Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Rise and Shine

People often ask how we manage (on the whole actually, but a particular query is how things go in the mornings!)  My eldest two went to early years school for a couple of years and I actually found it more stressful and anxious back then; trying to get the correct items of clothing on (and trying not to be caught out by fundraising non-uniform or Christmas jumper days)... putting up packed lunches and making sure we had them... gathering up all the right pieces of homework and reading books... PE kits in the correct school bags... instruments for the day... babies bundled up and strapped into the pram/buggy... making sure they had their dinner money and remembering if they needed extra money for the regular fundraising or charity days or book fairs... remembering if today was the special reading breakfast I had to attend with the siblings or the trip out or parents' evening or the parents' curriculum briefing...  trying to be pleasant to neighbours and familiar faces who stopped to greet us and chat and worrying about getting there on time... worrying that I was leaving my small children in the care of people I did not truly know...

So, as for tips on how to make mornings easier... I will have to bite my tongue on the major thing we expelled from our lives which makes our mornings run more smoothly!

Our morning routine evolved as each of the children came along and as they all grew. It pretty much always included, give or take a few mornings, some radio to help it along.  I do not mean pounding music, bombastic voices and caffeine-fuelled (surely!) japes... that stuff would give me a headache to start the day with, and it doesn't really create the sort of atmosphere that sets the kids for a good day of learning and interacting with each other.  We went through a phase when my first children were very little of CBeebies Radio until they grew and it since became podcasts which I cannot warm to as much.  But ever since, we have used the fabulous....

Friday, 12 December 2014

7 Great Craft Gift Ideas (including Anna and Elsa dolls + a Bing Bunny!)

Crafting gifts yourself can be a lovely way to show someone you thought of them. 

For neighbours and community colleagues, the children and I bake biscuits or fairy cakes, then pop them in a little bag with lots of ribbon.  The kids wear their festive gear and we head out to walk the rounds, calling on our neighbours and volunteers who are on duty to hand them all out.   We do the same at Halloween, giving the kids a chance to dress up in costumes and call on people we know.  It might all sound a bit Waltons, but it gives the kids a chance to take part in the seasonal atmosphere by carol singing/trick or treating without then going on to demand money or sweets afterwards.

Putting together larger crafts for people you love is not always cheaper than buying gifts, but it is often cheaper than the bought equivalent e.g. £5.00 would not buy you a handknitted scarf crafted by someone else, but would buy you the range of wool for a beautiful long colourful scarf you handknitted yourself.  Just lumping a hamper of bulk-made jams to everyone you know might not be the best idea... Aunty So-and-so never eats anything sweet, or Grandma Bob would rather eat the best-bought stuff, etc.  Tailoring the gifts to the person you gift them to can make a world of difference, otherwise it isn't really any more thoughtful than buying in Boots 3-for-2 toiletries sets... just a lot more effort for you.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Out-of-cheese Emergency Burrito

This was a highly successful ad hoc meal yesterday.

Although I am very glad we never had to lose the oven during the kitchen work, I am getting a bit fed up with the variants on the theme i.e. something baked + potatoes + vegetables . I am not actually sure the children have noticed.  If they have, they seem ok with it.

I like to make use of the oven and so put the vegetables in a lidded casserole with a splash of hot water to cook alongside or roast them in a little rapeseed oil on the top shelf.  This week, the vegetable sides have taken the form of spinach and sliced green pepper one day, a dish of sweetcorn and peas on another, a dish of baked beans from a can, and, my favourite, whole roasted carrots.  Potatoes can be cut into chips, chunks or baked whole depending on how long the oven will be on/how big the potatoes are.  One day this week, I used a couple of packets of instant mash!

The main problem I have is scouting the house for suitable ingredients and implements.  Hence this burrito; everything was within a few paces! 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Textbook Learning

There is a lot of choice out there when it comes to curriculum for home schooled kids.  We keep an eye on the National Curriculum for a few reasons: 1) it is actually quite a sensible learning guide for the most part, 2) I don't want the children missing out on chunks of knowledge the vast majority of their peers have, 3) circumstances are never fixed; if something happens in the future and the children have to go into state education then I want the transition to be as easy for them as possible.

There are a wealth of homework textbooks and workbooks out there, cheaply available in discount stores, that follow the National Curriculum.  These are perfect for the early years of home schooling, complimented by our own projects and activities, e.g. after finishing a textbook chapter on dinosaurs this morning, they are currently enjoying the BBC's Dinosaur Planet game. If you have the time to research the internet, you can find a great deal of free resources from school's own websites for reading guides etc, and from the BBC and TES.   As the children grew older, however, I found we needed to introduce a resource to encourage more focused learning to prepare them for the exam years to come. 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

An Easy Crocheted Purse

How cute is this purse?!
I did one in a mottled blue/red yarn too.  All you need to do is use the guide below but use a coarser textured yarn so that the work holds stiffer than the mould-to-your-head finish of the hat.  I originally intended to make a hat with the gorgeous coloured yarn but found the texture of it made the hat too stiff to be comfortable. 
But mistakes often bring revelation!
It worked so well as a purse that I have had to make two of my girls one each.  I fancy doing a larger version with plarn as a strong shopping bag. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Whole-Oven Sunday Dinner: Gammon with Vegetable Casserole, Baked Potatoes and Cumberland Gravy, and a Mint Choc Shortbread

The kitchen is on its way towards completion, but I still haven't lost my oven yet!  There is very limited space for prep (now done on the dining table) and the hob is out of use as the kettle and toaster are sitting on it! I usually have my dinner at least in some way prepared for getting back from church.  Not this Sunday.  It felt like I was chasing my tail this weekend with volunteer commitments and the children's commitments.  I scurried into the house around 12.45 and dinner was on the table by 2.  So that wasn't too bad going... especially as the children had enough hobnobs, digestives and juice after the church service with their friends to keep them going!  Next time I make this meal (and I will) I would set it up in the oven ready for the oven to switch on an hour before we got home.

This is what I came up with: Gammon, Vegetable Casserole, Baked Potatoes and Cumberland Gravy, and I was told "this is the best Sunday dinner we ever had!" "we are definitely having this again", and lastly, from my husband "the gammon is really good. And what did you do to the vegetables, I've never had peas and carrots nice as this before." (from someone not over-keen on spinach, especially when cooked, so that is a real compliment!)  I should have pretended I did something magical... that I have a special touch... that I am an amazing cook... unfortunately for me, it really was pretty simple.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Socialisation Opportunities and Other Basic Resources

It makes sense to give back to the resources we use regularly and support the running of them.  As our government makes massive cuts across our tax-funded resources, more is falling to the community to keep free or low-cost access to basic resources such as nutrition, socialisation and education propped up.  I am not in favour of the Big Society shuffling off employed professionals to be replaced with amateur volunteers offering important services instead or the essential services disappearing altogether simply to cut council costs or tax.  In the meantime, however, these services need support and as loud a voice as possible. The more people who make use of the council-provided services and offer their voice, the more value the service will be deemed to have and so, hopefully, will less likely to be cut.
It can be a challenge to find time, especially with work or/and children, to volunteer.  I can forget myself and end up relying on others in the community to do it all on my behalf so I can benefit without input.  When I see the kids make an effort to help at group because they have seen me do so in the past, it inspires me again in turn to keep going and stay vocal.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Character Thoughts

I was intrigued by the Character Qualities lessons I saw the Duggars working at on their TV show.  Character building is something we have tried to concentrate on with our children from a young age.  I thought perhaps these Character Qualities could work for us to so I sought them out on the Duggars' website.  There were a few things on the resource that didn't align completely with our own ideas.  Creating our own would have taken a lot of hard work so I wondered if there was anything out there with a similar focus on character that we could us on a regular basis.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Christmas Plum Pudding with Chocolate and Pecans

I have two excuses for posting a Christmas recipe:
  1. The food magazines always have a Christmas issue in November to allow for preparation
  2. I am already late in the day; Stir Up Sunday has passed.
I do have access to my slow cooker, despite my kitchen being under construction, but all of the to-do meant that Stir Up Sunday has passed me by.  Stir Up Sunday is the traditional day here in the UK to prepare the Christmas Pudding, in order to give it time to mature.  The traditional sort of fruit cakes and puddings need time to moisten and soften and meld together.  The puddings and cakes we usually make for Christmas in this house are lighter and moister so they are good after only a couple of days of maturing. I make them like this not only because I am incredibly impatient, but we all also prefer this texture than the can-be dry, gritty and somehow-dusty traditional produce you can be unfortunate to find at this time of year. 

Luckily, the pudding we made last year was made only around a week before the big day and was just perfect by the time the 25th arrived.  It was loved by children and adults alike.  The prunes lose bitterness and iron tang, leaving juicy bursts of plumminess.  The smoky moist chocolatiness of the pudding gives it enough depth for the grown-ups to fall in love with it, and it is also smooth and sweet enough for the kids to adore it.  At this time of year, most things I make are soaked in wither dark rum or, if it is lingering in the cupboard, port.  This pudding, however, was made using up the summer's bottle of fruit punch and it was perfect; the red fruit and light sweet spices lent a gorgeous scent and flavour.  You would probably get a similar effect using a bought light mulled wine instead of the summery punch (alcohol-free mulled wine and punches are easily found at this time of year in the supermarkets.)  If you want to use something from the cupboard, then sherry will work nicely too. Dark rum always works.  For anything.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Revitalising Winter Coats

Our favourite winter coats are the warmest and cosiest coats that come out every year.  Spending on a winter coat is an investment and so our family like make sure we buy good ones to keep the chill out and last.  The younger ones inherit the older ones' coats as they grow out of them.  They are still good and full of wear. 
The only problem is that after a couple of years of washes and wear, they begin to look a little bit tired.  And, truth be told, I felt a little bit embarrassed that our neighbours and friends, even if too polite to comment, would begin to notice four or five years on that I was still wearing the same winter coat.  I didn't want to splash out on new coats just because we were bored with them or they looked a little bit faded... not when they were still warm and comfortable.
But I hit upon an idea... how we could get "new" winter coats for around £6-£7 each without wasting our decent current ones or purchasing fresh items.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Free Time and Imaginative Play

It can be easy to forget just how valuable both free time and imaginative play can be.  Curriculum sometimes seems to be coming out of my ears!  I can be easily drawn into trying to prove to non-home educators that what we are doing at home is "worthwhile", not remembering that a lot of school time is devoted to play too (never minding all the waiting in line or for teachers/other children, and that all of this only takes place between 9-3 for 5 days a week anyway.)  Our weekly timetable has "free time" marked out, but even still, I get into the habit of thinking of it as only letting off steam and not as valuable learning in its own right.

The various ways in which the children choose to spend their free time can help them develop their own interests and also help me to develop activities for them around these. For example...

Friday, 21 November 2014

17 Ways to Make Peanut Butter Better

There have been lots of peanut butter sandwiches lately at Acorn Towers. The peanut butter and bread do not need a fridge, so they have been a great thing to have around while we are without our kitchen.

Peanut butter is a great protein source – you can find about the same amount of protein in 100g peanuts as in 100g animal protein!  And it is one heck of lot cheaper!  Ok, so peanut butter does not have all of the amino acids that an animal protein will, but you do not need all of the amino acids to come from the same item of food at one meal; a varied diet will ensure you get the balance you need. 
We used to buy the economy brands, until I realised that they contained palm oil which we decided we wanted to cut back on as much as possible.  Sunpat (no palm oil) is still a great deal.

The younger kids and hubby can eat the same meals for days on end without minding at all.  (Husband has done as such for weeks and months on end of his own volition in the past!)  But the eldest and I need variation.  We get tired of the same old boring PB sarnie.

So how to mix it up?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Capital Cities Hunt

This is the first printout for the 'Capital City Hunt', as I promised in my last post I would share them.

This is how you use it with the second printout below...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

"We're Going on a House/Garden Hunt..."

I can't help but rattle of that title in a sing-song Michael Rosen way! (Michael Rosen is wonderful! - I have just had to take a break from writing this post to enjoy his performance in this video.)  

All sorts of subjects can be worked into a hunt, outside in summer or indoors during harsh winter weather.In the summer, we love to have hunts or "trails" in the garden.

I use chalk to mark addition, subtraction or multiplication trails and rhyme trails around the garden.

Tonno e Piselli

Our family is very lucky in that is includes generous people such as my mother-in-law.  She occasionally visits us on Monday afternoons and patiently listens to the children with their reading books, is audience and gentle critic to their choir rehearsals or upcoming speaking events, and sometimes brings along a loaf of bread to share from a local artisan bakery.  The handmade bread dough is swirled around garlic, and topped with salt flakes and olive oil.  It really is a treat for our family to see grandma, and it is lovely to break bread together.

I do, however, sometimes find it a struggle to adapt what we have in the house to create a dish complete with protein and vegetable that is suitable to eat with this bread as a starch, rather than potatoes, pasta, or rice.  The sort of foods we usually eat with bread, e.g. dhal, curries, fruity Moroccan-influenced stews, are partnered with flatbreads and do not sit well with the gorgeous oil-crisped, garlic-heavy and flowery olive-flavoured bloomer.  My husband takes soup for lunch, so I don't want to serve it to him twice a day.  I try to come up with variants of Italian inspired stews to serve with greens and the bread.  This is one of my favourites, and the one we went with yesterday evening (luckily, our oven and hobs are plugged in for another couple of days!)

Monday, 17 November 2014

Re-Purposing Summer Dresses

We had a number of summer dresses that the older girls had grown out of.  Usually, we keep items for the next child to grow into but there were a couple that were starting to look a little bit shabby.  I didn't want to waste them; the girls and I all loved the gorgeous prints.  So we struck upon this marvellous idea!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Kitchen Adventures

Regular readers might remember my mentioning that we are having our tiny kitchen extended.  The wall into the current kitchen is to be knocked through next week and so we have to dismantle the kitchen this weekend.

As much as I am looking forward to being able to proverbially swing the cat when it is all done and dusted, the prospect of being without a kitchen for a fortnight (at least !) is not something I am relishing... 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Swimming with the Dishies

In our last home we had a dishwasher.  Yet it still managed to become a chore to rinse everything, load it, wait for a cycle to complete, then unload, and we still found that some of the items had not been thoroughly washed.

In this current home, until our extension is finished, there is no room for a dishwasher and so I have been back to washing by hand for the last four years. Even once the extension is complete, now armed with the tips I have learned, I don't feel the need for a relatively expensive energy and water- guzzling appliance anymore...

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

WWI Remembrance Project

Marking the 100 years of WWI seemed the perfect time to introduce this period to my children.  Usually in primary schools (under 11s) the children are introduced to WWII but not WWI.  The centenary prompted me to realise it surely makes sense to introduce the Great War first.  The centenary also meant that where previously there were very few junior resources about this period, websites and centres have been rolling out resources for all ages.

Some useful resources we have used in our project this Autumn...

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pink-Purple Pixie Hat

A tot model again!  This time we have a tot demonstrating a hat using the same pattern as the Busy Bee Hat, but made slightly larger to allow for speedy toddler growth (!) and in lovely pink colours to match this tot's coat.  Because this one is slightly larger it gives a gorgeous pixie effect at the top and tassles.

Slow-cooked Monday Pie

There are often recipes for Monday Pie in older recipe books.  Utilising the traditional Sunday roast on Mondays, and sometimes through to Tuesdays, was a common thrifty way to stretch out the meat.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Easy Cowboy Beans

We love cowboy beans here.  It is a great cheat meal before heading out to late afternoon/evening groups with awkward start times! 

French Lessons

It is widely acknowledged that children grasp second languages easier the earlier they are introduced.  Unfortunately, my own and my husband's knowledge of French has been pretty dim for a long time.  I managed one term of the subject at age 11, and most of what my husband learned at GCSE has not stood the test of time!

What a great discovery

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Flake Muesli, Cereal Sundae and Jazzing up Cornflakes

At 46p for a 750g box of cornflakes at Asda, a great convenient and frugal breakfast is at your fingertips.  There is sugar in cornflakes, but less so than in other more expensive branded cereals, and they make a nice change from oats or toast as a simple go-to on busy mornings.

A bare bowl of cornflakes has a sort of minimalistic simple beauty about it (see above) but how to add interest and nutrition and, importantly, how to make it appealing to the kids? 

Homemade Moisturising Olive Oil Handwash

Neater, tidier and easier than a bar of soap, especially for tiny slippery-when-wet hands, liquid soap can be cheap enough to buy.
Even cheaper is to make your own.  And it doesn’t need to involve boiling bubbling cauldrons over a hob...

Friday, 7 November 2014

UK Capital Cities and The Bus Stop Method

I heard about the bus-stop method from the Duggars before we went into home schooling ourselves (I heard it in an interview, I think, but it is also mentioned in this post here under 1pm.)  The idea is that you give the kids the same lesson with the same intro to a topic, but the younger ones "get off" earlier before it gets too in-depth for their ability.  I often produce worksheets and lessons like this for everyone to get stuck in together.  This method also means that the same worksheets can come out again the next year so that the older kids get to revise the basics and expand on their knowledge.

We find this worksheet useful for Bus Stop learning in the following way...

Homemade Resolve, Baby Lemsip and Cough Syrup

When you have a collection of little ones around, this is the time of year a bug will do the rounds.  We have been quite lucky so far, in that our kids don't get sick too often (counting blessings!) but a particularly nasty stomach bug has been passing through the community here.  Only three of us... me, my husband and the tot, have experienced stomach pains and vomiting for a couple of days each. 

Doctors' surgeries are always asking people only to book a consultation if really necessary.  Luckily, tot only vomited once, so didn't become dehydrated, and was lethargic and clingy for a couple of days before perking back up.  The other children have been fine.  I do feel their diet, demeanour and regular fresh-air exercise fortifies them. 

Of course we do go to visit the doctor if necessary, and have even used the A&E and Walk-In Centres occasionally in the past, and we most certainly do not eschew modern medicine at all!  While folk remedies are not a substitute for modern medicine, I find a couple of folk remedies (ones with chemical reason... we aren't talking threads and pebbles under pillows here) are incredibly useful to know and have helped no end to cope with mild issues before visiting a doctor if we need to.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

How to Make a Busy Bee Hat

One of my little dears enjoying the life of a model! 

You could crochet or knit any hat pattern with yellow and black stripes... but this is my favourite pattern  at the moment... I love it!  There are some great tutorials on the web to help you begin crochet.

Cheat's Spaghetti Bolognese

I start with a disclaimer... I am not saying that using convenience food is always a good thing, but I am long past feeling a failure for using convenience products occasionally.  Since I moved from feeling like that to accepting that I sometimes find it immensely saving, life is quite a bit less stressful!

If you hate using packets, you can do as we often do...

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bonfire Chocolate Cake with Treacle Cream Frosting and Autumn Home Decorations

 Wishing a belated Happy Halloween but also a Brilliant Bonfire Night if you are here in the UK!  I know that we have a few readers in the U.S. so to explain a little... Bonfire Night on the 5th November is also known as Guy Fawkes Night or Fireworks Night, originating in ancient pre-Christian Autumn festivals but carried on in remembrance of Fawkes and his gang's plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament! 5th November was always the bigger deal around here until around a couple of decades ago when Halloween increased in popularity.  Both festivals are now celebrated equally, if not swayed more in the direction of Halloween.
After the fun of Harvest and gathering the last blackberries, elderberries, rowan and fallen apples to make our preserves for the following year with, these celebrations are something we really look forward to in our family! 

Bonfire Night Worksheet

This is the worksheet we used last year and the children are currently working on it again this year as I type.  They love colouring in the fireworks and then designing their own artwork with exploding colours! 
Some Firework artwork ideas:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Recycled-Craft Hair and Band Accessories

The craze for loom bands over the past year has not escaped my children's attention.  I remember making friendship bracelets when I was a kid with yarn, but these little colourful elastic bands are everywhere and just about every friend my children have are offering rubber bracelets as sweet thoughtful gifts.

My own children immediately got excited about the idea and were asking for them to make in return.  They love crafting and I know that loom bands would keep them happy for hours.  They are cheap enough; pound shops have them in abundance.  But, terrible parent that I am, I said no.  I worry about all of those rubber bands gathering in landfill and what goes into producing them. 

At a children's group last November I pioneered these recycled bands instead nervously... children can be reluctant with change, especially something so beloved as loom bands seem to be!  But they were a hit!  My own children have been making them ever since. 

Decluttering and Reusing

In our house we have to make a conscious effort to keep plenty of space as collections of toys and projects continue to grow.  
We regularly go through collections and decide together what should go.  The children have been very good at grasping the idea they have plenty and the toys they don't play with could be loved and treasured by a child who has less than they do, as we often send ours to a local group for vulnerable young mothers.  They also understand that if they make room, Santa will know that they could use a 'new' toy at Christmas!  I like to think it is the first reason they use as motivation but I am realistic and think they are probably very much swayed by the latter reason! 

Monday, 3 November 2014

30th Anniversary of the 84/85 Miners' Strike and Topic Resources

Earlier this year we looked at a good deal of items leading up to learning about the 84/85 Miners' Strike for the 30th anniversary.  Going to see 'Pride' in September renewed my enthusiastic interest in the subject, and I am lining up the beautiful American poem 'Bread and Roses' to read with the children.  The song was featured in the film and, searching up the original poem, I was taken with its history and look forward to sharing it around the table.  As well as being a stunning poem, it will give the children the idea that similar troubles for working people happen beyond Britain's shores.  It will also carry something across from last summer when we looked at Women's Suffrage and Women's Rights, and carries into our Autumn study of 100 years since WWI as the poem was written in 1915 and can be read with this topic in mind also.

Marble Cake

Gorgeous almond cake and dark moist chocolate cake all mingled together in one lovely tea time treat!  It feels like a very indulgent Sunday tea time with a slice of this marble cake.  And yet, this recipe is still lower in sugar than a lot of your "healthy" cake recipes, and certainly less saturated fat. I use rapeseed oil in baking, all monosaturated fat (which actually lowers bad cholesterol, rather than raising it like saturated, or leaving it unaffected like polyunsaturated fat), contains omega 3 fatty acids (good for joints) and is cheap when bought as 'vegetable oil'.

...Oaks Grow

Something small, even something seemingly insignificant or unnoticed or unloved... a word, a gesture, a person.... as well as those tiny acorns more dear to a person than anything else in the world, can have the potential to grow into something mightier than we could ever have comprehended for the tiny acorn it once was!
Living simply is something our family work towards.  We strive to leave as little destruction as we can, and offer as much compassion and resourcefulness as we can on our way (not always easy!)

In this blog, I intend to share posts on food and recipes for nutritious, easy and tasty meals on a budget, household topics like cash management, homecrafts, and keeping the home a place the family want to be without tearing your hair out (!) and resources/ideas for home education (whether you educate at home full-time or care to supplement public or private schooling, I hope it proves to be useful.) There will also be extras such as ideas for socialising and entertainment on a budget, and how to take part in creating those opportunities for others as well as benefitting yourself.  My own chatter might do a little clogging too!

The blog will be updated regularly, so please do keep checking back.

Hope to see you around x