Monday, October 16, 2017

Lazy Sundays and Homemade Pizza

Saturday, I was sick, and since I wasn't feeling up to much, my plans for cooking up a storm and meal prepping went out the window.  The boys were supposed to make home made pizza for their Home Life class, but I was just not up to it.  I usually save Home Life classes for Saturday, because there's more time to work on them, and we can focus on one subject.

Luckily, I was put on call at work this morning, so didn't have to go in.   I was at least keeping food down, so the boys and I decided to tackle to home made pizza pie project.   This is what I love about Connections.   It's so flexible.  Instead of the boys missing out because the lesson wasn't done on the scheduled day, they still got the lesson and all the benefits; just on a different day. With that flexibility, we were able to make it work.

Don't get me wrong; you can't just put off lessons inevitably.   But you can make up late lessons. Because the goal is learning. So   if you or your child is sick for a day, you can still get that work done and make it up.  You don't lose that day.

It took us two hours, but we - they -  made pizza -- from scratch.   The boys made the dough, and rolled it out, and made their crusts.  They spread their own sauce and put on the toppings.  We had a blast. Granted, Kaos tried to sneak in there and steal some toppings, and while I was removing
her, Clay (my literal one) added all 4 cups of water (it called for 3-4 cups), and I turned around to find a very liquidy batter.  My initial reaction was exasperation, but I realized he'd never made dough before, so we used it as a learning opportunity.   You add water gradually to dough, Just enough to make it sticky.  Ethan thought we had to throw it out and start over.    But we fixed it.   We added to more flour.  And we made it work.  And they both learned.  One, to exercise caution.  Two, that mistakes can be fixed, and not to throw in the towel the first moment something goes wrong.

The dough was super sticky at first, before we started kneading.   But we added flour, and they got in there and started kneading.  They got their hands covered in dough.  But, they learned how to knead and make dough from scratch. They chopped vegetables, and no one lost a finger.   We all worked together and had fun, and the kids learned how to make food from scratch with their own hands and their confidence in the kitchen, and in themselves grew.   Ethan declared that it tasted better than Little Ceaser's (where we usually go, yeah, I know, the height of gourmet dining).

And they got to see that making a meal from scratch takes work, and time.  But that wasn't the most important thing.  It got us together, working  together.  It got us talking.  And instead of everyone off in a different room doing their own thing, like we usually do on weekends, we were working and learning together outside the classroom and having fun.

The Connections teachers keep telling me I'm giving a gift to my children by doing this and being their learning coach, but the truth is, Connections has given ME the gift.  We are spending more time together, the boys are growing closer, and we are growing closer as a family.  And that is the best gift of all.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Progress Report

So my son got his progress report from NCA today, and I couldn't be happier.  He  is a solid B average, which for some parents may not seem like a big deal, but this was a child that was having  F's and D's last year.  This was a child that was disconnecting at his old school and if he didn't get it, would give up.  This was a child that thought school was boring.  This was a child who wouldn't do his work in class and wouldn't bring home work home.   Homework was a battle.  Math was torture.   Getting him to write was like pulling teeth.

Now, he is doing his lessons without anyone telling him to do so.  He is interested, actually likes school, something he hadn't said before.  Every day, I can check his lessons, and see if there's a problem.  I can see if he needs help, even if he doesn't ask.  And we can work on it right away, not find out about it and try to address it at a quarterly meeting.

He is thriving.  He is thinking outside the box.  Today, when he was stumped by a paper he had to write on Alexander the Great, I told him to make a comic of his life, instead of using an outline.  We worked through the paper, but he enjoyed making the comic, so the research he did to support his comic was done, but he didn't see it as work, because he was making a comic.

I love how NCA gets the student.   They can see that a student might learn with a different learning style.   It fosters a learn,ing environment.

We are all learning with Connections.   I love it because I can see, right away, if there's a problem.   We can work through it together.   If we are both stumped, we can email a teacher and get a response very quickly.  So for me, I love it because I can work with him and I know exactly what he is learning and what he needs help with.   I can recognize immediately if he is struggling, vs. finding out at a parent teacher conference

For Clay, the difference is amazing to me.  His teacher called us to personally this week, to speak with Clay, and find out how things were going, and see if he had any concerns,   She asked what his favorite thing about NCA was, and he said, "I can take more breaks".   I laughed to myself, but the difference I see is so readily apparent.

He is not failing anymore.   He is interested.   He is not distracted by other kids talking or goofing off in lessons.  He cannot say, "Nope, I don't have homework," because I know!   I can check on his lessons and we can work together on something if I see he isn't grasping the concept.  Right away.  Not quarterly, after realizing this at parent teacher conferences.

I appreciate teachers, especially since we have started this journey.   His old teachers, while he was enrolled in the traditional brick and mortar public school (B&M for short), were great.   But they had a whole classroom of students, each with individual needs and learning styles, and they had an hour to get that lesson across.  They also had to deal with behavioral issues.  So to spend individual time on each lesson, with each student, was just not feasible.

With NCA, it IS possible.  He HAS a public education.  He has qualified, educated, certified teachers.  He also has his parents, AKA learning coaches, who follow his education, and know immediately when he is struggling.  We know when he has an assessment, or test, and can help him review.   We can see if he's struggling on an assignment and can help him review.

The other day, he was frustrated by a paper he had to write on Alexander the Great, so I told him, "Make a comic of this.  Draw your story.", and he did.   Because he doesn't like writing, but he loves to draw comics.  So, I thought, why not get him engaged with making a comic about this?  And, it worked!  After he drew his pictures of important life events of Alexander the Great, he was able to form a rough draft of his paper.   The comic was his outline.  But in making his comic,  he researched to get more information, cited (with coaching) that information, wrote down facts, and learned history.   And thought it was fun!

He is able to take art class now, something wasn't available at his other school, due to lack of funding. He loves to draw, and is really enjoying this.  He is learning computer skills, how to type, how to create files, and organize his work.  He is learning how to write and format papers.   Many of his classes involve class discussions, where he has to post a question or statement, and respond to others, so he is participating in his NCA classes more than he did at his old school.   NCA also has multiple clubs the students can join, with fun activities and opportunities to learn.   Clay signed up for the gaming and technology club, where he  will learn how to write codes, make his own games, and share with other gamers.

He is thriving.  His brother is thriving, and they are both learning and growing.   This is why we love Connections.

DIY Solar power

So in his science class, Clay learned how to make a solar cooker.   It was pretty cool.   The project suggested cooking a hot dog, but since we had none in the house, we used a potato and some mushrooms.

We started out with a box, which, ironically, was from Hello Fresh, so said, "Get Cooking".  We cut out the front, and used that for the sides of our "oven". 


Initially, since the instructions stated that the oven wall had to be 9x14, we measured the sides to be 9x14", but once we put it up to the 9x14 wall, we realized we had not done the sides right; they needed to fit to the wall.  So we recalculated and got sides that actually fitted the wall. 

Measuring out the "oven

The final result of the sides.  

Attaching he sides to the wall.  

Applying the tin foil

Attaching the food to the skewer.  We used potatoes and mushrooms, since we had no hot dogs.  

Cooking!  We placed the box facing the sun.   

That day was a cool day, but the mushrooms actually dehydrated, although the potato did bake.  I was not expecting the dehydration result, so it was interesting.  Also, now I know how to dehydrate mushrooms.   It was pretty cool.  The wind blew the box around the yard, though, so I'd recommend using a weight of some kind in the heater if you tried this.   

It was really fun for both the boys to see an example of solar power, and get some hands on experience.   Instead of just reading about it, they got to do an experiment and see how solar power works, from something they created.  It is really exciting to see them learn with Connections.    And I'm learning with them!  I really like the hands on opportunities.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hearty Vegetable Tomato Soup

So, today I started out making black bean soup.  It's fall now, and I wanted something warm but filling.   I also wanted relatively quick, because when I'm doing school with the boys, I don't want to cook something that will take forever.  

I started out by chopping up all my veggies, and got those cooking, and went to the pantry to get my beans and realized I didn't have any canned black beans.  I had dry ones, but I needed them now, so that was no good.  

Well, I did have pinto beans, so I threw them in, and added the spices, and the broth and said a Hail Mary.  

When it had simmered for 25 min or so, I took 2 cups of the soup and blended it, and then added it back in, to make the soup creamier.  I then thought that some orzo would be nice so added about 1/2 cup or so, but then needed to add more water.  Broth would work too.   It really tasted kind of bland, I threw in 1 TBSP each of Basil and  Oregano and a little more salt.   The Basil made me think tomato would be a nice flavor, so I threw in a can of tomato sauce, since I was out of tomatoes.  The tomato was the key.  It was delicious!  Even my picky 8 year old ate it up.   

Here is the recipe:

Hearty Vegetable Tomato Soup

1 TBSP olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
2-3 cloves of minced garlic (or more, you can never add too much garlic)
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
1/4 tsp. cumin 
1/2 TBSP chili powder (optional)
3 cups vegetable broth
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or 3 cups cooked beans)**
1/2 cup orzo
1 cup water
1 TBSP oregano
1 TBSP Basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1 14 oz. can tomato sauce

Heat oil in large sauce pan on med high heat.  Add veggies and cook for about 10-12 minutes.  Add garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and cook til fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.  

Stir in broth and beans.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After the 25 minutes, take 2 cups of the soup blend in a blender until smooth.  Return pureed blend back into the pot, and stir in.   Add the orzo, water, tomato sauce, basil and oregano, and simmer for 9 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the salt, more or less, to taste.   

* - I had already added the chili powder when I decided to try something else, so the end result was kind of accidental

** You can save the liquid from the cooked beans, called aquafaba as a replacer for egg.   It's also great for making vegan mayo.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

chocolate asphalt

Clay's next project was making "asphalt" out of chocolate.   He used aggregates of oats, coconut, nuts, and candies and mixed them with the binder of liquefied chocolate.  First, we got everything together:
Next, we melted  the chocolate:
Then we made the aggregates:


Then, we added the chocolate "binder":
Then we placed the mixture on wax paper and added another layer of wax paper on top, so we could smooth it out:
Smoothing out the pavement:
The finished product:
All four samples, cooling, ready for taste testing. 

Very fun lesson, made yummy food and got to learn about how roads are made in the process.  I love how his school gets him to think outside the box. 











Hands on History

So, Clay is currently studying ancient civilizations, and his current project required write about foods from ancient civilizations and then cook something.   One of the civilizations was Israel, so we picked Israel and decided on honey cake.   Well, he decided on it.   He wanted something sweet.  It's not vegan, but since Clay isn't vegan, we did what he wanted.   After some searching on line, he found this recipe from Tori Avey's blog:

Getting all the ingredients together.
The next step was adding the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Breaking the eggs
Adding the oil

Adding the brown sugar and mixing it all
together with the dry ingredients.

Chopping the dates, which we folded into the batter

Testing for doneness
Finished product, cooling

Tasting the final product

Ethan trying it out.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Vegan Lox? Whaaaat?

So when you go vegan, you often crave foods that you used to eat.  Well, everyone knows a perfect bagel has cream cheese, salmon or lox, and red onion.   So, when I heard about vegan lox, I was intrigued.   And I decided to make it.  That was one of today's projects.  

Saturdays have become my cooking days.   Since I've been home schooling. the day is filled with helping with studies and going through stuff and making sure work is done.  So experimenting in the kitchen is out on those days.  

But on Saturday, while the kids play and do their thing, I cook.

Today, I made a Giant Burrito Crunch Cake for supper, which was not only delicious, it was packed with healthy vegetables and plant proteins.   I made up a guacamole  to serve with it and it was even better.

The guacamole was my own recipe

2 avocados, mashed
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 TBSP lime juice
1 cup thinly sliced cherry tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

I also made carrot hot dogs, which I was pretty excited to try.  I mean, I was skeptical; how could carrots taste like hot dogs?  But I decided carrots aren't that expensive, and I had all the ingredients on hand, why not give it a go?  And I did.  And I did not regret it.  They were delicious!  The boys both liked them, but hubby refused to try.   His loss.  This was the recipe.

I decided to tackle a recipe for home made ricotta cheese, but I cheated and used store bought almond milk and it did not turn out.  

But I also found that recipe for Vegan Lox, and threw some carrots in the oven, covered in salt, and let them roast.  Then, after they had cooled, I added the brine.   Now they have to sit for two days.   I can't wait.   I have bagels and vegan cream cheese just waiting...

 But while I was waiting for the carrots to roast, I whipped up some of our family's favorite, these Mama Glo Bars bars from Oh She Glows.  

They are so good, and everyone loves them.  The best thing about them is they are pretty healthy.   No additives or high fructose corn syrup, they are sweetened with brown rice syrup.   And packed with lots of mother earthy type ingredients that you can feel good about, and they taste delicious.  So a win all around.

Everyone talks about how expensive vegan/vegetarian food is, but the truth is, you can make so much of that stuff at home at a fraction of the cost, AND it tastes better.  So it is possible to be vegan or vegetarian and live on a budget.   It is also possible to get all your nutrients in a vegan diet.  For example, people are worried that I won't get calcium if I don't drink milk.  Almond milk actually has MORE calcium than dairy milk does!   And B-12 can be found in lots of plant based foods, not just meat.

We've literally spend about a third of what we usually spend on groceries when I cook from scratch.   And that's with hubby, who is an omnivore, buying stuff he wants to eat.

And every week, it gets even easier, because I find recipes we all like and I know those work.  

Hope you enjoy these recipes!  I sure did.