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

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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.

TIME.com 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!