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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Navy Bean, Squash, Apple Soup with Pumpkin Oil

winter cooking, cold weather soups, cooking with apples

One of two choices is available to Chicagoans in November.  We can either wrap ourselves in existential depression lamenting the disappearance of warmer weather until April, or we can break out snow pants and embrace fall.  One of the things that help me embrace the cooler weather is my winter cooking folder.  It’s full of recipes for nurturing soups, cozy pies and other comfort foods that keep our kitchen warm and our bellies content.  My one other secret weapon is pumpkin oil. 

Do you cook with pumpkin oil?  I seriously don’t know how we ever lived without pumpkin oil until I discovered it a few years ago.  I’m convinced it makes everything taste super nourishing.  I add it to everything: soups, salads, side dishes, main courses, desserts … I go through a bottle a month.  I often buy my pumpkin oil at a Russian store, but I also have it on amazon subscribe-and-save.   My favorite oil brand is La Tourangelle.  Their hazelnut oil is fantastic, and so are pumpkinavocado, sesame and walnut oils.   And not just for cooking.  I massage a few drops into my hands to keep them super soft all winter.  

This is one of our favorite soups from my winter repertoire.  It came together organically and over time.  At first it was a butternut squash soup, then apples made it into the mix, later we tried it with beans just because I already had some handy, and finally pumpkin oil added a wonderful final touch.   I use homemade chicken stock and home cooked beans, but feel free to make it with store bought organic stock and canned beans. 

Navy Beans, Squash, Apple Soup 

with Pumpkin Oil 
Pumpkin oil  - 2 TBSP + extra for each bowl
Onion - chopped
Salt – 1-2 tsp
Garlic – clove chopped
Chicken or Vegetable broth (homemade is best) - about 4 cups 
Butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
Baby navy beans, cooked
Granny Smith apples – 2 chopped
Chilli powder to taste – about 1 tsp
Toasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onion and salt and sauté about 5 minutes.

2. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
3. Add squash, apples, and spices and sauté for a few minutes stirring constantly.

4. Add broth, bring to boil and simmer covered about 20 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork.
5. Add beans to the pot and keep cooking for about 5 more minutes until beans are heated through.

6. Using immersion blender puree soup until smooth. 

7. Serve hot with extra pumpkin oil and a sprinkle of chili powder for extra heat.   

If it seems to you like too much work for a pot of soup, let me in on another secret.  This soup freezes exceptionally well.  Any time you come home after a long day of being out in a freezing temperatures, drop a bag of frozen soup into a pot (cut off the freezer bag with scissors) and by the time you change your comfy clothes you will have a cup of steaming, nourishing, homemade soup that tastes amazing and is healthy to boot.  

cold weather cooking, comfort soups, pumpkin oil, cooking with apples

What's your favorite cold weather soup? 

Disclaimer: For your convenience this post contains amazon affiliate links. If you click on my link and purchase something, I will receive a small percent of your purchase at no extra cost to you.  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Learning Kid Linkup #21

The best of learning ideas on the web.  Five hosts, five homeschooling moms, five times the fun

Happy Thanksgiving!  Welcome back to Learning Kid Linkup!

Every Thursday a couple of awesome kid bloggers stop by here to link up their wonderful posts that are about educating children, homeschooling, books, crafts, and other learning ideas for kids.  Scroll down to check this week's ideas at the bottom of the post.  

The hosts have been busy this week  ...

Play-Learning Stations Setup by All day Everyday Mom
Our Jungle Experience by Homegrown Adventures
Free Printable Pigs in the Mud by Wind in the Letterbox

Meet your hosts

Eva from Kid Minds 

Melanie from Tree Valley Academy

The featured post this week is 10 Free Printable Flashcards for Toddlers from Look We're Learning.  Check it out now or pin it for later.

Grab a button, if you were featured.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Funniest Thanksgiving Books We Ever Read

Fried Feathers for thanksgiving, Thanksgiving at Tappletons, Turk and Rant

Quality time on a Thanksgiving Day doesn’t have to be limited to food and games on TV.  Take it from me you can spread the cheer and chase away stress by reading funny Thanksgiving books. 

Writing about funny books is intimidating.  I feel the extra pressure to be funny.  It’s not easy because Thanksgiving is not funny.  I can hear a lot of you resisting me on this one, claiming that turkey provides a lot of opportunity for humor.  That may be.  But we recently spent three hours in Barnes and Nobles and didn’t find one funny book about turkey or Thanksgiving.  “Do you have funny books about Thanksgiving?” we asked a nice old lady who works there.  She gave us I know an old lady who swallowed a pie.  We were so bored; we fell asleep.

Thanksgiving is quintessentially serious holiday about surviving hard times and determination.  It is a symbol of faith and courage.  The day usually involves some serious thinking about all the good things in our lives that won’t be fun to loose, although, the opportunity to count the blessings is daily ours for the taking.  Thanksgiving is also about spending time with family or people who matter the most to us.  And we all know family tastes better with a dose of humor.  So, here are our three funniest finds.   Read them on Thanksgiving Day for extra dose of yummy, I mean, funny.

Thanksgiving at the Tappletons by Eileen Spinelli
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’ was always a big day.”  So begins this hysterically funny book by Eileen Spinelli, a mother of six, and a recipient of numerous literary awards, including Children’s Book of the Year in 2001.  Your definition of “hysterical” might be different, so let me clarify, this book makes us laugh out loud each time we read it.  From the pond jumping turkey to exploding mashed potatoes there is never a dull moment on this particular Thanksgiving day at Tappletons’.  The paintings are bright and get extra points for comical face expressions and body language.  Grandpa ends up hungry like 5 elephants and uncle Fritz’s stomach can’t stop rumbling, but family learns that “There is more to Thanksgiving than a turkey and trimmings.”  My 7-year old insists that Grandma’s Thanksgiving prayer is the most fun of all, while my 4-year old dissolves into a puddle of giggles at the words “I’ll get the pickles.”  I don’t know, if there is anyone who won't enjoy this sweet and funny Thanksgiving tale.

(And I can’t wait to check out author’s new book Thankful that came out last month).  

This book is actually part of the series and what a wonderful series it is.  I’m surprised that I haven’t heard of it before.  Author, James Stevenson, is a famous New Yorker magazine cartoonist, Caldecott medal winner and author and illustrator of over 100 books.  The distinctive feature of Emma series is its format.  Each page has a couple of drawings in frames.  And the text appears in speech bubbles.  Drawings are comic and beautiful.  Humor is wonderful, but what I like best about each book is the main message that wit concurs all.  No need to descend to the level of the bullies, no need to scream or cry.  Emma wins by using her wits.  It’s not your traditional story of giving thanks but it nevertheless makes me grateful for the fact that wit counts and at the end of the day brain is more important than strength.  

You know what is the difference between a chicken and a turkey?  Chickens celebrate Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is all about eating turkeys and this means trouble for the fattest and roundest turkey of the Wishbone Farm called Turk.  But don’t worry, a brother Runt is here to help (unless he gets eaten first).  Get ready for some fancy turkey football moves, graceful turkey ballet, Madame Waddelle’s elegant French swearing, a feast of corn and a whole lot of drama.  You will enjoy reading this hilarious adventure of farm turkey family as they try to survive Thanksgiving and beyond.  My kids say it’s the funniest book about turkey they ever read. 

What are your favorite Thanksgiving books? 
Any funny Thanksgiving books on your bookshelves?  

Disclaimer: This post contains amazon affiliate links. If you click on my link and purchase something, I will receive a small percent of your purchase at no extra cost to you.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Learning Kid Linkup #20

The best of learning ideas on the web.  Five hosts, five homeschooling moms, five times the fun

Welcome back to Learning Kid Linkup!  Every Thursday a couple of awesome kid bloggers stop by here to linkup their wonderful posts that are about educating children, homeschooling, books, crafts, and other learning ideas for kids.  Scroll down to check this week's ideas at the bottom of the post.  

The hosts have been busy this week getting ready for Thanksgiving ... and oh no...  [gasp] Christmas!  

Meet your hosts

Eva from Kid Minds 

Melanie from Tree Valley Academy

Don't forget to join us for the November Instagram challenge with the hashtag Homescholing Moms Daily #hsmomsdaily

The featured post this week is 75 Thanksgiving Themed Ideas from Tots and Me.  Check it out now or pin it for later.

Grab a button, if you were featured.

Monday, November 16, 2015

LEGO MAN GOES SKIING - Fun with Magnets

LEGO fun, magnet fun, learning fun, how to create Winter Wonderland

When I just started teaching my kids science, I did what many moms who are new to homeschooling do, I bought a whole bunch of science toys.  One of the first toys we got was a basic magnet set from Learning Resources. In this set there is a plastic tray with a simple maze on top.  You set a magnet ladybug inside the maze on top of a board and move a magnet under the board to get a ladybug across.

Last winter as I was sitting at the dining room table making paper clip cards (I attached paper clips to index cards and kids “fished” with a magnet, whatever they pulled they had to read)

I looked at my son moving a ladybug with a magnet and the images of paper clips attached to Lego Men danced in my head!  Magnet can attract and move paper clips!  

fun with magnets

"Forget the ladybug!  We can use LEGO MAN instead!” I screamed with excitement.  

LEGOs are big in our house, so anytime we can incorporate LEGO into our activities, I feel like I scored big on Mommy Awesomeness scale.  

All you have to do is tape paper clips to LEGO man’s feet and you are good to go.  If the skies end up being too sticky from extra tape dip them in glitter or flour.  Once all the tape is covered, your LEGO man is not going to stick to the board. 

If you don’t have Learning Resources set, do not worry.   All you really need is a pair of paper clips and a magnet.  For the surface you can use regular poster board.

The poster board is actually much more exciting than anything else we tried so far because it allows the imagination to go wild.  This year our LEGO man is taking his skiing vacation in a Winter Wonderland.   

Looks interesting?  Read on for instructions on how to build Winter Wonderland.

The best part of this project is that you are learning all about how magnets work, while having so much fun it doesn't feel like school work.  In the video below you can see how my son holds the poster board in the air with one hand and moves the wand with the other hand.  It was one of the earlier models.  Later when the poster board got heavier from all the additions, we set it up on wooden planks with a space in the middle to move a magnet wand back and forth. 

What you will need
Lego man or two
Paper clips (2 for each man)
Poster Board
School Glue
Decorations for trees (red glitter, craft shapes, felt pieces or buttons)
Small toys to set up the winter scene (like this set)
Seasonal craft shapes 

Christmas Trees
1.  Print out our trees or draw your own.  Our trees are just triangles on top of small squares for trunk.  You can print it on green paper, but I prefer to print out trees on a regular white paper and use it as a template. Today I’m using green felt and green cardstock paper.

2. Glue green paper and felt together.  Green card stock provides sturdiness and green felt provides prettiness and a nice surface to decorate.

3. Decorate the tree with lots of glitter and seasonal craft shapes (we got ours from Teacher’s store). 

4. Add a piece of brown paper or felt for trunk, if you wish.
5. Put a huge pile of glue on your board, stick your tree in the middle of it.  Prop with something heavy behind it, so the tree doesn’t collapse until the glue dries. 
6. Sprinkle lots of white glitter on the glue for snow effect.  

The Rest of the Decorations
Once you are done placing trees, gather all the seasonal Christmas-y things you have around the house.

1. We happened to have this Creativity for Kids set, which is perfect for any craft project.  We love it so much, it's actually our third one.  It’s full of wooden pieces of different shapes.  Gingerbread man shape is great for Winter Wonderland.  We also used some of the wood pieces to make weird structures and to prop the Christmas trees. 
2. For the hill we just glued a piece of white paper in an upside down U shape and covered it with blue glitter glue and lots of white glitter.
3.  We also used Down on the Farm set from Safari Ltd (it's a great set that we use regularly for wide range of purposes).  
4.  We glued on some crystal beads to mark the skiing path. 
5. We also attempted to create a frozen pond.  I don't know what a hen with a chick are doing by the pond.  Maybe they like to promenade there. 

6. We created a house by cutting out the shape of a house (you will find it in our printout) and used it to outline the same shape on a pretty scrapbook paper.  We covered the roof with glue and sprinkled with lots of glitter for snow. 
7. Sprinkle the whole scene with lots of glitter.  The best part about this glitter is that when LEGO men skies he moves it around like real snow.  It's so cool.   

My kids had a lot of fun setting up the scene. 

And they have been playing with it for hours on end!  Together and separately. 

If you are looking for a fun project to do with kids, while learning about magnets, try this.  In the video below my son demonstrates how he has fun with magnets.

Science fun at home, how to get creative with magnets

What are you favorite ways to play with LEGOs?  

Disclaimer: This post contains amazon affiliate links. If you click on my link and purchase something, I will receive a small percent of your purchase at no extra cost to you.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Second Grade Reading List

What to read in Second Grade, Second Grade Bookshelf

Sparking interest in reading has always been right at the top of my To Do list as a parent.  Not only because it’s great for knowledge, memory, focus, concentration, mental stimulation, and vocabulary, but because books are a great bonding experience.  Being together in the same house or even in the same room doesn’t always mean being on the same page.  Reading and talking about the same books is an easy way to learn what kids have on their minds and I’m often struck by where our conversations lead us.  I know that when my kids are teenagers they are not miraculously going to open up to me every time I feel like it.  Right now is the best time to develop a habit of talking. 

As any dedicated bookworm will attest, recommending the books one is excited about is part of the fun and we are no exception.  About a month ago I asked my seven year old to make a list of books he would like to tell other seven-year olds about and he liked the project.  He came up with a list with over one hundred books!  Of course, we needed a more manageable number.  There was a lot of discussion about what books were going to make a list and which ones we would have to save for other posts.  We also talked about what particularly he liked about the books that made the list and what lessons he learned from them.   Believe me, we had lots of fun putting this post together! 

Looking at our list, you might wonder where are the classics like Charlotte's Web, Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins?  We figured everybody knows about the classics.  We wanted to talk about less known books that rocked my second grader's world.  This list also doesn’t include my son’s favorite books about sharks (Shark Post) and airplane books (Airplane Post) because they already have their own pages.  

For the longest time I walked past graphic novels considering them an inferior kind of books.  How can a bunch of drawings with a few words like “grunt,” “sniff,” and “boom” have any literary merit?  When my friend Violet with a very smart and well-read 7-year old recommended Zita, I was skeptical, but curious.  I got the books and discovered that there is space for graphic novels on the book shelves of even the most discerning readers.

 First of all, graphic novels are not to be confused with comic books.  Graphic novels tell a complete story.  They take readers from the starting point through some logical developments to a definitive end, just as Proust does, maybe even more so.  In this story, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz, a girl falls into a different worlds and tries to get back home.  I love some other universal themes explored in this book.  Deception (appearance versus reality, who is a real friend to Zita), duty (did Zita have a duty to save her friend because she pushed the button that started it all), the value of good decision (but also the importance of learning from mistakes), hopelessness (finding hope after a major seatback) and self-motivation (finding strength within to keep going), survival (this is currently my son’s favorite topic, here we have Zita’s wits against dark forces, human beings against robots), etc.  

Second, combining text with art not only ads variety, but engages mind in a new way.  I think our minds are built to hear a narration.  When the words are not provided, mind fills in the gaps.  I hear my son explaining the book to his siblings, “Look!  She is surprised to see this guy.  He was not supposed to be here.  He looks friendly enough, so he might actually be a friend but you will find out later …. ”

Finally, in a good graphic novel face expressions and body language seem to be a story of its own.  Expressions of surprise, anger, and pain might be exaggerated but offer a great opportunity to talk about what characters are thinking and how they feel.  

We now discovered that many of our favorite series have graphic versions too, books by Scieszka and Disney fairies collection.  And most importantly we discovered Nicolas Flux's graphic adventures in history.  

A fear of shocking hard core Harry Potter fans is not going to stop be from being honest.  I didn’t expect much of Harry Potter.  I was utterly bored by the first movie when it came out and flipping through the pages at a bookstore didn’t lead to a purchase of the book.  I was completely caught by surprise to discover that this story of an underdog who came on top bewitched my whole family, including me.  (Never judge a book by its movie!)  I think this story is so gratifying because almost everyone at least at some time or situation in their life felt like an underdog.   An orphan living with wicked relatives, abused, ignored and powerless discovers one day that he is in fact a talented wizard who defeated the dark Lord Voldemort in infancy.  What follows is an extremely imaginative tale of witches, potions, dark forces and beautiful friendships all narrated with an elements of style, suspense, humor, drama, heart-racing action and (for my kids) even horror.  Author’s imagination is a thing of wonder.  And I loved that there were so many wonderful discussion points (choices we face in life, fundamental need for love, motivation, etc) that we could talk about for days after the last page was closed with my kids.  Thanks Shelley for recommendation.

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg 
If you are only familiar with a Jumanji movie, you are loosing out.  The book is great and is totally worthy of its Caldecott medal.  Chris van Allsburg is an extremely talented writer and illustrator, who is also well known for Polar Express, his other Caldecott win.  If I could say just one thing about this author I would say he has one hell of imagination.  How excitingly inventive is the idea of a board game coming to life!  And if I could add one more thing I would say that he is a brilliant illustrator.  I recently took a series of drawing classes and I have a new sense of appreciation for illustrations made with a pencil.  If you look at the illustrations closely you will be astonished by intensity of expression and vivid, realistic shapes of people and animals Chris van Allsburg achieved with a few pencil strokes and some masterful shading.  And did I mention there is no color!  That’s right; everything comes alive with no color.  This book really lets imagination go wild!  And very little known fact is that Jumanji has a sequel.  At the end of the book two new children pickup the board game and carry it home with them.  The sequel called Zathura, written 21 years later, is about these boys.  My son who is pretty excited about space liked Zathura, but not as much as Jumanji.   

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
My friend Violet recommended this book as her childhood favorite and I’m so glad she did.  It’s an amazing story and I’m not surprised that it sold 5 million copies and got numerous awards, including Newberry Honor Book medal.  My daughter loved the book, but it’s my son who is absolutely obsessed with it.  How can it not be titillating to read about adventures of a 13-year old boy who - following a crash landing in Canadian wilderness - has to figure out how to survive on his own, with only his instincts and a hatchet?  The book touches many important themes and stimulates hours of discussion. I really went to town with the power of positive thinking because it is one of my pet subjects to talk about.  If you are looking for some ideas check out Spark Notes or online study guides.  We started a notebook of favorite quotes with kids with the best quote from this book, “You are your most valuable asset.” 

Anh’s Anger by Gail Silver
Unless you are a Buddhist monk (and if you are, thank you for reading my blog) you get angry from time to time.  Most people were not taught what to do with their anger.  I wasn’t.  I used to feel so guilty for feeling angry.  “If only I was a better person, I would not feel angry,” I would tell myself.  This book teaches that anger is not a bad emotion.  It’s just one of the emotions on a large spectrum of human feelings.  This is an important message for kids and their parents alive.  So, if you are like me, and need help teaching your kids how to accept their emotions and deal with them, or if you have a child that can benefit from some new anger management techniques this book is for you.   

Anh is a little boy who gets angry when his grandpa tells him to stop playing because it’s time for lunch.  After an angry outburst Anh is sent to his room where he meets his anger.  The illustrations complement the story.  Each page is a vibrant multi-colored textured collage.  Anger is represented as a rug-doll monster.  It gives a physical depiction to something kids can’t see - their feelings.  The monster is not scary and it will not scare children.  In fact, all my kids love the monster.  It’s as if they meet a long lost friend who moved to another town.

After any kind of quarrel or disconnection I always try to come up with some peaceful activity that seals the peace and bring us on the same loving page.  So one day, after both of my older kids got in trouble for fighting over a toy, I came across a pile of mail by the front door and had an idea of using store catalogues to make a collage of their anger.  My kids loved it and now it’s a regular exercise.  I asked my son’s permission to post a photo of his collage here but he said it was private. 

Don’t expect kids to immediately drop their comfortable and automated response to anger just because you read this book a dozen times.  Just aim to put the necessary information into their emotional tool belts and don’t forget to model the behavior you want to see.  It took my kids at least half a year to start sitting comfortably with their anger, but it’s so worth the wait. 

This again came into our house on a friend’s recommendation and I’m so grateful for my bookworm friends.  Granted it is not what you would normally expect to find on a boy’s bookshelf, but that’s the benefit of having siblings.  My daughter came down with a fairy fever and my son caught it from her.  In this collection there are a total of a few dozen books, including some graphic novels.  We are about half way into the stack and having a blast.  If you are thinking, what can possibly a bunch of fairies teach my kids, I’m here to tell you that apparently a lot!  Each book in this series is full of important themes like conformity (Trouble with Tink), alienation (Rani in the Mermaid Lagoon), sense of self, power, friendship (in each one), … Not only I can always find a nice topic to talk about with my kids, but also I can wrap any math or science lesson in a fairy dust and they will take it with a thank you.  One thing, among many others, that I like about this collection is that fairies have different talent, which means we can talk about different professions, what it takes to do each job and explore their own interests and talents.  Right now they are mostly in the Tinker stage and they like all the tinkering projects I can throw their way.  But yesterday my son said, “I want to try to be a cooking Talent today and bake muffins.”  And he did (with minimal supervision, if I might add braggingly).    

Second Grade Bookshelf

Everything by Jon Scieszka is a big hit in my house.  I’m so happy we got to meet him when he visited Chicago on a book tour.  He was as funny in person as you would expect from his humorous books.  My two older kids were surprised that he looked just like “a real person.” 

All my kids love TruckTown series.  And for both my older kids these were the first books they were able to read on their own.  Scieszka’s wacky fairy tales is our other love.  In The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, this classical tale is told from the wolf’s perspective.  I really credit these kinds of stories with the fact that my kids consider an issue from many angels.  For example, recently when I asked my 7-year old what is the morale of Little Red Hen, I expected him to say something along the lines of “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.”  Instead, he said, “morale of the story is communication problems.  I think hen is not a good communicator.  If he explained to animals that they are not going to get bread unless they help, they would have helped.”  My jaw dropped.  I read Little Red Hen five thousand times, and never once I thought about communication problem!

After fairy tales my kids graduate to Time Warp Trio series.  The set up is perfect.  Three boys from New York travel back and forth in time and find themselves in all kind of wild adventures.  In the first book we read called Summer Reading is Killing Me boys find themselves in a wacky world surrounded by characters from books on their summer reading list.  Many of the characters were familiar to my kids and it only added to excitement.  All of the books in this series are great.  The jokes and mishaps keep things interesting and the story goes really fast.  Growing up as one of six boys and a public school teacher of every grade between 2nd and 8th, Jon Scieszka really gets kids and what makes them tick and his stories appeal to kids’ sense of humor.       

What do you think about graphic novels for kids?  Are you a Harry Potter fan?  What are your favorite book recommendations for elementary grades? 

Disclaimer: This post contains amazon affiliate links. If you click on my link and purchase something, I will receive a small percent of your purchase at no extra cost to you.