Thursday, December 28, 2006

How To: Microwaving Popcorn

This tip was sent in by Diane, a Thrifty Homeschooler member:

Long story, but I had promised popcorn tonight and couldn't face washing the pan. So, in the back of my mind, I remembered something about microwaving regular popcorn. I googled, and sure enough, there's plenty of suggestions out there. Everyone should pick what he or she would like to do best from the suggestions. It would probably take some experimenting to get one's microwave to match the container and amount of popcorn, but I think it is worth it. I chose the bowl route over the paper bag route so I could make enough.

In the bowl recipe I found, it suggests a paper plate as a cover. I tried the heavier duty plastic wrap, but that was a Bad Idea. It melted a bit. The popcorn was great. The paper plate does work better.

Also, I happened across articles talking about how unhealthy store bought microwave popcorn is. Well, that is so sad! I hope that if that is true, the manufacturers fix it, because I know a lot of people eat that a lot. I am just too thrifty to buy it, plus I think it tastes funny.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Live Feed From Africa

A tip from a Thrifty Homeschooler member:

If you haven't seen this site, you MUST! Our boys love it! It is a live camera feed of a watering hole in South Africa! We have seen wildebeests, zebras, Klipspringers (small 'jumping' antelope), elephants, antelope, etc., so far - and we've only been watching a couple of days! You can also go here to find information about the animals you are seeing. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Free Christmas Graphics

My friend Dani does awesome work as a computer graphics designer. She has some beautiful Christmas graphics available at her blog. Go check it out!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Free Geography Game Software

Dawn, from the Thrifty Homeschooler email list, sends the following:
This is a site for a free geography game software you can download. We downloaded it today and it looks really good.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Online Thrifty Column

Lisa, over at has picked up my Thrifty Homeschooler column from Heart and Mind magazine. She'll post a new column each month at

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Free Homeschool Zine

I received this from Clickschooling today:

Tomorrow I am launching my brand new, and absolutely free, Homefires Journal homeschool e-zine. If you'd like to receive a copy, please go to the Homefires website at:

Enter your email address in the white box that says, "Join Our Email List" that is on the top, right side of the page. You will automatically be added to the mailing list to receive the firstissue. (Note: We never sell or rent our mailing list.)

It's full of fun holiday ideas for learning with your family, free Holiday Road Trip Tips, and Quick Links to other free resources that that you're sure to enjoy.

Diane Flynn Keith
ClickSchooling List Owner

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Buying a Digital Camera

If someone on your Christmas list is hoping for a digital camera, here's a Cheapskate Everyday article for you:

How to Buy a Digital Camera by Mary Hunt

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

New Yahoo Group

I received this from a Thrifty Homeschooler member today:

Hello, I'm Millie, a mom from Texas. I was hoping that you might be able to invite your members to join the exciting new Yahoo group for parents who are looking for summer music camps for their children. Having sent four kids off to all kinds of camps, I know what a huge task it is to find the right camp for your child.

Summer Performing Arts Camp Parents is a new group that helps parents sort through the hundreds of music summer camps and programs. There are close to 800 in the nation and having sent four kids to camps around the United States, I know there are parents out there who could use a helping hand! This group is for sharing experiences or for those who don't know where to start! Everyone is invited to join.

Simply visit: Summer
Perfroming Arts Camp Parents

Summer Performing Arts Camp Parents

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recipe: Thrifty Chicken Casserole

Deb, a member of the Thrifty Homeschooler email list, sent the following to me:

If anyone has any other great dinner recipe ideas, I would love to hear them! Making this recipe last night reminded me of how much my family really enjoys this meal!

Yummy Chicken Casserole
Preheat oven to 350
2-3 chicken breasts cooked and chopped (or one large can of chicken)
8oz sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
salt. pepper

Mix together and pour into casserole dish

Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with 1 pkg. of crushed Ritz crackers and spread on top of chicken mixture.

Cook for 30 minutes, until top is toasted. Serves about 4.

My PICKY family just loves this recipe and I have even seen them licking the plate!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Librivox: Free Audio Books

This is very cool: Librivox, Acoustical Liberation of Books in the Public Domain.

Volunteers read books (from the public domain) so that the rest of us can download them for free.

I think I'm going to ask for an MP3 player (an IPod knockoff) for Christmas. You can load tons of audio books on those things.

Hat tip: Praiseworthy Things

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Christmas Presents On a Budget

The Thrifty Homeschooler Goes Christmas Shopping
by Maureen Wittmann

Homeschooling Today Magazine - Volume 11 - Issue 6

For families living on one income, Christmas time can be stressful. In today's society merchandisers begging us to buy their latest and greatest product for Christmas continually bombard us. As Christians we shy away from the over-commercialism of Christmas, while at the same time desiring to fill our homes with Christmas joy. Just as the Magi brought gifts to the Christ Child, we wish to follow their example in bringing gifts to our loved ones. I have found that it is possible to have a spirit-filled holiday, complete with gift giving, on a budget.

I begin by reminding myself of the "reason for the season." By focusing on the birth of my Lord, I do not fall into the trap of Christmas materialism as easily. In fact, I try my best to keep a religious theme in my gift purchases and decorations.

In staying on budget, I am careful not to be cheap. My definition of cheap is worthless or without value, while I would define thrifty as making the best economical use of available resources. There is a big difference between the two. Look for the most inexpensive avenue in making purchases, but do not abandon quality in order to save money.

Thinking Ahead
I usually begin my Christmas shopping in June when my local Christian bookstore has their annual clearance sale. The prices are unbelievably low. I stock up at that time with religious gifts, books, and stocking stuffers. Each year I also make sure to purchase a cross, to be given to one of my ten nieces or nephews. Then when they go off to college they are asked to keep it on their desk to remind them of their Christian values. They have come to expect this gift and look for it when their turn comes up.

Throughout the year keep your eyes open for such sales and have a special hiding place to keep items bought in advance. If you see the perfect gift and it is at a rock bottom price, pick it up even if it is June. I guarantee that you will not find it again if you wait until just before Christmas.

Of course, you won't be able to find every gift in the months proceeding Christmas, and surely you cannot anticipate every need. Another way to be thrifty is to make your own gifts. The key is to make sure that your gift does not look too homemade or cheap.

Gifts from the Hearth
Gifts from my kitchen are my favorite to give. Plates of homemade cookies and candies are usually big hits. I arrange the treats on heavy disposable plates, choosing a bright color or Christmas design. Then I set the plate on colored Saran Wrap, gather it in the center, and secure with curling ribbon.

I also like specialty baskets. People spend enormous amounts of money to buy pre-made baskets. I have found that even on a tight budget they can still look like their expensive counterparts. I keep an eye out for wicker baskets at garage sales throughout the summer. If Christmas is only a few weeks away, check the thrift stores. Our local Goodwill store always has a good supply of them for twenty-five cents to a dollar. If you want to add a little extra pizzazz, spray paint your basket. Line with tissue paper, fabric scraps, or a pretty tea towel. Once filled, finish off with cellophane (saved from your dry cleaning), ribbon, and a gift tag. Instead of wicker baskets, I have also used buckets and planters bought at the dollar store, and for new parents I use a laundry basket. As a mother to seven children, I have learned that with each new baby a new laundry basket is always needed.

Use a theme in filling your basket; this is what will give it a professional appearance. For example, a tea lover's basket would be filled with a china teacup, some tea samples, a tea strainer, shortbread, and perhaps a little book on hosting a tea party. Single teacups and coffee mugs are inexpensive purchases since they can be found at the thrift store, or on the clearance table of finer stores when a set is missing a cup or two.

Don't feel as though you need to include only food items; homemade soaps, sachets, potpourri, and candles are all nice touches. Items such as gardening tools, seeds, and gloves for a green-thumbed recipient would be perfect. Searching the Internet and plugging in "homemade gift baskets" can find many more ideas.

I can my summer harvest and by Christmas have several empty canning jars, so I use them to make layered cookie mix, instant cappuccino, flavored nuts, and soup mixes. See the sidebar for a recipe and search the Internet for other "gifts in a jar." I rarely pay full price for canning jars. In addition to garage-sale finds, older friends and family members who no longer make canned goods, give their old jars to me. If you don't have access to mason jars, large mayonnaise jars work just fine for layered gifts.

I usually include my home-canned items in my baskets. In fact, my family has come to expect it and show their disappointment if I don't comply. If you have a special talent such as needlepoint, sewing, or quilting, start early and create some unique and special items for your closest family members and friends. They will appreciate it for years to come.

Gifts from the Heart
Sometimes the best gifts are the gifts of time. Even when our bank accounts are depleted, we still have time to give. Consider giving coupon booklets, made on the computer or by hand. An elderly neighbor would greatly appreciate coupons for lawn mowing or snow shoveling. Any mother with young children would love coupons redeemable for baby-sitting or a kitchen-free evening. A child would be tickled pink with a book filled with coupons for hugs, kisses, and read-aloud time and an overworked husband would be grateful for coupons for back rubs or breakfast in bed. Use your imagination.

A friend of mine received a very special gift of prayer a few years ago by her brother who had no money that year for fancy gifts. Instead he sent each family member a package containing several envelopes. There was an envelope dated for each day leading up to Christmas, and inside each envelope was the name of a different family member along with a Bible verse. They were to open the envelopes on the day printed on the outside, and pray for the family member listed and read the scripture. This way everyone in the family was praying for the same individual on a given day and they were all reading the Lord's book. What an incredible gift. My friend brings out her envelops every Christmas, so that she is reminded to pray for her individual family members.

Wrapping It All Up
Creating excitement about your gift by making the packaging attractive is part of the fun and can be done inexpensively. Consider using plain brown paper cut from paper bags and decorated with stampers or paint (try dipping cookie cutters into brightly-colored paint to make prints). Tied with yarn or raffia, this makes a pretty package. Tying on an ornament is nice, as it is both part of the wrapping and the gift. For huge presents, use white trash bags, decorate with stickers, and tie the nametag on with lots of curling ribbon.

Tags can be made from last year's cards by cutting around designs on the front cover of the card and hole punching in the corner. In a pinch, I have printed tags on my home computer's word processor. Bows can be made by starching scrap cloth and shaping. If you prefer store-bought wrapping supplies, take advantage of the after-Christmas sales. I have purchased beautiful Christmas items for 75% off in the week following Christmas. If you do this, make sure that you either pack the wrapping paper with your decorations or mark next year's calendar in December with "do not buy paper." You don't want to forget about your purchase, then run out and spend too much money on paper at the last minute when Christmas comes again.

I hope that these ideas will get you started thinking about how you can become thriftier. The most important thing is to use your imagination and be willing to spend a little extra time to save money. Keep in mind too that we are homeschoolers. Including your children in making homemade gifts or in searching for deals at the store will benefit them in ways that cannot be measured in dollars.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

14th Annual Buy Nothing Day, Saturday, Nov. 25th

I received this from a friend today:

For years now, people around the world who want to make a statement against consumerism and over-consumption have been organizing Buy Nothing Day events in their cities.

THE ULTIMATE REFUND: On November 24th and 25th - the busiest days in the American retail calendar and the unofficial start of the international Christmas-shopping season - thousands of activists and concerned citizens in 65 countries will take a 24-hour consumer detox as part of the 14th annual Buy Nothing Day, a global phenomenon that originated in Vancouver, Canada.

For more information:

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thanksgiving Loss Leaders

Most grocery stores have great sales this and next week; make sure to take advantage of them. Loss leaders, groceries marked below cost, are usually abundant this time of year.

We love pumpkin bread and muffins at our house, so I stock up on pumpkin.

We also love sweet potatoes -- they last a long time when stored properly and are very nutritious. At $0.30 a pound, you can bet that several pounds find their way into my shopping cart.

I also like to pick up an extra turkey or two. At $0.69 a pound, I can bake
it, slice it, freeze it for future sandwiches, and save a bundle over lunch
meat prices.

Is condensed or evaporated milk on sale? Pick up a few extra and use them in recipes for your children -- extra vitamins over regular milk.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Keeping Tabs on Your Library Materials

This is an awesomely cool resource: ELF: Your Personal Library Reminder Service.

If you sign up for their service, you'll receive regular emails telling you what you have out on your card, what's due when, and the status of any holds, inter-library loans, or inner-library loans. It's especially handy for heavy borrowers like me. It's also handy for patrons with multiple cards. (We have a total of nine library cards - one for each family member.)

Thanks to Adrienne for introducing me to this website!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Autumn Blessings throughout the Homeschooling Blogosphere

The newest carnival is up and running. In fact, it's the 46th weekly Carnival of Homeschooling.

So, grab your cotton candy and head on over to Sprittibee's place to check out all the rides. Make sure to dress warm as fall is in the air. Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Black Friday

There is a very good reason retailers refer to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday.

I don't have the stamina to shop that day. It really takes fortitude, plus a certain amount of stealth.

If you thrive on the awesome deals found on Black Friday, then check out this. It's a blog entry from All Thanksgiving. He gives you loads of links to help you scope out the best deals, as well as offer a few tips on making the most of your bargain hunting.

To get the most out of Black Friday, plan ahead.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thanksgiving Blog

In case you don't read the comment boxes . . .

Here's a blog that's all about Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving For All

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Thanksgiving Menu

Every year I prepare the same menu for Thanksgiving. They're all special dishes that I make only once a year, so everyone looks forward to them. I keep the menu, shopping list, and recipes in a special place in my recipe box. This way, I have the menu planned and know how to make everything with my eyes closed. Makes life easier for me, the cook.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Libraries and Homeschoolers

This is awesome news: Children's librarian writing a book on how libraries can serve homeschoolers. Looks like she already has a publisher. Check out the author's blog and leave her many comments on what you would like to see in her book.

Using the public library to it's fullest extent is THE number one way to be a Thrifty Homeschooler. Use this opportunity to get your voice heard and let librarians all across the country know what makes a great public library.

And while we're on the topic, go check out Nancy Brown's Yahoo Group: Homeschool Library Connection.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Flylady and Thanksgiving

The Flylady usually has good tips for planning and preparing your Thanksgiving meal. Click here to check out the website.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thanksgiving Crafts and Activities

I was at Sam's on Halloween and they already had Christmas decorations everywhere. I'm not ready to think about Christmas yet. Right now is the time to get focused on Thanksgiving.

So, let's talk Thanksgiving for the next couple of weeks. To start off, here are a couple of fun links for you to peruse:

Thanksgiving Ideas Galore
Lots of links to Turkey art and crafts for children in preschool, kindergarten and older to make for the dinner table. Stories, recipes, a grace, and games to play at your holiday dinner party. Free Thanksgiving clipart. usually has neat worksheets/outline maps/classroom crafts. Last year, my teens did some of the crafts found at this website with the younger kids on Thanksgiving Day. It kept wee ones busy while Mom prepared the meal!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sharing Resources: Shipping and Handling

When ordering curriculum/books by mail order, combine your order with a friend, or a few.

Several homeschooling mail order companies offer free shipping and handling if you place an order over a certain dollar amount - anywhere from $50 to $250. Combining your order with a friend may just give you a large enough order to get free s/h.

Always be aware of shipping costs. I've seen more than one company offer discounts on curricula and then make it up with outrageous s/h.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Free Unit Study: Composting

My web guy just uploaded this free unit study to my website:

Composting: A Science Unit Study
Composting can be a wonderful addition to your science studies, in a very natural and fun way. This unit gives you all the resources you'll need, whether you live in the city or the country.

This unit study first appeared in Heart & Mind.

I have other free unit studies at the website. Just click on Downloads.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sharing Resources: IEW / Video Series

Is there a video series out there calling your name? One of those expensive programs that you are just dying to own, but out of reach financially?

See if the series is one that your homeschooling support group would be willing to purchase so that everyone in the group can view it.

Or you can purchase the series yourself, set up a special day for your homeschooling friends to join you, and ask that they all pitch a few bucks to cover costs (and maybe pitch in some popcorn while they're at it ).

In my homeschool group, several of us have been viewing Andrew Pudewa's video series from the Institute for Excellence in Writing. It has been a huge success. On the fourth Saturday of every month my husband takes the children out for a morning with Dad, as ten moms join me at my home for a little Mom socialization and a video writing seminar. We have coffee, tea, and pastries as we view the day's video, and follow with a discussion about how we are implementing the program into our homeschools.

Each of the moms pitched in enough to pay for their own written materials and a portion of the cost of the video. A few moms who want to participate, but cannot make it on the fourth Saturday, still pitch in their share of $$ and borrow the videos, as we finish them, to watch in their own homes.

Once we are all done, I plan to donate the series to our homeschool library.

Note: Make sure to follow any copyright restrictions.

Monday, October 30, 2006

HEM Subscription Special

If you've been wanting to subscribe to Home Education Magazine (HEM), now is the time. They're running a special:

We're offering a special one year introductory subscription to Home Education Magazine for $20.00! (reg $32.00)

Subscribe now and we'll start your new subscription with the November-December 2006 issue. To subscribe see:

To review the great articles and columns which will be in the November-December 2006 issue visit:
Review Articles and Columns

How to Subscribe:

Subscriptions can be mailed, phoned, faxed or emailed. We accept MasterCard, Visa or Discover cards, personal checks, money orders and purchase orders.

Home Education Magazine
Post Office Box 1083
Tonasket, WA 98855-1083

Phone: 1-800-236-3278

Or you can subscribe via our secure online form at:
Online Form

Not ready to subscribe yet? That's okay - we hope you'll still take advantage of our huge selection of free services, helpful resources, and up-to-date information 24 hours a day!

Check out this complete listing with descriptions of the free services that we offer: Free Services

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Daily Emails

There are websites available to provide daily lessons or daily emails. I've belonged to several over the years that I enjoyed, such as Wordsmith.Org which sends a daily email with a new word to learn. Another is Daily Grammar. My favorite of all time is THE DAILY GOSPEL. I've subscribed for years.

If you like the idea of receiving a daily email, or occasionally visiting a website for a lesson of the day, here is a long list from which to pick and choose:

Math Forum: Problems of the Week
Not daily, but once a week. From basic math to algebra to geometry.

National Geographic Photo of the Day
National Geographic hires the best photographers in the world. Awesome pictures.

Earth Science Picture of the Day
Great picture each day with an explanation.

LPOD - Lunar Photo of the Day
Great addition to astronomy lessons. Photoessays
Pictures from the week in news.

Links to loads of websites that gives us the news in pictures.

WordCentral.Com - Daily Buzzword
Daily vocabulary.

Quotes of the Day - The Quotations Page
Can also search for specific quotes.

Quotes of the Day
Receive random quotes via email.

Astronomy Picture of the Day
We sometimes save the pictures for our computer background.

Word of the Day
Not only is a definition given, but the word is used in several examples from literature.

German Vocabulary of the Day
For beginning or advanced students.

Japanese Phrase of the Day
A year's worth of phrases are laid out for you, so you could just print them out instead of checking the Web each day, if you desired.

Today in History from Teach-nology
Gives long list of events that occurred on "this day in history." Or you
could plug in other dates, such as a child's birthdate. Might prove useful for
daily history prompts.

Today in History from the Library of Congress
More "this day in history." Has in-depth article on an event.

Space Station Science Picture of the Day
Pictures with extensive commentary

OSEI (Operation Significant Event Imagery) Picture of the Day
The Operational Significant Event Imagery team produces high-resolution,
detailed imagery of significant environmental events

If you have a favorite daily email, or website of the day, that isn't listed here, please let us know about it in the combox.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Quote of the Day

"The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all."
-- Proverbs 22:2

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Plums in Apple Juice and Vanilla Pears

This is my final canning post until next year.

My girlfriend Michelle went with me to the university sale a few weeks ago and picked up a bushel of plums. In addition to jam, she canned whole plums. She doesn't like sugar syrup, so instead she canned them in unsweetened, 100% apple juice (which she picked up on sale for 99 cents). Not only are they delicious, but pretty enough to give out as Christmas presents! Michelle just followed the whole plums recipe in the Ball Blue Book and then substituted apple juice for the syrup. You can also substitute white grape juice. Easy and yummy.

In a previous post, I mentioned vanilla pears in passing. Because of this, when people google "vanilla pears" they find their way to my blog. And I'm sure they're disappointed there is no recipe to be found here.

So, to correct the problem, here is my recipe: Put a teaspoon of vanilla in your syrup. That's all there is to it. Sometimes, I put in almond extract instead: That's way yummy.

For those of you who like exact recipes, here you go:

Canned Vanilla Pears
2 to 3 lbs. of pears per quart
real vanilla extract (don't buy the fake stuff - ick)
Wash pears and drain. Use an apple slicer/corer (I was going to post a picture, but Blogger is acting goofy. Instead click here.) to core and slice in wedges. Cut off skin. Treat to prevent darkening (you can purchase Fruit Fresh or just use 1 tsp. lemon juice to 1 gallon water)

Make a light syrup (see below) and keep hot.

Cook pears one layer at a time in syrup until hot throughout. Don't boil or heat too long, or your pears will start to fall apart. Just heat through.

Pack the hot pears into hot jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Ladle hot syrup over pears, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles with rubber spatula (don't use metal). Adjust 2-piece caps. Process pints for 20 minutes, and quarts for 25 minutes, in a boiling water canner.

Note: Pears should be harvested when full grown and, if necessary, stored in a cool place (60 to 65F) until ripe but not soft. I've found that pears get soft fast. I have to make sure that I have time set aside for canning when I buy a bushel of pears as they're not going to stay in the shed for long. Bartlett pears are considered best for canning. Kieffer and similar varieties are okay if properly ripe.

Of course, follow all the directions in your canning book for proper sterilization and canning!

Light Vanilla Syrup
2 1/4 cups sugar
5 1/4 cups water
1 tsp. vanilla extract (you can substitute almond or other extract)

Mix the sugar and water in large pot. Heat through until sugar dissolves. Don't bring to a boil. Add extract. Makes a subtle, yet delicious, syrup for your pears.

For cinnamon pears, skip the extract and add 2 sticks cinnamon and a few drops of red food coloring to the syrup. Remove cinnamon before packing the pears.

One year I canned mint pears and they came out pretty good. I used mint extract and green food coloring. It doesn't take much - add a drop at a time until it's the color you like. You may want to do the same with the extract (a drop at a time) - mint is strong and the taste should be subtle.

That reminds me, I have a ton of mint in the garden. It grows like a weed! Maybe I'll whip up some mint jelly before I put the canner back in the basement.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Evil Credit Cards

Please, don't do this:
Buyers whip out plastic for small stuff

One of many reasons:
Study: Credit card late fees are higher
Investigation found fees averaged $34, up from $13 in 1995

This is per month, not per year. And it doesn't include interest fees!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Tips for Jelly Making

The 2006 canning season has come and gone at my house. Though it's possible that I'll can a small batch here and there throughout the year, if there's a great sale at the grocery store. Or, maybe I'll get an inkling to make jelly, which is easy to make from unsweetened 100% juice. We'll see.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share some jelly making tips. It took me a few years to get up the nerve to make my own jelly, but I finally did it and there's no turning back now. I haven't bought jelly from the grocery store in ages. Sure, I mess it up sometimes and end up with a runny mess, But, hey, the runny mess is still yummy and usually makes a nice syrup for ice cream, pie, or even pancakes! Sure, you can dump the runny mess into a pot, add more pectin, and redo the whole thing, but I've never had the energy.

Anyway, here are those tips:
-- Make sure that your fruit is just ripe, or even under ripe. Fruit loses it's pectin as it ripens (pectin is the stuff that makes jelly gel) and so overripe fruit will make for softer, perhaps even runny, jelly.
-- Use the exact measurements found in your recipe. Too much or too little will spell runny disaster.
-- Use the exact ingredients called for in the recipe. This is an exact science.
-- Don't double the batch. This is because the recipe is formulated to take into account the amount of liquid that is evaporated in the cooking. More jelly in a pot will have less evaporation and you're back to the runny mess. I told you this was an exact science.
-- You can substitute frozen fruit for fresh. Just make sure that there is no sugar added. Just fruit and no syrup.
-- Make sure that you bring the boil up rapidly so as not to break down the pectin.
-- Boil the exact length of time called for in the recipe.
-- You don't have to buy a canning book. The package of pectin will have all the basic recipes inside.
-- Wet your cheesecloth before pouring your fruit into it. Better the cheesecloth soak up water than your precious fruit juice.
-- Don't squeeze the juice out of the cheesecloth. This makes for cloudy jelly. Better to just let it sit for a few hours and drip.

If you like jam here's a nice website that has step-by-step pictures.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Exploring Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls

Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, All Saints' Day and/or All Souls' Day (Day of the Dead), it's interesting to explore the origins of these holidays and makes for a great homeschool project. Here are some links to get you started:

Hstory Channel: Halloween

American Catholic: All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls

Belief Net: Halloween Not Pagan

Day of the Dead

Mexico Connect: Die de los Muertos

Wikipedia: All Saints' Day

Christianity Today: Halloween/All Saints

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Apple Websites and Info

The Michigan Apple Committee
Recipes and serving ideas. Which apples work best for what.

Pastry Wiz
Loads of recipes of all kinds.

US Apple
Click on consumer and then recipes

Apple Products Research and Education Council
Recipes, nutrition information, and more.

In a nutshell:
Best apples for baking: Rome, Northern Spy, and Gala
Best for eating: Honeycrisp Braeburn, Fuji (Did you know that Fujis don't discolor when you cut into them?)
Eat or Bake: Ida Red, Golden Delicious, Jonathon, and Empire (best for caramel apples!)
Best for applesauce: Golden Delicious (my fav), McIntosh, and Northern Spy
Best for slices: Ida and Empire
Best dehydrating: Jonathon

Monday, October 09, 2006

What To Do With All Those Apples?

Danielle Bean has apple recipes and more apple recipes over at her blog. Click here to check them out.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Jars On the Cheap

Canning jars run about $6 to $7 for a dozen. Considering that you use them over and over again this isn't too bad. However, it does increase your start up costs quite a bit. And if you're like me, you're always giving away your creations with only about half of your jars coming back.

There are cheaper ways to stock your shelves with canning jars. And, no, I don't mean to use mayonnaise jars. Never, ever re-use jars from commercial products from the grocery store. Only real mason jars are safe. Commercial jars are made to only be used once. Re-using them could spell disaster. They can explode in the canner, not only ruining your food, but possibly causing you personal injury.

To find inexpensive, yet proper, jars ask acquaintances and look to thrift stores and yard sales.

Last year, I found mason jars at 12 for $0.99 at the St. Vincent dePaul store. This year I paid a little more: $1.20 for 12 at Salvation Army. Pretty great deals! Give your local thrift store a call to see if they have canning jars in stock.

Most of my jars have come from friends and family. They find out that I'm into canning and they offer their unused jars. Mostly elderly folks who no longer can and love seeing the tradition carried down to a new generation.

I occasionally come across jars at garage sales, but they're a little harder to find that way. Plus, you need to be careful. I've had some people try to pass off mayonnaise jars as wide-mouth canning jars. You can tell the difference by looking closely at the jars. Canning jars will say Mason, Kerr, or Ball on the side. They're also heavier than commercial jars.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Homemade Water Bath Canner

Do you need to go out and buy a water bath canner? No.

The first year I canned, I used a homemade water bath canner using a large stock pot and seven large jar bands.

All you do for your homemade canning rack is tie together the seven bands into a circle (see the picture). You could use string or wire. I just used the ties from bread wrappers.

The point is to keep the jars from touching the bottom of the pot and away from direct heat.

You'll still need a jar lifter though. I'm sure that you don't want to place the jars into boiling water, or lift them out, with your bare hands!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Apple Season is Upon Us

I've been remiss in blogging as I've been busy canning again. There are two canning seasons at my house. Once in August, when all the summer produce is being harvested - tomatoes, peaches, etc. And then again in October when the apples are coming in.

Last week I went to a big fall harvest sale at the local university, which has a great agricultural program. I came home with a half bushel of Roma tomatoes, full bushels of plums and pears, and three bushels of apples.

I got Macintosh for apple sauce and Jonathons for apple rings. After canning 32 quarts of apple sauce, I still had enough Macintoshes for 16 half-pints of apple jelly. It came out great!

The Jonathons have been going fast as the kids have been sneaking them for snacks, but there have been enough for Teen Daughter to dehydrate 8 trays of rings. I hope to finish off the bushel this weekend canning apple rings.

I canned the pears right away as they don't hold up in the shed as nicely as the apples and plums. They get soft quick.

Some of the plums have been converted to plum jelly and plum jam. But I still have about a half bushel left. I may try just canning them whole in syrup.

Over the next week I'll post recipes and the such for the fall harvest season.

In the meantime, I hope that you're all taking advantage of apple picking or whatever is available in your region of the world. Getting out with the kids to pick or shop for fresh produce is both fun and educational - even more so when you preserve that produce to enjoy come winter.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Grocery Tip #16: Weighing in on Produce

If you buy prebagged produce, weigh several bags and pick the one that weighs the most. The kids and I did a little experiment at our grocer's. We took several of the "10-pound" bags of potatoes to the scales and weighed them. The actual weight varied as much as one full pound.

I don't know about you, but I find that a significant difference!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Diaper Deal

A disposable diaper deal at Amazon. Buy $99 worth of Pampers, Luvs or Kandoo products and receive a $30 Amazon gift certificate.

Hat tip: Danielle Bean

This Week's Homeschool Carnival

The 39th Homeschool Carnival is up and running over at The Palmtree Pundit. The theme this week is Autumn.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Free Printable Menu Planning Form

To help you with your Grocery Tip #4, here is a link to a free menu planning form (you'll need Acrobat Reader as it's a pdf file) from Menus 4 Moms.


You can keep track of all your favorite blogs using Bloglines. It's a neat tool that makes your online experience a little simpler and streamlined. You could also use it to track your kids' blogs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Recipe: French Toast Pudding

When I find that I have a loaf of French bread too stale to serve, I make bread pudding. You can do this with just about any type of bread. If it's fresh then just cut it up and let it sit out a few hours uncovered to get stale.

I never quite make bread pudding the same. It all depends on what leftovers I have on hand. I might throw in sliced banana or chocolate chips.

If you've never made bread pudding, I encourage you to give it a try. Here is a simple, easy recipe for you to start. I serve it with dinner in place of bread, even though it could be served as dessert. If any is leftover, reheat in the microwave for breakfast.

French Toast Pudding
16 oz. loaf of bread, cut into cubes and stale
5 eggs
2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Put the cubed bread into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Pour mixture over the bread. Stir very well making sure to coat all the bread cubes. If you have time, let the mixture sit long enough to soak up all the liquid. (You could even mix this up ahead of time and put in the fridge to bake that evening.) Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with Pam. Pour the bread and egg mixture into the dish. Sprinkle brown sugar all over the top. Place thin dabs of butter all over the top of that. Bake for 45 minutes.

Quote of the Day

I don't know who Frank Clark is, but this is a great quote:

Faith on a full stomach may be simply contentment but if you have it when you're hungry, it's genuine.
-- Frank A. Clark

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Save Commuting Costs

In the news:
Save Commuting Costs -- Go Car-Free

Limited Time Offer

If you've been wanting to purchase The Catholic Homeschool Companion, now is the time. It's available for 20% off the list price at my website. This offer is good through the end of September.

The website takes Paypal, including credit cards. If you prefer to pay by check or money order, please email me.

All books are autographed. If you'd like a book personalized, just leave a comment when you order.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Paperback Book Swap.

Speaking of The Thinking Mother, she has a great blog post, complete with how-to tips, on a cool paperback book swap.

The 38th Homeschool Carnival

The new homeschooling carnival is up! Go check it out at The Thinking Mother. She's done a great job pulling together posts from all over the blogosphere.

Monday, September 18, 2006

50% Off Readers for Limited Time


The American Schoolhouse Reader is a three-volume anthology of reading textbooks used in American schoolhouses from 1890 – 1925 with beautifully colorized illustrations and reformatted text. This quality set includes excerpts from a clever 1913 alphabet book (Book I), short stories from turn-of-the-century first readers (Book II) plus skits and stories about nature and historic figures (Book III).

Children will enjoy stepping back into American history, rediscovering what life was like in turn-of-the-20th-century America. Farm animals, apple carts, steam mills and schooldays are beautifully illustrated in full color, bringing the charm and beauty of the post-Victorian era to life. Timelessly educational, these reproduction hardcover books preserve the wholesome principles and values of yesteryear.

Ages 3 to 9.

50% OFF THE RETAIL PRICE OF $33.95 = $16.95 if you respond by October 31st. PLUS FREE SHIPPING ON ALL ORDERS.

Grocery Tip #15: Homemade vs. Premade

The running theme of the grocery tips has been: preplanning saves money. Just planning a menu each week (tip #4) and making list (tip #3) will provide a huge savings in your overall grocery bill.

Another big saver is to make homemade and stay away from prepackaged, prefab, prepared, premade foods. Anything that has already been cooked or put together for you is going to cost up to double, sometimes more, than the homemade version. And it doesn't really save you that much time.

For example, a four pack of Hunts pudding, already made for you, runs about $1.69. A box of Royal powdered pudding costs $0.69. Add to that 2 cups of milk, about $0.33, and you end up with a savings of $0.67. If it takes just 2 minutes to whisk together the pudding mix and the milk, then you are earning $20 an hour! (And I didn't even figure in the fact that you get more pudding making it yourself!) You can go even one step further and make it completely homemade with cornstarch!

Now, how in the world did I come up with $20 an hour. Well, if you believe that your job as SAHM is to save money, then the money that you save by your time and effort is money earned by you. If you save $0.67 in two minutes, that is $0.335 per minute. There are 60 minutes in an hour, so take 0.335 times 60. The answer is $20.10! Wouldn't you love to tell your husband that you are earning twenty dollars an hour by being a stay-at-home-mom!!!!!

Try this exercise yourself. Next time you are at the grocery store, price those premade mashed potatoes and compare to a bag of raw potatoes, a stick of butter, and a cup of milk. Take the difference, divide in the time that it takes to prepare the meal yourself (cooking time doesn't count as the oven is doing the work!), and see how much money you're earning for your household.

And don't forget eating homemade is much healthier, so you're saving on medical bills too!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Homeschool Review: Free Internet Resources

This is a cool email list to belong to: Homeschool Review.

Reviews of FREE homeschooling resources on the Internet. No chatter, no comments, no arguments. Just brief site reviews and tips!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Time to Take Flight for the Homeschool Carnival

This week's Homeschool Carnival is up and running. Go check it out at Principled Homeschooling. You'll discover lots of neat homeschool blogs and great blog posts. For example, I discovered The Frugal Homeschool Blog and I enjoyed reading about canning at Lazy Homeschool this morning.

Sit back and enjoy, you've got a whole week to get through the links until the next carnival.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Grocery Tip #14: Check Out the Thrift Markets

Once, while visiting my parents, one of my children commented that Grandma's bread tasted different from our bread. I was puzzled at first as it was the same brand that we usually purchase. And then I realized . . . Grandma's bread is fresh!

Because of health issues with one of my children, I stopped making homemade wheat bread years ago, and only purchase bread occasionally. However, when I do purchase bread it comes from the Aunt Millie Thrift store. Or as my children refer to it, "the used bread store."

I only pay thirty-nine cents for a loaf of bread or package of buns. It's a day old, but it usually gets eaten in just a day at my house anyway.

When visiting a girlfriend in another city, I always stop at the Entenmann's Thrift store. It is practically across the street from her house and I can treat myself to a yummy cake for just $1.49. That is a savings of $2.50!

And sometimes I even share my cake with the kids.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Heart of Reading Email Group

This was in my inbox today and thought that some of you may be interested:

Hi there!
I have recently started a group to support and guide homeschoolers who have a child(ren) who struggle with reading and am trying to spread the word within the homeschooling community. This is not a general disabilities group, but one that focuses on the various aspects of teaching reading and helping struggling readers. I have lots of files and resources that would benefit any frugal homeschooler!

If you wouldn't mind sharing the link and description below with your group, that would be so wonderful and appreciated!

Heart of Reading :
Wonderful resources and support for homeschoolers teaching reading and language development to struggling learners

Blessings, Tina

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Homeschool Carnival Needs Your Posts

Are you a homeschooling blogger? If so, then how about sharing your blog with the rest of the homeschooling world.

Just pick out your favorite post (it doesn't have to be recent) and send the url here: Blog Carnival.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Literature Help for Parent Teachers

Have you ever considered using Cliff Notes when assigning literature to your high school children? For real! The notes are great in helping you, the parent (not the student!), come up with topics for literary analysis. You could also use them to design tests on assigned books.

Most recently, Cliff Notes came in handy when my two oldest were reading The Tempest. Shakespeare practically assumes that you already know the characters in his play and it was a tad confusing for my kids. The Cliff Notes had a list of characters, describing their part in the plot. It proved to be quite helpful. I borrow the Cliff Notes from the library and have never purchased them myself.

If you want to save a trip to the library the check out these websites:
Novel Guide
Grade Saver
Spark Notes
Penguin Group: Teachers' Guides

Thanks to Carol Maxwell who wrote much more extensively, and eloquently, on this topic in The Catholic Homeschool Companion.

To Photocopy or Not

This article originally appeared in Heart and Mind:

To Photocopy or Not to Photocopy: That is the Question
Maureen Wittmann

“Oh my, you’ve got the new Lyrical Life Science tapes. I’d love to have those myself!” I said to my friend.

“I’ll dub a copy for you,” she answered.

“That would be great,” I said, as I began to salivate over my soon-to-be new acquisition.

“Don’t worry about the copyright, teachers do this all the time. No reason we shouldn’t either,” my friend replied without any prompting from me. “They buy one original and then make copies for all the kids in their classroom. Our homeschool group is no different from a classroom. Besides it’s so expensive to homeschool, we shouldn’t be expected to have to buy all our materials.”

The more my friend justified making the copy for me, the more I realized that it was wrong. When I got home, I threw the dubbed tape away. To buy the original tape would’ve put too much strain on my budget, so I made the decision to simply live without it. Lyrical Life Science is something that surely would’ve added to my homeschool, but it was not an absolute need. I found other, less expensive, sources for science enrichment.

There was a time when I didn’t think twice about photocopying workbook pages, dubbing videotapes or audiotapes, or even pirating computer software. However, on that day I did think twice and I realized how wrong it is to do so.

First, it is illegal to steal intellectual property and as Catholics we are obliged to follow the law. (Unless, of course, it is an immoral law.) Though we may save ourselves a few dollars in copying, others are forced to pay for our “savings.” Much in the same way that shoplifters “save” themselves money but the rest of us pay more for our products to make up for the loss caused by the shoplifter.

For the purpose of this column, I’d like to focus on copying consumable workbooks. A consumable is designed to be used just once, unlike a textbook that can be reused and even resold (though not copied). It should be noted that it is not always illegal to copy consumables for multiple uses. Look at the inside cover of the workbook and read the copyright notice. Some educational publishers will grant permission there for you to make copies for your classroom. For homeschoolers, a classroom would be defined as our homeschooled children or the children in our homeschool co-op. It does not mean that we can photocopy and then sell or return.

If the copyright page does not grant permission to make copies and you truly cannot afford to buy multiple workbooks, then contact the publisher and ask permission. If the answer is “yes” that is wonderful, if the answer is “no” then you need to find another solution. At that point you should ask yourself if this particular workbook is a “need” or a “want.”

You should also consider the cost of photocopying, which isn’t always cheaper. For example, Beverly Adams-Gordon grants permission to purchasers of her Spelling Power program to copy the consumable worksheets. However, it is cheaper to buy the Spelling Power workbook than to make copies at Kinko’s or Staples. (If your husband is photocopying at work, make sure that he has permission from his employer and has offered to pay for the service, ink, and paper.)

It is estimated that as much as 50% of homeschooling materials in circulation are being illicitly copied. Quite frankly, this estimate shocks me. An author recently shared with me stories of homeschool support groups who have purchased one copy of a consumable curriculum series and then passed it throughout the entire group for collective copies. She also told me of families who purchased a single workbook to photocopy for their whole family and then resold as new.

A publisher of a virtues based program told me once of how she had books returned for a refund, only to find photocopied pages still stuck inside the books. This is a program that teaches virtues! Being thrifty means being prudent, which is a virtue. It doesn’t mean taking undue advantage of writers and publishers in order to save a few dollars.

Illicit copying not only hurts writers and publishers, but also ultimately affects the cost of materials to the consumer. Most homeschooling publishers are already working on very thin margins. If materials are purchased instead of photocopied, then publishers can print in larger quantities, which in turn lowers the per-unit cost and results in a savings for all homeschooling families.

Most copyright and trademark violations are done out of ignorance. Just as I thought at first it was okay to accept a dubbed copy of Lyrical Life Science from my friend. If we choose to educate ourselves in this area and then follow the law, we will be better Christians in the end. We will be practicing the very virtues that we strive to teach our children.

Scripture tells us, “The worker is worth his wage.” The only way that an author can gain his wage is through the sale of his intellectual property. (This also applies to authors of music and software.) If we copy works without permission, we are literally stealing wages from the worker. On the other hand, if we take the time and make the effort to either seek permission to copy, or adjust our budget so that we can make the purchase, or even make the decision to utilize the library or Internet instead, we are growing in virtue.

If you are ever unsure of whether or not you can make copies of something, the solution is very simple – contact the publisher.

Maureen Wittmann is coeditor and contributing author to The Catholic Homeschool Companion [Sophia Institute Press]. She welcomes you to join her at The Thrifty Homeschooler.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Freezing Salsa?

I was surprised to find that my copy of Preserving the Harvest has recipes for freezing salsa. Some years ago I made an attempt to freeze homemade salsa. The salsa was delicious before I put it in the freezer, but it was horrible when I took it out to thaw. Freezing it did something to the texture. I don't think tomatoes are made for freezing. So, if you like homemade salsa, either can it or eat it fresh.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Simply Peaches

My favorite way to eat fresh peaches:

Slice and peel. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with suger. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour or more. Pour a little milk (or cream if you're feeling wild) over the top. Great to serve with dinner.

Hope you all are taking advantage of harvest season!

Simply Blueberries

A member of the Yahoo group wrote to me recently:

I wanted to share my blueberry/saskatoon recipe. It has been in our family for generations and it is still a favourite. Are you ready? Put some frozen berries in to a cereal bowl and pour milk over them. Stir and enjoy your blue snow balls.

Frozen berries are also great finger food for toddlers, especially when they are teething.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Discounted Microscopes

From Clickschooling:

The Homeschool Buyer's Co-op has negotiated a GROUP DISCOUNT for LW-Scientific Microscopes through Bolden Microscope. This is the best price on the Internet for these microscopes. You are guaranteed 20% off on any of 4 different models. Save up to 35% if enough people buy! Offer valid until Monday, Sept. 11 at 5:00 PM Eastern.

For details visit:

Also from the Clickschooling folks: Carschooling.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tomato Deals

I've been busy the past couple of days canning salsa and peaches. I bought my produce at the farmers' market earlier this week. One farmer had 1/2 bushels of roma tomatoes for $10 but they were a bit small. Instead of just walking away, I mentioned that I wasn't interested because of the size. The farmer then offered them for the same price as the salad tomatoes, $7. I couldn't pass up that deal.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Free Unit Studies

Home School Unlimited has a new feature. You can share free unit studies. Upload units that you've written to share with your fellow homeschoolers. Or download units that others have shared. Cool idea. Click here to check it out.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cheap and Easy: Red Beans and Rice Recipe

Dry beans are thrifty but time consuming. By cooking them in the crock pot you save time and aggravation. This recipe is from Cooking Light Magazine.

Easy Crockpot Red Beans and Rice

3 cups water
1 cup dried red kidney beans
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 (14-ounce) package turkey, pork, and beef smoked sausage, thinly sliced (such as Healthy Choice)
1 bay leaf
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups hot cooked long-grain rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions


1. Combine first 12 ingredients in an electric slow cooker. Cover with lid; cook on high heat for 5 hours. Discard bay leaf; stir in salt. Serve over rice; sprinkle servings evenly with green onions.

YIELD: 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup bean mixture, 3/4 cup rice, and 1 tablespoon green onions)

You can't get easier than that! Note: Don't change the type of bean as different dry beans need different times to cook.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kids Canning

The county fair is around the corner and the kids have tons of canned and dehydrated goods to enter. Even my 10-year-old son is entering something. I never imagined.

I encourage you to get the kids involved in your kitchen. Sure, wee ones can make the whole process more difficult and time-consuming, but it will pay off in the long run. I have a tiny kitchen, yet somehow we make it work. My goal is to make the kitchen a warm and happy place for my children so that when they grow up and leave the nest they will enjoy cooking.

I am already seeing the benefits. My teen daughter was able to can beans, taco sauce, mangos, grape jelly, strawberry jam, blueberry butter, and pink grapefruit jelly all by herself. She also made dehydrated cinnamon apples and two batches of fruit leather. With the exception of driving her to the store to purchase her produce, she required zero help from me. Tween daughter only required having me close by in case she had a question. 10-year-old son needed me in the kitchen with him for direction in every move, but I know that in a few years he'll be as independent as his sisters in the kitchen. Teen son isn't interested in canning, so you can't win them all, but he still knows his way around the kitchen fairly well.

This is homeschooling at the core.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Freezer Jam Rocks

We've been making loads of jam and jelly at our house, but not all of it has been canned. We've also been making freezer jam. If you haven't already, I encourage you give it a try. It's so easy. No cooking, no canning.

You can buy special freezer jam pectin, but you can also use regular pectin. There will be recipes in the pectin package. You can also find recipes in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (those recipes all call for freezer jam pectin) or by searching the Internet.

Basically, all you do is crush the fruit, then mix with sugar and pectin. Easy. I put mine into plastic pint containers that I found at Meijers for half off, but you could use just about any freezer-safe container. Some people even use Baggies.

If you like sugar substitutes, I saw a recipe at for strawberry freezer jam that uses Splenda sweetener.

You can keep the jam in the fridge for 3 weeks or in the freezer for a year. Make sure to label with the date.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Food Preservation Q&A: Part Two

More Q & A on food preservation (canning and dehydrating):

Q: What variety of apples do you think makes the best applesauce? What do you consider a good price for apples? I've always thought about making applesauce but wondered if it actually saved money in the long run.

A: Last year, I bought Macintosh for apple sauce, and Jonathons for dehydrating and canning apple rings. If you go to the farmers' market (I loooove farmers' markets), the farmers are usually very helpful in guiding you to the right variety for your needs. You should get the same level of service and expertise at the apple orchard.

A good price is free and sometimes you can find such deals. Perhaps you have a friend whose apple tree is heavy with fruit and in need of picking. I've gotten pears this way. Our homeschool group goes on an apple orchard field trip each year and everyone comes home with free apples. But this is not the norm.

I paid $10 a bushel and got 14 quarts of applesauce out of it. Not a huge, huge savings but nice enough, and difference in quality is huge.

Q: I have not been able to find a tomato or barbecue sauce that we liked so if you would be willing to share your recipe, I would really love it!!

A: I just use the recipe in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. The key is, I think, in making any tomato-based sauce is to stir OFTEN. One year my barbecue sauce was a total flop because the sauce burnt on the bottom of the pan and it ruined the flavor of the whole pot. Ick! So, in reducing your sauce, cook it on low, slowly, checking it often.

Another tip is to use plum or roma tomatoes. They are more expensive and harder to find, but they are meatier and the sauce is thicker to start with. Juicy tomatoes are great for sandwiches and salads but they make thin sauce and as a result you have to cook it forever!

Also, make sure to use the freshest vegetables and cut out any bruises.

Q: When you have a moment, would you be willing to share your recipes for pineapple/papaya salsa and mango salsa?

A: I got my recipe for pineapple/papaya salsa from The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest (Your library may carry this title). For the mango salsa, I used the Spicy Tomato Salsa recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving and added two chopped mangos to it. I've also found recipes in the past by searching the Internet.

For the most part, I use my Ball Blue Book, but it doesn't always have exactly what I want. For example, one year I made garlic jelly and red pepper jelly (Both great on grilled chicken breast! And makes a pretty gift.) because I had an abundance from the garden -- I found the recipes searching the Internet. (See previous post for links.)

Q: I'd like to know what brand of dehydrator you use.

A: I did a lot of research before making my purchase. I asked friends and searched the Internet. You can make your own, which I think is a really neat idea, but in the end I figured that wasn't going to work for my family. If you want to try it, do a search on the Internet for free directions.

My husband and I decided to stay away from cheap dehydrators as we didn't want to spend money on something that wouldn't last a long time. Plus, we have a large family and would be using it more than the average family. On the other hand, we couldn't afford the top of the line Excalibur that I coveted.

We went with the top of the line American Harvest (Nesco). It has eight trays and we use them all! So far, I'm happy.

Q: How do you make fruit leather?

A: It's pretty easy. Wash your fruit, cut out any blemishes, peel and pit. Puree in your blender until smooth. If it's too thick, I add a little water or juice. If it's too tart, add some corn syrup or honey. Then I pour it evenly over the tray and set the dehydrator for 135 until leathery. You can also do this in your oven -- search the Internet for how-to or check out a book on dehydrating from the library such as The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest. Unlike canning, you can use overripe fruit for this, which is very nice.

Q: My Pampered Chef apple slicer/peeler/corer broke after two years. Yes, it was guaranteed but was a pain to get replaced. Where did you buy yours?

A: I got mine from Meijer, which is sort of like a Super Walmart. You can usually find them at restaurant supply houses or any place that sells cooking equipment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Food Preservation Q&A, Part One

Following are some questions I've received regarding food preservation, followed by my answers:

Q: I'm sorry to sound so dense . . . but where do you keep all this stuff? Do I need an extra refrigerator?

A: Not a dense question at all -- most Americans aren't familiar with the lost art of food preservation. No need for refrigeration. That's the beauty of canning -- your creations can be stored safely for a year on a shelf. I keep my home-canned goods in a cabinet in the basement. A cool, dark place is best. Dehydrated food has a shorter shelf life, but could be extended with refrigeration or freezing if you desire.

Q: Okay what exactly is an apple peeler/slicer/corer?

A: It's a kitchen tool that peels, slices, and cores your apples all with a turn of a handle. You secure the gadget to your kitchen table or a special stand, attach your apple, and turn the handle. In the end, you have lovely apple rings. Most can be adjusted to just peel. I'm told that you can use them for potatoes too.

Several list members wrote to tell me that Pampered Chef carries one. It's a little more expensive, but it comes with a stand and looks pretty sturdy. Here is a link if you want to see what it looks like.

Q: What is a food sieve and what does it do?

A: There are several styles that one can purchase and they can be called food mills, sieves, or strainers. The one that I own is the Victorio Strainer, which I love but I think is out of production. Here is a similar model.

You put apples in the top and out one end comes the icky seeds and peels, and out the other end comes yummy applesauce. Similar process for tomato sauce.

That's all I have time for today. I still have blueberries to put up. More tomorrow.

Monday, July 24, 2006

New Homeschool Resource Site

Home Schooling Unlimited's Free Classifieds

Pickled Watermelon Rind

At our traditional Memorial Day Barbecue last year we had lots and lots of watermelon. Because I just hate to see anything go to waste, my 9-year-old daughter and I cut up and peeled the rind to make pickled watermelon rind.

Now if you're making face, saying to yourself "that sounds gross," hear me out. They taste like sweet pickles. The rind, minus the fruit and the hard shell, has little taste. Pickled it has almost a sweet and sour taste to it and it is wonderful for summer picnics! Price pickled watermelon rind sometime, I bet that you won't find it for less than $5 a jar. It makes a great gift - your friends and family will think you're a gourmet!

And think about the educational value. My daughter and I not only had a completely enjoyable time together canning those pickles, she learned a lot about food preservation. She also learned that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

As an added bonus, my daughter entered a jar of the pickled watermelon rind in the 4-H competition at the county fair and won a blue ribbon.

If you want to give it a try, I got my recipe from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. You can also find lots of recipes online. (Check the Internet links in the previous blog entry.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Lost Art of Canning

I'm planning to blog on the topic of canning over the next week. To get us started, I'm reprinting my Thrifty Homeschooler column from a past issue of Heart and Mind magazine.

The Lost Art of Canning
Maureen Wittmann

Imagine it’s January, there’s snow outside and the temperature is below freezing. Wouldn’t it be nice to go to your cupboard and pull out a little bit of summer? Perhaps a big jar of vanilla pears or snap green beans or even some mango salsa?

If the thought of canning your own produce scares you half to death, know that I used to feel the same way. The whole process seemed too daunting, too large. But one day I took the plunge, and I’m so glad that I did.

How to Begin
Getting set up for canning would be expensive if you bought all of your supplies brand new. The good news is that you don’t have to do that. You can find canning equipment at garage sales and thrift stores. If you have elderly family members or friends, ask them if they have any equipment or supplies to pass down to you. More than likely, they will be thrilled to find someone who wants to carry on the art canning and pass it onto her children. Almost all of my canning equipment, including a large selection of jars, came from older acquaintances. I simply mentioned that I wanted to learn the art of canning to a few people and, before I knew it, my cupboards were full. All I pay for is labels and lids. Sometimes I forgo the labels and write on the lids with permanent marker.

Basic equipment that you’ll need for the Boiling-Water Canning Method (for high-acid foods such as fruits, including tomatoes):
· The Ball Blue Book of Preserving
· Water canner
· Canning funnel
· Jar lifter
· Jars, lids, bands, and labels
· Basic kitchen utensils
There are other goodies that you can acquire, but these will get you started. If you’re going to can jellies or jams, you’ll want to add pectin and Fruit Fresh to your grocery list.

Once you’ve been canning a year or so and feel ready to can low-acid foods, such as vegetables and meats, then you will need to add a steam-pressure canner to your list of basic equipment. At that time you can look to acquire more specialized equipment, such as a food sieve, apple peeler/corer/slicer, or lid wand

Finding Produce
The first place to look for produce is, of course, your own garden. Keep canning in mind when you plan your garden. For example, if you want to can a year’s worth of salsa, you’ll need to plan on planting plenty of tomatoes and peppers.

When your friends find out that you’re canning, they’ll bring their garden surpluses to you. I’ve been given full bushels of green beans as well as bags of tomatoes, peppers, and more. The children and I have also been invited by friends to pick pears and strawberries on their property.

Farmers’ markets are another great resource. Not only do you get fresh produce, often picked that morning, you get the wise counsel of the farmer. Don’t be shy and ask as many questions as your heart desires. I have found farmers to be wonderfully friendly and happy to share advice. They can tell you the best variety of apples for applesauce versus apple pie filling versus apple rings. They can tell which variety of peaches are best for eating fresh and which are best for making jam. They may even have a recipe or two to share.

My children can for 4-H and the county fair. The farmers especially love answering their questions and helping them choose their produce. In fact, upon finding out that we’re canning for 4-H, the farmer will usually give the children a little break on price or a few free samples.

Another resource is universities. We live close to Michigan State University, which has a degree program in agriculture. For this reason, they have several big produce sales at the end of harvest season. Also look into community gardens, co-ops, and city markets.

What Next?
Now that you have your equipment and your produce, you’re ready to get to the real work. I highly recommend finding an experienced canner to help you with your first canning attempt. She can help you get over any little bumps and answer last-minute questions. Most of all, she can give you peace of mind. There’s nothing like having a friend close by when trying something new.

Plan ahead for canning day. Check the recipes that you have chosen and make sure that you have all of the equipment, supplies, and produce needed. Borrow anything that you don’t yet own. For example, if you’re attempting apple rings for the first time, you may need to borrow your friend’s apple peeler/corer/slicer.

If the children are helping, write out a list of everyone’s assignments and the order they will take place. Even the youngest of children can help with simple tasks, such as rinsing off produce or handing Mom supplies. Older children can slice and dice. My children’s favorite job is turning the crank of the sieve when we make applesauce or tomato sauce.

The kitchen should be clean and uncluttered. Everything should be laid out and ready to use. You’ll be less stressed and everything will go smoothly if you take care of these things in advance.

Next sterilize everything, following the instructions in your Ball Blue Book of Preserving. While waiting for everything to sterilize, you can start your prep work. Wash, peel, slice, dice, etc. As you prepare your recipe, get your water bath canner on the stove. After checking your jars for any cracks, fill them according the directions and seal. After removing them from the canner, put them onto a dry, clean tea cloth where they can sit for the next 24-hours. Check to make sure they do indeed seal and then put them up to enjoy come winter. Or enter them in the county fair!

Canning is not only thrifty, but it is very educational for your homeschooled children. My children love helping and they’ve learned a tremendous amount about food safety and food preservation. An additional benefit is that the food you preserve will taste better and be healthier than anything you can buy in the store.

To learn more about canning, check out the following books and websites:

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest

For recipes:

Food preservation websites from 4-H for homeschooling lessons:
All the info you’ll need for canning.
Canned Fruit and Vegetable Checklist.
Canned Meat Checklist.
Pickles and Relish Checklist.
Jam Checklist.
Juice, Jelly, and Syrup Checklist.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Enthusiasm is Contagious

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I guess this means that if we want great homeschools, we better be enthusiastic about homeschooling. If we want great kids, we better be enthusiastic about raising them

Monday, July 17, 2006

Grocery Tip #13: Checking the Unit Price

Make sure that you are checking unit prices. It is worth the cost of a little calculator. Keep in your purse so it's handy while grocery shopping. My grocery store shows the unit price on regularly priced items, but not the sales items.

I have run across, one too many times, bulk items that were actually more expensive than smaller-unit items. I have also seen, way too many times, sales items that were still costlier than off-brand items, as well as same brand but smaller size items.

So always check the unit price to see if you are really getting a deal or not.
If you haven't done this before, just take the price and divide by the number of ounces, or whatever unit of weight is used for that item.

This is a great math project for the kids to do. Assign the task to one of
your children. Or make a game of it and give calculators to several children and see who comes up with the answer first. Multi-tasking: school and shopping all in one - now that's thrifty!

Friday, July 14, 2006

You're Doing a Great Job

I just want to give you a pat on the back for doing a great job. Just think of all the money that you're already saving simply by homeschooling!

You don't have to buy uniforms, or worse make sure that your children are wearing all the right labels so that they fit in with their peers. You don't need to concern yourself with daily transportation to school. You don't have to give up your evenings to work bingo or attend PTA meetings. No tuition or after-school tutoring programs to fit into the budget. You don't have to buy those prepackaged expensive lunchables. You don't have to hire a housekeeper or cook, because you've added home-ec to your curriculum :-).

I bet you can think of some more to add to this list. (Feel free to leave them in the comment box.)

Keep up the good work!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Deals from Dover

From Dover:

Dear Reader,
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Horses of the World Coloring Book
The Fun with Tangrams Kit
How to Draw Faces
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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

From Danielle Bean's blog:
And finally, a shopping tip: Amazon is getting into the grocery business-- with free shipping on all orders of $25 or more. And they have a promotion going where you can get $10 off an order of $49 or more between now and August 31. Even if you just stock up on shampoo, diapers or wipes this way, it seems
worthwhile to me. And the bonus is, no trekking through Sam's Club or BJ's with a cartful of whiny kids begging for ginormous packages of Keebler cookies. Go here for details.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Truth About Debt

Dave Ramsey has a good article at his website on debt:

Debt is dumb. Most normal people are just plain broke because they are in debt up to their eyeballs with no hope of help. If you're in debt, then you're a slave, in the sense that you do not have the freedom to use your money to help change your family tree.

According to a recent USA Today article about debt, 78 percent of Baby Boomers have mortgage debt, 59 percent have credit card debt, and 56 percent have car payments. It takes a lot of will, discipline, courage and help to slay the debt monster. But it can be done. Imagine how much you could put toward retirement if you just didn't have a stinking car payment? This is how the wealthy really build their wealth. Debt is dumb. Welcome to the real world!

To read the rest, click here.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Grocery Tip #12: Get to know the layout of your grocery store

Did you know that by just getting to know the layout of your grocery store will save you money? Not loads, but some. The better you know where things are, the faster you can get to the things you want, and the better you can avoid things you don't really need.

I go so far to write up my grocery list items in the order that they are laid out in the store. As I cross items off of my shopping list in order it is a neater process and I am less likely to miss items. I have been going to the same stores for many years and so have a pretty good idea of how things are arranged.

If you are in a new neighborhood, some stores have printouts of the store layout available just for the asking. And it doesn't have to be an exact science. Most stores have produce first, the dairy items altogether, paper products and cleaning supplies last.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Back to Blogging

Vacation is over, conferences are done for the year, and I've finished writing the literature book. I should be back to blogging regularly come Monday. Whew!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Blogging Hiatus

I'm taking a break from blogging for six weeks. Therefore, posts will be little to nil until the end of June.

I have to prepare for two conferences, go on vacation, and finish writing a book.

I will be at the Catholic homeschooling conferences in Denver, Colorado June 9th and 10th and in Lansing, Michigan June 17th. I hope that I get to see some of you there!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Poetry Lessons

If you don't already subscribe to ClickSchooling's email list and you like to use the Internet in your homeschool, then click here and join today.

From today's email:

Hi! It's Wednesday, May 17th, 2006 and time for Language Arts at

Recommended Website:
The English Room: 30 Days of Poetry

ClickSchooler's Lisa, Shyan, and Josephina recommended today's website that offers 30 days of free poetry lessons. While the site is geared for middle and high school students, the lessons can apparently be tweaked for all ages as Lisa wrote, "My 10 year old and 3 year old are both doing this and we're having so much fun with it."

When you get to the site you will see a brief introduction and a chart containing an index of the individual poetry lessons. Click on any lesson and a new page opens with instructions and examples. A few lessons contain links to other websites for further exploration into a particular type of poetry. (I found a dead link, but a quick search for that item on Google turned up lots of good results -- so don't let a dead link discourage further learning.) You'll find lessons on formula poems, cinquain, diamonte, writing poetry about a given topic or subject, writing poetry that follows a particular format, Haiku, Performance Poetry, and much, much more.

Diane Flynn Keith
for ClickSchooling
Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved