.

I always want to have bookwork wrapped up by lunch so we can each have the afternoon to ourselves, but sometimes it doesn’t work out and we start the whole thing again after a break. Afternoons are also time for geoduck notebooking or playing outside or maybe even making a dinner plan.

Or, you know. Cruising Pinterest in search of a dinner plan. Whatever.

Eventually, Daddy comes home from work, and I am forced to abandon my blog reading or google chatting and figure out dinner for reals. We talk, we watch some news, and I tell him whether or not his children were a pain in my butt how school went that day. After dinner, the kids climb all over Dad while I take a shower. We get everyone jammied-up, then I read aloud for  a while in the hopes that the kids will settle down enough to go right to sleep so Jim and I can get our teevee on without interruption.

When we think the kids are asleep, we eat cookies.

Sometimes I stay up late and gleefully watch The Real Housewives of Anywhere.

*****

Please tell me some of that sounds familiar, and I am not just incredibly lame…?

To read more Day-in-the-Life stories, click over to the Blog Hop!

Wrap-Up: Week 4963

In CategoryHome Schooling
ByDeb

Or maybe it only feels like that. We are still finishing first grade, and I am stubbornly refusing to move on to second grade until this blasted math book is finished.

• Big IS making progress, because I told him in a moment of weakness that when he finished the book, I would take him to the Lego aisle and let him buy any set he wanted. There are moments of serious contemplation of the Lego catalog interspersed with moments of grudging, “I guess I’ll do some math today.”

Whatever. Maybe I am a failure, but at least I found his price. And it’s not like I don’t spend eight thousand dollars a year on Legos anyway, so I’m not really out anything.

Setting a bad precedence? Probably. But that’s Future Deb’s problem.

Future Deb better cowboy up.

• Also I spent all last week fantasizing about the day when I can afford a house in which I do not have to share a bathroom with anyone.

At all.

Ever.

Not even Jim.

On Wednesday, in a sudden fit of anger at the state of the bathroom, I showed Big the toilet and the Clorox wipes, and shrieked at lectured him on a variety of dried-pee related topics while he, full of righteous indignation on the absolute injustice of the whole thing, cleaned it. Jim came up the stairs at that exact moment, and he got an earful too.

Anyway, I made a new rule. Male People are either cleaning up after their bathroom visits, or I am not sharing with them. I’m over it. Nineteen years of being subjected to other people’s dried pee is apparently my limit.

I know what you are thinking.

That I am the best mom and wife ever.

And maybe that you want me to say dried pee a few more times.

Cleaning the potty was educational for all concerned. That’s why it made the wrap-up.

• We also finished Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Farm in the Family Read Aloud department. We only had one chapter left, but I’m counting it and you can’t stop me.

• So for those of you who have started school – I hope your beginning days are going well. For those of you holding on to the dregs of summer with your fingernails – good for you.