28 January 2013

Scrap Quilting By Hand, Part 2: Choosing A Style

Dear Lissy,

Most quilters gravitate to a certain style of quilting after a few years. I enjoy what I have dubbed controlled scrap quilting.  In true scrap quilting, dozens or even hundreds of fabrics are used without regard for color, type, or the overall effect.  In controlled scrap quilting, some element of either color or design is controlled to create continuity.  I don't, however, use the same fabric and fabric placement in every block which gives a static, designer feel to a quilt.
This little beauty is a classic controlled scrap quilt.  It uses a simple block design called nine patch and snowball, the same pattern I used for Laura's baby quilt.  If you look closely, the artist used solid fabrics on the vertical stripes to create a secondary design element as well.  This looks like a true scrap quilt at first, but by limiting the work to only 1930's reproduction fabrics, the quilt has a light, happy feel.  I used this technique when I made Saratoga Stars to for Auntie Nan.  By using all navy, burgundy, and tea-dyed muslin fabrics, I created a vintage Americana quilt.

Flowers for Laurie is a designer controlled scrap quilt.  Here the quilter used a designer "focus fabric" for the sash and borders, which means all of the fabrics in the blocks are either directly in, or a shade of, the floral fabric in the border and sashing.  The scrappy quality of the quilt is also controlled by using the same fabric within each block even though the blocks aren't identical. I dislike the flowery fabric she chose for the sashing and borders, but if I step back from my computer so I can't see the design of that fabric, the overall quilt is very appealing.  
I used controlled scrap for your baby quilt.  The Kate Greenaway fabric was the focal point of the quilt, and all of the other pieces were chosen to complement that fabric.  Rather than using the Greenaway fabric as the border (too busy!) I fussy cut the fabric for the center of the star block and chose a simple check for the border.

This contemporary scrap quilt emphasizes color and overall design rather than individual blocks or a focus fabric. There is little to no repetition of fabric and no white space, which gives the quilt the feeling of a piece of art rather than a quilt.  Contemporary scrap quilting requires looking at the big picture, which can be more challenging.  Katie's baby quilt and "Star Light, Star Bright" that I was commissioned to make for Dr. Gillock's office were both contemporary scrap quilts.  As a general rule, very simple blocks or one patch designs make the easiest "canvas" for contemporary work.

After I decide whether the block design I chose would work best as a classic, designer, or contemporary scrap quilt, I finalize design details.
Butterfly nebula, the inspiration for Katie's quilt.
The first thing I pick is my focus art.  For some quilts this may be a focus fabric, but I generally prefer a photo, painting or object.  I'm quite fond of nebulas.  Katie's tumbling blocks baby quilt was done in the rusts/purples/greens of the butterfly nebula with carefully placed stars of a creamy white fabric.  Your baby quilt was centered around Kate Greenaway picture book illustrations.  The focus art determines my palette somewhat, but it always sets the tone for color -- brights, grayed, soft pastels, jewel tones, etc.

After picking a piece of focus art, I choose a handful of techniques that make the quilt more interesting.  This is done first by shading blocks in black/gray/white on a paper design, and then by choosing fabrics to amplify and create certain effects.  Not every one of these techniques will be used in every quilt unless you're Jinny Beyer.
  • Glow:  Areas where I can shade adjacent pieces in a block from dark to light or from one color to another.  Often I use both shade and color glow.
  • Movement:  The overall design should pull the eye across the quilt.  This is usually accomplished by strong diagonal lines in either the pattern itself or the color/shading choices. If the quilt doesn't have much movement (like Flowers for Laurie, above), try setting the blocks on point or adjusting the colors to create diagonal lines.
  • Sparkle:  This is created naturally created by dozens of different fabrics, but every quilt needs a little yellow, too! 
  • Rhythm/Rhyme:  Using the same 1-2 fabrics in an area that forms a secondary pattern or a small part of the main pattern to create a "beat" or "rhyme" for the eye as it moves across the quilt.  Many blocks form a four patch or a simple star where the corners touch.  This is a great place to put the same 1-2 fabrics.
  • Contrast:  Incorporate contrast in shade (light and deep dark) and/or color (purple/green, orange/teal)
  • Continuity:  I have a thing about white space in classic or designer scrap quilts.  I always use the same single (plain!) fabric for the background of the blocks or the quilt looks too busy and messy to me. I also like to create some continuity within the blocks even though the overall quilt is scrappy.  Each block has parts that are light, medium, and dark.  I use the same fabric within the block for each piece that is the same shade (light medium, or dark) or the block starts looking too busy.  Except for the background and rhyme pieces, each block will have different fabrics from every other block, however.
  • Medallion:  I like to see if I can manipulate the overall pattern into a medallion over the face of the entire quilt by twisting blocks, shading colors or values differently, or creating a complementary pieced border.  If I can't, I'll often use a medallion quilting pattern.

I'll write again soon about choosing (and stashing!) fabric as a scrap quilter.

May your bobbin never run dry,

Linkd up at Homestead Barn Hop #96

26 January 2013

Education At Home, Part 3: Homeschool Lesson Plans

Dear Lissy,

We've come through the worst of the brutally cold weather, and I'm taking a few minutes to wrap up a letter I've been writing to have an excuse to sit by the stove for the last week.

 The subject of lesson plans often comes up when I'm with other home schooling moms.  Some feel that they need to write formal lesson plans for each child for each subject every week (yikes!), others feel a plan can be stifling, and choose to move along at the child's pace (yawn), most fall somewhere in between the two.

  • A formal lesson plan is a vital tool for a classroom setting.  Teachers are dealing with state assessments, discipline issues, substitutes, and different children each year.  The teacher may also have days that another faculty member or substitute covers her class.
  • A formal lesson plan is not a vital tool for a home where the parent  who knows the child intimately works with them one on one over long periods of time.   
Even a home school needs direction and drive, though, and that's where these thoughts come in.  This is the way I've chosen to create order and discipline in our school and ensure you get an excellent education.  There are hundreds of other systems that are just as effective.  If you home educate, I highly encourage you to use a curriculum for a year or two that provides daily lesson plans pre-written for Mom until you gain the confidence to relax into a routine like ours.  After just two years of A Beka, I was confidently adding in Latin, swapping out their writing program for IEW, and making other changes to cater to your abilities and weaknesses.

Scope and Sequence  

A scope and sequence (S & S) is a document that states the scope, or extent, of what you plan to teach and the sequence  in which you will cover it from K-12

 I choose to use a professionally developed S & S and modify it to fit each student.  This will be updated year-to-year, but gives a "big picture" plan for their school career as well as the year.  

Most states have an "S&S" they will send you free upon request.  These are large documents written by and for professional educators.  Do not be intimidated or overwhelmed by them.  They are for reference purposes only.

Many textbook publishers have a free PDF.  I used the A Beka Scope and Sequence, the Bob Jones University Press Scope and Sequence, and the Veritas Press catalogs/website to create our family's traditional  S & S with Classical education elements.

Whether you are following a traditional approach or using unit studies, an S & S will ensure that you cover the topics thoroughly and in an orderly fashion.  It also allows you to swap out materials from your curriculum that aren't meeting current needs without creating "holes" in a child's knowledge or skills.

Weekly/Daily Routine

A parent is already aware of their child's learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.  Rather than creating a lesson plan for each day, I choose to create routines at the beginning of the year for each child based on their individual needs and interests.  If I am ill, you each know the routine, and keep on the same schedule.  Used in conjunction with a well-planned assignment notebook, the need for daily lesson plans for each child in each subject are eliminated.

Middle Elementary weekly plan
Subjects are completed in the order listed to maximize attention and energy levels.  Times are approximate.
Bible (30 minutes) 
Arithmetic (45 minutes)
Language Arts: Grammar, Spelling, Reading (45 minutes) 
Break (20 minutes)
Language Arts 2:  Writing and Handwriting (30 minutes)  
History (30 minutes)
Science or Health (30 minutes)
Art, Music, Science, Home Arts(30 minutes)

Middle Elementary daily plan for each subject
Basic facts drill or flashcards
  • Each subject is different:  Bible verses, math tables, being verbs, states and capitols, etc.
  • Each child responds to different methods:  games, challenges, puzzles/3d manipulatives, computer, etc.
  • Keep it fast paced and fun.
Review of previous day's concept or homework
Learn ONE new concept.  We don't double up lessons.
Practice new skills, complete experiments, or work on hands-on activities
Independent work  - Mom checks work is done neatly, quickly, and completely!

Beginning in 6th or 7th grade we transition to textbooks, DVD, and online courses that are self directed.  We plan your daily routine together at the beginning of the year, and any changes have to be approved.
  • For classes that are self or computer directed I tutor, review, proctor quizzes and tests, and perform experiments/demonstrations with you.  I also check that work has been accomplished satisfactorily at the end of the day, 
  • For classes that are still being taught traditionally, I follow the same format as elementary, but require you to pre-read the assignment so we can discuss on higher levels than simple recall.

Assignment Notebooks

The assignment book is Mom's written record of what work each child is going to accomplish during the week in each subject. In elementary school we use mostly A Beka which has the lessons all pre-planned for the teacher/mom.  Once we transition to other textbooks, we simply divide the number of lessons  and determine how many need to be done each week.  I will often skip one or more units if the material has been covered recently or will be covered the following year (this is where an S & S is vital). I write the assignments and gather teaching materials during the day on Monday for Tuesday through the following Monday.

Early Elementary:  Daily or weekly folders/boxes with worksheets and necessary materials.
Middle Elementary:  Assignments for each day in planner.
Bible: Begin verse review for Friday
Math:  Lesson 66 Speed Drill, p. 167-168
Language:  Pp. 103-107, Read 3 chap. in book report book, take notes.
Spelling:  Copy List 15, Recite The Children's Hour every day 2x
Reading:  Oral Quiz over HW,  read Adventures pp. 13-21
Handwriting:  p 153, concentrate on slant of descending loops
Writing:  "How to make pancakes"
History:  Read pp. 117-119, Comp check ? 4.7, Maps 12 &18, Preamble 2x
Science:  5.7 Soundwaves, Comp ?, Tin Can telephone demo
Art:  Origami snowflake

Upper Elementary - Middle School:  Assignments for week recorded by subject, students have to prepare daily work plan and log.
Week of 1/15 - 1/19
Bible:  Cumulative Verse Test Friday
Math:  Lessons 61-64 (inc. Speed drills) Test 15
Grammar:  Lesson 20 & 21
Spelling and Vocab: List 15 w/ test
Literature:  Finish Across Five Aprils, prepare for discussion Thursday compare/contrast AFA with Uncle Tom's Cabin.
History:  Unit 14, all review ?, Quiz 14, Writing assignment #2
Science:  Biology Unit 6 reading, lab list, notebook check Fri.
Robotics: Fund raising letter mailed by Friday.

High School:  Nate's first online class required him to produce a "pace chart" for his teacher.  I probably would have still been writing weekly assignments through high school if I hadn't seen their method and realized how much better it prepared him for college and life.  I now give high school students semester or yearly syllabuses, and then the student writes a weekly pace chart for teacher/mom's approval.  I teach each student how to do this exactly the same way I taught you Math problems in third grade.  I require a weekly plan and a daily work log/check in as well.
American History:  
  • Final exam Part 1 January 25th, Part 2 May 27th.  
  • Worldview discussions and paper rough draft eval with mom on Thursday afternoon.  
  • Weekly papers must be submitted by 2 pm Friday for grading.  
  • All required resources must be read and logged each week.  Reading will be spot checked.
  • Unit exams will be administered the last Wednesday of each month unless change is requested and approved.

In order to work with three students simultaneously, I work with each one individually reviewing and teaching new concepts.  Often we combine classes for two or even all three of you.  The others work independently from assignment notebooks while they wait.  Once each child's teaching time is complete, I am available on a first come, first serve basis.  Each of you is required to show me completed work before you put away school books at the end of the day.

Again, this isn't the "right" way for every family.  One of our main goals is to teach discipline, and we felt that this method works well to accomplish that purpose.

I love you bunches and hope that you will one day have the joy and reward of educating your own little flock.  Sweet, sweet times, these.

Ancora imparo,

Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop #96 and Raising Homemakers

22 January 2013

Scrap Quilting by Hand: Part 1, Choosing a Pattern

Dear Lissy,
I adore scrap quilting.  I quilted every day when you were small children, eventually opting for hand piecing and quilting because it was easy to pick up and put down at a moment's notice and didn't make a mess.  Machine piecing and quilting is wildly popular, and there are literally millions of tutorials, books, and videos available.  Right now, I think you'd vastly prefer the speed.  But someday, when your home is full of littles, and you have only bits and bobs of time to create something beautiful, pull this letter back out and enjoy!

The sophisticated Windows on the World
scrap quilt made by Jinny Beyer to
commemorate those lost in the 9/11 bombings.

I define scrap quilting as using "scraps" of many different fabrics  rather than buying yardage of 3-5 fabrics.  This gives a quilt sparkle and interest even if you use a simple pattern.

Hand piecing offers many advantages over machine piecing:  accuracy, portability, and economy are just a few.  It is for people who prefer process over product, though -- fair warning!

The first task is to pick a block.  Beginners usually enjoy small scale projects with just squares and triangles  Print or photocopy a scale sized pattern in b&w.  
Kansas Star Quilt Block

Now here's the tricky bit.  Value (how dark or light a piece of fabric is) is more important than color in a scrap quilt.  A table runner may have four blocks in four different colors.  The important thing is that you keep the same parts light, medium, and dark throughout the quilt.  Take a minute to shade your line drawing with black, gray, and white before you start choosing fabric.  As you get more advanced, you'll have more shades.  Here are a few ideas of how quilters have chosen to shade the Kansas Star Block. . .

This block has a strong star and will
form two distinct secondary all over
patterns when placed in a quilt.
This block has a checkerboard feel

Shaded differently, the same block
forms a pinwheel.  Most quilters
wouldn't recognize this as the famous
Kansas City Star block.
This block, another checkerboard, is the opposite values of the
one above. 

I'll write you about fabric choices soon.  It's easy to have a country-messy looking scrap quilt or a more sophisticated look depending on how you use fabric and color.


20 January 2013

Lesson From A Loaf of Bread

Dear Lissy,

I recently wrote you a letter detailing how to make bread.  I did not, of course, include how to prepare a garden to grow wheat, or all the challenges of the growing season.  I didn't explain how to harvest a wheat crop or thresh it into grain.  Although I've ground my own grain, I didn't detail the process for you in that letter.  I started with an assumption that you have a ready supply of milled flour.

Even starting with flour, there is considerable effort and hours of time required to make bread.  I think I would be gobsmacked if I counted up the time and effort required to go from a grain of wheat seed to that first bite of hot buttered toast.  But that's what most of the world has done for most of history.  Bread was a symbol of labor, diligence, skill, and a dash of good fortune.

As I've meditated on the simple phrase, "I AM the bread of life" from John, I've appreciated Jesus in a new way.  Just as Boaz handed Ruth his own bread while she was busy gleaning, he hands us Himself, spiritual bread.

He's taken all the work on Himself, and given us all the blessing.

He's given us life.  He nourishes us with the fruits of His labor.  From the first grain of promise in Eden until He rose and gave us new life, He spent centuries and made a sacrifice we scarcely comprehend.

We look at the overprocessed loaves of frankenwheat we toss in our grocery carts, and don't understand or appreciate the significance of Christ's statement.  Those loaves cost us next to nothing in time or money or effort.  Even when I've spent nearly two full days making Simple Gifts loaves, most of the time was waiting, not working, and all of the heavy effort was accomplished by my Kitchenaid.  Imagine how startled Ruth must have been.  She knew, first hand, the back-breaking toil required to make a single pita so she and Naomi could eat. It was not a small thing to her to receive bread.

The Germans have a beautiful saying that roughly translates to "He who eats my bread sings my song."   Loaves of bread are as unique as fingerprints.  Today, take just a minute to think about Jesus, the Bread of life, and allow His song to fill your heart and mind.


18 January 2013

SOAP suds: Getting the most out of your morning devotions

Dear Lissy,
We're enjoying a daily devotional from Good Morning Girls right now designed for Mommas and their kids.  You have a passage to read and a couple of questions to answer every day from "The Dig" series.  We're creating a lapbook as we go along, too.

I use the SOAP acronym for my "adult" devotions.  SOAP is a basic but powerful devotions tool that fits neatly into a 30 minute devotions framework.  It readily adapts to young or old believers, and is suitable for any level of spiritual maturity.  My greatest challenge is s l o w i n g down and taking the time to ask myself good questions for each of the four SOAP categories.  Many of these are adapted from my usual LAMP method, and they are roughly grouped according to Bloom's Taxonomy* -- I am a teacher, after all!

  • First, carefully read your chosen Scripture passage.  SOAP works best with between a paragraph and a chapter.
  • Choose one to five verses to write out longhand in your journal.  Sometimes this will be the entire passage you read.  Slowing down and copying the Word is a valuable practice and well worth your time.
Observation:  These are examples of what I look for.  I don't do every bullet point for every passage -- this is more organic and less regimented than an inductive Bible study..
  • Remember & retell the important parts of the story or passage.  I usually enter these in my journal as a bulleted list.
  • Look up the meaning of unfamiliar or important words.  I typically look them up later in the day on e-sword rather than interrupting my devotional time.  A recent example is "rereward" from Isaiah.
  • Why is this passage important to this book/story?  How does it fit in with the rest of the Bible?  I don't journal this unless it's significant, but I try to spend a minute or two considering it.
  • What does this passage teach about the character and person of God/Jesus?  (I journal this every time. I think it's probably the most important question you can ask when reading the Word) Sometimes this question is difficult to answer (in Proverbs, for example), and I'll re-phrase it as "What about God's character would cause Him to include this in His Word?"  
  • I also notice repetitions of words or ideas, lists, comparison/contrasts, and cause and effect.  I don't specifically look for them, but after years of inductive Bible studies, they tend to jump out at me. 
Application:  Sometimes a passage speaks directly to a need of my heart and I don't think any further.  If not, I mentally flip through SPECS.  This is my 20-30 minute morning devotions so I try not to get bogged down.
  • Is there a Sin to avoid? 
  • A Promise to claim?  Be careful.  God makes promises to the nation of Israel that are not given to individual believers.
  • An Example (or exhortation) to follow or avoid?
  • A Command to obey?
  • A new Significant truth to meditate on?  Biblical principles are the "bones".  A Life Application Bible pulls these out for you and allows you to quickly see them when you might still be a little bleary-eyed.
Prayer:  Morning devotions are valuable because the time of communion and conversation with my Lord resets my humility, obedience, and submission as I head into a new day.  Prayer is the natural result of spending time in the Word.
  • Praise:  What have I seen today that I can praise God for?
  • Repent:  Do I have sin that needs to be confessed?
  • Ask:  Who (including myself) particularly needs what I studied today?  What situation or persons are heavy on my heart today and will pull my mind away from communion with the Lord?
  • Yield:  What situations do I know I'm going to face today that will tempt me to walk in the flesh instead of the Spirit?  Are there any sins or attitudes I'm reluctant to give up?
Remember, the goal isn't ticking off "Quiet Time" on your to-do list.  Wisdom (doing the next right thing) and perserverance (continuing in righteousness) are supposed to be the result of hearing and meditating.  No one cares if you have daily quiet time.  They care very much if you love God with your heart, soul, and mind and demonstrate by your words and actions that you love others as much as you love yourself.  Wishing you thousands of happy day-beginnings with your Lord!


P.S.  This is for free :-)
Bloom's Taxonomy of Reflection
by Donald Finkel
Remembering:  What did I do?
Understanding:  What is important about it?
Applying:  Where could I use this again?
Analyzing:  Do I see any patterns in what I did?
Evaluating:  How well did I do?
Creating:  What should I do next?

Linked up at Raising HomemakersInto the Word Wednesdays and Women Living Well

16 January 2013

Simple Gifts 100% Whole Grain Bread: **Detailed Recipe**

Dear Lissy,

I've been baking bread seriously for 20 years, including a stint as a professional breadmaker for a restaurant.  This loaf is my signature bread.   I developed the recipe for a King Arthur flour contest, but had a conflict the weekend the contest was running.  Oh, well.  It still blesses our family, which is far more important.
A Caraway Rye variation of Simple Gifts.  Notice the thin, crackly crust on the middle loaf , a result of steam-baking in a covered casserole.  The bread "sings" when it comes out of the oven.

Simple Gifts Whole Grain Loaves  
2 loaves

12 to 24 hours before making bread:
4 cups (18 oz) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
½  cup cultured buttermilk
1- ½ cups filtered water 
½ tsp active dry yeast
Dough will be soft.  Stir until combined, and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave on counter if room is cool (68 F or less), or place in refrigerator.  This step develops the complex flavor of the flour, releases extra nutrients, and autolyzes the dough to cut the kneading time in half. Good 100% whole wheat bread requires a full 24 hours from start to finish.  Patience, Grasshopper.

Next day:
Dissolve and let stand 15 minutes until foamy/creamy
3/4 cup warm (110 F) water
1-1/4 tsp (rest of pkg) active dry yeast

Combine in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook:
Flour/buttermilk mixture (Soaker)
Activated yeast
2 Tbsp.  - 1/4 cup filtered local honey
2 cups (9 oz) additional King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
2-1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Vital Wheat Gluten (if no one is gluten sensitive/intolerant)
2 Tbsp. cool (65 degrees F) butter* Don’t add this yet!!!
At this point the dough should offer no resistance when squeezed with wet fingers, but will still be very sticky.  It should clean the sides of the bowl, but still adhere to the bottom and the hook.  If the dough is too tough, add water a TBSP at a time, if too slack, flour a TBSP at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.

Knead for up to 10 minutes on speed 2, or until dough is silky smooth and a golf ball sized piece can be pulled and stretched thin enough to see light through without tearing (called “windowpaning”).   I stop the mixer and begin checking for windowpaning at about the 7 minute mark.
This dough can be hand kneaded, but will take a full twenty minutes by hand. Remember, whole wheat should be kneaded on a wet, not floured, surface if kneading by hand.  Instead of adding the butter in chunks at the end of kneading, smear it on the kneading surface a little at a time.

A note about windowpaning from Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book...
Halfway through kneading you can gently tug and pull the dough out flabby-thin.  The surface will still be plenty rough, with little craters all over; the dough will tear easily.
Halfway there!

When the dough is fully developed, it will pull into a paper-thin sheet, smooth and bright.  When you hold it to the light, you can see the webbing of the gluten strands in the sheet.
Dough is done.  Whole Wheat will have flecks of bran visible.

Add cool room temp butter  by teaspoons when the dough is close to the windowpane stage.   Once the butter is incorporated, stop the mixer and test the dough again.  It is possible to over-knead and end up with a liquid mess.  If you decided to skip the pre-soak, it will take close to 20 minutes of kneading for the dough to windowpane.  If your mixer seems hot or struggles, give it a break at the halfway point for about 10 minutes.

Form dough into a smooth ball with wet hands and pull and tuck the sides underneath until the top has a smooth, tight surface and the bottom looks like a bellybutton.   Place in an UNGREASED bowl.  Cover with Saran or another overturned bowl and allow dough to rise until a 1/2" indentation made with a wet finger feels spongy and doesn’t fill in, about 90 minutes. If dough feels firm and springy it isn’t fully proofed yet.  If dough sighs and deflates, it is overproofed and you will have to briefly re-knead it before the second rise.  Dough will rise best at about 80 F. If the room is much cooler, the rise will take longer (no harm done!).  If the room is much warmer the dough will develop a beery flavor.

With wet hands deflate dough gently from the center outward.  Using a wet rubber spatula or bowl scraper, release dough from bowl and fold edges under to form another tight ball/bellybutton.  Do NOT punch.  Whole grain dough needs TLC!  Try not to tear the top of the dough.  Cover and allow to rise until spongy once again, about 45 minutes.  (If you're pressed for time, you can omit the second rise.  It's only purpose is to give the bread a finer crumb which is better for toast and sandwiches.)

Turn out dough upside down onto floured counter and gently deflate.  Divide dough in half.  Form dough into a tight, smooth balls by bringing the sides up to the center and then flipping the dough over so the smooth tight portion is on top and the bellybutton is underneath.  Allow to rest for 10 -15 minutes.  Try not to tear the dough that forms the smooth outer covering of the balls.

Form the dough into loaves using your favorite method, keeping the smooth tight surface on the top of the loaf. I have played around with every method from simply kneading the dough into shape, to rolling the loaf “cinnamon roll” style, to a fairly complex folding/rolling pattern.  The folded and rolled loaves seem to offer the best structure for the final proof and oven spring. The loaves I just kneaded into shape were rather flat...but then I can be an obsessive dork...they still taste the same☺

Place the loaves in two 2-1/2 qt. covered casseroles** that have been well greased and dusted with cornmeal.  Cover with lid and place in a very warm (90 F max) place to proof.  If the final proof is too cool, the top of the loaf will “break” on the side when it springs in the oven. If the final proof is too warm, the outsides of the loaf will be spongy and the interior dense.   You don’t want the crust to dry out and form a skin during final proofing, so spritz with water or brush with oil if your home is very dry. When pressed lightly on one end with a wet finger, the dough should feel spongy throughout, but should not sigh or deflate.
**Note: I have a small oven, so I use two inexpensive graniteware chicken roasters lined with parchment paper   Check to be sure both of your covered casseroles will fit in the oven  before you’re actually baking the bread.  It’s fine to bake these loaves in tins like normal sandwich breads, but the crust will be thicker and tougher than in a covered pot.

Pour 2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup water over dough, wetting entire top crust.  Use a lame or knife dipped in water to slit the top of the loaf.  You can easily make a lame with a razor blade and a popsicle stick if you don’t own one, or just be really, really careful with a standard razor blade.    The cut should be about 1/4" deep and at a sharp angle, not straight down into the loaf.  Cover with tight fitting lid. If the lid allows any airflow at all, seal with foil strips.
Tonight's loaves fresh out of the oven still in their parchment lined graniteware chicken roasters.
Place in the center of a 450 oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover and reduce oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 10 minutes or until internal temp reaches 190 F.  If you are making the loaf in a heavy clay or LeCreuset type casserole, the uncovered bake may take almost double that amount of time because the pan has to heat up initially.  Tip out of pans on rack to cool.  If there are any soggy spots on the bottom of the loaf, place directly on oven racks for a minute or two to dry out.   Butter tops if a soft, shiny crust is desired.

Love ya, my little flour girl!

Linked up at Raising Homemakers and Homestead Barn Hop

15 January 2013

One Quick Tip: Home School Assignment Books

Dear Lissy,

We've been enjoying a January thaw for the last three days.  It feels glorious to go for a walk in short sleeves!
I'm writing just a postcard today to share with you a tweak to our assignment system that's wicked good.

Write out assignments running Tuesday - Monday instead of Monday - Friday.

Now, this microchange may seem kind of dumb, but it gives Mom a whole lotta grace.  Usually by the end of school on Friday I'm toast from making sure all the work from the week is complete.  I don't have the energy (motivation, focus, and mood) to sit down and write out the assignments for the upcoming week. Nor do I have  time on the weekend.  What that means practically is that I am scrambling to write assignments Monday morning.  Not good.
Now, instead, I get each of you started on independent work on Monday morning (already written into your assignment notebooks/computer programs last week), and then sit down with a cup of coffee and type out assignments for Tuesday through the following Monday.  Ahhhh. . .doesn't that feel good. I'm not stressed, rushed, or borrowing family time.  It's a good thing ;-)


10 January 2013

Popcorn Salad, or A Yankee Riff on Frito Corn Salad

Dear Lissy,
****Updated January 2013****
This weird but wonderful salad is my sole claim to fame.  Taste of Home published this recipe back in the late 1990's.  Aunt Holly and I can still give ourselves a wicked case of the giggles because ToH attributed a quote to me that is so very not mine and added directions at the end of the recipe to spoon the recipe into a lettuce lined bowl.  Uhhhuh....that's not happening. Ever.  Thankfully they got my last name wrong in the Annual Recipe book, so I've been spared the embarrassment.
This salad is best mixed up about 10-15 minutes before serving which takes some of the crunch out of the popcorn.  If you combine the wet ingredients with the popcorn more than 30-40 minutes ahead, the popcorn gets decidedly soggy, which is how Dad likes it.

Popcorn Salad
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup diced celery
1-1/4 cups (5 oz) shredded sharp cheddar, divided
1 (8 oz) can sliced water chesnuts, well drained
3/4 cup crumbled, cooked bacon, divided
1/4 cup shredded carrots
2 Tbsp minced chives
6 cups popped popcorn (3/4 cup unpopped kernels) or 3-1/2 cups corn and one 10 oz bag Fritos, coarsely crushed

In a large bowl combine the mayo, celery, 1 cup cheese, water chesnuts, 1/2 cup bacon, carrots, and chives; mix well.  If using corn, fold into mixture now.  If using popcorn, wait to add until 10-15 minutes before serving; stir to coat. Just before serving, fold in Fritos if using corn & frito option. Spoon into a serving bowl and top with remaining bacon, cheese.  Garnish with extra chive or chive flowers if desired.

*****Update:  January 2013*****
A recipe by Paula Deen, Frito Corn Salad, recently caught my attention.  We loved the texture, but the Southwestern flavors weren't our favorite.  I immediately thought of this salad whose flavors we adore, but can be a bit tricky in the texture department.  Combining the two was a natural, and a star was born.

Hope I can pop by soon to give you a hug,

09 January 2013

Energy Boosters!

Dear Lissy,

You sparkle with joie de vivre as you skip, spin, sing and dance your way through the days. But even you, my little sunshine, often lack energy for school or chores.  I'm listing the energy boosters I've found for myself over the years in hopes they will help you when you're first adjusting to working full time or you're a new momma who's a little overwhelmed.

First, what do I mean by energy?

  Energy: a combination of motivation, focus and mood 

Turns out that time management is pretty over-rated.  What we really need is more energy.  More motivation.  More focus.  That feeling (yes, I'm using the "f" word!) that you want to do something rather than have to or should.  

When I have focus, motivation, and a good mood, I can move mountains (or at least organize the attic).

Even with a great plan and schedule, I procrastinate if my focus and motivation are low and I'm in a funk.

Secondly, everyone has different energizers.  Sometimes just realizing "that doesn't work for me" is enough to help you find what does work.  Compiling this list has been a pinch of reality for me, too.  I realize as I typed this how many times I unwittingly sabotage my energy with poor choices.
  • Sleep:  I need 6 hours at night and a 1-1/2 hour afternoon or early evening nap for optimum energy.  I can get by on a 7-1/2 hour night if I have to, but my afternoon energy levels are wicked low.
  • No carbs after breakfast.  This includes fruit, grains, starchy veg, and even sugar in a cuppa tea or coffee.
  • 45 minutes to 1 hour of moderate exercise.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Schedule around very high or low temperatures.  My motivation takes a nosedive if the weather is hot and humid or the place I'm working is chilly.
  • Establish routines.
  • Set a timer.
  • Just start/start small.
  • Mentally assessing how this activity will serve, nurture, or grow a relationship.  
  • Get dressed for the activity.  
  • A planned break (especially if it includes a cuppa!)
  • Opposites energize.  Work alone?  Relax with someone, even if it's just a phone call.  Work with another person or group?  Relax alone.  Parenting a baby or toddler?  Schedule time with adults regularly.  Working in a high stress "adult" job? Plan something fun to unwind.  I also try to alternate tasks that are heavily physically and mentally.
  • Audio books or a class during repetitive physical tasks like folding laundry or going for a walk.
  • Epic music during mindful tasks like making dinner.
  • Solitude and absolute quiet for mentally demanding tasks.  
  • Simple, clean, organized spaces.  Clutter is one of my biggest de-motivators.  You're a collector, so this might be the opposite for you.
  • Table for reading or working.
  • Assignment or work for another person/group.
  • Visible reminders (whiteboard, notes on fridge, etc.)
  • Being authentic.  An action that reinforces what I think I should be growing towards will energize me and others I live with
    • Exercise:  I stay healthy not because of a 45 minute walk, but because that 45 minutes of exercise gives me motivation, focus, and a good mood that empowers healthy choices for the rest of the day.  It also motivates the three of you to get in a workout.
    • Devotions:  Spending time with the Lord changes my heart and mind, energizing me to obey Him and relate to others on a biblical level.  I've also seen regular time in the Word and prayer become a priority in each of your lives because of the importance I place on that time.
    • Keeping House:  I try to keep a tidy, well-run home and serve regular, nutritious meals because those tasks directly affect the motivation, focus, and mood of everyone in our home.
  • Beautifully designed, well-made tools.
  • Skill mastery.  
  • A deadline and/or achievable short term goals.
  • A well crafted plan.
  • Accountability.
  • Knowing my natural energy rhythms and working with, not against them.
and last, but certainly not least, 
  • Enabling grace.  There are always going to be days when I'm feeling drained, tired, or both.  It never ceases to amaze me how Christ will give me all the energy (focus, motivation, and mood) I require when I just bring my poor, sorry self to Him and beg for help. 
Wishing I could go for a walk with you today!  (What year is it now?  2030 or so?)

P.S.  There are many energy boosters that involve another person. A word of encouragement from someone you respect, a mentor that faithfully meets with you, or a roommate/spouse that works out with you are all wonderful motivators.  I've only included the ones here that you potentially control.

08 January 2013

Candy Bar Oatmeal

Dear Lissy,

Frosty cold mornings call for a hot breakfast.   I've cut waaaaay back on wheat, sugar, and dairy and have chosen to only eat grains once a day (at breakfast) right now.  Oatmeal is a go-to favorite for breakfast along with eggs and/or light sausage.  I usually cook the oatmeal with chopped dried dates and cinnamon or drizzle on a little honey and sprinkle on a tablespoon of chopped nuts.
When I received a decadent looking recipe for Almond Joy oatmeal recently, I was surprised to find it had less sugar than I was currently getting with fruit or honey.  That said, the calorie count is the same because of the fat in chocolate.  Also, honey is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and contains trace minerals needed by the body to properly process sugar.  While I wouldn't make Almond Joy or PB Cup Oatmeal a daily habit, it is a nice treat once in a while.

Almond Joy Oatmeal
Serves 1
In a 4 cup microwaveable cereal bowl, combine
1/3 cup quick cooking oats
2/3 cup water
dash salt.
Microwave 2-1/2 - 3 minutes, until cooked through.  Sprinkle in
1 Tbsp chopped raw almonds
2 Tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons chopped dark (>60%) chocolate
Drizzle with
1-2 Tbsp. soy or almond creamer 

Peanut Butter Cup Oatmeal
Serves 1
In a 4 cup microwaveable cereal bowl, combine
1/3 cup quick cooking oats
2/3 cup water
dash salt.
Microwave 2-1/2 - 3 minutes, until cooked through. Stir in. . .
2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
2 teaspoons chopped dark (>60%) chocolate
Drizzle with
1-2 Tbsp. soy or almond creamer

Love you, Sweet thing!

04 January 2013

Satan's Favorite Lie for God's Woman

Dear Lissy,

"I'm not good enough."  

And there you have it, Lovebug.  That thought is going to run through your head almost every day.  It may be because you're not married yet, or maybe you forgot to put gas in the car and you were late to church (on the night your husband was preaching), or maybe that little belly pooch from having a baby won't go away.  It doesn't matter what the reason is -- there doesn't even have to be a reason.  

A slight twist on this will mess with your relationships

"He/She/They don't think you're good enough, either."
  • "My parents always liked my brothers better than me."  (Definitely NOT true, just for the record.)
  • "My husband (or Mother-in-law) probably wishes he had married ________________." or
  • "No guy is ever going to want someone like me for a wife." 
  • "Her kids/house/cooking/homeschool program are so perfect she must think I'm just 3 gallons of crazy in a 2 gallon bucket."  
  • "If I'd have my devotions more faithfully, or lose my temper less often, or witness more God would be a lot more pleased with me."
This lie hurts, and there are 2 knee-jerk reactions:
  1. Believe it.  This will send you to a very bad place.  Struggling to do more, be more.  Giving up -- or in.
  2. Deny it.  Another bad place, although it may feel better initially.  Heading for the world's wisemen who are filled with Satan's lie for his own:  "I'm a pretty good person."  Positive self-talk ensues.  Finding 1 or 2 or 10 positive self-talk gurus.  Jettisoning anyone from my heart and life who makes me "feel" bad about myself.
What is the Biblical reaction????

Recognize it as a half truth.    I am human.  I have flaws that make me utterly unloveable at times.   I sin.  I make mistakes.  All that is true.

Claim the whole truth.  
2 Cor. 12:9  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

Eph 3:16-21  That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 
Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. 

Col 1:11  Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness

2 Cor 10:5  Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

The truth?  That weakness is where God's strength can shine through.  In every place I fall short as a wife, a mother, a friend I have the choice of allowing God to replace me.  

Gal 2:20  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 

I don't need to try harder.  I can't just give up.  I can and should ask Christ to replace my weakness, my "not enoughness" with His fullness.  

Only God can please God. 

Once your focus and passion becomes Him, and you no longer define yourself by what you think others think of you, you'll find they love and respect the Christ they see in you.  Your sweet confidence in your Savior is far more winsome and compelling than you'll ever know.

Satan will keep whispering that lie, because it's one of his most effective darts.  But as you learn to identify it as the half truth it really is, Christ will be glorified in you.

God is more than enough,

Linked up at A Holy Experience: New Habits  (my apologies the graphic is missing -- I got a 404 when I tried to find it)

02 January 2013

Take No Thought: A Family Financial System Built On Trust In God

Dear Lissy,

Happy New Year, Baby Girl!  Our New Year's day was very low key because Daddy and I just spent the weekend celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.  I spent an hour or so pulling all the 2012 bill stubs and tax receipts and setting up The Box for 2013.  It feels so good to have everything ready for tax season in advance.

I mentioned last week that I've avoided late bills by putting the company and amount due on the calendar.  I realized yesterday as I filed a handful of bills (that had already been paid a month ago) from the "To Be Paid" into their respective folders that I no longer need a "To Be Paid" folder.   This has been a major source of stress and worry for me in the past. I would dread going through bills trying to "make ends meet," often putting the inevitable off until bills were overdue and had to be paid. 

While Dad has been starting up his business, though, I've only been able to get "partner draws" (paychecks) for our weekly needs, and sometimes even day by day.  While just the thought of that would have sent me into a tailspin a couple of years ago, it's brought incredible freedom from worry as the Lord has worked on my heart.
By taking all control out of my hands, God brought me to a place of absolute trust regarding finances. 
 I want to keep that child-like faith as the business continues to grow, so we've changed our game plan a bit.

Here's the new system. . .

  1. Receive bill via mail or e-mail (print).
  2. Jot the company and amount onto the due date on the calendar.
  3. File the bill in it's yearly folder.  Keeping track of yearly budgeting categories is a crucial part of good stewardship and necessary for taxes for us.  
  4. Each Desk Day, use the calendar to total the amount needed for bills for the week.
  5. Estimate expenditures for personal, vehicle, and household needs and record.  Keep record in purse for easy reference on Errand Day.
  6. Request draw from business or transfer the amount needed for bills & expenses from savings to checking*.  
  7. Pay any bills due that are not auto-debited, and cross them off the calendar.  
  8. Record cash/debit purchases in a spending notebook and match to estimated amounts.  
*We have a variable income, so all income is deposited into savings, and only the amount needed for the week is transferred to checking.  In the past we deposited all income into checking, and then transferred to savings and investments.  We chose this method because:
  • Automatically saves for periodic expenses like the water bill, vehicle repairs/replacement, and life insurance.
  • Provides a buffer for "dry" weeks.  
  • Forces me to plan for the week's expenses from hair cuts to electric bills.  I do not have the ability to spend on impulse.  Very often we'll have a single draw that  has to last several weeks. When my checking account balance is flush with cash, it's hard not to think of a hundred things we "need" and spend too much.
  • Protects us from debit card theft.  We had a nasty experience a couple of years ago that left us quite shy about keeping a large balance in an account tied to our debit card number. 
  • Once the balance in the savings account reaches a pre-determined limit, the extra is invested into CD's or other long term savings (car replacement, college, retirement, etc).  We haven't reached that point yet, but I'm hoping to hit that milestone this year.
Three years ago, I couldn't have done this.  It "feels" like too much work!  In reality, when I had to do it for a couple of years, I realized that this level of discipline brings extraordinary freedom.  I can confidently go to my Heavenly Father for every need, and even wants, knowing that I've faithfully stewarded every cent He's given me.  When I tell Daddy I need $ for a week, I don't fear his reaction because I know that's how much I really need and that I can faithfully account for every cent he's given me so far.  (Daddy's reactions, as you well know, never, ever include anger.  He's the most patient man I know by a long shot.  I did, however, fear disappointing him.)

This system was not born from my Extreme Awesomeness -- quite the contrary.  It was a measure of desperation brought on by circumstances after I prayed for victory in this area.  Once again, it is all of Him.

Daddy used to preach all the time about how God answers our prayers in unusual ways.  Praying for patience?  Batten down the hatches for trials galore.  Praying for victory in the area of financial stewardship and worry?  God may choose to teach you that by bringing you to the point where you don't know day by day where your next dollar is coming from.  He knows that godliness with contentment is far more important -- and lasting -- than a thriving business or good job.  We still have some kinks to iron out of our financial system.  It's hard, hard, hard to live on a variable income.  Thankfully I have some godly friends who have traveled this road before me in this area that I can look to for advice and encouragement.  I've written you letters before about the importance of using a cash system for variable expenses, and with the lessons I've learned during the 18 months since that letter, I can confidently say: if you faithfully steward your finances as a tool from God, they will not replace God in your heart.  

You are of great worth, Dear Heart,