Thursday, February 28, 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I'm not big on breakfast. Don't get me wrong—I love breakfast foods. Pancakes, bacon, French toast, bacon, waffles, bacon, hashbrowns, bacon...I love breakfast. I'm just not big on eating it when I get up. I'm not usually super hungry in the morning, I'm tired and don't want to prepare something for myself in addition to whatever I'm making for Bug, and I just want to begin my coffee infusion so I can start thinking and doing and whatnot. Even making a bowl of cereal and eating it seems like a colossal effort.

However, I also think it's important to model at least somewhat good health habits for my kids and eating breakfast is part of that. So I like to keep simple, grab-and-go breakfast options on hand. I like things that go well with my coffee and that I can easily share with Bug if he's not in the mood to sit and eat his own food. I almost always have bananas in the house because we both like them, and I also like to bake muffins once every couple of weeks.

Usually I make these pumpkin chocolate chip muffins that I found on Pinterest. I love them. They're delicious and the recipe is perfect. But the other day I got to thinking: would it work if I used a cup of mashed bananas in place of the pumpkin?

The answer to that is yes. Yes, it does. And it's effing delicious. I think I actually prefer it to the pumpkin, and I LOVE pumpkin.

When you photograph muffins you have to tip one on its side. It's the internet's rule, not mine.

I kept all the spices and everything the same, just to see how it would turn out, and it worked great. I might actually cut down some of the spices next time just to let the banana flavor come through a bit more, but they are wonderful just as they are. I also might do half white/half brown sugar next time, just to see what happens. I always dump in about an extra 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and I love it in the pumpkin, but I don't think these need it. I might actually use less than a cup next time.

Mmm...chocolate...

I baked mine for twenty-three minutes (they were still gooey inside at nineteen) and they're perfect. The recipe makes one dozen, which will last me about a week, as I will eat two most days. Breakfast AND dessert!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Toddler Color Matching

I am NOT a tips/advice/idea/how-to/parenting blog, but I wanted to post this game I made for Bug because it's really cute and it's very easy and inexpensive. I've seen tons of egg carton color matching games for toddlers, so when I emptied our carton I decided to make one for my Bug.

He's really terrible at color matching right now. I am totally judging him.

It was really easy. I just used our washable paints to color code the bottoms. I was going to get plastic eggs, but they were actually pretty expensive on Amazon (to get all the colors, anyway), so I bought these adorable wooden ones and painted them with my acrylic paints. I need to seal them with beeswax or something, as the paint rubs and scratches off a bit, but the eggs work just fine for now.

I like this because we can also use pieces of felt, pom-poms, and a variety of other colored items over time.

Bug REALLY loves playing with this. I keep it put up and use it when I need him engaged in something. He likes to either throw all the eggs (mostly...) or take them out one by one, put them in a bag, and then take them back to the carton one by one. It is his way.


My little Bug and his eggs

These eggs hurt like hell when they hit you in the head. Jussayin'. But the game is cute and I'm really happy with it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Honey-Do List to Shame All Honey-Do Lists

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Last weekend Husband was off work, so after spending Saturday relaxing, eating leftovers, and resting, we decided to make Sunday a bit more productive.

So we made The List.

The List is a space-by-space, detailed, no-holds-barred collection of all the projects that could possibly need to be done to our house before we can list it. The only thing we left off was the decluttering and packing, as those are ongoing and don't cost us money.

We started in the front yard and moved systematically through every room and space, noting every possible repair or update we could think of, even if we knew it was something we weren't going to get to. Then we sat down with our list and went item by item, highlighting the items that literally MUST be done in order to even consider listing the house, and then ranking the rest by priority.

It is many pages long. Many, many pages. 

It was overwhelming, so when we finished I took Bug up for a nap and let my poor, intimidated husband put his feet up and watch some tv. You know—before he has to move that giant tv and paint behind it or something.

Husband is on spring break from school the week of March 11, so he's taking off work and we're going to use that week to tackle some of the major stuff that needs done. In the meantime I am continuing to pack and we're going to try to knock out some of the one-off, smaller projects so that we don't have to mess with them during his week off.

I'm not going to say I'm not incredibly overwhelmed and intimidated, but the time has come. We want to sell this house and move on with our lives, and it's worth it to bust ass for a few months so we can get on with our life.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Things Which I am OVER

Grumpy Cat Jen is ready to see a few things disappear from our society's collective consciousness. 

Mustaches

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W. T. F., people. What IS this? Why are there effing mustaches on EVERYTHING all of a sudden? Why am I seeing children's socks with mustaches on them? Why is this a Thing? I'm putting my (un-mustachioed) foot down on this. No more. I do not want t eat a cake in the shape of a mustache because for some reason facial hair is the party theme. NO. NO.


Fail

Yeah, we get it. The fat kid fell off the skateboard. The word 'education' was misspelled on a school newsletter. That guy in front of the coconut tree looks like he has hairy balls on his head. There are entire (often funny!) blogs devoted to this stuff. But the time of 'FAIL!' has passed.

And along those same lines, can we discuss...


 'Epic' anything

It had its time. For a brief period, 'epic' seemed to be a fresh, untapped, hyperbolic adjective that we could finally move in to replace 'amazing' and 'awesome'. But it's run its course. Your night of beer pong and passing out on the toilet was not 'epic'. It wasn't even an epic fail. It was just sad and I am judging you for it.


Clever, genius, best-ever Pinterest pins...

...and anything that says, "One pinner said..." or, "I'll be glad I pinned this someday!"If you're on Pinterest then you know what I'm talking about. People pin crap leading back to their own blogs to drive traffic and give it some big description about how life-changing it is and it goes PinViral. My natural, internal rebel wants nothing to do with this force-fed BS.
 

Homeschool moms who...

...refer to their husband as the "principal". Um...no. I don't effing think so.


What else? What needs to GO, forever? Feel free to tack on.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine's Day is Dumb But Fun

Husband and I don't really "get into" Valentine's Day, mostly because it feels sort of dirty. It's just such a sleazy, 100% commercial holiday that playing along makes me feel gross.

That said, we have kids, and kids love Special Days. So while we might do a little something small and slightly romantic for each other, we prefer to focus any Valentine energy on our itty bitties. We always have some kind of gift and activity or fun meal for them on Valentine's Day.

In lieu of something store-bought, I made them these adorable owl softies following this excellent, simple tutorial from Organize and Decorate Everything. This is a wonderful project for a beginner, so if you're looking for some simple handmade gift ideas but aren't great on your machine, these are perfect.

The kids with the stuffed owls that I made them FOR REAL BY MYSELF LIKE A GROWN-UP!
Bug with his owl. *swoon*

Husband had to work during the day, so we had our good friend Cincy Sarah and her totally awesome boys come over to make and decorate marshmallow lollipops and sugar cookies with us. We set the kids up with melted chocolate, sprinkles, colored frosting, and a few spoons and let them go to town.

So...many...sprinkles...
Cincy Sarah brought these cute heart-shaped marshmallows.

Then we loaded up most of the goodies and took them a half mile up the road to the local fire house. And it was SO COOL. The fire fighters could not have been kinder or more welcoming. I called a few weeks ago just to see what the protocol was, and there really isn't one. You just show up, ring the bell, and you can come in and check the place out. After the kids handed over the treats, the fire fighters took them to the garage and let them climb up in the truck and the ambulance. They were very accommodating in helping our kids in and out and were totally relaxed about having them there.

Goodies!

The kiddos, checking out the fire truck. Bear may have been wearing that same outfit for two days. Oops.

After our little tour, Cincy Sarah and I took the kids to lunch before heading home. Bear and I decided that Husband should have a piece of cheesecake since he had to work while we were having fun, so that was our little V-Day gift to him. And when he came home he had a dark chocolate candy bar and a bottle of wine for me. So I guess we gave in a tiny bit, but I'm not going to feel guilty when I'm killing that wine this weekend.

I think I'm going to make going out into the community and spreading a little goodness a new Valentine's Day tradition for our family. I like the idea of turning this incredibly cheesy, tacky, commercially-driven day into something lovely. Not that indulging in the romantic side of it has to be cheesy, of course. But you all know what I mean. If not, ask me and I'll try to find my words a bit better. Maybe don't ask while I'm drinking the wine.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Writing and Whatnot

Source (Public Domain)
Since we began school in late August, I've scarcely taken any paid writing work. As much as I love getting paid to do something I love, I just haven't had the time to offer my clients the kind of commitment that I pride myself on and I'm not willing to downgrade my level of service just to make a buck. So I basically took a break. I've done some simple, fun writing here and there for a gymnastics blog and I have a few (also gymnastics) book reviews in the queue, but I've done no marketing and no querying at all.

And I miss it so very much.

Bug will be eighteen months old on the 26th and he's finally sort of settled into a predictable schedule and become comfortable with caretakers who are not me-and-my-chest. Bear is doing beautifully in her lessons and her activities, Husband is on a more predictable and manageable schedule, and I've decided that it's time to work in a little writing time.

My plan is to set aside a scant two or three hours per week which will function as my office hours. It'll have to be in the evening when Husband is home, which is not ideal because I'm really at my best earlier in the day. But if I know those hours are specifically for writing, I can prepare myself to be in the right frame of mind.

I have a list of ideas for magazine articles I'd like to query, a novel I haven't touched in over a month, and a fat stack of half-written and unedited poems that could really use a coat of polish. Not to mention writing here!

It's very easy to slip into that "Once [X] happens, I can finally [Y]," mindset, but there is always another 'X' to wait for and at some point you just have to make time for the things that matter. 'Y' matters right now, today. So it's time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Time 4 Learning Curriculum

Time 4 Learning home page
As you may recall, we've been using Time 4 Learning (T4L) as part of our homeschool curriculum this year. Mostly we use it for math, as the lessons and quizzes work really well for Bear, she hates worksheets and workbooks, and on the tiny, sliver of an off-chance that the state of Kentucky was to be all, "Show us yer works!", I can print off records of her participation and scores. It's the only graded work we do, and only because Time 4 Learning does it for me.

We've also been using it for some social studies/history work. I had planned to do some U.S. History as part of our year, and they have a really nice chapter on the Revolutionary period in the social studies section. Every day Bear logs in and does the next little segment, which usually consists of some reading (anywhere from 4-20ish short pages of text), some simple in-text questions, and a short lesson quiz at the end. We don't put a ton of emphasis on the quizzes, but if she does REALLY poorly then I know she didn't read carefully and we should probably go over it together.

T4L has a program where users can review the curriculum on their blogs and receive a $25 credit, and because I'm a fan and we've been using it for about five months now, I figured I'd give my thoughts and enjoy a free month of service. 


Here's what a I like about Time 4 Learning: 
  • Even when I'm rusty on something, I can read or watch videos along with Bear and catch right back up, so not only am I better able to help her, but I re-learn some things, too.
  • At almost ten years old, she is perfectly capable of logging in and doing her work autonomously. If she needs me she asks, but most days she does this work alone.
  • The price for one child is only about twenty dollars per month. This is completely worth it to me, as my child is learning her math (and other subjects when we use them) and arguing/resistance is minimal. 
  • I can log in from any computer under my parent account and see what she's currently doing and what she's done. I can print off customized reports, answer keys, and other useful tools. 
  • There is a parent forum where you can ask questions and seek out advice. I haven't really used it, but I like that it's there. 
  • Tests, quizzes, and activities can be done and redone as many times as you like.
  • You can work one grade level above and below your selected grade level.
  • Bear likes it. 

What I don't like:
  • Some days the website is very, very slow to load. We've never been incapable of logging on and doing our lessons, but it's frustrating now and then.
  • Some of the math lesson videos are pretty lame. Bear despises the JT & Rita Show in the math chapters. She finds it incredibly annoying and a bit insulting to her intelligence. It does a pretty good job at teaching the lessons, but it's not fun to watch. 
  • It might be my technical ineptitude, but when Bear does poorly on a test and we retake it, the grade report still shows all the scores. I'd love to be able to consolidate it to only the highest scores on each test.
  • There are occasional errors in the quizzes. However, T4L is very fast to correct these if you contact them, and the errors have been few so far.
Overall we're extremely satisfied with Time 4 Learning. I have plans to use one of the science chapters in a few weeks, and we intend to continue using it for our math at least through next year.

Feel free to ask me questions if you're thinking about using T4L for your homeschool or as a learning supplement!


Disclaimer (as copied from the T4L review submission page):

As a member of Time4Learning, I have been asked to review their online education program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. Write your own curriculum review or learn how to use their curriculum for homeschool, after school study or summer learning.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Look What I Did...

No criticisms, please. I know my flaws and errors. But I've finally moved this from a wedge mat to the floor, which is HUGE for me, and if you'll recall, has been a major goal of mine for some time:


video

I didn't get it by my target date, but I realized a long time ago that taking a class one hour per week was not going to be a fast track to super tumbling skills. I'm fine with that. I'm just really proud and excited. I set my goal, and now I've reached it.

Now I can work on making it really nice and clean, fixing the bad habits, and then start learning a new skill! New year, new goal!