Saturday, April 30, 2011

Happy Bath

Second Son took a bath tonight and did not cry. He even played a little.

It only took nine months and a bit.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What's This Flower?

Anyone know what this pink flower is? It's a bulb I found growing at the zoo at the end of  March.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homeschool Review: Noeo Chemistry I

A friend found Noeo Science last summer and I was intrigued. A more formal science study than nature study is certainly not required at the first grade level, but I like science. I did study biology in college, after all. I've also read that early elementary students often perform better on standardized tests (for what that's worth) when early studies focus on science and history rather than strictly math and reading. I'm also love good science books, so I really wanted to give Noeo a try. Because Kansas Dad was teaching one day a week this year, he and First Son selected the chemistry course, Noeo Chemistry I. (Kansas Dad likes science, too.)

Noeo courses are designed to be a "balance between the classical method and the Charlotte Mason approach." The catalog includes three options each (chemistry, biology, and physics) for the early grammar stage (grades 1-3) and the late grammar or early logic stage (grades 4-6). They have one additional course (Chemistry III) for older students. Though (apparently) the family that created the Noeo courses is Christian, the selected books for the course are secular. This review covers only Chemistry I as we haven't tried any of the others.

Here's a picture of the syllabus. I love the syllabus!

They provide lesson plans for 36 weeks, four days per week, in the spiral-bound syllabus. For each day, they've outlined exactly which pages of which book to read and which experiments to do (or a list of them so we could choose an experiment). My children adore our science experiments. They beg for them; they are nearly always the highlight of the day. Without such an explicit plan for science, I would have skimped on the experiments. Though I know touching materials and watching experiments is integral to learning for the young ones (and everyone in science), experiments are more work to prepare, conduct and clean up than reading aloud from a book. This past year, I would have skipped the vast majority of them if they weren't right there in the syllabus.

Chemistry goo back in November
One of the very best things we did this year was design our own experiment. I was flabbergasted at the idea at first, but Kansas Dad had some good ideas and First Son ran with them. Here's the post explaining how we tested what baking soda does for a light and fluffy cake.

Noeo provides printable pages for written narration (including some with drawing space for the primary grades) and we've loved using the experiment page for our science notebooks. I was pleasantly surprised at how eager First Son was to draw what we did and what happened for each experiment. Even First Daughter will draw something that is recognizable. Sometimes, he'll even write the reason at the bottom. We found, though, that all the written parts of the narrations went better if we let First Son narrate verbally and then wrote the statements for him.

I thought the books were great, for the most part. You can see the list of them for Chemistry I here. First Son struggled with some of them at first when we were trying to do chemistry only two days a week. He'd tire quickly because the books do not cover easy material. They jump right in to atoms, molecules, elements, and so on. After a while, we changed to the four day a week schedule which allowed us to shorten the lessons significantly. We also modified our narration techniques to include a few more direct questions or asking for narration after just a sentence or two of the reading (choosing the most important sentences). Chemistry was then much more fun for everyone. Many of these books would probably have been just fine in the longer lessons if First Son had been in third grade rather than first grade.

I think my favorite book was Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun by Jill Frankel Hauser. The design is a little overwhelming (especially the little illustrations that repeat on the bottom of every page), but most of the experiments involve only items we have around the house and most of them worked. (Any course would be better if parents had the time to practice the experiments before sitting down with the kids, but that's simply not always possible.) I also thought How to Think Like a Scientist: Answering Questions by the Scientific Method by Stephen P. Kramer was quite good, though we read it during our struggling phase so First Son didn't appreciate it very much.

The Young Scientists Club experiments were a little disappointing. We haven't done them all yet, but so far they haven't seemed to include much in the bags for the price. Also, some of the reagents didn't seem to work very well. I sometimes added extra from our home stock to boost the experiment. It is nice that Noeo is able to provide only the experiment kits that fit with the course, though. I could only find them in the sets which are grouped by threes, presumably in the order they were created rather than by theme. I think someone with a little more time might be able to find relevant experiments in other science books to replace them.

Overall, we were pleased with Chemistry I from Noeo. The books were high quality. The syllabus was well-planned and organized for ease of use for the teacher. We're going to give them another try, I think, with Biology I next year.

This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive anything from Noeo Science, and will not if you follow any of these links or make a purchase from them. (I do receive a small referral fee from Amazon if you follow any of those links and make a purchase.) Again, this review applies only to Chemistry I.

My Small Successes XXXIX

In honor of my yummy cookies, I'm posting Small Successes two weeks in a row.  Danielle Bean says, "It’s important for moms to recognize that all the small successes in our days can add up to one big triumph."

1. Inspired by last week's success buying new cookies sheets, I actually made cookies for Easter.

Here are the Oreo cookies, complete with blue and green frosting. (First Daughter wanted purple, but I discovered too late we were completely out of red food coloring.) They are delicious and do taste surprisingly like real Oreo cookies.

We also made sugar cookies with some of our new sprinkles. I was trying out  a new recipe, one that doesn't require rolling them out and using cookie cutters. I love cookie cutters, but it's certainly faster to do without. I overmelted the butter so I had to drop them rather than roll them, but they are delicious! They melt in your mouth and even Kansas Dad, who does not really like sugar cookies, approves. First Son approves of the Oreo-look-alikes.

2. All four of the kids were great at mass for Easter. No one had to go out the back during the mass! More their success than mine or Kansas Dad's but we'll take it when we can.

3. I survived basketball! Our last day of spring basketball camp was yesterday. First Son loved it and has really improved his passing and shooting skills. I didn't have to do anything except entertain the other three for two hours once a week, but that was tough enough. First Son is already looking forward to next year's camp.

Click over to Faith and Family for more Small Successes!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review: Oh Were They Ever Happy!

Oh, Were They Ever Happy!
Oh, Were They Ever Happy! by Peter Spier

I found this book listed in Young at Art and we love it! Peter Spier's lively illustrations show three children unexpectedly left home alone (because the babysitter never arrives) who decide to help their father by painting the house. They gather all the paint cans they can find and just start painting. Orange, green, yellow, red...roof, chimney and all!

First Son and First Daughter start saying, "Oh no!" in between giggles as the painting begins. You can imagine the situation increases in ridiculousness as the pages turn. My favorite picture shows how the children are cleaning up after themselves in the bathroom. Even Second Daughter will laugh and groan at the disastrous mess.

Kansas Dad's favorite pages show the faces of the neighbors as they survey the final result. We never see the parents. Of course, they were ever so happy! Sadly for us, this book appears to be out of print, but hopefully your local library has a copy.

I'm Busy Today

I'm over at City Wife, Country Life with a guest post.

Query 35

Serious question now.

Which do you prefer:
  • strawberry jam or jelly OR
  • strawberry something for pancakes and ice cream (sauce or syrup)?
Strawberry season is coming up. Hopefully we have a good harvest this year. Last year I was a little too pregnant to really enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Range Cloth Wipes Solutions

For years, I’ve been using Baby Bum Drops and Baby Bits to make a solution for my cloth wipes. (Read my comparison of them here.) A few months ago, I was inspired to try making my own. I make a lot of our cleaning solutions (complicated things like vinegar and water) so I thought it would be similar. A quick search online brings up lots of sites and recipes to try. (This site seemed particularly clear.) I read through a variety of them and then just cobbled some together with ingredients I already had on hand.

Here they are! I used some 16 ounce spray bottles. You can buy these at all kinds of stores for about $2 each, depending on how fancy you get. (I don't like to prewet my wipes; I think they get musty. I just spray each one a little right before I use it.)

I have read mixed things on using plain water for wipes. Some people say it works fine; others have said it can be irritating. I opted for oil and water solutions, one with soap and one without. You can choose the essential oils you like best, too.

Oil-Based wipes solution
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 drops essential oils (I use lavender.)
  • Water to fill
In a 16 ounce spray bottle, add the olive oil and essential oils. Fill with water. Shake well before use.

Castile Soap wipes solution
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp liquid castile soap like Dr. Bonner's (which our grocery store carries)
  • 2 drops tea tree oil 
  • 2 drops essential oils (I use lavender.) 
  •  Water to fill
In a 16 ounce spray bottle, add all the ingredients and water to fill. Shake well before use.

I like to use the solution that includes soap for particularly messy diaper changes. I try to finish with a wipe of the oil-based solution to replenish natural oils that might have been washed away by the soap. I find I have to refill my solution bottles once every two to three weeks (and that's with two in diapers).

I had started with more oil, but it seemed to be staining the diapers so I've cut back. I am also careful with the tea tree oil. There seems to be conflicting reports on whether it's a good idea to put it on skin or against diapers.

I thought about doing a price comparison on purchasing the little blocks of soap to dilute, but I wasn't sure I could figure out how much a drop of essential oil would cost. The castile soap and oils do probably seem more expensive in the beginning, but a bottle of essential oil will literally last for years. I use the castile soap for most of our washing around the house (diluted) and a bottle of that also easily lasts for years. I think it's safe to say the cost of making your own wipes solution is minimal. I love using the dino pattern wipes from Kissaluv, but there are lots of sites online to find information on making your own wipes, so you could be saving a lot of money by using cloth wipes and homemade wipes solutions.

Just a reminder, if you follow any of the links above to Cloth Diaper Outlet and make a purchase, I receive a small referral.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Homeschool Review: Music Masters

I posted last summer that we were going to listen to the Music Masters CDs for our homeschool this year. Music Appreciation was one of our simplest and most enjoyable subjects in first grade. We followed the plan outlined by my dear friend (now Second Son's godmother), and began with Vivaldi and Corelli. We've also listened to Bach, Handel and are now finishing our six weeks with Haydn.

The Music Masters CDs are wonderful! Kansas Dad thinks the sound quality is not tremendous, but I didn't notice a problem in the van. The children know to expect our composer study as we drive to and from town for choir and only complain a little if our audio stories are interrupted midweek. Each CD gives an entertaining and informative biography of the composer interspersed with snippets of compositions followed by a longer composition, usually provided in full. If you can only name one or two pieces by a composer, those are the ones that tend to appear within the biography. I'm delighted my children heard a bit of the story behind "The Messiah." Though the narrator sometimes discusses music theory or development, the focus of the CD is on the story of the composer.

The biographies are appropriate even for young children as they introduce the composers with encouragement to work diligently or rise above struggles just as the composers did. They also each include at least one amusing or particularly memorable event from the composer's life (like an argument that actually became physical in the middle of a performance "to the delight of the audience").

My only regret is that we have only finished four composers so far, rather than the six I had intended. We only listen to our composer CDs in the van as we drive to our choir each week. We did not have choir every week, however, due to snowstorms or Holy Week (for example). (We also missed the first couple of weeks after our old CD player ate part of the CD I tried to play the first week and had to wait until I'd ordered a replacement.) I intend to remedy that problem next year by ensuring we have six full weeks for each composer scheduled, making up a session by listening to the CD on a different trip into town if we must. (I don't think I'd try to listen to them at home; my children just wouldn't pay attention.) We may listen to a couple over the summer (Mozart and Beethoven), so we would "catch up" to start with Berlioz in the fall.

So, how much do they know the composers? I haven't asked First Son to narrate at all, but he has on occasion mentioned a composer. My goal with our composer study is merely to introduce these great composers. I like the CDs and we'll continue with them in the fall but I still don't intend to ask them to narrate. (I think you could ask an older child to narrate from the CDs but the biographies are too long for young children to narrate.)

Music Masters CDs are recommended in many curricula, including Mater Amabilis (the backbone of our homeschool plans) and Mother of Divine Grace, so I didn't discover them by myself. If you are interested, see my post last year for my friend's recommended order for the CDs. If you'd like to purchase the complete set, be sure to check out Adoremus Books. In the past, they've had the best price and you can use their Easter Sale coupon code for 20% off until May 2nd.

I did not receive anything for this review. I purchased the complete set of CDs myself (Vivaldi and Corelli twice). I also do not receive anything if you follow the link to Adoremus Books to purchase the CDs or anything else.

Second Son at Nine Months

Second Son turned nine months old on Holy Saturday. First thing in the morning I set him on the couch with his giraffe for some pictures.

He's been sleeping tremendously well, from 8 pm at night to about 7 am in the morning four times last week. He also just started taking naps on a bit of a regular schedule. He often sleeps for about half an hour in the morning, starting at 11 am. Then he'll take a longer nap in the afternoon, maybe an hour from 3 to 4. I'll take that. He likes to be in his crib, though. As soon as I lay him down, he flips over to his tummy. If we're out and about he seems to be too interested in the world to take a nap. Sometimes he'll fall asleep in the car on the way home.

He has no teeth, but we think we see one on the bottom left (his left, our right) just under the surface. I expect it'll be coming out this week or soon thereafter.

This one is kind of dark but I love how his whole hand is crammed in his mouth.
He doesn't have any trouble eating, despite the lack of teeth. He scoops and crams Cheerios and crackers into his mouth. He doesn't do as well with fruit, but it tends to be slippery. He still likes his food pureed for maximum efficiency, but will sometimes each chopped blueberries or green beans and has recently decided cottage cheese is acceptable. He eats just about everything we feed him now, but he's not a huge fan of egg yolks. He had his first ham on Easter Sunday and seemed to like it.

He had his nine month well child visit today. He weighed almost 20.5 pounds (50th percentile) and is 29.25 inches tall (80th percentile). His nurse said he's a healthy boy, not that I needed her to tell me that.

Hamming for the camera
He isn't crawling yet, but he rolls quite easily every which way. He also scoots around the room on his belly. I don't think it's intentional exactly. He lunges for something that interests him and somehow finds himself closer to it. A few days ago, I took a book away from him and put it back on the shelf. He launched himself about a foot to grab it again. He has a tendency to destroy anything made of paper: books, newspapers, art projects, photo albums.

This place is great!
He pulled himself up in his crib three times on Saturday. He was startled at his own strength the first time, then he just laughed and laughed. (I had my back turned as I was hanging clothes in the closet when Second Daughter announced, "He's standing!" She was right!)

Oh, some day I'm going to grab that camera and eat it!
Kansas Dad said he very nearly crawled on Easter Sunday (while I was taking a nap). He was up on his hands and knees and rocking. It's only a matter of time now, and probably a very short amount of time. I'm afraid life is going to get a lot more complicated until the kids are more reliable at keeping their smaller toys away from him. You know, in two years or so.

He loves his big sisters and big brother. They can often make him laugh when nothing else will. Even Second Daughter has realized she can jump right into his face and yell "Peek-a-boo!" and he'll laugh hysterically. First Daughter is often a bit too affectionate for his taste, so he'll start to cry. Perhaps that will abate when he can crawl away from her. First Son, though not as interested in entertaining Second Son as the girls are, is probably Second Son's favorite person (after me and Kansas Dad). He'll often laugh for First Son when the others have failed.

He just started reaching for me (or Kansas Dad) if someone else holds him for a few minutes.

I'm so much more productive than I was even a month ago! Second Son will often explore on his own while I clean the kitchen or put in a load of laundry without crying. Most of the time.

He loves to pound on the piano keys. If you build a tower of blocks, he'll knock it down, but what I really love is how he insists on pulling the blocks out of their wagon if you try to put them away. He laughs, but he also takes it seriously. Get nine or ten blocks put away and he'll start reaching for them and tossing them out.

That's all for now.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Blessings From the Range

May you all have a blessed Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday!

My Small Success XXXVIII

I find myself with a few minutes this morning before we head out and thought I'd try to come up with three small successes.

1. I think I'm finally getting the hang of this mother-of-four business. For the first time in a long time, I realize I'm not feeling completely exhausted and stressed. Yesterday, Kansas Dad called me in the middle of the day to tell me he'd forgotten he needed to attend an academic event last night. Instead of going to confession all by my lonesome, as planned, I tackled dinner and bedtime with all four kids by myself. It turned out all right. (Don't worry, I'm going to go to confession tomorrow.)

2. I've picked all our books for next year (second grade, could it be true?). Now I just have to figure out how to get them all.

3. First Daughter, Second Daughter, Second Son and I spent an hour or so at a store yesterday. That's right. A store. First Son was playing basketball and I had a gift card to use. The kids were all fantastic. I picked some new cookie sheets (two have somehow gotten destroyed in the past year) and now I need to bake some cookies. Lucky for me, our spring concert is coming up and two dozen cookies are on the to-do list. I also printed out an intriguing homemade Oreo cookie recipe and promised First Son we'd try them. Think they sound good for Easter? Oh...I could color the cream with spring pastels!

Read more Small Successes at Faith and Family. May you have a blessed Easter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homeschool Review: Handwriting 1 for Young Catholics

First Son practices writing four days a week. We do dictation once a week, copywork once a week, and either use this book or write a letter to a friend or family member two days a week. (When we write a letter, First Son dictates to me. I write it out for him. Then he copies it. If he's been more verbose than usual, he takes two days to copy it.)

First Son learned the Zaner-Bloser method of handwriting in kindergarten with this book. He loved it, especially the silly illustrations (all in color). It was too short, though, not even enough practice for handwriting one to two times a week for the year, so I purchased an additional practice book.

For first grade, I wanted one book that would last all year and bought Handwriting 1 for Young Catholics on CathSwap (never used). It's a nice thick book with lots of practice. Even working through two or three pages each day we practice handwriting (again; once or twice a week with the book), he is not even half way through the book.

In the beginning of the year, each letter is introduced (one page of uppercase letters and one page of lowercase letters). A larger letter at the top includes dots where the writing should start and arrows showing the directions. Written instructions also clearly state how the letter should be formed. Each letter (and number) has twenty examples to trace. (There's room to write beside them as well.) Though it's not the Charlotte Mason way, I usually asked First Son to complete the whole page and then we'd talk about the letters that were best formed, often circling them because First Son liked that. (We're changing to an approach more like Charlotte Mason this week.)

After one practice page for each uppercase letter, lowercase letter and numbers up to 10, there are full pages to trace and copy for letters organized by similar strokes. We've just started those with a few days of "l" and "L." As we continue to move forward in the book, there are words and sentences, some of which are religious and Catholic in nature like "Pope Pius gave a talk."

Interspersed with the pages of practice are full-color illustrations of stained glass windows depicting religious themes that match the letters (the Last Supper when practicing "L," for example). First Son (and First Daughter) love the illustrations. I think I would have liked illustrations on the pages with the practice letters as well. If we were tearing the pages out of the book (they are perforated), First Son would hardly see the illustrations at all. The book doesn't lie exactly flat, so leaving the pages in the book means First Son has to manage writing near the binding. He hasn't complained, though, probably because the book is landscape and his practicing is usually not very close to the binding.

Handwriting practice is not particularly fun, but I think it's important. This book worked well because it has lots of practice and the illustrations are beautiful. I think we'll ask First Son to practice handwriting a little during the summer as well, especially since we have lots of pages left in the book, but I'm going to be more like Charlotte Mason and require something like six perfect letters and then he's done, even if he still has a lot of room left on the page. I plan to purchase Handwriting 2 for Young Catholics for second grade, which will introduce cursive handwriting about half-way through the book.

This is an honest review of the book. I did not receive anything in exchange for this review. I purchased the book (second-hand, but unused and new). I do not receive anything if you follow the links to Zaner-Bloser or Seton.

More Than Just Rules

Rachel Balducci over at Faith and Family:
What these boys are starting to understand is that living a Christian life ultimately means dying to self. It means putting others first not merely out of a desire to obey the rules, but out of a deep love for God.
Read more here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Two Books Called A Drop of Water

The kids and I have been studying water recently in our science course (full review coming eventually). We read one book called A Drop of Water as part of the course. I checked out a handful (okay, maybe more like an armful) of books from the library on water as well, just for fun, and found a second book with the same title.

They are both wonderful.

A Drop Of Water by Walter Wick says right on the cover it's a "book of science and wonder." Page after page of stunning photographs fill this book, each showcasing a fantastic property of water and complimented by text that challenges a young reader (or listener) to learn more about the scientific properties of water than the typical children's book (surface tension, capillary attraction, surface area, molecules, evaporation, condensation, cloud formation, refraction, and wavelengths, among other topics). First Son, thanks in no small part to the reading we've done earlier this year, understood quite a bit of it. Even if a teacher or parent just summarizes the text a little while children gaze at the pictures, it would be a valuable book. At the end of the book, the author suggests experiments that could be conducted at home, many of which we did in the course of our study (or similar ones). The pages on snowflakes would be well combined with a reading of Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (a book always worth reading).

A Drop of Water by Gordon Morrison is a different kind of book, but just as delightful. The Author's Note describes the book very well:
This is a story about a moment, the time it takes for a drop of water to fall from a child's fingertip. Water is the thread that takes you through the story; from the child, to the clouds, to the mountaintop, then down through forest, woodlands, streams, ponds, and back to the child by the meadow brook. By following the thread we travel through a wondrous landscape and pass plants and animals, including the child, doing what they do: soaring, drinking, eating, blooming, nesting, playing--living, all within the same moment.
The illustrations are wonderful - life-like but only partly colored to emphasize the plants, animals and water of each habitat. The text is not overwhelming, describing each spread engagingly but keeping the focus on the illustrations. At the end of the book, short descriptions of many of the plants and animals appear (perhaps all; I didn't count them). My children adored this book. None of them could keep away as I was reading it aloud.

Not Exaggerating

When Second Son turned seven months old, I mentioned his crazy hair from his pictures. Most of you probably thought I was exaggerating, but I've finally got the picture to prove it.

And that's after I tried to wet it down.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Product Review: Baby Bear Wool Dryer Balls

I have never used fabric softener with our cloth diapers or towels. I think any diaper site will tell you to avoid all fabric softeners. Because they decrease absorbancy, it's a bit counter-productive to use them with towels. All these years we've cloth-diapered, though, I've continued to use fabric softener with our other loads. Just a tiny bit, but still some.

A couple of months ago, we started to reach the end of the last bottle we bought on sale and I decided to research dyer balls.

Dryer balls are just what they sound like: balls that go in the dyer with your clothes while the dryer is running. They supposedly separate the clothes to decrease static cling and naturally soften them, without the chemicals of a standard fabric softener. Wool dryer balls seem to compare favorably to the PVC ones. From what I read online (taken with a grain of salt), the PVC balls can damage clothes, do not decrease drying time substantially and are not particularly environmentally friendly.

That was all fine with me because I really just wanted to buy the Baby Bear Wool Dryer Balls at Cloth Diaper Outlet. I ordered six of them. Between the discount for ordering six and the free shipping with orders over $50, the cost was about the same for six as for four (which is probably the minimum necessary to make any difference when drying clothes).

Here they are, a couple of months later, all settled into their new home:

If I didn't have four kids to tend and homeschooling to manage, I would have done a nice scientific experiment for you comparing the time my clothes and diapers took to dry before the dryer balls with how quickly they dry after them, but I don't have that kind of time. (I do have that kind of personality, though.) I think some loads are drying faster, particularly the heavy ones: diapers, towels, jeans, and big blankets (which I don't hang outside anymore after those ubiquitous Kansas winds tore some of mine). I do think my SuperDo inserts dry much better than before. (I try to turn them inside out as I move them from the washer to the dryer, but sometimes they reverse themselves in the dryer and don't dry all the way.) I rarely have to hang them to finish drying now that I have the dryer balls.

I can say for certain is that I haven't used any fabric softener for about two months and our clothes are just as soft as ever. We have had a tiny increase in static, but hardly worth mentioning. Sometimes the dryer balls try to make an escape. They end up tucked into the arms of shirts or pant legs. I found one early on in the dog crate, but I think Moses learned that wasn't going to be tolerated.

They make some noise while bouncing around in the dryer. I have been avoiding using them when we're about to go to bed so they don't disturb us, but I dry all the time just a few feet away from Second Son's crib while he's sleeping in there and he doesn't seem to mind at all. (I've been hearing recently from people who say you should not use a dryer when you're away from home or sleeping anyway, for risk of fire, so perhaps it's for the best.)

Intuitively, using wool dryer balls seems much more environmentally friendly than using fabric softener and probably better than using the PVC balls. They are made of all-natural materials with a minimum of packaging. (Mine came without any outer packaging at all -- just the mailing envelope.) There seems to be some debate as to how long they'll last. Some people claim they've been using the same ones for years.

At the very least, I think using the dryer balls is a good investment decision for our diapers. Though I never used fabric softener in the washer with the diapers, it seems likely some residual softener was getting mixed in. It's not like I have a dedicated cloth diaper washer and dryer.

I received nothing in exchange for this review. I purchased and paid for the Baby Bear Wool Dryer Balls myself. I am an affiliate of Cloth Diaper Outlet and receive a small commission if you follow these links and make a purchase. If you are interested and crafty enough, you can make your own wool dryer balls. I've read the instructions here and they look pretty easy. I may even try them myself one day. You can also find lots of beautiful homemade wool dryer balls on Etsy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Blueberry (or Strawberry) Oatmeal

I made a stand-by for breakfast recently, Blueberry Oatmeal, only I used strawberries instead because we still have some in our freezer from last year's harvest. I wanted to mention it here on the blog and realized the original page at Money Saving Mom is gone. Tragedy!

That's just not acceptable for all you poor people that haven't tried it yet. (The post was a few years old; I'm guessing they either expire after a while or it got lost when she transitioned to her new and improved site recently.)

So here's the Range recipe, a modified version of an original posted in the comments at Money Saving Mom by Suzanne Mosley. You can find her at Keep In Touch Stationary Co., though I don't think she's posting any recipes there.

Blueberry Oatmeal (aka Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries)

6 1/2 cups old fashioned oats (18 oz) *
1/2 cup brown sugar  **
1 cup applesauce
1 cup milk ***
1 1/4 cup water
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon (increase or decrease according to your taste and how much cinnamon may already be in your homemade applesauce)
cooking spray
2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen) ****

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix everything except the berries together in a bowl. Stir well.

Coat a 9" x 13" Pyrex dish with cooking spray. Pour the blueberries in. Top with the oatmeal mixture. (I prepare the oatmeal this far and store it in the refrigerator overnight. It makes it a bit quicker in the morning. Just pull it out and leave it on the counter while your oven is preheating, then bake as below.)

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 16-20 minutes (until browned).

Serve warm. My kids like brown sugar sprinkled on top. I like a little milk poured on top.

If you have any left-over, it is yummy warmed and served the next day or for a snack. It also works well cut into squares and frozen for a quick breakfast. It can be reheated directly from the freezer.

* Do not, I repeat, do not, substitute quick oats for any portion of the regular oats. Not even a tiny bit. Your baked oatmeal will be dry, tough, and unwanted. You may end up feeding a significant portion of it to your chickens, not that I would know anything about that.

** The original recipe called for 3/4 cup brown sugar. I'm decreasing it a bit at a time because we always sprinkle the brown sugar on top. My kids don't believe in brown-sugar-less oatmeal and they can't see it if it's already in the oatmeal. I should be bold and just eliminate it altogether.

*** You can substitute 1/3 cup dry milk plus a cup of water if you're short on milk, which we often are when I decide to make this. No one will notice.

**** I used four cups of whole frozen strawberries. The two cups didn't seem to cover enough of the bottom of the dish and we have a lot of frozen strawberries. I think having more was nice with the strawberries because they melt into the oatmeal more than the blueberries. I also think it would still have been good with only two cups if you don't happen to have the luxury of your own strawberry patch and an abundance of strawberries.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Riches for First Daughter

First Daughter's fortune cookie today: "You could prosper in the field of medical research."

Bad Ad

I have been praying for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. We are always called to help others and I encourage you to support aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services. (While CRS does not usually operate in Japan, they are collecting donations to give to Caritas.)

While reading some online articles, I spotted this ad and noticed it particularly because of this book. Has anyone else seen it?

I'm guessing they used this picture because babies make people want to give money, especially babies who have survived disasters and really do need help. It's a shame, though, that they are showing a baby receiving something (which may be expressed breast milk, but is much more likely to be some kind of infant formula) from a bottle.

This well-meaning relief worker has not been trained to follow the recommendations in Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies, developed by the IFE Core Group (including representatives from UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, WFP, IBFAN-GIFA, CARE USA, Fondation Terre des hommes and the Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN)).
The use of bottles and teats in emergency contexts should be actively avoided (Section 6).
This flyer is also informative. First, mothers should be given all possible support to continue lactation or even relactate. If that's not possible, HIV-negative donor milk should be given. If none is available (and the culture does not support breastfeeding by another mother; apparently some do), then ready-to-feed infant formula should be used (which does not require mixing with water). All such feeding should be done with a cup.

I don't mean to target the American Red Cross. I'm sure they work hard to help victims of all sorts of disasters. This ad could just have easily come from any number of aid organizations. I also don't intend to use this blog as a medium to showcase mistaken aid organizations. I just noticed it as a current example of the pervasiveness of formula feeding and bottles in the world today after reading The Politics of Breastfeeding.

Charity Navigator has an excellent article reminding us how to donate in ways that will truly benefit disaster victims. Please also consider supporting disaster-relief organizations on a regular basis so they will be ready to respond to any crisis without waiting for additional donations. As always, continue praying.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finger Food

Second Son is eating finger food -- picked up with his own fingers!

Scooped up and crammed into his mouth would better describe the process.

The important thing is: He's getting food from his tray into his mouth without one of us. Life just got easier. And messier.

In other news, it's so windy Kansas Dad had to chase down the top of our charcoal grill. He also had to wear a hat and gloves to take care of the chickens.

Second Daughter tried to con Kansas Dad into a second bedtime story by claiming that she had picked one and Boots (Curious George in a pink dress) picked the other. He was not convinced.

Book Report for First Son in First Grade

I told myself I'd post First Son's list of books more often in first grade than in kindergarten, but I haven't. Keeping up with school, home, life and (mainly) Second Son took a lot more effort than I'd envisioned. Luckily, we read longer books but fewer of them, so hopefully this list won't be too overwhelming.

First Son reads very well and extensively on his own, so my main goals for our reading lessons, when I'd sit next to him, were to increase vocabulary and, most importantly, convince him to expand his reading horizons a little. I think it's reasonable for a seven year old boy to want to read all the books in a series. The characters become familiar and the vocabulary tends to be similar so he's not encountering too much of the unknown. I just like him to be aware there are a lot of other authors and characters out there.

When our reading lessons started to become a bit of a battle, I made a deal with First Son. Typically, we would alternate between a book I selected and one he selected (with approval from me). So far, he's chosen all Magic School  Bus chapter books.
I have not read a book by Clyde R. Bulla I didn't like. They're often exciting historical fiction novels appropriate for young readers. I would guess they're good for a first grade level. (First Son may be closer to third grade; I'm not sure how reliable these levels are.)

The Magic School Bus chapter books are quite good. They convey a large amount of information on their non-fiction topics with a familiar cast of characters and lots of silly puns. (First Son always says, "Ha ha." He likes them.)
    Overall, I think I could have done better selecting his books. Don't get me wrong; these are great books. Most of them, though, were much too easy for him. Ribsy was almost too hard and took a long time to read through together. Next year I hope to do a better job challenging him in his reading without overwhelming him. (I'm not sure I would have selected Ribsy; First Son received it from St. Nicholas and wanted to read it together.)

    What's the consensus among homeschooling moms? Should we continue "reading lessons" over the summer?