About Me

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Stockbridge, Ga, United States
I am married to the love of my life and blessed to be the mom of 6 amazing kids, 5 here on earth and one I long to see again in heaven. We are entering our third decade of parenting together, and love all the blessings along this journey. I am a homeschool mom,a writer, a trainer, and a speaker, but mostly I am a sinner saved by grace who desperately desires to encourage others on this path and to live a life that brings Glory to the One who saved me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Strawberry creams

In the midst of Christmas baking, there are tons of recipes I try each year. Some come out fabulous and others...eh...not so much. But every so often I stumble on a mistake that turns into a really yummy treat. These cream candies are a result of one of those mistakes.
I was actually going for a mint cream candy when I changed mid recipe into this. The original recipe called for two pounds of powdered sugar- TWO POUNDS!! While I know we will already consume far more sugar than we should this time of year, two pounds for one batch was a bit over the top for me. And that was where the magic came in.

The basic ingredients are cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar. And really, how could that combo not be amazing? I added strawberry extract and a candy coating and the end result has friends mmmmmming with each bite. 

One caution about this one though. If you make and freeze your candy head of time like I do, you will want to plan to use this one quickly. Oh it freezes well and will keep nicely in there for a long time, but if you are like me you will find an excuse far too frequently to head back into the kitchen to pop another one in your mouth. Really, they are that good. But now you have been warned!

1   8 ounce block regular cream cheese
1 stick butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons strawberry extract (or whatever flavor you like)
1 package vanilla candy coating
Pink food coloring

These are what the discs should look like
Melt the cream cheese, butter and sugar in a heavy saucepan until it is completely blended. Add extract and food coloring. Drop by teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet or wax paper. One batch is usually about three trays for me. Freeze until slightly firm, about 30 minutes. They will look like little pink discs.
After they are almost firm, melt the vanilla coating.

Drop a little food coloring in here too, especially if you are making multiple flavors. Roll the pink discs into balls and drop and roll into the vanilla. Just a note here. Yes, the balls will be sticky. That is part of what makes these candies so yummy. They won't be sticky once the candy coating is hardened, and the texture inside is really fabulous when you bite into the candy.  So stay with me on the sticky part. Just roll quickly and know that the end result will be totally worth it. 

After the candy is rolled in the coating, return trays to freezer for about 30 minutes. 

Other flavors I love include banana with yellow coloring and mint with green coloring. Later this week I am going for orange creamsicle or maybe some root beer. The sky is the limit when it comes to extract flavors!

Now comes the hard part. Resist the urge to pop the entire tray in your mouth. Mmmmm....heading to the freezer now to grab a handful!

Of loss and heartache

Like most of the country, I have been tearfully glued to the TV these past few days as more and more is reported about the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut. To consider that 20 innocent children and 6 adults trying to protect them all lost their lives in this senseless acts is mind boggling. 

One thing I have heard repeatedly is parents saying that they can't imagine what those hurting parents are dealing with as they prepare to say their final good byes to those innocent children taken from them too soon. 

It's impossible to imagine what it's like to send your child to the safety of their school and have the unthinkable happen. It's tough to imagine what it would be like to lose a child in a quick moment. It's difficult to imagine how one second can change every part of your life.

But some of us an imagine. For every parent who has had to plan a funeral for their child in the midst of unthinkable heartache, we can imagine. 

Maybe our loss didn't make national news. Maybe our child was taken in the quietness of the night instead of the rampage of media cameras, but loss is loss, regardless of the avenue. 

Some of us had no prayer vigils, no flooding of support from strangers around the country, no other families to reach out to us who knew where we walked, no causes to rally around. While our circumstances are different, we are all somehow united in a club we never intended to join, joined forever in sharing a heartache that by the Grace of God, most people will never have to experience. 

Some of us really can imagine what it's like to see that Christmas stocking and wonder if the pain and the emptiness will ever go away. And it is not just this Christmas, but every Christmas that will ever come. The stocking will always be empty, and there will always go with it a sense of emptiness in the hearts of those who loved them. 

Some of us can imagine what it's like to tell siblings that death is final and that their sibling won't ever come back. 

And some of us can imagine all too well that emptiness and desperation of trying to breathe, and trying to understand the senselessness of this great loss. 

They say time heals all wounds. It doesn't. Time has no more power to heal our heart than we do. Time simply teaches us to live in the light of the loss. 

God is the only One who can bring healing into this terrible tragedy. God is the only One who provides hope in eternity which comforts us now.

We all approach this in very different ways. Some want to blame the use of guns, some want better security, some want to blame the parents of this shooter, and some want to blame God. 

But my heart just cries for the parents who have now begun this awful journey. No, I haven't walked where they have walked, and I won't pretend to understand what it is like to suffer this horrible act. 

But I know what it means to look at the staircase and wonder if my son will ever walk up those steps again, and I know what it is like to never be able to count the amount of people in my family without pausing and recounting because even after two years my heart can't comprehend that he is really gone. 

And like every parent who has been forced to say goodbye too soon, the wounds are reopened each time we consider another parent walking through this path. 

May God and healing in this community as only He can do. Only He can fill those empty places and restore these families with the hope of eternity.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ohhhs and ahhs lemon fudge

My freezer is filling quickly with piles of ziplock containers filled with fudgy sugary goodness. Tis the season in our house for friends and family and that of course, means Christmas baking. I love Christmas baking. I love to plan for it, shop for it, and fill the kitchen with wonderful treats for my family. My favorite part of course is seeing the faces of the ones I care most about as they enjoy each treat. And since I am a real mom in the 21st century with real kids, a family business to move forward and a thousand other projects always screaming out to me, the name of the game for me is simplicity. Quite plainly I like to make things that look and taste fabulous but require little effort to pull it off. So that brings me to my latest creations, lemon fudge and strawberry creams, along with amazing cake truffles. The responses are such fun. People assume I spent hours slaving away in the kitchen when some took literally a few minutes to put together.

Let's start with the lemon fudge. Start to finish this batch took less than 5 minutes. SERIOUSLY. Five minutes! In a brief moment of sharing a plate, I had two people beg for the recipe and and both were pretty shocked when I told them how it was made. (I really wish I could be one of those people who could keep recipes a secret, but I since I am typically the one asking waiters and chefs to spill the beans on their secrets, I feel guilty about not spilling to those who ask me. But I digress.)

The lemon fudge is rich and delicate and has a wonderful flavor. The texture is reminiscent of fudge made the old fashion way without having to do all that sweating and stirring. Ready for the ingredients? White chocolate chips and a jar of lemon frosting. That's it! Yes, I am trying to not eat or serve the traditional processed foods, and throughout the year I have been so very good at cleaning out my pantry and making better choices for my family, but this is December, and we are talking about fudge. Some things just go without saying.

So here's how to whip up a fancy batch of no leftover lemon fudge to impress your crowd.

Melt 12 ounces of white chocolate chips in a glass bowl in the microwave. I like to do it in 30 second intervals and it usually only takes 2-3 minutes. While this is happening, spray your fudge pan with Pam spray. I used a silicon loaf pan for mine, and the fudge was nice and thick, but an 8 x 8 pan would work as well. When you can mix it smoothly with a fork, quickly dump in the whole jar of frosting and mix it all together. Pour the mixture into your pan and smooth the top with a knife or spatula. Put it into the freezer to chill for about 30 minutes, and go back to your normal activities while your fudge gets perfected in the freezer. When you are ready to slice it, cut it into one inch squares. Transfer the fudge into either a freezer ready container if you are not ready to serve it, or transfer it to a fancy-smancy plate so that it is ready to receive the oohs and ahhs of the crowd. Fudge has the ability to keep for months in the freezer, though I have never actually had that happen in my house since it usually vanishes pretty quickly ;)

Pictures coming soon!

Monday, April 16, 2012

synonyms- grammar practice

The synonym bag is based on the same concept as the homophone bag. I found these adorable lady bug eggs in the clearance rack in the same box as those cute turtles, but you could really use any plastic Easter eggs for this project.
Inside of each egg are 12 words that match into six synonym matches.

The object of each egg is simply to match the words on the cute lady bug chart.

And that's it- cute, easy and another competency to practice!

Daily Grammar fix-its

Grammar is one of those things that plagues the best of us, so I was so excited to see these "Daily Grammar Fix Its" from Amanda Nickerson on the Teachers pay Teachers site. This is a perfect idea to complement my competency bags!
She designed these wonderful pages and I only made one adjustment- simply to shrink them to 4 to a page so they fit into my bags. I love the idea of these. Each card starts with an improperly written sentence that the student needs to correct. Then there is a space for the correct sentence, and then a box to illustrate it. I laminated mine so that these can be used again and again, and I printed on both sides of the page to save space in the bag. Throw in a dry-erase marker and a wipe off cloth and it's finished!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fun Fractions!

The idea of fractions is generally not something I think of in the same sentence as the word "fun", but that doesn't mean that it can't be there. I set out to make a fractions bag that was fun while learning, and I think this one fits the bill.
So the fractions on the cards are in two parts. There are some that have the fraction on the left and a blank list of lines on the right. They are laminated so that these can be used as a dry erase set.  These can be colored to match the fraction. I have another series I cut apart and had my little girl color in advance (She was helping and had no idea that she was also learning fractions at the same time- so cool!). That set will be used as a matching game.
The other component I added to my competency bag was this fraction flip book I found at Dollar Tree. I'm beginning to think there is nothing you can't find at that store!
Anyway, it's a fun flip book that matches the fraction, the picture and even the decimal! Still working on some games to play with this one, but otherwise the bag is complete!

Journal prompts

The simplicity of this competency bag is almost too easy to post, but the concept is so good I didn't want to miss it. These are simply journal prompts, gathered from many different sources (They are EVERYWHERE on-line!) If you are not familiar with these, they are simply story starters designed to give ideas for journal writing.

I added a blank journal in my bag, and I think I might add a special pen too since this is a bag I plan to have my sweet girl use everyday. The task- choose a journal prompt, write a page in the journal! Love this one!

USA Geography and state capitols

So this competency bag took me a bit longer to accomplish than some of the others, but it's such a cool concept I just had to try it, and I love the way it turned out. The biggest part of this one is paint sample chips-free and easily accessible, so it works well in the budget!

I started with 10 colors of paint chips. (Get a few pieces of each color). My samples had a dot already perforated on one side so I used that for the clothes pins, but you could easily cut a circle out if your doesn't come that way. Glue a color onto 10 different clothespins (or however many you would like to use per page.)

The next task was creating maps that could be labeled. I broke the states down into 10 per page on 5 pages so it wasn't as overwhelming to try to locate all 50. At the top of each page, I listed the states to be found on that page, and then glued a small square from the same color paint chips.
Then I draw a line from each state to the side of the page. Like this.
I laminated the charts so they can be used again and again, and I would be glad to share them if you want to email me for them. The task is simply to identify the state by the correct color clothespin. This concept can really be used for anything that requires labeling, like systems in the body, or life cycles of plants or animals. Once the clothespins are ready, you can simply keep the colors on the charts the same and use them again and again!

So that covered my state labeling part, but I wanted some work on state capitols as well. I found a gem at Dollar Tree (Love that place!!) one pack of cards that lists each state on a flashcard and one that list the name of the capitols. TA DA!! Matching game for a whopping total of $2!
So my bag contains the components to cover some basic geography and capitols as well! Should keep her entertained for a while and will sharpen those skills nicely!

Homophones- fun grammar lessons

I love seasonal items, and I especially love clearance items, so this project works well for both. First of all, if you don't have any leftover plastic Easter eggs left over from last weekend, RUN to your nearest store and pick up a few batches. Look for really cool shapes like these great turtles. I managed to pick mine up at 50% off this week, ,so I'm sure you will probably get them cheaper this week. Hurry, though. The stores don't hold on to these for long!

So this package of eggs was called the Spring garden collection, and mine came with 7 adorable turtles. (It also came with lady bugs and butterflies, and I already have plans for those too!) I was looking for a creative way to teach homophones- those tricky words that sound the same but are spelled different and mean different things. Let's face it, most adults don't get this right, so it's probably good to start this one pretty young.

Inside each turtle, I put pieces of paper, each with the same sounding words. (Like to, too and two). I also put the definitions for each one in the same egg.
Then I created a little turtle chart to match the strips. I made 7 of the little charts.
Cute and easy!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I have...Who Has?

Apparently this game, "I have...Who has?" has been around in classrooms a while, but I was fairly clueless about it until recently. I'm not typically up on the latest classroom endeavors, especially since we have been homeschooling for 7 years now. Anyway, I came across this game and I LOVE how well it works into the competency bag concept. In this pursuit, I came across a web site that EVERY teacher should know about and use- www.teacherspayteachers.com. WOW! What a wealth of resources!! If you type in "I have...Who has?" in the search engine, you will come up with literally HUNDREDS of options of how to make this game work into your curriculum.

So how does it work?

In a classroom setting, each student is given a card. On the card it shows a part of the puzzle, starting with "I have". The student reads what they have, then ask the question at the bottom of their card that starts with "Who has?". Whoever has that on their "I am" part jumps in and starts the process again. Sounds complicated but it's really very simple. The types of information on these is everything from matching alphabet letters to matching information about the presidents or mathematical equations. AMAZING! I even found some on DNA and genetics!

So here's how I converted this idea to the competency bags. I printed the cards and included a series of plastic links. I bought these a while back, but I have seen these at Walmart and at School Box, so they shouldn't be too hard to find.
The possibilities here are simply endless. For my second grader, I have found these in versions of multiplication, plural words, elapsed time, seasonal studies and so much more. This activity might turn into several bags!

ABC Order Competency bag

This is a very simple concept bag and doesn't take long to create. I wanted to teach the topic of alphabetical order, and so I printed about 30 words that come from a 1-2nd grade word list and put them on scrapbook paper. I included an ABC desk list to help in case she gets stuck. I bought my desk list in a pack of 30 from the Dollar tree.
Sometimes simple is the best kind of project!

Greater than/Less than Competency bag

I must say that this bag gave my laminator quite a work out, but the end result was so worth it! I wanted a fun way to teach the Greater than/Less than concept, and a friend mentioned that she used a Pac Man symbol. From there this bag was born.

Materials needed:
Scrapbook paper
Tin gift card holder (I got mine for $1 at Dollar Tree)
magnet tape

So I started with cutting out three shapes- the Pac Man is the "greater than" symbol, the monster is the "less than" symbol, and then a square "equal" sign. I typed up a really random group of numbers, making sure I had several duplicate ones so the equal sign could be used. The amount of numbers isn't as relevant as the variety. I wanted to make sure I had some 1,2, and 3 digit numbers to show place value. I cut everything out, glued the numbers to scrapbook paper, laminated everything and put a small piece of magnet tape on the back of each.

So there are several ways to use this. The tin is a great metallic surface for assembling the equations.
Jamie can put 2 numbers up then choose the right symbol, or we can put 1 number and 1 symbol and have her choose a number that makes the statement true.

The symbol pieces store nicely in the bin. I also included some laminated true/false cards for extra dry erase reinforcement.

Music Competency bag

This turned out to be one of my favorites. My six year old just started playing clarinet this year, and has had some trouble remembering the notes as she is learning to read music. This bag is the perfect solution, and lots of fun too.

I covered several competencies in this bag, including learning the names and shapes of notes, recognizing the placement of notes and memorizing clarinet finger positions. You could really make this work with any instrument.

 For these cards, I had my 15 year old son draw out the pictures of a treble clef, bass clef, whole note, half note, quarter note and a rest. I guess I could have just printed these onto card stock from on-line, but he was sitting there and he draws well :) Anyway, the task is simply to trace the shapes of the notes with the pipe cleaners. Easy, and a great way to help her remember them.
Next up in this bag is clarinet finger position flash cards. We wanted to have something that was a visual reminder of what Jamie was trying to replicate in class, so this was a good fit. My sweet hubbie found the finger position chart on line (and believe me, there are TONS of these for EVERY Instrument, so finding these shouldn't be difficult!) He zoomed in until we got the size we like, then we printed them, wrote the correct note name on the back and laminated them. Great review without having to lug that instrument out of it's case each time!
The last part of this competency bag is simply a laminated chart of many different notes with blank lines under them. I threw in a kitchen timer and challenged her to complete each of the lines in less then 15 seconds. I figure it will at least take a few tries to get there!
And there you have it, out music note competency bag. As she gets better and better at reading music and playing the clarinet, there is room for many more notes and symbols along the way!

Compound Words

This seems like the easiest competency bag to make, and since it's mostly free, I will start here. The competency covered here is compound words. I used a stack of paint sample chips cut in half to write each of the words, then laminated each one. (And Walmart probably thinks I am doing some SERIOUS redecorating based on the number of paint samples I have picked up for these projects!)
Each word is one part of the compound word, like the words "Sea" and "Side" are written on two different cards. The task in this bag is simply for the child to match as many cards to it's mate(s). Several cards match to more than one word. I also included a chart that says, "How many compound words can you make?" and laminated it so that it becomes a dry/erase board. Also included in the bag is a dry erase marker and a piece of white felt for cleaning board.
Easy and covers a great concept. What do you think?

Competency Bags

     Like most homeschooling moms, spring is the season where I begin to think about what we want for our kids for the next school year. I'm a non-traditionalist when it comes to curriculum selection, and I really hate buying complete packages of curriculum only to find that at the end of the year we really haven't used many of the components. Seems like a waste of money and still leaves me wondering how we could have done it better. I tend to try new things each year because even after 7 years of homeschooling among several different personalities, I have yet to find too many things that work for everyone for every grade level. So in the midst of planning a graduation for our son Brandon this year, I am busy hunting and planning out what next year will look like for the rest of our crew.

     There will always be textbooks and workbooks and writing and reading, but what I look for most in this curriculum search are those things that stand out as fun, educational, and something my kids might actually enjoy. We spend a HUGE amount of our homeschooling time outside of the home doing book-fairs and other events, so school needs to be portable but still educational. I hate doing busy work, and I imagine that my kids would hate it too, so we really don't do that. When they are working on a school assignment, I want them fully connected to the material they are working on and I want them to learn through every process. Completing another worksheet as a "review" isn't a good use of their time unless of course, they really need the extra practice.

     So with that said, I have found TONS of amazing resources called "Busy Bags". The concept of these is fabulous. You simply fill different bags with different materials and each one is a self-contained exploration for little ones. My toddler will be completely set when I get all of his finished. The problem with these is that everything I am finding is focused on toddlers and preschoolers, and pretty much end with Kindergarten. So it got me thinking. What if I could create these bags based on more than these basic Pre-K concepts and create bags based on COMPETENCY? There's a bunch of talk these days of the Common Core Standards, and that's generally where I begin my curriculum search, so this idea is to create multi-level grade projects that each center around a competency. So for my upcoming second grader, I began with the core standards for second grade. I browsed through looking for specific competencies- those things that at minimum she should have mastered by the end of next year. My list had about 40 different ideas on it, but this will give you some ideas of some of those items:

greater than/Less than
two digit addition/subtraction
compound words
identifying nouns, verbs and adjectives
counting coins
telling time to the minute
and so many more!

So I set out to find fun ways to teach each, and found some fun ideas.

So my next few blogs will be dedicated to some tutorials around creating wonderful COMPETENCY BAGS and some ideas for planning these out for all grade levels. These bags are terrific for homeschoolers, and could work great as centers in classrooms as well. Enjoy!