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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Gluten Free Black Bottom Banana Bars

Adapted from Taste of Home

1/2 c Earth Balance Butter
1 c organic cane sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3 ripe bananas mashed
1 3/4 c gluten free flour baking blend such as King Arthur
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder (Hershey dark cocoa powder-even better)

Preheat oven to 350
Line a 9x13 with parchment paper or lightly grease.

Cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in stand mixer.
Add bananas one at a time, mixer will mash them up for you as they mix in.
In separate bow mix gf flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and then add to banana mixture. Stir til just combined.

Separate half on batter into a medium size bow and add 1/4 cocoa powder and stir til combined.  

Spread the chocolate batter over bottom of pan with a spatula.

Spoon the original banana mixture over top and then use a spatula to spread over the chocolate layer.

Sprinkle top with a few chocolate chips if desired.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top and toothpick comes out clean.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bar Bites

Peanut Butter Protein Packed Cold or Frozen Chocolate Chip Granola Bar Bites or could be called Healthy Frozen Cookie Dough Bites...My family just calls them Cold Granola Balls...whatever you want to call all started during a hot Texas summer in Dallas in an apartment with very inefficient AC.  We lived on homemade granola bars but that one hot summer day I started to make my granola bars as usual and then before I could finish, just couldn't bring myself to turn on the oven.  I thought of the days I would sneak those Spunkmier cookie dough balls from my moms freezer (I think they were a fundraiser and you got a gallon size bucket with scoops of cookie dough you kept in the freezer and had cookies ready to bake at anytime.)  I used my cookie scoop and plopped the granola the bar dough onto a parchment lined cake pan and put it in the husband and I were HOOKED!  Now I form them into smaller balls by hand so they are easier for the kids to manage and keep them in the fridge or freezer.  I love freezing them and then throwing in a ziplock bag or small container when we go on hikes because they are full of protein and keep everyone going.

These are so awesome to have year round but especially great in the summertime when we crave something cold yet filling to keep us going.  These make a great protein packed breakfast on the go instead of a bowl of hot oatmeal or when you're in a hurry. Throw them in a picnic cooler and bring to the pool or lake for a great snack to keep energized and feeling satisfied instead of snacking on chips and popsicles.

After 8 years since my first time making homemade granola bars and playing around with it, here is my Cold Granola Ball Recipe.

1 1/2 c creamy peanut butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/3 c coconut oil
1/2 c honey
1 Tbsp vanilla (or at least 2 tsp min)
3 cups oats (I use bobs red mill gluten free quick oats or gluten free rolled oats I get through Amazon)
1 cup crushed crispy cereal (such as Rice Chex or Honey Nut Cheerios or GF Crispie Cereal)
1 cup Chocolate Chips (we are dairy free and use Enjoy Life, Kirkland Semi-Sweet or the gold bag by Ghiridelli)

Optional Add Ins
You can add 1/2-1 cup of any other add ins like
1/2 c flax seed
1 c puffed millet
1 c puffed brown rice
1/2-1 c dried fruit like craisins 
1/2-1 c nuts (u would recommend they be finely chopped though if you have barge pieces of things it will be harder to shaped into balls and hold together)

Line a 9x13 inch cake pan with parchment paper or a large plastic food storage container.  If you don't line it and freeze these they can freeze to the container and be hard to remove.

Mix first 5 ingredients together til smooth.

Add in oats, crispy cereal and chocolate chips (and any optional add in if desired) and mix thoroughly.

Scoop out spoonfuls into your hand and form into balls. 

Place into prepared container, cover with plastic wrap, tin foil or container lid and then refrigerate or freeze.  These are yummy to eat frozen or just cold.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

CTC Math Review


I would love to tell you about what we have been doing for math for the past 6 months.  I had not been able to settle on any particular curriculum, even the most highly recommended Charlotte Mason style math curriculum's, while I knew they were good, just didn't seem right for us.  So we started doing a lot more living math which I wrote about here and were really enjoying doing math this way.  However, I was becoming more and more drained, not because from doing living math, but my health was just not keeping up and then I started really dropping the ball. I didn't know for some time, but I was very anemic and very low on vit D and just felt like I was dying.  

I didn't have the energy to plan and prepare the fun, engaging living math fun that we were finding so rewarding. I wanted to keep doing living math activities, but I felt like I needed something more stable and structured than what I was doing, yet still gentle and not stress inducing. So I went back to searching my top choices.  One that I kept coming back to was CTC Math. My husband and I were hesitant about doing an online math program, especially after doing math in such a hands-on way AND being very Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Nature Inspired in our homeschool, we just weren't sure about doing math on the computer or ipad.  

The kids and I were traveling to visit family for 2.5 weeks, so I decided to do the free trial as our math while we were away and now here I am writing a ha;f a year later.  My son (K) was so excited by the certificates, he really thrived on the structure of the program and was motivated to plow through it. He thought is was fun and just took off and is almost a full grade level ahead now. He would ask me if he could do more math. I'm so happy that he is just starting out on something that he has taken to so well, hopefully we'll just avoid any math drama all together with him at this rate.

With my daughter (3rd grade) we had started out with basic math workbooks from the store in Kindergarten and done fun math sheets and activities from 1+1+1=1 and other fun pinterest stuff.  It was going well. Then first grade we started doing MFW and we did the math that came with that and that's when things started to get wasn't just wasn't good either.  We did everything by the book, but it wasn't working, nothing would was like starting over every day.  And part of that is how my daughter learns and the reason we went away from "curriculum" and more into relaxed eclectic, or what I coined Classical Masonori Waldunschoolers. (that's Classical Conversations, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf and Unschooling all blended up into a super yummy and healthy smoothie!) 
Anyways, then by second grade we started Singapore as recommeded by MFW and she liked the pictures and how there weren't too many questions per page so she wasn't visually overwhelmed, but I was floundering in trying to teach it because I'm not mathy...I'm a math phobe!  I'm still haunted be a reoccurring nightmare that I skipped my last college math class the last semester and remembered right before finals and am freaking out knowing there is NO way I can pass the final or make up for the all I missed.  I hate that dream!
Meanwhile I had began looking at other options more obsessively (at least that's probably how my husband would describe it when he turns on the computer and there's 30 tabs open in just 1 of the browsers and I'm reading and researching too much).  We were getting through the Singapore book, but when skills came back up, it was clear she wasn't getting it, it wasn't sticking.  AND with any math I did with her, she was always immediately overwhelmed when we started a new topic or idea and would shut down before even giving it a chance and I'd be trying to convince her how simple it was if she would just listen for a second.  
I really wanted to like Math U See or RightStart, those are such good programs but every time I looked at them, I just knew  it wasn't for us, she would shut down as soon as she see's that page of problems just as much as I felt overwhelmed when looking at all the stuff that came with Rigthstar.  Anything that looked like a textbook just was a very hard part of our day.  So that is how we just decided to embrace hands-on learning and dove into Living Math.  

But once we gave CTC Math a try, I was amazed.  My daughter would watch the short video lesson that is like an animated and narrated power point presentation and would just be engaged, nodding her head like "Oh OK that makes sense" and then as soon as the lesson was finished and Pat Murray says "alright we've completed our lesson and good luck with your questions." She would just go right in and confidently be ready to do her math, even if it was something totally new...something that would have her sliding out of her chair and onto the floor in a ball of misery, excuses and overwhelm in the past.  

Some key things that really make CTC Work for us are:
  • Only one question is displayed at a time
  • There is a progress bar at the top that moves each time they submit their answer so they get that immediate reward of seeing how much closer they are to being finished with questions.
  • Their score is kept showing their current percentage on that lesson as well as how many out of the total number of questions they have completed.
  • Being able to type in or select the answer takes away the added stress for those with Dyslexia or other similar issues as they can just focus on the math and not worry if they wrote 25 when they mean 52 or hand fatigue for those who grip too hard, then write wrong and can't erase their answers since they press the pencil SO HARD.
  • The lessons are concise and to the point but do a great job explaining and demonstrating the concept. (Charlotte Mason would approve)
  • You can select how many practice questions you want your child to do and what you require for a passing grade when you set up your students account. You could set it for only having to do 10 practice questions but require 90-100% accuracy or you could set it up however you want.  
  • There are diagnostic tests for each topic and you can select short (20 questions) Standard (30 questions) or comprehensive (40 questions)
  • Parent can assign tasks with deadlines if desired
  • Parent can edit the students account so if they want to delete a lesson and redo it to get a better score and award, you can.
  • Kids love checking their awards section and keeping track of how many platinum, gold and silver awards they have earned.
  • They enjoy the speed skills.
  • My daughter likes that after she completes a lesson, it shows how long it took her to complete the lesson, but that it doesn't show a timer while she's doing the lesson because any sort of timer is stressful and distracting for her.
  • mobility - we travel quite a bit and this is easy to access from anywhere without having to pack anything
  • Built in manipulatives that kids can move around on screen with either a mouse if using computer or with their finger if using an ipad to work out their problems and find the answer.
  • No teacher frustration...I sit with my kids as support but if they don't get it (which has only happened on rare occasion thus far) they can simply re-watch the video lesson and try again.  
  • Affordable! Having a family subscription with multiple kids with access to all grade levels is an incredible deal.  The subscription for the whole family (with the home school discount) costs the same as other curriculum, but just purchasing one grade level.  And you can easily move your kids up or down based on where they need to be without having to buy more curriculum/materials.  
  • This program is great for a variety of learning styles as it is Visual, Audio and Kinestetic.
  • Kids like the new feature of being able to customize the color scheme of their account.  My son has Red and Orange and my daughter Teal and Blue. Sometimes it's the little things, like having their own user name and password, their own color scheme, records and awards...they like it.
  • This program has been like a burden lifted for me as I feel very confident in how my kids are doing in math now and I can still add in living math activities to our day, but I don't HAVE to always be prepared.  
  • I have a two year old...I don't have time and patience for whining and tantrums and dawdling over math!  I haven't had any of those issues since we started CTC Math AND my daughter is retaining what she has learned.  

I think if Charlotte Mason were around today she would approve.

A couple Cons:

  • I wish it was easier to go back and change one question that as wrong so they don't have to have a lower award or redo the whole set of questions because of a simple mistake like bumping the submit button or a typo when they knew the right answer. Although it's taught them to really DOUBLE check before they click submit.  
  • The Times Tables Game and Speed Skills didn't work on the ipad but they just fixed that so that's been great!
  • They have great built in manipulatives but every once in a while you may want to actually take out a scrap paper and pencil for your child to work the question out on. It's not a big con but sometimes you are used to the manipulatives and then you'll get a question without any and my daughter will stare blankly. this isn;t really that much of a negative but more of an FYI.  Also one some of the money questions, I brought out some of our fake money for her to use because on some of those there were not built in manipulatives...however, I was happy to be able to bring in some other manipulatives that she could use so not a big deal.
  • I would love if they made an app for the ipad instead of doing it within the Safari browser.  Sometimes it can be a little glitchy on the ipad sometimes. It definitely works smoother on the computer.
Those are the only Cons I could think of and I was really trying to be honest and thorough but there are really no HUGE complaints I have.  I think this program is totally awesome and I envision us sticking with this all the way through.  And...I'm honestly getting more confident at math from watching his lessons with my kids! I struggled to do mental math...but I am getting much better now and I don't think I've had my college math class nightmare in a while now! :0

And I will say, we are not total unschoolers, but I think many unschoolers would enjoy having this as a math program as I know many people resonate with the ideology but then wonder..."what about math?" I think CTC Math could blend well with any full on homeschool style out there...except maybe not full on Waldorf because you can't watercolor paint on your computer screen! :)

Pea Gravel Courtyard Patio Makeover


It was a weedy mud pit that just always looked like a mess, and the small concrete patio that was by the doors was pretty stained and not looking too attractive either.  I love the look and sound of pea gravel underfoot AND it's a lot cheaper, easier, faster and more forgiving for a DIY patio than most other options.  I do love flagstone and beautiful hardscaping, but I LOVE the charm of the pea gravel so it was an easy route to go.  The pavers that line the pea gravel patio were reused from the messy, weedy ugly path that was going through this area.  There were lining the path and it was filled with large jagged white rock.

After 2 truckloads of deco pea gravel was dumped on our driveway...


Less than 24 hours later, Tyler and I had laid out landscape cover and he wheelbarrow-ed down all 2.5 tons of gravel himself!  Still need to do some things down there, it's pretty bare but we love the look down there so much better!

Friday, April 1, 2016


Sometimes a winter freeze comes along and it may feel cold, lonely and isolating...but the cold period is needed before the spring bulb can bloom and bring forth a fresh, new season.

"Live with a constant awareness of the ever changing world and your ever shifting self."-Mencius 

Sometimes we go through transitions and we may not know why, relationships, connections, attitudes, purpose, health, passions, jobs, whatever it may be.  You may have been going just fine in one direction and suddenly you don't know what direction you're going but you know it's not the direction you thought you were...things start changing and shifting for whatever reason. it can feel like a cold isolating heaviness when we don't understand what is going on behind the scenes, but if we trust and be patient, God works all things for our good, and suddenly, the ground begins to warm, we push up through the heaviness and we enter into a new season as beautiful spring flowers. The Spring Flowers are there to rise up, give hope and look around as honored guests and see what the master gardener is doing all around them as the rest of spring follows suite.

If you feel lost, in transition, discontent, unsettled or anxious ...start to warm the cold ground around you through trust and gratitude and then look up, push up, rise up and BLOOM!!!

Look up - acknowledge and praise your Lord
Push up - seek and ask with faith, confidence and quiet patience
Rise up - let go of your cares and trust with all your heart and know He is sovereign 
BLOOM- realize you are HIS beloved, that He IS working (no matter the outcome) and you are starting to see and realize it a little more each day as each petal begins to open as his plan unfolds to your view and then rejoice and praise in His work and sing for the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies, from the love which from our birth over and around us lies, Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise as you Whitness from the ground first hand the Lillies of the fields and the birds of the valleys being anxious for nothing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Classical Conversations Cycle 1 week 15

We are alacking on timeline....(just keeping it real!)

1400s-Henry the Navigator established colonial rule in Africa leading to slave trade between the Portuguese and the Ashanti...

Reviewed and memorized song using the CC app and making up actions.  Continued reading The a Royal Diaries: Nzingha Warrioir Queen of Matamba.  It isn't about Henry the navigator but is about the villages working together to fight off the Portuguese in Angola, Africa set in the 1500s. (Bonus on this book both my daughter and son are enjoying hearing about the way the clans and villages are because they are relating it to Clash of Clans which they sometimes play...)

Each continents highest mountain 
We reviewed this video with actions on YouTube.

Then we practiced using skittles on a map.  They just needed to put the right mountain on the right continent.

Middle East

We rented a short video about Isresl from the library that I found to go along with this section.

And of course visited our MAPS book to explore that region.

English grammar
More helping verbs...we honestly don't get a lot out of this or do much with it...we just cover it and move on

Noun endings (1st Declension) 
Same thing...don't go too much into it we just learn it and move on and hopefully if they take Latin or when the learn other foreign languages later on this will help some things click. So for now just settin' the lil' pegs in place and keeping it low key!

Fine Arts
This weeks artist was Angelico, however we did not ever get a chance to get an Angelico inspired art project done like I had planned. (This isn't what we were going to do but it's a good idea you can do with kids for Angelico I showed them some pictures of Angelico paintings in an art book but that's as far as we got.  We did a lot of other drawing and some YouTube watercolor painting tutorials to practice for our nature journaling this week...CC is not the only thing we do and sometimes we do more with CC and sometimes we do less with it to make time for other projects or activities we are focused on.

Vase of Tulips by B age 5

Loose Watercolor Tulips by J age 8

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Best Ticket Deal for Sea World Orlando for a Family of 4 or more

Sea World 
best ticket deal

We just got back from a weekend trip to Orlando, FL for a gymnastics meet and wanting to do something else while we were there besides the meet and without spending a fortune, we researched out options and figured out the cheapest way to do sea world for 1 day.  Without getting suckered into a timeshare for $39 sea world orlando tickets, the next cheapest way to go for a family of 4 or more is to go online and buy a season pass for one person for $168.  If you have AAA, the price goes down to $140 ($149 after tax).  Buy this pass online before you go and bring the voucher with you for free parking (save $16).  Then all you have to do is go up to the self serve kiosks and scan your voucher to get your seaworld annual pass.  After the pass comes out, you can then use it to purchase up to 6 tickets for the rest of your family at 50% off. $49 for adults and $47 for children.  
If you have a family of 4, it would cost $79/ person if you buy the tickets on the website ahead of time or about $99 at the gate the day of.  

Cost Breakdown for a Family of 4

AT GATE PRICING (before tax) $396 plus $16 parking

ONLINE TICKETS (before tax)   $316 plus $16 parking

ANNUAL PASS purchased online before with 3 tickets purchased 50% off at gate (Before tax) $311 plus FREE PARKING and other discounts on food, merchandise and encounters in park.

ANNUALS PASS purchased through AAA online with 3 tickets purchased at 50% off at gate (before tax) $283 plus FREE PARKING and other discounts on food, merchandise and encounters in park.

This is the no gimmick best deal for going to Sea World for 1 day with a family of 4 or more!  

It's still not cheap, but it might be your cheapest way to spend a day at any theme park in Orlando, FL.  

Other things to keep in mind:

If you are military, you may be able to get free admission through Sea World's Waves of Honor Program. (although my brother who did this was not happy about the extent of personal information required to get his free ticket was worth it).

Preschool Fun Card for children under 5 who are residents of the state that Seaworld is located can get in free.

and FYI my one beef with the Annual Pass was that they scan your fingerprint at the entrance. Apparently they need to do this to verify that you are the season pass card holder on each visit, however I would think a photo ID should be sufficient.  I mean seriously?  I need to have my fingerprint scanned for a theme park?  I thought that was weird and was glad that the scanner was not working and so they had to let me in without getting my fingerprint on file.  I thought that was straight up stupid. 

All in all we had a great time and made lots of fun memories!  The Journey To Atlantis was the first real ride our kids have been on and it was so fun to experience that thrill with them, and even more so...since we got in park discounts with the annual pass, a couple of us did the dolphin encounter which was around $14 regularly but less after our discount (sorry can't remember the exact numbers there) but it was so amazing!  Holding onto a dolphin's flipper, petting it while making eye contact...simply amazing!

Our kids wanted to get splashed at the One Ocean Show with Shamu, we sat further back hoping to not get soaked and got there 25 minutes early and secured seats in the center of Shamu Stadium.  It was a great show however the kids kept complaining they weren't getting wet whenever the audience was getting splashed...until the end of this video clip.  ur 2.5 year old wasn't as excited about it as his siblings!  But he has since forgiven the Orca and enjoys his squeeky Orca Suvenier and talks about when he got splashed.

This was about 5 minutes after the One Ocean show....Getting splashed by an Orca was just too much!  Time for a nap in the ERGO!  He woke up later in the middle of Turtle Trek 3-D adventure and was very happy!