Friday, November 14, 2008

The Lost Tools Of Learning and High School

I've updated this article, originally published in 2002 in Homeschooling Today:

Living Literature: High School
The Lost Tools of Learning

Reviewed by Maureen Wittmann

In 1947 at Oxford University Dorothy Sayers, an English writer and scholar, stepped up to the lectern and presented her speech, The Lost Tools of Learning. Then in 1977 her speech was published in National Review magazine. Since that time, The Lost Tools of Learning has been republished countless times.

The “lost tools” Miss Sayers spoke of in her speech were the tools of a classical education. A classical education is based on the Trivium, which is made up of three stages.

The Grammar Stage (ages eight to eleven) builds a foundation by memorizing facts. The Dialectic, sometimes referred to as the Logic Stage (ages twelve to fourteen) develops analytical skills in students. Finally, the Rhetoric Stage (ages fourteen to sixteen) pulls the first two stages together and teaches students the art of articulation

The Trivium is not a modern approach to education, it was developed in the Middle Ages and widely used for centuries. One might even say that the Trivium is biblically supported. In Proverbs 2:6 we read: “For the Lord gives wisdom: From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom sound much like grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. The Trivium recognizes basic human development. It recognizes how God formed our intellect.

Children taught using the classical model have received the lost tools that Miss Sayers speaks of so eloquently in her speech. When students reach high school they have mastered the tools of memorizing facts and of analyzing those facts. Now they are ready to engage in the art of expression and in the science of communication. As Miss Sayers states, “The doors of the storehouse of knowledge should now be thrown open for them to browse about as they will. The things once learned by rote will be seen in new contexts.”

It is during the Rhetoric Stage that teens begin to develop their world view. Self-expression is at its peak. This is not the time to let one’s child go, but to continue helping him flower, guiding him gently. Challenge his thinking skills during this stage and make him defend his intellectual and religious positions.

The Lost Tools of Learning also tells us that “subjects” cannot be divorced from one another. It is especially during the Rhetoric Stage that we as parents and teachers should point out that all subjects are related to one another in some way.

Let us discuss briefly how a parent may apply the lost tools with a teen in the Rhetoric Stage.

High school is the perfect time to teach apologetics. Teach him to use his Bible facts and apply them to reasoned debate. Study the Early Church Fathers, how their leadership formed the way we worship today, and how the books of the Bible were determined.

In A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus, Dorothy Sayers relates that as a child she discovered the Cyrus mentioned in her Bible was the very same Cyrus found in her history text. Teens can recognize that Bible stories are not simply tales to entertain, but in fact history. Talk about Jesus Christ as a historical figure and the impact that Christianity has had in shaping world events.

Also go beyond your textbook and explore primary documents: autobiographies, documents, letters, etc. Give the high school student an opportunity to see how the turns of history occured through first-hand accounts.

Look for the historical and biblical perspectives in studying science. Study the ethical ramifications in scientific research. Relevant topics for today may include stem cell research, fetal tissue transplants, and cloning.

The more advanced math disciplines, such as algebra, geometry, and calculus, can be introduced. Study discoveries in historical perspective by reading biographies of mathematicians. Math studies can be tied into science.

This is the time for students to determine their own style. They can use Elements of Style or Chicago Manual of Style as references in writing. They should learn to prune their arguments and make their point without overdoing it.

Reading can move from narrative stories to challenging debates, critiques, and primary documents.

Latin can now be studied more deeply or dropped to make time for the modern languages.

Read The Lost Tools of Learning. Study more deeply the Trivium and learn about the Quadrivium.

Search out other writings of Dorothy Sayers. She wrote a series of popular detective novels as well as many scholarly pieces.

Go to an online concordance and enter these three words: knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Look up the Scriptures that the concordance returns. How do you think that these words correspond to grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric?

Learning rests upon truth. Ask yourself: “What is truth?” Does the classical model of education lend itself to the discovery of God’s truth?

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education (Ignatius Press) by Laura Berquist

A Catholic Homeschool Treasury: Developing Children’s Love for Learning (out of print) by Rachel Mackson and Maureen Wittmann, eds. Contains an excellent essay that explains Dorothy Sayers’ speech and classical education, written by Rachel Mackson.

The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home (W.W. Norton & Company) by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer

mater et magistra magazine has a regular column on classical education written by Laura Berquist.

Mail Order Companies:
Emmanuel Books
Carries The Lost Tools of Learning plus most of the resources recommended in Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum.

Memoria Press
Latin and classical materials.

Trivium Pursuit
Website contains much more than their catalog. Lots of articles and resources for Christian classical education.

Home Study Schools
Angelicum Academy
Online Catholic academy – liberal arts education based on the classic great books of Western civilization.

Kolbe Academy
Classical education – Ignation method.

Mother of Divine Grace
Catholic classical home study founded by Laura Berquist.

Regina Coeli Academy
An online college preparatory program using a Catholic classical curriculum.

Discussion Group
Catholic Classical Education

Classical Christian Homeschooling

Thursday, November 13, 2008

High School and The World's Great Speeches

The World's Great Speeches
Great speeches stir the heart. Throughout history distinguished orators have mobilized nations toward grand actions — noble, as well as evil — through their words. Think of Cicero foiling conspirators against Rome, Robispeare advocating the Reign of Terror, Abraham Lincoln bringing healing to a divided nation, Winston Churchill rousing the British to war, Fidel Castro inspiring the Cubans to revolution, and Ronald Reagan urging a foreign leader to tear down a wall of oppression. Also think of Jesus moving the masses with His Sermon on the Mount or Peter inspiring the faithful on Pentecost Day.

These great speakers began with an objective in mind and then used their oratory skills to help reach that objective. In teaching our high school students such skills, we give them the tools necessary to inspire others with their words, thus putting them in better reach of their goals. Whether our children grow up to lead nations or not, the art of oral communication is important to their education.

Consider a businessman interacting with his partners, a pastor preaching to his parish, an attorney representing a client in court, or a fundraiser persuading an audience to donate money to his cause. Though we may not realize it, debate is an integral part of our everyday lives. From the homeschooling mother encouraging her children to listen and learn to the politician moving his constituents to his side of the political fence, oratory skills are being used.

Language Arts through Great Speeches
Benjamin Franklin trained himself as a writer by imitating other authors. You can use Franklin's method to successfully teach your student excellence in writing. First, find a good resource that contains transcripts of famous speeches. Laura Berquist recommends The World's Great Speeches: 292 Speeches from Pericles to Nelson Mandela, edited by Lewis Copeland, Lawrence W. Lamm, and Stephen J. McKenna (published by Dover and available from Emmanuel Books) in her high school curriculum.

Next, choose a speech that fits into your history studies and have your student outline it and make notes of the speech's sentiment. Lay the outline aside for a few days and then, without looking at the speech, have the student try to reproduce it. The student should then compare his work to the original, looking for faults and making corrections. (Check out for an in-depth program using Franklin's method.)

Leonardo da Vinci had his apprentices copy the Mona Lisa to build a solid foundation of artistic skill. Similarly, copying great speeches will aid your student in building writing skills. Once he has developed skill through imitation, he can then work on creativity.

Look for these techniques often found in great speeches:
— The use of broad themes. Great speeches are not weighed down by details.
— Keeping on topic. Focus remains on the primary goal.
— A clear opening and conclusion. Starts with an effective grabber and ends with a summary.
— A relaxed manner, as one would use in personal discussion rather than in formal writing.

Delivering a Great Speech
It is not enough to write a good speech; one must also develop skill in delivery. Again imitation is helpful here. Watch televised or live speeches and have your student analyze the techniques that make a successful speech.

Some simple tips for public speaking:
— Know your audience.
— Know your subject matter well.
— Relax and visualize yourself speaking.
— Gain experience.
Visit a Toastmasters Club. From the website: "At Toastmasters, members learn by speaking to groups and working with others in a supportive environment. A typical Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 30 people who meet once a week for about an hour. Each meeting gives everyone an opportunity to practice."

Though Toastmaster's international organization asks that members be eighteen years or older, there are local clubs that will allow homeschooled students to participate.

Consider also looking for, or taking the initiative to start, a homeschool speech club. Find opportunities for your student to present his speeches in front of an audience.

History through Great Speeches
I do not urge my children to believe historians out right, or to trust history textbooks blindly. I am especially cautious of the historian who bases his conclusions on the research of another historian. High school students can dig deep and delve into original sources and draw their own conclusions.

In comparing primary documents, such as speeches, students discover firsthand the reasons for the turns and events of history. They can then compare their understanding of history to their history textbook's understanding. The best lesson may be that there is never a single reason for anything — there are a multitude of reasons.

In studying World War II we can gain several historical perspectives using The World's Great Speeches, as it contains speeches given by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. All of these leaders present a different outlook of the same world events.

I encourage you to supplement The World's Great Speeches, or other speech resource, by reading biographies, especially autobiographies, of the speechwriters. Seek out actual documents, such as personal and official letters, government documents, and archival records (many can be found by searching the Internet). An illustration in applying this approach would be the study of the Revolutionary War. The World's Great Speeches includes many of the Founding Fathers. The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution are primary documents that are easily available. The study can then be further enhanced by reading books such as The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and The Federalist Papers.

Most importantly, talk about how your students, as children of God, personally have an impact on history. Ask how they can use their oratory skills to better our society, and bring Christ and His Church into the hearts and minds of others.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Logic or Dialectic Stage

The Dialectic, sometimes referred to as the Logic Stage, develops analytical skills in students. This stage hits about middle school, or approx. twelve to fourteen years old. Each child is different, but you will notice a change in the way that your child thinks and approaches his schoolwork.

This is the age that children really start to ask questions and explore. Memorization takes a back door to reason. I call this the "lawyer stage" as my children all seem to turn into little lawyers at this age, reasoning me to death and questioning every little thing that I do! As frustrating as that may seem, I remind myself that all this reasoning applied to academics is a great thing.

You can encourage the logic stage in your children by providing them with the resources to answer their questions. Be willing to drive them to the library to find the right book, surf the Internet alongside them, and encourage them to keep asking questions.

And don't be afraid when they question the Truths that you have taught them. This is your opportunity to teach the whys of what you believe. Truth will hold up to scrutiny.

One thing that you can do during this stage is introduce literary analysis. When your child is assigned a book, do a search on the Internet with the book's title. Or check out such sites such as NovelGuide - Novel Resource Guide and Literary Analysis (see Literature Helps for Parent Teachers for more sites). Use the information that you find at these websites to help your child analyze their reading material.

In mathematics, your child will move from simple arithmetic to pre-algebra. From the memorization of math facts to analyzing math concepts. They are preparing for the higher mathematics of geometry, algebra, and calculus.

For more on teaching individual subjects in this stage see Classical Christian Homeschooling: The Dialectic Stage: Grades 7-9 .

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Classical Education and Memorization

In previous posts I have talked about the thriftiness of a Charlotte Mason education. Can a classical education be equally thrifty? Sure!

A classical education is based on the Trivium, which is made up of three stages. The Grammar Stage (approx. up to age eleven) builds a foundation by memorizing facts. Most little children love to memorize poems, songs, and Scripture.

It doesn't cost any money to open your Bible, pick out Scripture, and help your child memorize it. Just like memorizing the ABC's before one learns to read, it is beneficial to have Scripture memorized before one learns to understand, put it into context, and defend it.

Laura Berquist, in her book Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, suggests having wee ones memorize poems from Robert Louis Stevenson's book A Child's Garden of Verses. The book can be borrowed from the library or you can go to this website for the complete collection:
Poets' Corner - Robert
Louis Stevenson - A Child's Garden of Verses

The grammar stage is a good time to memorize historical dates, geography facts, multiplication tables, phonetic rules & exceptions, and so on.

I've been reading Joyce Herzog's book Timeless Teaching Tips and she has several tips in there on memorization skills. See if your library carries it.

Here is a website that I found with some tips on memorization:
Homeschool Memorization

Monday, November 10, 2008

2008 Homeschool Blog Awards

Voting has begun for the 2008 Homeschool Blog Awards. Go check out all of the nominees -- you may find a new favorite. Of course, I hope you'll vote for The Thrifty Homeschooler while you're at it.

What to Do with Old Toothbrushes

Should you just throw those old used toothbrushes away. Gee, no!

They make great little cleaning brushes for hard-to-reach and tiny places.

I mark mine with a little paint or permanent marker though, to keep wee ones from thinking it is okay to put in their mouth .

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Saving Pennies

Some time back my neighbor brought over buckets of change for my children to roll in exchange for a percentage of the total. You won't believe how much change they rolled. Almost $1,000!!

All this gentleman does is throw his change into a bucket every night when he comes home from work at night. He averages about $1,000 saved every three years.

So, if you are having a hard time saving any money perhaps you should consider starting with a little change each day. It does add up!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Teaching Sight Words

How do you teach sight words, words that are not phonetic?

Charlotte Mason suggested having children look at the word on a card, flip it over, and then write it.

With my dyslexic children, we called sight words "red letter words." I wrote them in red marker on index cards. They would then trace them with their fingers, spelling them out loud. They would also "put the words on their shoulders." That is, they put their right hand on their left shoulder, said the word, then tapped down their arm as they spelled it out. Amazingly enough, this worked wonders in helping them remember their sight words. In fact, after my son learned to read well, he would still occasionally put his hand on his shoulder when trying to remember how to spell a sight word. It helped him pull it from his "mental filing cabinet."

However you go about it, you may be interested in these websites:
Author Jan Brett's Home Page - A Great Place for Ideas
Free Sight Word Helpers
Word Search Puzzles: Find Dolch Sight Words

Thanks to Beate, from the Literature Alive Yahoo Group, for bringing these to my attention! Beate's daughter is a late reader and uses the sight words cards to help build confidence. She writes in the air, traces on the carpet, etc.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

More Free Stuff on Election Day

Krispy Kreme is giving out free doughnuts
Wear your "I Voted" sticker and get a free star-shaped, sprinkle-filled doughnut

Ben & Jerry ice cream stores will give out a free scoop of ice cream from 5 to 8 pm today.

Free Starbucks Coffee for Voting

Starbucks is giving out free coffee to those who vote today. So, if you're planning on staying up late watching the pundits tonight you may want to grab a tall cup of Starbuck fresh brewed coffee on the way home from the polls. Though I'd rather have it on the way to the polls so I can stay awake in the long line!

Here are the details:
On November 4, 2008, Starbucks will give voters a free tall brewed coffee at participating U.S. stores.

After voting, voters must go to a Starbucks store, where they’ll be given a tall (12 oz) cup of brewed coffee at no charge (limit one per customer).

This is an extension of Starbucks commitment to community through Starbucks™ Shared Planet™. It lets us immediately support customers who care about the same things we do and who want to make a difference. This idea has also come up a number of times on our on-line forum for sharing customer and partner (employee) ideas.

Apparently all you have to do is tell them you voted. I don't see anything about providing proof of voting.

Just remember to get out there and vote. Don't let predictions by the media keep you away from the polls. Your vote counts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Sneaky Chef Part Two

Not everyone agrees that The Sneaky Chef works or that it is anywhere near a good thing. Gosh, I didn't agree with it at one time.

I did everything right. Everything the experts, even Dr. Phil, says you should do in developing good eating habits. And it worked wonderfully with five out of my seven kids. It worked somewhat with one of them and not at all with the last.

Mr. Super Picky Eater is six-years old and a tough nut to crack. I'm not a short order cook and so if he doesn't eat what I make then he doesn't eat all. He chooses not to eat at all. He just isn't that interested in eating period. Even with foods he likes, he doesn't eat much.

If he doesn't like something, well, let's just say that he has an overactive gag reaction. And that's not appetizing to anyone.

Rob and I have incredibly healthy eating habits ourselves, so we're modeling correct behavior. We rarely eat fast food or junk food. I offer foods multiple times, patiently. I breastfed forever and introduced good food from the beginning. I offer a wide variety. None of it worked with this one child. Part of the problem I think is that textures bother him in addition to the taste and color. Yes, I know, it's probably in his head. But the kid has got to eat. He's on the small side and I'm concerned. The doctor only recommends what I've already done. That and a multi-vitamin.

So, The Sneaky Chef is a final option for me. No, I'm not going to make chocolate chip cookies for him everyday because it has bean puree in it. But, if I'm making cookies for the family anyway, why not add something healthy to it. Especially if it makes the food taste as good if not better (as with the lasagna and mac 'n cheese).

I'll still have salads, fruits, and vegetables for dinner. But when the menu calls for a dish that hides the purees well, I'm going to add it. Just as I substitute whole wheat flour in bread recipes, brown rice in casseroles, and applesauce in brownies.

Tonight was taco night. I do a whole taco bar -- ground sirloin, black beans, colby/jack cheese, avocados, brown rice, lettuce, sweet peppers, homemade salsa, taco shells, and tortillas. It's a feast and it's one meal Mr. Super Picky Eater looks forward too. He'll eat a tortilla with meat, cheese, and sour cream.

The Sneaky Chef has a recipe for tacos that calls for purple puree (blueberries and spinach) mixed in with the taco meat. Now, this one was a challenge for me. I normally just brown the meat and season it with cumin, garlic, sea salt, and pepper. To hide the purple puree, I would have to add tomato paste.

I served it reluctantly, worried the kids would reject it because it was so different. And it wasn't a pretty color. Not red as one would expect from taco meat but brown. The kids all commented on the color but they tried it without me having to coax them (probably because I do offer such a wide variety of foods to them). The reviews were mixed from, "It's sooooo good!" to "It's not too bad." Mr. Super Picky Eater was in the "It's soooooo good" camp so I considered it a resounding success.

Do I like being sneaky? No. Not at all. But Rob and the older kids all know what I'm doing. The littles are off playing while I'm cooking so they don't notice what's going on and I'm not going to go out of my way to tell them. Once Mr. Super Picky Eater is a little older and has been eating this way for a while, I'll casually mention to him that his favorite dishes are filled with yumcious vegetables and fruits. It's my hope he'll then be more willing to try them on his own at that time.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Almost Frugal

Here's another cool frugal blog I'm adding to the blogroll:
Almost Frugal
Go check it out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tip Nut

I love easy tips. I'm the tip queen. I'd rather read a top-ten list of how to save on groceries than an in-depth, 5-page magazine article any day. So, when I came across I knew I'd found a blog worth bookmarking. I've added it to the blogroll to your left. Check out the other blogs in the sidebar -- they're definitely worth checking out.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Make Housework Fun

Admittedly, I am not the best housekeeper in the world. Being a full-time working mom (homeschooling is a full-time job you know), I struggle orderliness. One trick that we have in our house is the "five-minute tidy." I set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and the children race around trying to see how much they can get done in 5 minutes. We keep it fun and it works wonders. We usually use the five-minute tidy just before mealtimes and when we leave the house. It is so much more pleasant to come home to a tidy house.

In the same vein, we have laundry-sorting parties. With nine family members in this house, laundry is never finished. If l made laundry a miserable job, then our family would be miserable all the time. Earlier today, I came into the living room with four loads of clean laundry and announced a sorting party. The seven kids were knee-deep in laundry and having fun. Even 3- and 5-year olds can help, the littles like to pull out the rags and socks so that the big kids can fold them.

Another trick is to have a bedroom-cleaning contest. I learned this from two teenaged sisters who used to team-babysit my children (sadly, they moved to Florida). I set the timer for 10 minutes and then whoever has the cleanest bedroom at the end of 10 minutes are the winners. I give the winners a prize to really make it worth while. I keep the prize simple such as some free time outside or extra computer time or extra dessert.

Think about how you can make housekeeping fun for the kids. Life is too short to be miserable and since housework is a necessity you may as well have a good time doing it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Sneaky Chef Works!

"Mom! This is the best lasagne ever!" That's one of the nicest things a mom can hear just after, "Mom! I love this macaroni and cheese! It's totally the best!"

I used to think I was a brilliant mother. My children ate healthy food and never complained. It surely must have been my superior mothering skills. And then came my fourth child, Mr. Picky Eater. He would go to great extremes to avoid eating anything other than pizza, pbj, and macaroni & cheese. I would find food hidden in the heating vent, under the legs of the dinner table, and inside pockets. Today, at nearly 13 he no longer hides food and even eats green food now and then.

Then came my seventh child. Mr. Extreme Picky Eater. He's six-years old, stubborn as all get out (wonder where he gets that from), and doesn't like to eat anything that even sniffs of healthy.

Enter The Sneaky Chef by Missy Shase Lapine. Have you heard about this book? It's an old idea amongst mothers -- hide healthy food in cherished foods. My mother used to put carrot puree in chocolate cakes when I was a little. Though this is not an idea I first welcomed. I want my kids to make healthy choices when they get older and I'm not sure if hiding their carrots in chocolate cake is the way to do it.

However, Mr. Extreme Picky Eater has pushed his mother her wits' end. I borrowed The Sneaky Chef from the library. I'm in love. I ended up ordering it from because it's one I need to have on hand.

Last night I made cheese lasagne. I substituted part of the ricotta with mashed tofu. I also added orange puree to the tomato sauce. The orange puree is made by boiling carrots and sweet potatoes until soft and then pureed with a little water in the blender.

The kids loved it! They raved about it! Mr. Picky Eater and his brother Mr. Extreme Picky Eater raved about it more than anyone else. They were absolutely pleased I didn't put in chopped spinach as I usually do. It was tasty, no green, and yumcious!

I used only half of the orange puree, so today I put the remainder into our boxed macaroni & cheese. Again -- they raved about it! They exclaimed that it was totally the best ever. It gave the mac 'n cheese a sweet bite to it.

I'm hooked. As my picky eaters get older I'll let them in on my tricks. But for now, shhhh!

Monday, October 20, 2008

4-H Benefits Homeschooling

If you don't already belong, consider joining 4-H. Until recently, we were city rats. Yet we participated in 4-H for many years. It is a lot more than farm animals and crops (which we'll be getting into more now that we're in the country).

At previous years. county fairs, my children have come home with loads of ribbons for canning, quilting, creative writing, and a variety of shooting sports.

One moment that sticks out in my mind was when we found out our 13-year old son won the Judge's Choice for creative writing. I'm so sentimental that I started to cry. You see, my son was required to write a book (yes a book!) for his history co-op that year. He did a terrific job so I encouraged him to enter it as an independent 4-H project at the fair. As a result, he got a blue ribbon, Best of Show (fictional writing), and Judge's Choice (creative writing). In addition to his ribbons, he received a gift certificate to a local bookstore. That encouraged him to lengthen the story to a full blown book. He even checked the Children's Writers Market Guide out from the library to find publishers who publish historical fiction and to get the writers' guidelines for submissions. This is a child, who until he was 12 absolutely hated to write!

My oldest three children have all had creative writing entries and all got blue ribbons (hope you don't mind me bragging). The best part though was that the judges gave the children lots of good tips on improving their writing in addition to praising their efforts. For some reason, children take these things more seriously from people other than their parents.

If you do join 4-H, the cost is minimal. For our club, the fee is $5 per family (which pays for the newsletter) and then $1.50 per child. Sometimes there are activity fees for craft projects, but they do their best to keep it inexpensive. (One bonus is a discount to the county fair.) And it may not take much extra work on your part as you can enter projects that you are already doing independently in your homeschool. Your children may become more enthused about school projects if they know that they will go on display and that they can earn a ribbon and even a little money.

Another advantage of 4-H for us has been the organized group projects. For example, my five oldest children belong to the archery club. Once a week, during spring and summer, I drive them to the leader's home where they learn archery skills and get to practice with several of their homeschool friends (most of the children in our 4-H club are homeschoolers).

The children have also signed up for glass etching, model building, and knitting. In the past I've led canning projects, which is way fun - I love passing this tradition on to a new generation.

Other projects that you may be interested in include sewing, art, crocheting, clowning, performance arts, leadership skills, animals, crops, and more, more, more.

This year, the children are really looking forward to showing goats. Now that'll be a new experience for us all!

If you are not sure about how to find a 4-H club in your area, try asking others in your homeschool group or search the Internet. You can also try calling your county fairgrounds or extension office.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Coupon Code: The Teaching Company

The Teaching Company has a new coupon code good through October 30th. It's a great deal -- $25 off of orders over $150.00 plus free shipping. They have a lot of titles, including high school sets, for up to 70% off. The coupon code is HPHL and it's good on the internet, phone, or mail.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Buying More Stuff Hurts Marriages

Sell off your clutter and save your marriage. From the Washington Times.
Clutter does not a happy couple make. That's right, household junk is not just an eyesore, but also, it turns out, a source of marital strife. "More than eight in ten couples view these items lying around the house as a source of tension in their relationship," says Jose Mallabo, spokesman for, an online marketplace that recently conducted a survey of couples and their - superfluous - household items.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tips on Saving at the Grocery Store

In this economy it's important to keep a close eye on the food budget. I myself have recently let my food budget explode. With my move to the new house I've allowed myself to slip into my old bad habits using the excuse that I'm too busy getting settled in. It really isn't anything more than laziness on my part. But I'm recommitting myself to getting the grocery bills back under control.

If you'd like to join me, study my previous posts on saving money at the grocery store. Scroll down and start with Tip #1 (you may have to click on Older Posts) and then move your way up.

If you have any tips I missed, please leave a comment here so all of us can learn together.

Homeschool Blog Award Nominations

The 2008 Homeschool Blog Awards are now taking nominations. Go and nominate your favorite homeschooling blogs! You have until October 24th but don't procrastinate too long.

In order to reach the voting part of the awards, a blog must be nominated at least 3 times so don't rely on someone else to nominate your favorite blog. And I hope that you'll nominate The Thrifty Homeschooler Blog as there is a Thrifty Homeschooler category. Yeah!

The rules are all laid out at the website. You just fill in the little box at the end of the post (linked above) and write something like:
Best Thrifty Homeschooler
The Thrifty Homeschooler

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Free Gluten Free Recipes

Since it's Celiac Awareness Month I thought I'd share a gluten-free cookbook that can be read online for free:

You Won't Believe It's Gluten Free!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Free Preschool Printables

This is a commercial site but they have lots of free printables for the 4- to 6-year-old set. Click on Download Center.

Recovering the Food Budget

After going back to work part time, Margaret Mary found her grocery budget explode. Just as I suggested in my earlier post about the cost of working outside the home. Well, MM has grabbed hold of the food budget reins and she's reeling them in. See her post on recovering the food budget to hear how she's doing it and to join her in the quest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Downsize: Think Big

If you have a huge debt hanging over your head, then you have to get beyond saving pennies on household items. Especially, with the current financial crisis sweeping through the country we need to think big!

Can you downsize your home? Your cars? Sell your vacation cottage or recreational boat or vehicle?

I met a homeschooler some years ago who lived in my sister's neighborhood. A neighborhood where the houses start at $400,000. Her husband just lost his job and they were in bad shape financially. They lived in a beautiful home and drove brand-new SUV's . . . and lived from month to month. They were drowning in consumer debt. Just one month without an income put them into dire straits. The mom was putting the kids in public school and getting a job herself. It broke my heart.

You need to ask where you would be tomorrow if your main wage-earner lost his or her job. Do you have savings set aside? I recommend at least 3 to 6 months of living expenses in liquid savings. This saved us years ago when my husband decided to quit his job and start his own business.

To accomplish this, you may have to downsize your home or your car. Can you live in a smaller house? In a lesser neighborhood? (No need to concern yourself with school districts - we're homeschoolers.)

Can you downsize your car, or get rid of the second car altogether? I know several homeschooling families who work around one family car.

What are some other big items that you should be avoiding?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Art Appreciation

Art is another subject where Charlotte Mason presented a living education. She taught art appreciation picture study by introducing children to the works of great artists one at a time using narration. Music appreciation was taught similarily, listening to the works of great composers one at a time.

I would love to fill my home with original masterpieces for the children to study, but it isn't possible. The art budget at our house doesn't even have room for cheap reproductions. But I have found an inexpensive way to introduce my children to great works of art.

Using your computer, you can download famous paintings and save them to your wallpaper. (See CGFA- A Virtual Art Museum for example.) Then every time your children sit down at the computer they are introduced to great art. Change the wallpaper every week. Or get wild and change it everyday. Feature the same artist (or era or subject matter) for several weeks in a row. Make sure to point out the name of the artist and the name of the picture.

Another idea is to print a painting on your color printer. Have the children cut out the picture and put it on a magnet sheet (from the craft store). Now you have fancy kitchen magnets. Every time the kids go to the fridge for a drink or snack, they are introduced to great art. Or have the printouts laminated - my littles like to carry them around like trading cards.

Kids love getting mail. Ask Grandma and Grandpa to send art postcards Ask out-of-town family members or friends to do the same. Not only will your children be introduced to great art, they are reminded of their loved ones.

Some exercises to do with your Internet or postcard art:
Play Concentration - you need two of each work to do this. Turn the cards upside down on a table and have the children take turns looking for matches, turning over just two cards at a time.
Groupings - have the children group together works of art by artist, era, or subject matter.
Recreate by Memory - show a child a masterpiece for a few minutes and then take it away. Then they are to try to draw the picture from memory using their crayons, colored pencils, or markers. (A twist on CM's narration.)
Develop Descriptive Abilities - Have your child choose a work of art, without showing you. They are then to describe the art in such a way that you can reproduce it on a piece of paper with only their verbal instructions. This is a favorite exercise at my house. Try it. I guarantee you'll get a laugh out of the first several tries!
Look for Symbolism Used in Art - I tried but could not find a dictionary of Christian art symbolism on the Internet, but you can look for books such as Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George Wells Ferguson (Oxford University Press) at the library.

I'm sure that if you put your mind to it, you could come up with more ideas.
The children in Charlotte Mason's schools had Picture Study every term from age 6 upwards. Between the age of 6 and 15 a child had studied reproductions of pictures by some thirty of the world's famous artists. Why Picture Study? In order that children may be put in touch with the contribution that each famous artist has made to the world's store of all that is beautiful and worthwhile. Just as Literature introduces us to the thought of the greatest writers, so Picture Study opens the gates to the ideas of the famous artists.
-- Karen Andreola

For more on teaching art appreciation through real books see my book, For the Love of Literature: Teaching Core Subjects with Literature.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Homeschool Tracker

Free homeschool record keeping.

You can also purchase the Cadillac version, but I think the freebie version is good enough.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Stay-at-Home Vs. Work Outside the Home

Back in the day when I only had 3 or 4 children, my husband mentioned one day that things sure would be easier financially if I was still working outside the home. Now, my darling husband was only jesting, but I knew that I had to nip the thought in the bud. I didn't want it to fester and grow into an actual desire. So I sat him down, grab a piece of paper and pencil, and let the mathematician in me go at it.

I wrote down the income that I would likely receive (I was in human resource management, so I made pretty good money). Then I started subtracting all of expenses of working outside of the home.

If finances are getting you down and you are thinking of throwing in the towel on homeschooling, so that you can bring more money into your home, please, please do this exercise. Even if it is just a bad homeschooling day, which happens to the best us, and military school is looking quite attractive for your brood. Sit down and write out how much money it costs to have both parents working, then compare it to the non-monetary rewards of being home with your children.

The first expense I figured in was taxes. My income would have put us into a higher tax bracket and so our tax burden would increase. Then I would have had to buy a car that was actually dependable and could get me to work each day. And there would be private school tuition. Sorry, but I'm one of those people who believes our Christianity should permeate every part of our everyday lives, including our school subjects, and "free" public schools don't offer that. The littles would require daycare and the bigs would need after-school care.

Those are all major expenses. But there are a zillion smaller expenses that add up pretty quickly to significant numbers. First is food. If I am working outside the home, I don't have time to make homemade meals, it'll be prepackaged, prefab fare for my family. And no time to pack lunches for Rob, myself, and the kiddies. It would be McDonalds and cafeteria food for the lot of us. And no time to comparison shop, plan menus, or hit the thrift stores so the food budget explodes.

Speaking of comparison shopping, I wouldn't have time to do so for other items such as clothes so the overall budget has to be expanded. Since I would be working in an office, a whole new wardrobe would be called for. My homeschool uniform of sweats and a T-shirt isn't going to cut it. Of course I can't throw my brand new business suits into the washing machine, so dry cleaning is added to the budget. Then there are pantyhose! I'm torture on pantyhose, so that alone would put my expenses over the top. Oh, and of course I'll need a couple of nice jewelry pieces and new shoes to go with my new suits.

Don't forget all those office collections for birthdays, anniversaries, and for employees who are leaving for better jobs (and we're supposed to buy them a present?). And you can't turn your boss down when he wants to sell you Girl Scout cookies for his sweet little girl, lest you want to be passed over at promotion time.

Most importantly, we must consider the cost to our children's souls. Personally, my number one motivation in homeschooling is to get these children of mine to Heaven. They are gifts from God Himself, and I am going to do my best to raise them for His Kingdom. I am not saying that homeschooling is a cure all, but it sure does make things easier in the purity of heart department.

Finally, let us remember the Scripture:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
-- Matthew 6:19-20.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Is It Always Better to Buy Than to Rent

My husband and I rented our last home for fourteen years. Yes, you heard me right. Fourteen years. Well-meaning friends and family would often chastise us for renting, telling us that we were just throwing away our money.

Is it always better to own than rent? Are you really just throwing away your money when you rent? I would say no. Sometimes it's better to own and sometimes it's better to rent. You need to look at your own personal situation as well as the current economic situation in your geographical area.

In my case, the rent was cheap. Half of our current mortgage. In fourteen years, our landlord only raised our rent once. Yep, only once. We were good tenants and he wanted to keep us. Now, that's not to say that he was the best landlord. He wasn't. It would often take several phone calls to get him motivated to make repairs. But for the most part he wasn't too horrible.

One downside to renting was the inability to decorate my house as I wished or make changes that would have made our lives more comfortable. Plain white walls was all my landlord would allow. If I had owned the house, I would have made some improvements such as a room addition or knocking out a wall or two. Or just put in decent carpet. But really that's a small price to pay for cheap rent. Home owners can paint their walls any color they like, knock out walls, put in gorgeous carpet . . . and they get to pay for it.

When I rented, my landlord paid for repairs. Sure, it took him forever, but it came out of his pocket, not mine. Today, I pay for my own repairs. A recent discovery of a major problem with the structure of our home set us back $4500. I don't even want to think about the cost of the new roof, or the trees that need to be removed, the grading of the driveway, and the boiler repair. But, hey, I can pick my own paint colors!

Today my husband and I own our home. Or do we really? Most Americans have 30-year mortgages. Do they own their own homes? No they don't. The bank owns their homes. A few missed payments and out in the street they go. Down payment and house payments out the window.

We haven't even talked taxes yet. For the privilege of owning my own home I get to give the government a huge chuck of change twice a year in the name of property taxes.

Then there's home owners insurance -- considerably more costly than renters insurance.

Am I saying that I'm sorry I purchased my current home? No, I'm not. This house is our life's dream come true. We're out of the city, surrounded by wildlife, and I can decorate any way I wish. But I still believe that my husband and I were NOT throwing away our money for those fourteen years. By renting and living frugally we were able to save enough to make a very healthy down payment and buy just the right house for our family.

So, the next time someone tells you that you need to buy instead of rent, just nod your head politely and then do what's best for your family. It may be buying and then again it may be renting. I wonder if this country would be in our current financial mess if more people weren't in such a hurry to own their own home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How To Buy a Foreclosed Home

I am often asked about the process we went through in buying our home -- a foreclosure.

First off, when my friends ask me, "So, how do we go about finding foreclosed homes too?" I tell them, "Run! No! Don't go looking for trouble!"

The truth is, the market is sinking. At least here in Michigan. Prices are dropping everywhere, not just on foreclosures. And, you don't need to go looking for foreclosures. We were not looking specifically for foreclosures, but in the area we were house hunting, 75% of the homes we looked at were either foreclosures or in short sale.

A short sale is when the bank tells you that you have to put your house on the market to keep it from foreclosure. It is similar to a foreclosure for the buyer as the bank is in control -- you deal with the bank not the family. For the family it's different from the foreclosure in that their credit is not as badly damaged. We once found ourselves in a terribly uncomfortable situation where the family was heated about not wanting to sell and here we were in their house -- with them across the street looking in at us. When we were done they had a screaming match with our real estate agent because we took an hour and a half instead of an hour to look at the house (we were planning to make an offer).

Before I share how to navigate a foreclosure sale let me say this, "Do NOT pay anyone to find foreclosed properties for you!" You don't need to go looking for them. They'll find you. And remember, in this market a lot of people are ready to price their house to sell. Translation: cheap. So, don't think that a property has to be in foreclosure to get a deal. If a house has been on the market a long time, you have the upper hand in negotiations.

We've found that foreclosed homes come in two varieties. The first is the family who doesn't give a hoot. They don't care about their property and they don't care about their credit. They milk the system for all they can. You'll know their homes -- they're falling apart and not worth a second look. The other scenario is the family who loved their home and took good care of it, but simply fell on hard times. Sometimes their money trouble started because they kept refinancing the house to fix it up. Those homes are the ones you'll be interested in. It's very sad, and I admit feeling guilt walking through foreclosed homes, but there isn't anything you can do. In fact, you may be helping the family by getting their house sold and taking good care of it.

Note that foreclosures are not always a deal. An important thing to remember is that they are almost always "AS IS." There is little to no negotiating once an offer has been accepted. For this reason, as we were later told by one of the bank's employees, you should consider paying for the inspection before placing a bid on the house. Then, when you go to put in your bid, you can include a letter explaining all the serious issues you found and why you offered far less than the asking price. Now you are in a negotiating position.

When dealing with human beings (as opposed to a corporation, i.e. a bank) you would have an inspection and then negotiate should any serious problems pop up. When dealing with a bank, they consider the inspection "for your information only." If you find something seriously wrong in inspection and therefore want to lower your offer, 99% of the time you will need to pull your offer and start all over again with a new offer.

That brings up another problem with dealing with banks. It can take months to get a response to an offer. Months. Three to six months is not unheard of. Though three to six weeks was our experience.

Ask your agent to help you negotiate extras up front. For example, you may want to ask for a one-year home warranty insurance policy on the appliances, etc. With foreclosures you have no history on the house. There are no disclosures because the person who lived in the house is not involved. The bank didn't live in the house so they don't know if the basement leaks after a hard rain or that the stove is on its last leg. The real estate agent should be able to suggest several other negotiable items up front.

Don't be afraid to underbid on a house. Unless you are in a desperate situation and have to find a house today, you are in the driver seat. The worst they can do is say, "No." There are plenty of houses out there. Rob and I put bids on multiple houses and were turned down. But that was a good thing because God was saving a special house just for us. We found the perfect house and got it for 40% less than it sold for four years ago.

What happened was that it was a foreclosure and had sat vacant for two years. There were some big ticket items to be fixed -- the roof and windows -- so it wasn't moving. But the basic construction is rock solid and the property gorgeous. In the end, it was a very good move on our part.

But it wasn't easy. There was some water damage done AFTER our bid had been accepted (the bank's agents didn't winterize it correctly) and we tried to re-negotiate the price. Remember what I said about banks not negotiating. Well, Flagstar bank told us, "No deal. It's 'as is' and that's that." We made the decision to pull the offer. In the end, they negotiated -- just an hour and a half before the scheduled closing! I never want to go through that again.

Then when closing time came, the bank's employee was no where to be found. There was a snafu that could have halted the deal and no one could find the guy. We ended up going forward with the deal, but it cost us an extra $1,000 in property tax. You see the bank employee told us that we would not have to pay the pro-rated property taxes. He was very clear on the phone that the taxes were paid through the summer and that was one thing we didn't have to worry about. That was an important lesson learned -- Get everything in writing!

In summary:
Don't pay someone to find foreclosures for you.
Foreclosures are not the only deals out there.
Foreclosures are "As Is."
Get everything in writing.
Negotiate up front for extras
Consider having the inspection before placing a bid.
Be prepared to wait -- banks don't work quickly.
Don't be a afraid to underbid -- you can always negotiate or move on to the next house.
Pray! Ask God to help you find just the right house.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Retail Me Not / The Teaching Company

If you're planning on making a purchase online, make sure to check for discounts and coupons first. You can do this at Retail Me Not.

If that doesn't work, Google the name of the retailer and something like "promotion code" or "coupon."

Today I made a purchase at The Teaching Company and used a code found at Retail Me Not (CVSC) to get another $20 off of the sales items I purchased. The courses I bought were already 70% off. The shipping and handling was $20, so it was like getting s/h free in addition to a huge discount.

BTW -- If you are interested in The Teaching Company's courses, each and every title goes on sale at least once a year for 70% off. If there is a course I would like to purchase for my homeschool then I wait patiently for it to go on sale. Other options for The Teaching Company? EBay, your public library, and Netflix.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Promotion Code Christian Books

I needed to order some last minute items for the school year from and got an additional 10% off using this promotion code: 251512PA. It's for a minimum order of $35 and it's good to September 30, 2008. Nice deal!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Here is a nice little article on getting started homeschooling in a thrifty way: Thrifty Homeschooling Tips. If you click on the topics in the sidebar, you'll find articles on other thrifty topics such as decorating, travel, and so much more.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homeschool Buyers Co-op

Have you heard about the Homeschool Buyers Co-op yet? It's really very cool. You can get deep discounts if enough homeschoolers participate. For example, I'm looking at the Digital Frog program as I think it may help with Science Olympiad. Right now it's discounted at 20%, but if enough people sign on before the deadline (tomorrow at midnight Eastern) it will be 50%. The great thing is that I can set it up now so that I only make the purchase if it gets down to 50%. Better than e-bay.

Click on What's New to see all the current offerings. Right now there are deals on Explode the Code, Bill Nye videos, Descartes Cove Math, and so very much more.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Recipe: French Bread

Simple Mixer French Bread Recipe

2 packages active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp. of the bulk stuff)
2 1/2 cups warm water (105 to 115)
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
7 c. all-purpose flour (or bread flour)

I like to warm my mixing bowl first by running it under hot water in the sink.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in the warm mixer bowl. Add salt, butter, and flour. Attach the dough hook and mix for a minute or so until the ingredients are all blended. Then knead for for 3 minutes on speed 2. The dough will be sticky.

Put the dough in a greased bowl and turn it to lightly greas the dough all around. Cover with a clean tea towell and let it rise in a warm place until it's doubled in bulk. About an hour.

Punch down the dough and divide in half. Toll each half into a 12x15 rectangle. Roll the dough tightly from longest side, tapering the ends. Place on greased baking sheets. Cover again with clean tea towells. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. About an hour.

With a very sharp knife, either slice one long slice down the middle or 3-4 diagonl cuts on the top of each loaf.

Bake at 450 for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the baking sheets right away and put on your cooling racks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Closeouts Sale and Discount

Book Closeouts is having a big sale. Plus, I have a discount code for you:

Code: BookSale-5
Details: $5 off purchase of $35 or more.
Expires: Jul 31, 2009

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Homeschool Freebies

Homeschool Freebie of the Day

Every weekday, Monday through Friday, we’ll post a new homeschooling “freebie” to this site. What kind of “freebies”? Stuff like: Unit Studies… Ebooks… Audio Programs… Games… Samples… Lesson Plans… classic books… and other quality resources! This is the REAL THING.

Many of these will be products that you would normally pay for on their regular websites… but here on the Homeschool Freebie of the Day site, they’re 100% free… at least for that one day! Just download your copy and enjoy! It’s as simple as that!


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Baby Genius Discount

Wendy's isn't the only fast food restaurant offering discunts to parents. Taco Bell is running a promotion with Baby Genius. If you enter the promotion (discount) code Taco Bell at checkout, you'll get a 20% discount and a free music download. This offer runs from 5/01/08 to 10/31/08.

Discount on Audio Books

Wendy's is currently offering free audio books with their Kid's Meals. You can get one of four Magic Tree House books with each meal. In addition, Wendy's has partnered with Random House to offer you 25% off of audio books online and free shipping. This offer is good until October 1, 2008 and is limited to one title per household.

If you go to and use the promotion (discount) code wendys at checkout, you'll get the discount and free shipping.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Recipe: Basic White Bread

KitchenAid Basic White Bread
Source: Kitchen Aid Mixers and Attachments Book

1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, 105f - 115f
5-6 cups all purpose flour

Combine milk, sugar, salt and butter in small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in warmed bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture and 4 1/2 cups flour.

Attach bowl and dough hook. Turn to speed 2 and mix 1 minute.

Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough clings to hook and cleans sides of bowl. Knead on Speed 2 for 2 minutes longer, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dough will be slightly sticky to the touch.

Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down and divide in half,. Shape each half into a loaf and place in a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pan. Cover; let rise in warm place free from draft, until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake at 400F for 30 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

Friday, July 25, 2008

YouTube: Easy Crusty Hand Made Bread

Very easy. No need to knead.

Note to my friend Tammy: Lucas can eat this -- no sugar!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Recipe: Challah Bread

My children love this bread. They were appalled once when we took it to a friend's house and they sliced it. Too civil. We put it in the center of the dinner table and they tear it apart. Much more fun that way.

Again, I usually double the recipe. Just assume from here on out that any recipe for one loaf, I double or triple.

Challah Bread
aka Braided Bread

3/4 c. water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 1/2 tsp. yeast
1 egg
2 Tbsp. softened butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 to 4 cups bread flour
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. cold water
1 Tbsp. poppy seed

1. Mix water and yeast. Set aside to poof for 5 minutes.
2. Combine egg, butter, sugar, and salt. Stir in yeast mixture. Gradually add in flour to form a soft dough.
3. Knead on low for 5 minutes with the kneading hook in the mixer.
4. Put the dough into a greased bowl and let rise to double it's size. About one hour.
5. Turn dough out onto floured surface and divide into 3 equal parts. Roll each piece into a 13-inch rope. Place ropes close together on greased cookie sheet and braid gently and loosely (do not stretch). Pinch ends to seal. Tuck ends under twist.
6. Cover and let rise in warm place until double. About 30 to 45 minutes.
7. Heat oven to 375.
8. Mix egg yolk and cold water. Brush over braid and sprinkle with poppy seeds. (Could substitute sesame seeds.)
9. Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Great bread to serve on Easter or Trinity Sunday.

Really delicious with Almond Butter (see recipe below).

Bread Machine Version:
Use just 3 1/4 flour. Measure ingredients carefully and place them into the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough/manual cycle. Remove dough and pick up the above directions at step 5.

Hand Kneaded Version:
Hand knead approximately 15 minutes instead of placing into the mixer.
Note: You can replace one cup of the white flour with whole wheat if you prefer a healthier bread.

Recipe: Sweet Almond Butter:
1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter
2 Tbsp. finely chopped unblanched almonds
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Mix all ingredients together.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recipe: Twisted Roasted Garlic Bread

I love roasted garlic and I love this recipe. I usually double it. It's a very soft bread. If you only like hard, crusty bread you'll want skip this recipe.

Twisted Roasted Garlic Bread
with Pesto Variation

2 Tbsp. roasted garlic
1 1/4 tsp. yeast
1 c. water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 c. bread flour
1 c. whole-wheat flour

1. Mix water and yeast and set aside for 5 minutes to poof.
2. Combine oil, sugar, and salt. Stir in yeast mixture. Gradually add in flour to form a soft dough.
3. Knead on low for 3 minutes with the kneading hook in the mixer.
4. Put the dough into a greased bowl and let rise to double it's size. About one hour.
5. Turn dough out onto floured surface and divide into 2 equal parts. Roll each piece into a 13-inch rope. Place ropes close together on greased cookie sheet and twist gently and loosely (do not stretch). Pinch ends to seal. Tuck ends under twist.
6. Cover and let rise in warm place until double. About 30 minutes.
7. Heat oven to 375. Bake about 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Variation: Use prepared pesto instead of roasted garlic. Excellent with an Italian dinner.

Bread Machine Version:
Measure ingredients carefully and place them into the bread machine pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select dough/manual cycle.
Remove dough and pick up the above directions at step 5.

Hand Kneaded Version:
Hand knead approximately 10 minutes instead of placing into the mixer.

Note: You can skip the whole-wheat flour and use all white if you prefer.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Converting Bread Recipes, Part Three

Since I'm planning on sharing some of my favorite recipes over the next week or two I better share how to convert my KitchenAid bread making recipes to your bread machine or to hand kneading.

First . . .
Converting Mixer Bread Recipes to Hand Kneading
This is very simple. All you have to remember is that 1 minute of kneading in the mixer is equal to 12 minutes by hand. So, if the mixer recipe states 3 minutes of kneading, then you do it by hand for 36 minutes. Everything else in the recipe can remain the same.

Converting Mixer and Traditional Bread Recipes to a Bread Machine
With a bread machine baking, you simply put the ingredients into the machine as recommended in the owner's manual. With a traditional loaf you would just press the start (or similar) button.

If you are making something special like braided bread, french bread, etc., you would press the dough (or similar) button. Take out the dough and follow the instructions after the first rise -- usually this would include: punch it down, shape, and let rise again before putting into the oven.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Converting Bread Recipes, Part Two

Converting Old Fashioned Bread Recipes to the KitchenAid or Other Mixer

From the KitchenAid website:

Refer to your use and care manual for kneading time and speed guidelines. In general, 1 minute of kneading in the mixer is equal to 12 minutes by hand. Do not exceed Speed 2 when preparing yeast dough, as this may cause damage to the mixer. Always turn the stand mixer off before putting on and taking off attachments.

That's really all there is to it. Follow the recipe as is, except when it comes time to knead, you'll put your kneading hook on the mixer and spend much less time at the task of kneading.

Though 12 minutes seems like a lot to me. I'd say the ratio is more like 5 to 1. Usually, you knead with the mixer about 3 to 5 minutes.

You can also mix your ingredients in the electric mixer instead of by hand. I just use the kneading hook to save the extra step of using and washing the paddle attachment. Works fine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Converting Bread Recipes, Part One

There are basically three ways to mix your bread dough: by hand, with a mixer, and with a bread machine.

Because of a medical condition, mixing by hand is difficult for me. I once owned a bread machine but hated the way the bread came out. I used it only for mixing the dough. More recently, I purchased a Kitchen Aid mixer and love it. This means converting my old recipes to fit my new mixer.

It's really very simple to do. You just need to keep in mind the differences between these methods. Each day for the next few days, I'll post about converting recipes one way or the other. For today:

Converting Bread Baking Recipes From Bread Machine to the Kitchen Aid
Bread machines tend to have the beginning steps backwards, depending on the model. They start with the liquid, followed by the dry ingredients, ending with the yeast. Then you set it to mix and bake.

To convert to a mixer recipe, first start with your liquid (remember: 105 to 115 degrees!), yeast, and sugar. Stir. I like to let it "poof" before going on. Poofing is just letting the mixture sit for 5 minutes. You'll see it bubble on top. That tells you the yeast is alive and working.

Now add in the salt and any other ingredients. Only add about 3/4 of your flour. Mix with the kneading hook on low, slowly adding the rest of the flour in 1/4 c. increments. The reason for this is that humidity has a lot to do with how much flour you need. You'll know you have enough flour when the dough starts looking stiff and pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl. Don't worry, after you bake bread with the mixer 2 or 3 times you'll be an expert at seeing when the dough is ready.

Knead on low for 3 minutes after it's all mixed. Your speed should be set to 1 or 2. Never, ever, knead on a speed higher than 2 on your Kitchen Aid Mixer.

Grease a big bowl (personally, I use an old plastic pitcher -- I'll post more about that another day) and place your dough into it. Roll the dough around so that it's greased also. This keeps it from drying out as it rises. Cover with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap. If you use plastic wrip spray with cooking spray.

Place in a warm place to rise until it's double in size. How long this takes will depend on how warm it is. Could be 30 to 60 minutes. Once doubled, punch it down. Shape into a loaf and place into a greased loaf pan or baking sheet. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise until double.

Bake at 350 until brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Probably about 30 minutes.

Bread machine recipes are single loaf recipes. A great downfall, imo, of bread machines. Why heat up your oven for just one loaf. If you do a week's worth of loaves at one time you'll save energy. You can double or triple the bread machine recipe when you convert it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Italian Spaghetti Sauce

My friend Lori writes:

I was excited to see the Tomato sauce recipe on your blog. You really got the recipe written down very well.

When you make your spaghetti sauce, start with a little olive oil in your pot. Add your garlic to saute until it turns a little brown but not burnt. Add your puree in. Then throw your herbs in like oregano, basil, and salt and cook for only about one hour. That's the way Mama Baldino does it. If you like meat sauce, add your ground beef in right after you brown the garlic and brown then continue as follows.

I misplaced the DVD I made at my mom's the day we canned, I wanted to put it on YouTube and when I find it I will and you will get a laugh or two.

Thanks again Lori!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Right Temp

When I first tried to bake my own bread all those years ago, I failed again and again. The problem was the yeast.

The first thing you need to invest in if you'll be baking bread is a cooking thermometer. Your liquid, whether it be water or milk, should be at a temperature of 105 to 115. If the liquid is hotter or colder then it will kill the yeast.

I also fill my metal mixing bowl with hot water. I pour out the water and dry just before getting to work. This warms the bowl nicely for the yeast.

Catholic Spotlight Interview

I was interviewed on the Catholic Spotlight this week about homeschooling. Catholic Spotlight is an internet radio show sponsored by The Catholic Company that interviews top Catholic authors and artists. You can find my interview at You can listen online or on your MP3 player.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Recipe: Pizza Crust / Bread Sticks

I'm planning a series of posts on bread making. Since I'm making bread sticks for dinner tonight, I'll start with that recipe. Actually, it's my favorite recipe for pizza crust that I'm converting to bread sticks. Thank you to my friend Julie who first shared this recipe with me.

1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 1/2 c. warm milk ( 105 to 110 degrees)
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. butter (melted)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. cornmeal
3 to 4 c. flour

Combine ingredients, kneading in the last of the flour. Knead until smooth. Cover and allow to rise until double. Roll into 2 crusts or bread sticks. Bake at 400 until dough is golden brown.

-- I like to use bread flour but all-purpose is okay.
-- I use a Kitchen Aid mixer. I slowly add the last cup of flour until the dough stops sticking to the sides of the bowl. The amount of flour used will depend on the humidity. Then I knead on low for 3 minutes.
-- You can replace 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour for a healthier crust.
-- For bread sticks, I like to roll them long and thin, then brush them with garlic butter.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bulk Price: For the Love of Literature

I'm currently offering a special bulk price for purchasers of For the Love of Literature. (If you'd like to buy individual books, please see my website or contact your favorite bookseller.)

If you take orders for For the Love of Literature on behalf of your homeschool support group and friends, I'll give you a nice deal. If you order ten or more books it's only $11.50 per copy of For the Love of Literature, all autographed, plus $1.00 per book for Priority Shipping (to a single address). I can take PayPal, including credit cards, or checks.

If you'd like to substitute The Catholic Homeschool Companion to make up your 10 or more books, I can offer those for a 10% discount at $22.50 per autographed book. Again, only $1.00 per book for Priority Shipping. (That's pretty cheap for a 500 page book!)

For the person taking the order, I'll add a FREE copy of the audio CD Catholic Homeschooling 101 while supplies last.

Just drop me an email to set it up.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Adoremus Discount Code

Adoremus Books is offering a discount for online orders. Use Discount Code AOB88 for 10% off entire order and FREE shipping. This code is good till 9/1/2008.

For the Love of Literature is their current featured book at the website. I've had the opportunity to meet the owners of Adoremus at a number of homeschooling conferences and they run a great business. Their customer service is top-notch. They sell loads of homeschoooling titles in addition to their Catholic line of books.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Baldino's Homemade Tomato Puree

It's time to start thinking about canning again. If your summer bounty includes tomatoes, I have the best canning recipe for you! This comes from my friend Lori, straight from Italy. It is so simple and tastes incredibly fresh when you open a jar six months later.

1. Wash your tomatoes very well.

2. Core the tomato and, with your hand, squeeze the excess water and seeds out of the tomato. Throw into a pot or bucket. (I throw the seeds and water into the compost pile.)

3. When you have a full pot, begin to cook the tomatoes until they come to a boil and the tomato has broken down. Remember to stir often so the tomato doesn't burn at the bottom of the pot.

4. Place a flour sack cloth (not a cheese cloth!) in the colander. Put the colander over another large pot. (Note: I've found the flour sack cloth at Meijer as well as Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Linens and Things or even WalMart might have them too. It's worth looking for them. OR just click here: Kaf Home White Flour Sack Clothes 4)

5. Begin to put the boiled tomatoes into the lined colander so the liquid can drain out. You also have to help the liquid come out by gathering the sides of the cloth and twist and squeeze. Do this until most of the liquid, not all, is gone.

6. Remove the extracted tomatoes and continue with the next amount of tomatoes.

7. When you are finished extracting all the water from all tomatoes, you will begin to put them through a tomato pulp grinder. This will make the pulp come out one side and the seeds/peel out the other side.

8. You are now ready to can and process the puree. Make sure your jars are clean, sterile, and free of cracks.

9. Fill your jars with the puree. Make sure the rings of the jars are clean from any spilled sauce. After you are through with this process, you may begin to put sterilized lids and rings on them. (Optional: Place a fresh basil leaf or two in the bottom of the jar before filling with the puree.)

10. Now it's time to process. Fill your canning pot with your jars and completely cover with water. Put on the lid and bring to a boil. Process for 40 minutes.

That's it. I did two bushels of Roma (plum) tomatoes last year and will never can tomato sauce any other way again. This year I'm planning on four or five bushels as I ran out of the sauce just a few months into the year. To make spaghetti sauce, I just open a jar, warm the sauce (puree) on the stove with some fresh Italian herbs. It's absolutely delish! You'll never want Ragu again.

Lori makes this an annual event with her mother and siblings. They order a couple dozen bushels of organic plum tomatoes well in advance. Lori recommends putting on your old clothes and work outside.

UPDATE: Lori's recipe for Italian Spaghetti Sauce

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gas Buddy

Learn where to find the cheapest gas as well learn some gas saving tips at Gas Buddy.