Thursday, January 28, 2016

Homeschoolopoly: Making a Game of our Homeschool Routine

I am relatively new to this homeschooling adventure. I started doing online schooling with my daughter last Spring and this Fall we decided to online educate/homeschool both kids. So really, I'm more-or-less a first time homeschooling mom with a 4th grader and a 6th grader. It's not the age and stage the average person finds themselves homeschooling for the first time. But alas, here I am.

Can I just say it isn't always easy?

I feel like I've spent so much time just trying to figure out and establish rules and routines. Then I find that something isn't working, so I throw it out. And we try something new. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I was talking with a dear mama friend at a local coffee shop the other day. She's in a similar boat to me but she's way more structured than I am, so I was delighted to pick her brain about what's working for her and her family. In the midst of this conversation I got an idea in my head that I couldn't let go of. It took me a while to flush out the details, but I'll let you take a peek at my beta-test version of our new family board game: Homeschoolopoly!
The idea here is that you move around the board clockwise, but you follow continuous lines in order, and you roll the dice to determine the order of things that are represented by a line with arrows at both ends as explained in the bottom right corner of the board.

I saved my 12X12 board as a JPEG in Publisher
and sent it to Costco to get it printed out. 
First thing in the morning my kids are expected to get up by 7:10, get dressed, eat breakfast, do their morning jobs and get their school stuff out for the day. If they have that accomplished and they're ready to start at 8:00 a.m. then they get to enjoy some privileges. For us that includes bringing a stuffed animal to school, getting to enjoy music throughout the day, and having the freedom to "move about the cabin" during the day instead of being stuck doing their work at their desk or the table. I should note, however, that some of our subjects are music free and need to be completed at a desk or table, so being ready by 8:00 a.m. doesn't give them complete freedom in these areas.

I was just trying to find a way to motivate my kids to get up, get going, and get ready on their own accord.

Once they've gotten ready for their day they start with Bible and Cursive while a history timeline song plays in the background. Then they move on to math. My youngest also completes a "Jump Start" page, front and back. It's basically just a skills update worksheet that covers some math, handwriting and basic language arts.

This is the perfect place for fines, loose change
and other random goodies. I think it's my
 kids' favorite reward!
After math they are free to roll the dice to see what's next. They complete that subject then roll the dice to see what's next and repeat until lunch time.

Right after lunch they need to finish anything from the morning that wasn't complete, but after that they can move on to "specials" for whatever time remains in the afternoon, rolling the dice to see what's next.

You will notice that there are four spots on the board for cards. We've turned old playing cards into four different categories of cards that are used throughout the day.

Congratulations cards are given out as a reward. I've given them out for anything from good attitudes, to school work or chores well done. I've also used them as bribery incentives to transition quickly, to choose to be active during their break times, to getting me a bowl of cereal (hey, why not?), etc. Basically, I use them to encourage behavior I want to reinforce. 
Consequence cards are used mainly to correct attitudes or behaviors. So far we've had a need to copy down dictionary words such as "cheat", "accomplice" and "priorities". Sometimes a student isn't quite ready to start work as evidenced by their attitude so they get an opportunity to work off some steam by completing some tasks prior to starting or getting back to work. 
Choice cards ensure that I never hear the words, "I'm bored" again. These cards give my children some direction for the chunk of time between when school ends and dinner begins. Some of these cards are a great reminder for them to pull out things that they enjoy, but tend to neglect or forget about. 
Chore cards are drawn at a few points during the day. They help the household run smoothly, but it also gives my kids a little break here and there where they have to get up and get moving. Most of these chores can be done in 5 minutes or less. 
Sometimes the cards are used right away, and sometimes they are saved for later, it just depends on the card drawn and where we are at in our day. We discard the used cards until the whole stack has been cycled through. My kids are really enjoying the surprise elements of this game, while I really enjoy the flexibility. If one of the cards isn't working for us I can just remove it from the deck. If I think of something else I want to include, I can just add it in. If I don't want them to complete a subject that day I can just cover it up or add a marker to that spot so they skip over it when they are playing the game. 

It's like structured chaos. 

That's how I roll.

This is what the board looked like just before lunch today. The buttons show what Leeann has completed and the Lego parts and weapons show Titus's progress. 

We are really enjoying making this game part of our homeschool routine. Our family loves board games so this feels like a natural and fun solution to our search for a routine that will actually work for our family and our life of structured chaos. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Little Mermaid Cake

Look at this stuff
Isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think my collection's complete?
Wouldn't you think I'm the girl
The girl who has everything?
Look at this trove
Treasures untold
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here you think
Sure, she's got everything
I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore
You want things of above?
I've got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Red and Black Wedding Cake with Cascading Flowers


This cake has a 14" chocolate pound cake base with a chocolate ganache buttercream filling, and a 10" and 6" white cake with a cinnamon buttercream filling.


It is finished with a rustic buttercream icing finish. And can I just say, it weighed a TON. I could hardly twist it, let alone pick it up. I’m so grateful for my husband’s willingness to be my personal cake delivery man. I quite literally could not have done this one without him!


And this is me with one of my creations. I sure have enjoyed learning a little bit more with each cake I’ve done. I can’t imagine how people learned all the ins and outs and tips and tricks before blogs, online forums and Youtube. I still find myself Googling a great deal of questions during each of my baking sessions. I am grateful that so many people take the time to share their knowledge with the rest of us. Maybe someday I’ll get some “official” training, but in the mean time I’m enjoying trying my hand at different techniques as I continue to learn the fine art of baking from others via the world wide web.

If you’re a baker, what resources have you found to be most helpful in your own learning process? I’m always open to learning new things!  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies!

*Recipe Updated 3/8/15*

This happened in my kitchen.


This face says it all:


The nutty taste of browned butter folded in to a slightly chewy, yet a tad-bit crispy, perfectly browned chocolate chip cookie is amazing…


Add in a variety of chocolate chips and chocolate chocolate chunks…


But don’t stop there. Throw in some caramel bits.


And sprinkle the cookies with a sea salt and raw sugar mixture.


Pair these cookies with milk, a sunny winter day, and a new Lego magazine. Does life get any better than this?


Brown Butter Salted Caramel

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Cookie

*Note, because this recipe uses brown butter, the cookie dough NEEDS 12-24 hours to chill before baking. To test readiness before the 24 hour mark, bake one cookie. If it it spreads too much, it still needs more chill time.*

  • 2 cups + 2 TBS. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup brown butter, cooled (If this is your first time making brown butter, hop on over to The Kitchn for IMG_3130detailed instructions)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, I prefer dark)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 & 1/2 cups total chocolate baking chips. I used 1/2 cup each of mini chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chunks. 
  • 1 cup of Kraft caramel bits 

    *Pictured here are my baking chips for a double batch.

    The Sweet and Salty Topping

  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt                                                          *Pictured here are my baking chips for a double batch.
  • 1 tablespoon raw (turbino) sugar (optional)

    The Nitty Gritty

    Mix the cooled (but not cold!), melted butter and sugars in your stand mixer on medium speed until well-combined. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and continue beating about 2-3 minutes.

    IMG_3132Slowly add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed until the mixture is fully combined. Scrape sides and beat until mixture is light and creamy.

    Add in the baking soda, baking powder and salt. Beat until combined. Scrape sides and bottom and beat again for 1 minute. 

    Add in the chocolate chips and caramel bits on stir speed until just combined, ensuring that the different types of baking chips get distributed well. 

    Finally, turn to stir speed and add flour a little at a time. Mix until just combined.

    Here’s where the torturous part comes in. Either, put some plastic wrap over the bowl itself and stick it in the fridge for 24-72 hours, OR, scoop cookie dough balls out while the mixture is still easy to scoop, and place the balls of dough on a tray in the fridge. If you don’t have enough time to let the dough chill fully, pre-scooping will get the dough thoroughly cooled more quickly. In my opinion, it’s just plain easier to do the scooping first.IMG_3134 Either way though, if you don’t let them chill thoroughly, they will just melt on your cookie sheet and look like a big sloppy mess!

    Ready to Bake

    Preheat Oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

    Scoop the cookie dough out onto baking sheets and let it sit out at room temperature while the oven preheats. They spread a little better if they don’t come straight out of the fridge or freezer. Rather, let them sit out 10-20 minutes.

    Bake on the center rack for approximately 9 minutes or until the edges begin to lightly brown.  

    Take the cookies out of the oven and immediately sprinkle them with the sea salt and raw sugar blend (or just sea salt if you don’t have any raw sugar on hand). Let them cool slightly (5-10 minute) before transferring them to a cooling rack so the caramel bits have time to firm up a bit.

    Some of the cookies will get a funny piece of caramel sticking out the side of them. After the cookies have fully cooled, feel free to cut any crazy caramel pieces off with a knife. Let your children eat the caramel. They will love you for it. Trust me on this one!


    Monday, December 1, 2014

    Super Simple MINECRAFT Cake


    My son, Titus, loves Minecraft. He talks about it. A LOT. Creeper-this. Endermen-that. Steve and mines and iron and diamond and pic-axes and…

    IMG_3690My head nearly explodes every time he starts in on the newest thing he learned, or built, or mined, or… whatever! But I love him. More than life itself. So, in all of my spare time (read: I have no spare time these days), I wanted to make him a Minecraft cake for his 9th Birthday without spending a great deal of time on it. 

    It just so happens that he had no Minecraft toys prior to this weekend. Minecraft toys (when properly washed) make great cake toppers. So I did what any good mom short on time would do. I gave him his gifts from us early, washed ‘em up and stuck them in the cake!


    Lest you think one can just plop toys on a cake, and call it a day, however… you must first consult the Minecraft master. Because soon you will find out that you can only mine iron (or is it diamond?) on certain levels. And that block of iron needs to be set into the cake. And Steve must come at it from above. And the creeper needs to fall just so with whatever that black thing is, landing right in front of him. And the little brown guy needs to be right next to Steve for some unknown reason. And it’s okay to have more than one Steve on the same cake because everybody’s Steve. And the witch and the mushroom and the gold…



    Oh, the gold! The kids got so excited when they saw a few gold coins sticking out of the cake. Little did they know, I had washed up one for each of them to stick in the middle of their slice of cake. Forget sugary party-favors and cheap toys. Gold dollar coins are where it’s at!


    This isn’t step-by-step and it doesn’t include pictures of the cake making in process, but if you’re trying to figure out how to make one of these for your own little munchkin, let me give you a few tips.

    1. Bake 3 layers of chocolate cake (I used two boxes) in square pans. Let them cool, then use a serrated knife to cut off any cake doming that may have formed while baking. Do as I say, not as I do. I got lazy on this cake and didn’t think it would be a big deal to leave the small domes on the cake. I was so very wrong. When stacking so many layers on one another it really is best for each layer to be perfectly flat. I’ve made enough cakes I should have known better. I did my best to fill in gaps with extra icing, but simply making the squares flat to begin with would have saved me a IMG_3696world of trouble and the cake would have been more ‘square’. 

    (Make sure you line the pan with greased tin foil so you can easily lift the whole square out of the pan and onto a flat surface to finish cooling. Also, make sure the flat-side is down to prevent cracking.)

    2. Make 1.5 batches of the basic Wilton buttercream recipe and add cocoa powder to about half of the icing to turn it into chocolate.

    The other half I tinted green, until my son approved of the “perfect” color.

    3. Next, put one layer of cake on the bottom and cover it with chocolate butter cream.

    4. Then cut a small square out of the edge of the next layer before placing it on top of the first layer. Save the little square for later as it will soon become the top layer.

    5. Place chocolate buttercream on top of the second layer where the third layer will go. It acts as a nice “glue” to hold the IMG_3703-002whole thing together.

    5. Next, cut the third layer into a smaller square, so the corner just perfectly meets up with the corner of the missing piece (where Steve is pictured on the bottom level). If you get it cut wrong you can just keep adding pieces with more frosting acting as glue. Perfection is not the name of the game with this perfectly imperfect cake! Frost that layer where the top little square will go. 

    6. Add the final small square on the top corner to make the 4th and final cake layer.

    7. Crumble some of the cake pieces you’ve cut away and smash the small pieces up against the wet frosting that is between the layers on the sides. I just left the crumble pieces on the tray for authenticity though my son has informed me that the blocks stay in tact so it is, in fact, unrealistic for their to be “dirt” pieces around the base. But, I didn’t want to clean it up and I thought it looked cool. Titus said it would be okay if I left it that way even though it isn’t realistic. So I did!

    8. Use a wilton “grass” tip to pipe the grass on top of the layers.

    9. Finally, let your smarter-than-you-Minecraft-obsessed child show you exactly where to place all of the special toys to make the “perfect” Minecraft cake. Or better yet, have him wash up and do it himself. With your gentle guidance of course… everything has to be properly spaced and all!


    10. Let your super-excited kid give you hug after hug after hug for his “awesome” cake. And make him pose for pictures with your combined creation. 


    I love that he helped make this cake. I think he will remember this one for a very long time!

    I might make cute cakes, but I make even cuter kids. Look at this handsome guy! It’s hard to believe he’s already 9 years-old. Yes, friends, that is half-way to adulthood.

    I have more years of mothering behind me than I do before me.

    I only have a few more years until talks of Minecraft, Lego and Starwars turn into talks about music, girls and who-knows-what-else.

    Lord, let me treasure these days, for I know how fleeting they are. Thank you for giving me the gift of motherhood.

    Thanks for giving me this amazing son. I am so grateful for this precious gift! He is everything I probably never would have thought to ask for in a son.

    But clearly, you know best. I look forward to seeing him fulfill what you created him to do but more importantly, to become who you created him to be!