Monday, August 26, 2013

Camping Stepped Up a Notch

My whole life, the only kind of camping I had done was in a tent. As a child it was a great big cabin style tent with a room divider. As a youth it was a more light-weight tent designed for housing a few of us girls and it had to be light enough to be carried with a canoe and all our food over at least one portage. As a young married woman, my husband and I started out with a simple pop-up style tent that we most likely borrowed from someone. After we had a child we began to search out a tent to keep us a bit more comfortable. We saw it as a bit of an investment, but the modernized cabin style tent had features like a screened in gazebo, divided room and a ceiling light with remote control; handy when you're camping among many other tents so you can find your own or if need a nightlight for your child!

Now, nearly 11 years into our marriage and 4 children later we need another upgrade. The search for our next upgrade took nearly 3 years but we were finally faced with a deal no-one could refuse. We found a 1977 Bonair Tent Trailer with two double beds, fridge, stove, heater, table and side bench/bed. She needs a bit of TLC but we think we can make it work.
We took her on our first trip this summer with only a few minor repairs before taking off. Bearings, roof sealing and repairing some corners where the wood was exposed. We stayed comfortable, warm and most of all dry (only one leak, but minor). No more packing up a wet tent! That was worth it big time. So here are our before photos. Stay tuned for updates (might take a while, but we'll get there).

If you have pointers... we could use them!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Year 4 of Homeschooling

With a complete overhaul of our homeschooling plan well under way I thought I'd take the time to share our plans for this year. In the past we have gone with boxed sets of homeschooling curriculum from Alpha Omega Publications, using both Horizons and Life Pac. They have worked well for us and our sone but we found something lacking in our home this past year -  that personal, passion for learning that homeschooling is meant to create and encourage. Academically, our son is right up to par compared to traditionally schooled children, but he just doesn't LOVE learning as when we first began. For that reason and the fact that we have two five-year-olds and an eager soon-to-be three year old to teach, we needed to bring that passion for learning back to the front of the class. I have included many (if not all) my links from my research as we go along.

After much research (it was a long winter) and encouragement from other homeschooling parents we know, we decided to use the Charlotte Mason approach to educating our children. The basic premise is simple; people learn best when they are passionate about the subject or from those who are passionate about their subject. She encouraged learning from what she called "living books" rather than text books. Living books are most often written by people who are well informed and passionate about their subject and that will come across in their writing therefor, better capturing the attention and passions of your own child (better than any stagnant text book written by a panel of learned people might). We also really like that every part of a child's day becomes their learning. From habit training (or chores as some might call it) to character development to History and Math; all are just an extension of the parent's job to raise up passionate, functioning, educated, adults.

You'll notice that I give about 15-30 minutes per subject. I want to be clear that not all the time will be used for reading/teaching. Some will be left open for discussion and having the children recite back to me the things they have learned so I know where to focus our attention the next time. I'm sure I am missing a lot of details that could help explain how our day will look, but in the end, our whole day is designed to keep our minds active and creatively learning .

Here is what we hope to use as our "Curriculum" and schedule for this year... I'm certain things will adjust and change, but we need to start somewhere...
For the Family Lessons, the initial teaching will be done together on these subjects though the younger children will use more simplified versions than the older one(s). We’ll discuss what we have learned using Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions. The older one(s) will write out their questions and answers in a notebook and review with me their insights.

While me might have started with Simply Charlotte Mason, We ended up using the Ambleside Online site to help us pick out and organize our year. Both are great, but ultimately we liked the organization used on the Ambleside Online's website and we just needed to tweak is slightly to suit our needs. So not all of these subjects would be found on their site. One of the reasons for that is because Ambleside is a primarily British/American source and there really isn't a Charlotte Mason "approved" Canadian History base just yet. So I have looked up something that I think will be good for our needs and hopefully we'll be able to find most of our books at our local library. See the last image for that outline.

We also wanted to use the Year 2 Bible to start so that we could begin our timeline as a family and the younger children could better follow along (hopefully). We've also decided to use the Exploring Creation Series they sited as an alternative because I know my boys would prefer that brightly illustrated and factual style of learning for that subject. I don't know about you but some of my favorite fact books were those done by Crabtree Publishing, these are similar to those and a bit more text book like than I think Charlotte might have preferred.

Math is also one that really can't just be done as a multi-age, but it can be done at the same time, only making simple changes for the young ones for now. We chose Math-U-See for our son this year. He used to love math but recently began to dislike the many pages of question & answer work he had to do. This curriculum set seems to work past that and engage the children into loving math.

By all means question/comment away here because the more I have to think about it, the better it will be in the end.

Sample of our Canadian History Plan
Some other links:
Manitoba Social Studies outline from the Government's site.
Penmanship, Handwriting tools

Squash, Squash and more Squash

One of the most versatile produce items from my gardens, past, present and future has been the squash. With so many varieties, shapes and sizes the possibilities are endless really. But you might be asking yourself what to do with them? Here I have shared some of my own favorites and some links to my tried and true loves.

Spaghetti Squash
with Classic Meat Sauce 

  1. Cut squash in half and scrape out seeds.
  2. Place cut side up in roaster with enough water to cover bottom of the pan and cover.
  3. Roast for 45-50 minutes or until tender when poked with a fork.
  4. Cool slightly, break apart fibers with a fork to look like spaghetti strings.
Top with your favorite meat sauce and your meal is complete. Our children loved this one and could easily make it once a week.

Try this squash with salt, butter and parmesan cheese or with garlic shrimp with sea salted butter and parsley. You can pretty much top this with anything.

We have done butter chicken or this Thai Peanut Chicken recipe I've memorized and adapted over the years and is now a favorite for the whole family.If you'd put it on regular spaghetti then you could certainly put it on this garden favorite.

Another squash we like to use is Acorn or Butternut. Once cooked these have a similar sweet flavor and have interchanged them in more than one recipe over the years. My favorite is from Health-Bent's site and have made it so many times that I bet the recipe has morphed into something else altogether. A classic squash Lasagna.

How about a simple one dish skillet dinner? This one has limitless possibilities, but this is the usual combination for us.

Sausage (any you like)
Acorn Squash (butternut or sweet potato)
Onion, chopped
Peppers, chopped
Cheese, grated
Avocado, chopped

Cook up the sausage and onion. Remove sausage from the pan and let cool slightly. Add squash and enough liquid (water) to help cook the squash. Cut sausage into bite sized pieces and return to pan with any juices. Add peppers and cook until squash is almost done. Add spinach and make little "nests" in the mixture to break the eggs into. Finish cooking with lid on or in the oven. Top with cheese and avocado. We like to add hot sauce to our plates. Breakfast, lunch or supper, this one is a hit with everyone.

Here are some more links for you to try. We have and they are tasty and child approved.

How to Cook Squash
Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Carrot-Squash Bisque
Roasted Squash Wedges
Squash Bowls: You can make a lot of great recipes inside a squash bowl including desserts.
Baked Apple Maple Acorn Squash
Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (SFGF) 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Carrot Cake Face Off

Carrot Cake II (coconut flour)
Carrot Cake I (almond flour)
Having been commissioned to make a grain-free version of this classic cake, I set out to find a recipe that, to the "untrained" or non grain-free tongue, would taste just as great as the traditional recipes. Here are the two versions I tried. Both were tasty but one did rise to the top. Try them for yourself and tell me what you think.

Carrot Cake I

6 eggs, separated
1/4 cup honey (or xylitol)
1 1/2 cups carrots, cooked and cooled
1 Tbsp grated orange rind (1 orange)
1 Tbsp fresh orange juice (1 orange)
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
3 cups almond flour

1) Preheat oven to 325° F.
2) Grease pan (or use silicone pan)
3) Separate the eggs and beat the yolks and honey (xylitol) together.
4) Mix in carrot, orange rind, orange juice, ginger, cinnamon and almond flour.
5) Beat the egg whites until the form stiff peaks and fold into mixture.
6) Spoon the mix into the pan(s). I used 2-9" pans and split the batter evenly to make layers and add more flavor with the cream cheese frosting in the middle.
7) Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
8) Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Carrot Cake II (the winner!)

1 cup honey (or 1/2 cup xylitol)
1 cup butter
12 eggs
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 1/8 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
3 cups shredded carrots (about 6 medium)

1) Heat oven to 350˚F.
2) Grease 2-9"pans (or use silicone pans)*
3) Melt honey and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Cool.
4) Lightly beat eggs. Add vanilla and blend.
5) Add coconut flour, sea salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and beat until well blended, scraping down sides as necessary. Add shredded carrots, and stir lightly to incorporate.
6) Pour into prepared pans and bake 25-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
7) Allow to cool completely and invert onto cooling rack.

*The photo of this cake was from a half of this recipe

Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
1/2 cup butter, at room temp
1/4 cup xylitol
zest & juice from 1 orange
1 tsp ginger

1) In a stand-up her mixer, whippe together the cream cheese and butter
2) Add xylitol, zest, juice and ginger
3) Mix well

Thursday, August 8, 2013


A Gallery of Sweetness 
(and a couple recipes too!)

When I think of cupcakes I think of the limitless options of flavor combinations in one handheld treat. They are fun to make and delicious to eat. Here are some of my latest creations. I hope to try out many more in the future.

For those (like ourselves) who eat sugar-free, grain-free (paleo, advance plan, gluten free) I do have a fabulous recipe posted for a cupcake that I promise you is worth every bite of guilt free goodness!
The Hungry Caterpillar
Vanilla Cupcakes with Swirled two-tone Green Butter Cream Icing
and tiny Marshmallow Fondant Leaves.
6" Vanilla Cake for the head, covered in Marshmallow Fondant.
 Basic Vanilla with Butter Cream Icing
and Marshmallow Fondant Lady Bugs.

Light and yummy SFGF Dark Chocolate with
Cream Cheese and Whipped Cream Black Cherry Icing
and Salted Caramel Vanilla.

Dark Chocolate Cupcake Sugar-Free, Grain-Free
(makes 10-12 medium cupcakes)
Slightly adapted from

8 oz Unsweetened Chocolate
½ cup Coconut Oil
6 Eggs
¼ cup Cocoa Powder
2 Tbsp Coconut Flour
3 Tbsp Xylitol (or to your sweetness liking)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
¼ tsp Salt
½ tsp Baking Soda

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
2. Melt chocolate, coconut oil and xylitol together in a small saucepan over low heat on the stove, stirring constantly until xylitol is well mixed in (tasting to make sure sweetness is to your liking). Let cool several minutes.
3. Place eggs, vanilla, and salt in a blender/mixer. Blend briefly to beat the eggs. Add a small amount of the chocolate mixture and pulse again to temper the eggs. Then add the rest of the chocolate mixture and beat together for 30 seconds.
4. Add the cocoa powder, coconut flour and baking soda. Blend to combine (about 30 seconds). Let the batter sit for 2-3 minutes to thicken.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan to about ¾ full. Bake for 17-18 minutes.
6. Carefully remove from muffin pan promptly upon removing from the oven. Let cool to room temperature before frosting.

Black Cherry Cream Cheese Whipped Icing
(makes 10-12 medium cupcakes)

8 oz Cream Cheese
1 cup Whipping Cream
1 cup fresh Black Cherries, plus garnish
2 tsp xylitol

1. With cream cheese at room temperature, whip it up in mixer until smooth and fluffy.
2. Slowly add in whipped cream and xylitol until peaks form
3. Pit and chop black cherries. Fold into icing.
4. Ice cupcakes shortly before serving and garnish with whole cherry. Reserve remaining in airtight container.

Red Velvet with Dark Chocolate Butter Cream Icing
and Gum Paste Teapots.

Little birdies for atop a tweet little girl's birthday cupcake.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Teal Butter Cream Frosting
and Gum Paste birdies.

Vanilla with Swirled Butter Cream Icing.