Free Midwinter Virtual Conference

Thanks to Homeschool Connections (your source for great online classes taught by excellent, faithful Catholics), you can look forward to a

FREE Midwinter Virtual Conference

Webinars begin on January 17th – I can’t wait to hear Nancy Brown bring Chesterton into a discussion finding levity in homeschooling.

We are facing our burnout seasons – make plans to head off the winter doldrums and ruts we are in.

Online Catholic Homeschool Webinars

Do you need a boost / a shot in the arm / a bit of encouragement? Some of us are blessed to have local or semi local Catholic homeschool conferences to look forward. The speakers help to encourage us and stretch us and comfort us. So, what if that is not available in your area (Find Catholic Homeschool Conferences) or what if you just really need some help right now?

I have an answer – free or very low cost online seminars from noted members of the Catholic homeschool community. How about a free 1.5 hour conference from Mary Kay Clark (Seton) on “What is Homeschooling?”

Or, how about some ideas on “Organizing Your Classroom 101” from Maureen Whittmann, Catholic homeschooling author of:

I am very excited to be able to pass this information along. Things to note: some of the seminars are interactive, some cost a small amount, and you have to download a special piece of software to listen to the seminars. I imagine then that you cannot simply pop a recording onto your MP3 player.

Please post back and let me know what you think of the seminars.

Oh, I nearly forgot to give you the links:

Current and Upcoming Webinars

Previously Recorded Webinars

Practical Time and Labor Saving Gifts in the Kitchen

So, none of these item will leave you gasping for breath if you receive them as a gift. But, at least for me, they have become treasured items – and – I remember with great fondness those that gave them to me.

  1. This is a wonderful way to make loads of pancakes in a short period of time. I can crank out 12 pancakes every couple of minutes so all of us can eat hot pancakes within a reasonable amount of time. The downside is that it is a large item and can be difficult to store. I use it at least twice a week. We make extra pancakes to go in the freezer and be served individually for breakfast. Also, it is wonderful for making a large number of grilled sandwiches – especially grilled cheese. Use a couple of tablespoons of real butter, slap some bread and cheese and more bread and in a few minutes, you have enough sandwiches to serve everyone.
  2. This is the second large waffle maker that I have owned. The first was finally donated when I received this one (because I complained about the original one). It was worth spending a bit more because this one has variable heat control. I found that when I made whole wheat waffles, the normal setting on the cheaper model would over cook them. With this model, I can set it to to a lower temperature and get perfect waffles every time. Now, my particular model is a bit older, so you cannot use it as a griddle – I would probably like that a bit better just because I imagine clean up is easier since you can remove the plates. Anyway, once again, we can make a huge number of waffles in a short period of time – and – it is great for marathon waffle making sessions. We lay the finished waffles on a cookie sheet to freeze and then place in a zipper bag in the freezer for self serve breakfasts.
  3. With a large family, I am always looking for ways to stretch a meal. Logically, rice should be a familiar staple in our household, but unfortunately, I am unable to cook a decent pot of rice. Distractions reign in my home and add in a dash of impatience and then I’m left with an unpleasant lump of sticky, overcooked mush. All of this changed when I stumbled on this fairly cheap little appliance. Oh, and I have to mention, I really hate adding appliances to my kitchen. I find it distressing to try and store things that are only used once a week or even less frequently. But, with the advent of my conversion to using a rice cooker, I find that we are able to have rice two to three times a week now and I am happy to have this appliance sit on my counter. I now use rice in dishes like enchiladas to stretch the meat, and in soups for that lovely texture. And, I have not overcooked a pot since. My rice comes out perfectly every time, without fail.
  4. One more favorite after our Easter fiasco of hard boiling eggs – yes if I were to take the time to do it as directed I would not have a pot full of broken eggs, but I am terribly impatient, so this egg cooker is another treasured part of my kitchen gadgetry. I am able to perfectly hard boil 8 eggs in 20 minutes with no broken shells, no overcooked eggs – just beautiful. One small problem, while it cooks up to 4 soft boiled eggs perfectly in the additional tray, it is very difficult to clean. The surface appears to be non-stick, but no amount of butter or oil spray keeps the eggs from sticking. They come out with the yolks intact, but there is a bit of a mess to clean up.

What’s for supper?

I am using this post as a way to keep track of the recipes that I’ve tried and my family actually enjoys. With eight children, that is no small feat! Please note that the recipes are approximates, I don’t really measure much except when I bake. And, once again, self disclosing, there are assorted children who will not eat certain meals. So, I let them opt for peanut butter and jelly. I know other families do this differently, I just do not have the energy to fight the battle over more than a single bite of everything. I have seen the tastebuds of my family mature as they get older, even with the boys who are particularly picky. So, we will see in about ten years if I have a family that will eat a wide variety of food.

Chicken Parmigiana ~
Chicken Enchiladas in Cheese Sauce ~
Mediterranean Chicken ~
Super Bowl Nachos ~
Beer Brats
02/14/08 – Chicken Parmigiana – Tonight’s meal was another hit. I dirtied up a few too many pots and pans – but the extra cleaning involved was worth it. I used a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes. I tossed them with a cup of flour in a plastic bag, poured them in hot oil and panned fried until they were crispy. In the mean time, I made a simple tomato sauce – large can of sauce with a can of stewed tomatoes and assorted seasonings including onions and garlic – just typical sauce. I prepared a half a package of angel hair pasta and got out some mozarella cheese and we were ready to assemble. Throw the pasta in the bottom of a 9X13 pan, top with tomato sauce, add chicken and then finish it off with a layer of cheese. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. If you want to stretch the meal since chicken – well – really any kind of meat – can become expensive, you can cube the chicken up a bit smaller and cook more pasta and divide over two 9X13 inch pans. Still tastes great.

02/13/08 – Chicken Enchiladas – My most picky eater actually asks for this dish. I think it is the sour cream in the cheese sauce that makes it a hit for all eight kids – plus us grownups. Start with a pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts – you can either poach the chicken in water or fry in a pan, but let it cook and then shred the meat. Return to the pan and add a can of Rotele – yes – my favorite, name brand condiment and cook until the liquid has evaporated. In the meantime, add 1 1/2 cups of cheese – a blend of mozarella and cheddar is fine – or even just cheddar along with a few tablespoons of flour and 8 ounces of sour cream, slowly heat until the cheese has complete melted. Warm up a pile of torillas (my family prefers flour instead of corn) so they are soft and easy to roll up. Place a generous spoonful of chicken in the middle of the tortilla, roll up and place seam side down in a 9X13 inch pan that has been sprayed lightly with oil. I can squeeze about 16 tortillas in the pan. Then simply pour the cheese sauce over the tortillas and pop in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

01/28/08 – Mediterranean Chicken with risotto – In an attempt to lose weight this summer, I tried the Sonoma diet. Well, it was not an effective weight loss diet for me – mostly because the food was soooo good. But, I did learn how to put together some nice tastes and use my bucket loads of tomatoes. Now, in the winter tomatoes are pricey and generally flavorless, but I did happen upon an nicely priced container of grape tomatoes at Trader Joes – ok, another asides, they have some of the nicest speciality items and organic products at prices I can afford once in a while. I chopped up a whole chicken into pieces along with an onion and four cloves of garlic and half a container of the grape tomatoes, and tossed the whole mixture with 1/4 of a cup of olive oil, some sea salt, freshly ground pepper and a bit of fresh rosemary. After placing the chicken in a 9X13 pan, I took about 2 ounces of feta cheese and crumbled it over the chicken, threw it in a 400 degree oven and backed for about 45 minutes to one hour. The only thing I wished I could have added was about 1/4 of a cup of an olive tamponade that I found at our local Trader Joes. The price is better than buying a jar of kalamata olives and it is so much easier to use and keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. I had about 8 ounces of risotto left, so I cooked it according to the directions on the package with two chicken boullion cubes, some garlic powder (hey I ran out of time), Italian seasonings and a tablespoon of butter. It is only the second time I have prepared risotto and I found I had to constantly stir it to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

o1/27/08 – Superbowl Nachos – This meal was inspired by Rachel Ray – yes – the girls and I watch a lot of the cooking channel. Again, it was a Superbowl show. She had made a healthy chicken chili, but I opted for the handy ground beef. So, I fried up a pound of ground beef (ours if grass fed, very lean) with a half an onion and 2 small chorizo sausages removed from the casing. Once it was cooked, I added a package of taco mix and a can of Mild Rotel – not to get too off track, but this nifty little item has really jazzed up a number of my dishes including chili. I let that cook down, and then a put a thin layer of shredded cheese in the bottom of 9X13 pan. I threw the meat mixture on top of that and then added about 1/2 of an 8 ounce container of sour cream in dollops over the top of the meat. Semi-crushed corn chips were added as the next layer. Finally, another layer of shredded cheese was added to the top. I baked it in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes – basically, until the cheese was a bit browned and melted. Everyone truly enjoyed this dish – it was such an easy way of making nachos and by putting the meat on the bottom, the chips stayed nice and crisp through the entire meal.

01/26/08 – Brats cooked in beer w/ grilled onions and green peppers – oh my gosh, we’ve had grilled brats before, but this was simply the best. I watched Paula Dean’s Superbowl program for the idea. I took a package of brats, simmered them gently in one can of beer. As they were simmering, I sliced up one large sweet onion and a large green pepper and cooked them on my large griddle w/ a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once they were softened, I threw them in with the brats and cooked down the whole mixture for about 15 minutes – the liquid had disappeared. Then, I took the entire pan and dropped it back on the griddle to crisp all of it up. I grilled the hotdog buns and threw it all together with a big bag of chips. Not an especially healthy dinner, but fun!

Laundry Anyone?

Ok, on all the general homeschool lists I belong to, laundry is a common topic that comes up often. So, I am going to share the system that works for my family. First of all, I have confess that I am not a laundry zealot. I do not fold underwear nor can I remember the last time I ironed anything (hey, isn’t that what the wrinkle release spray is for?). Furthermore, most of my children’s clothing is well loved (i.e. hand me downs), so I do not have “issues” with colors bleeding onto whites.

After having one to many mountains of laundry, I had to find a different way to cope. I enlisted all the children in the sorting of laundry, but since I found it such a distasteful job and overwhelming to boot, I postponed doing the laundry until I had several loads of whites to do, multiple loads of colors and then of course towels and sheets added in.

The kids all tried to be helpful to begin with, but the mountains of laundry invariably led them to decide (well it was mostly the little boys) that it needed to conquered. So, as socks were flying to each child’s pile, someone would take the initiative to climb the mountain of clothes and then the true bedlam began.

At this time, I had been “flying” ala my modified FlyLady – so I decided that the kids were old enough to be responsible for their own laundry. So, I found a set of plastic shelving and 7 laundry baskets (the 2 youngest boys where the same size) that would fit on the shelves and we began.

Dirty clothes had to be put in each of their individual baskets – this eliminated the need to sort laundry. I experienced, a major epiphany (a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience)

When the basket is full, the child places laundry soap and color safe whitener and washes their clothes and then places them in the dryer. If someone complains about not having clothes to wear – the short answer is “do your laundry”.

In addition, I pair up the older children with the younger ones and they assist in measuring the laundry detergent and moving the wet clothes to the dryer. They also lend assistance in getting the clothes in the drawers.

Ok, this is the next thing I have to ‘fess up over. I have given them folding lessons, but their drawers do not look perfect … it’s ok for me. It might not work for you, but it does for me.

The final key to the laundry solution was offered on one of my favorite homeschool lists. She uses the same system and suggested that when they do their basket of laundry, have them throw their towel and sheets in at the same time.

Now, if you need, you can have two baskets for each child, one for colors and one for whites. As I stated ealier, I have no concerns over colors bleeding into whites. Once in a while I may run a load of white soaks to get the last traces of Georgia red clay out. But for the most part, the detergent and color-safe whitener seems sufficient. And, since we run the clothes on hot (remember nothing is new or shrinkable – hey we live in the south and have no sweaters!), I feel like all the germs are washed / killed.

The magic of a clean kitchen sink

I stumbled on to when I was pregnant with my fourth child. My house was in a shambles – I had 3 babies 3 and under and expecting my 4th. I really wasn’t homeschooling as the kids were still very young, but I knew we were going to homeschool.

One morning, things came to head – I had been nursing a baby, my oldest son was playing with a friend outside and the doorbell rang. Rushing to the door, I threw it open expecting to find my son. Well, it wasn’t my son, but a neighbor who stopped by – and I was not in a state of dress appropriate for answering the door – and it was nearly noon. I was mortified.

I knew things had to change. A friend had mentioned FlyLady and that led me to an internet quest and six years later, I have a house that while not picture perfect is acceptable for company that might want to drop in. And, I am always dressed as soon as I get up – well except for the week I give myself after having a baby. I have permission to laze around in a nightgown and robe and focus on establishing the newborn nursing relationship.

So, what did FlyLady do for me? Well, she broke up household management into tiny steps – one of the first being to get dressed and put on shoes in the morning. Another important step is to go to bed leaving the kitchen sink clean and sparkling.

I have to say, that there seems to be something magical that happened when I started clearing the kitchen sink. The clean seemed to expand in a circle from the kitchen. The reality is that I simply started to develop house cleaning routines. I was able to face my problem head on. Prior to FlyLady, I did not clean until I realized something was dirty. And, when I started to clean, I didn’t want to stop until the entire house / job was complete – hours and hours later generally. Then the vicious circle kicked in. The next time I finally realized that the bathroom was dirty – I was nearly paralyzed with the fact that it was going to take hours to finish and therefore did not want to even begin.

FlyLady helped me to break up housekeeping into “zones” and small steps – generally 5 – 15 minutes at a time. And, I had permission to stop at the end of the time period. And, since we worked on a zone a week and there was a weekly “houseblessing” there was never a huge crisis cleaning awaiting me.

Last year, I took FlyLady to the next step – I assigned my older children their own zone in the downstairs. The zones rotate each week – the living room being the least favorite since it is the area that the babies drag out all their toys. They are responsible for dusting and windows and floor cleaning and the daily toy / trash pickup for that zone. In the kitchen, the zone person will unload the dishes and ensure that the table is cleaned off after each meal. I have no arguments over who is responsible for cleaning up or having heated discussions over whose turn it is to do the dishes or clear the table. And, the zone only lasts a week!

Finally, one of the most important lessons FlyLady taught me was to tackle my clutter. Clutter is a killer to my home. Clutter and the need to hold on to “things” with the idea that I might use them at a later date interferes with my peace. I have pared down clothing and towels and books and papers. I have places in my house were there are not “things” on the walls and on the floor so that my eyes my find a place to “rest” … to not be stimulated.

My system isn’t perfect and I know so many other lovely mothers whose house are in much better shape. But, I finally have peace … and the ability to have company drop in unexpectedly!