Category: Education

Thursday 13: Artistic Influence or 13 children’s book illustrators I love.

I have been pondering what has influenced me as an artist and where to go from here. I have some favorite fine artists most of which are well known and which everyone has heard of. More importantly I was surrounded by many books illustrated by great illustrators. I spent a lot of my childhood perusing those books, often trying to imitate their drawings and paintings.

As an aside I will say that this is the way most of the best artists learn, by imitating other great artists, absorbing the style elements they love and rejecting the bits that don’t work for them. Very few great artists learned their art by being taught how to draw and paint each element, instead they were inspired by other artists and grew because they loved the work. If you have a child who loves art don’t get them art lessons, give them lots of resources–good books with great illustrators, books of famous artists prints, get them good materials, quality paper and pencils will go a long way towards helping a child develop his artistic talent.

That said the following is a list of the illustrative artists that I found inspiring, which helped me develop (and continue to help me develop) my own style. If you have a moment take a peak at these brilliant artists and their work. There are some great artists here.Read More

Awesome Sale

Library and Educational Services is having an AWESOME sale. Since they are wholesale you have to be a homeschooler or teacher or someone else who qualifies to get an account but if you fit the bill this sale is incredible!

They have so many great things on sale for about 25% of the normal price that I can’t even list them all. A lot of A&E history DVD’s as well as stories of the presidents.

I just ordered the 5 hour long Pride and Prejudice DVD set for $15–its the 10th Anniversary Deluxe addition which prices at $60.  (When I told Shamus the price he said get it as an anniversary gift. :))

If you do video tapes they are selling out of those–they have the 10 tape set of Nest Entertainment  animated Bible stories down from $130 to $20!  My kids LOVE these stories but we don’t do video tapes so that isn’t happening–if we did we would be ordering them.

If you homeschool check it out–there are some great books and DVD’s available at great prices.  You have to sign up and give some evidence that you are homeschooling since it is a wholesale site but it is worth it.  If you want to see the email I received that explain the sale let me know and I will email it to you–it lists the sale items in detail.

Doodle-a-Day:2-12-08

Today I spent some time sketching as Issac moved about and built an impressive city out of the memory rocks we keep in a giant bowl by the fire place. He has all kinds of building toys but loves balancing rocks one on another and spent 45 minutes at it after playing out in the snow. Because he was moving about an building as boys do the sketch is more impression than any attempt to capture Issac as he is.

Catching a Love of Learning

I have been thinking a lot about where I came from, how I got here, and where I am going.   I was blessed growing up.  My parents were both teachers and both loved to learn and who taught me to love learning–not book learning and school but real, day to day, learning.

My dad was a mathematician who taught math and later took up teaching computers.  He kept me immersed in science though I refused the maths side of it.  He loved all things nature and gave me a fascination of museums and nature documentaries.  He taught me how to experiment, explore, and love the world I found around me.  He taught me how to work hard with my hands and to glory in the results.  He taught me to love learning for the sake of learning.

My mother, on the other hand, was an art student who loved the crafts side of art and to read.  She often taught arts and crafts to others and exposed me to many different media and materials.  She also made sure I was exposed to the great artists and lots and lots of books.  Between her and my grandparents–who subscribed me to numerous book clunbs over the years,  I had more books than any of the kids I knew many with beautiful illustrations.  We also spent plenty of time at the library and in the summers would go to the art museum .

My parents never gave me art lessons or drawing books, instead they exposed me to nature and good artists.  They taught me to research the things I was interested in, to proof read and to make rough drafts of things.  My love of learning and my interests were not learned in school–they were caught by being exposed to many thing, by seeing my parents with their multitude of interests, by watching them learn, and by asking lots and lots of questions.  Because my parents encouraged me to pursue what I was interested in instead of just doing what they were doing, because my parents had many hobbies and were constantly learning new things, because they encouraged me to do the same, I learned how to teach myself, how to explore and research, to find out what I wanted to know and what interested me.

What is interesting is that this particular form of education–which I value more highly than anything I learned in “school” and which is one of the reasons we take this same approach with our own children, allowed me to develop beyond my parents.  I would not describe my parents as having great taste or  of being particularly wise or deep–not that I am perfect either.  They are themselves and each has as many good qualities as bad.  However, their love of learning and their willingness for myself and my brothers to grow in knowledge and understanding and to love learning was right and out of that environment each of us developed into our own person with our own tastes and individual ideas.  We may have each attended public school but it was our home-life and the love of learning their that shaped us and made us who we are today–and though my youngest brother is still in high school both my other brother and I are following our dreams, continuing the legacy of learning and growing, both self-teaching as needed instead of relying on outside teachers to impart knowledge.

Day in the Life 13: Kids in the Kitchen

When I was young I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. At some point my mom got me a Betty Crocker Cook Book for Kids and some other weird kid’s cook books (I tried to find them, believe me. One of them had humpty Dumpty on the cover and had recipes for “Purple Cows” and cucumber sandwiches, the other had a child’s hand reaching down to all kinds of awesome cookies, I also had the official Winnie the Pooh cookbook and several others that I didn’t use so often.)

I made a lot of messes and wasted plenty of ingredients but my mom taught me the basics and kind of just let me go in the kitchen–as long as I cleaned up I was allowed to play with food. It is how I learned and I learned a lot. When I was older I would often make desserts and when we needed to take food somewhere I usually whipped it up.

My kids are 6, 8, and 10. I have spent plenty of time in the kitchen with them teaching them to read recipes and measure. All three know how to use the stove and the older two are capable of using the oven. All three love to help in the kitchen.

Lately my oldest has been kitchen obsessed. Our rule is that she is allowed to bake or cook as long as she makes sure the kitchen is clean before AND after. (I don’t allow cooking in the kitchen unless it is clean and the dirty dishes all int he dishwasher.) She is finally to the point where I don’t have to be in the kitchen with her. I am letting her make mistakes (like not mixing the ingredients right and misreading the recipe–it is how I learned and it is how I intend the kids to learn.) Yesterday she decided to make pie crust for pumpkin pie–she can’t eat most of the pumpkin pie ingredients and she didn’t ask me what I substitute so I let her go.
She used Stevia with pumpkin and used way too much Stevia so the filling was pretty much inedible. However, the crust was decent though not mixed well enough. It was definitely edible. 🙂

Today she has decided to make peanut butter cookies. I am staying out of the kitchen.


After yesterdays mistakes she learned to ask more questions before proceeding and to reread the recipe. She is also teaching her little brother and sister to measure, repeating many of the fine points I have taught her over the years. Teaching another is one of the best ways I know to learn something yourself.

If she succeeds with these this will be the first time I have not been involved in the process other to take pictures and answer questions. It will be a real success–especially as she already did all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen unasked so that she could bake, and has already cleaned as she has gone along, instead of leaving a mess for later.

The best part is–since her snack foods are expensive and the ingredients are much less so letting her make her own snacks, even with the mistakes is MUCH cheaper than buying ready made ones. (And reading recipes is a great way for Rachel, my dyslexic child who struggles with comprehension to work on her reading skills.)

Update: The cookies are AWESOME! She did a great job!

Todays doodle to come later–I am intending to work from the pictures I took of them working in the kitchen since they were moving too much for me to doodle while they worked.

A Day in the Life 10: Chaos Central Revisited

Welcome to Chaos Central, please hold on to the railings lest you go sliding across the ice and land in the puddle under the computer desk. Also, please be wary of the mommy because she is rather uncomfortable and liable to bite your head off on the way out the door. Oh, and no sled riding because it is so icy you may slide into a tree.

Um yeah. Things are crazy around here. The roof is leaking immediately over Shamus’ office desk–where the huge tangle of wires can be found. It is also leaking over his chair, dripping on him as he tries to work.

Outside all is ice. Everything is covered in half an inch of ice with a puddle on top.

I am rather uncomfortable due to the “issues” I have been having and the doctor insists I go and get bloodwork done, today.

We need to move Shamus’ desk out from under the drips but can’t because it is old and falling apart, not to mention the issues I am having which mean carrying heavy things is bad.

So, we are off to get my blood-work and purchase Shamus a much needed new computer desk so we can put it up in a spot where there is no evidence of previous water falling from the ceiling plus put the check in the bank which, praise the Lord, came today.

The kids have been out helping spread ice melt while Shamus stood on a ladder with me holding it, pouring boiling water down our ice encrusted gutters and freezing his hands off trying to remove the slurry of leaves and slushy. When finished, Issac attempted to sled ride and ran into a tree doing it. The girls each fell at least three times each trying to walk across our ice encrusted yard. It was very educational.:)

How is that for an untraditional home?

Pictures to follow.

A frugal recipe: Spring Rolls

When I wrote about our attempts to stay home instead of going out to eat several people requested some of our recipes. As I mentioned most of the quick stay at home recipes are really convenience foods that I have found are cheaper than making from scratch (like Aldi’s Asian Style frozen veggies with sauce) but some of the foods, though worth it to avoid going out to eat still are expensive and with our eldest’s food allergies VERY expensive to get versions she can eat. Spring Rolls are one of those foods.

Aldi’s egg/spring rolls are roughly $3.50 a package of four making them nearly the same price as those at the restaurant. Problem is that they are kind of tricky to make and if you buy the wrappers to make them yourself they are still fairly expensive. Enter the spring roll wrapper recipe. It takes some practice but Rachel LOVES making them and then you can fill them with whatever your heart desires. (These take a lot of strength to roll to the right thinness–we have yet to get them there which means they are a bit to thick–you really need a pasta roller to make them thin enough.)

We use this recipe for the wrappers although we found that you don’t really need to refrigerate it to make it work (we don’t, it is hard enough to roll as it is without having it cold.) Because we can’t get them thin enough we make a quadruple batch to make 10 egg rolls, if you can get them thinner you can make a smaller batch and make many more.

For the filling:

I had used ready made broth that Rachel can eat (Swanson organic–I think) to make some soup

because it had been yucky out. We threw a 1lb bag of regular carrots, two leeks, and an onion in the food processor to be sliced and threw that in the broth while it cooked. That was our filling. In the future I would throw in some sliced cabbage and some texturized soy protein (we don’t eat much meat but you could throw in some left over pork or chicken.)

Once everyone was done eating soup I put a strainer over a bowl and let the liquid drain out of the veggies.

We then followed the recipe for the spring roll wrappers, quadrupaling the recipe.

First we put the eggs, flour, and water in the food processor (I LOVE my Bosch), putting it on high for about 12 minutes–you want the gluten to do its work and the dough should be hard to the touch but very elastic. Once it prepared you will want to separate it into 1-2 inch balls. If you can roll it super thin or have a dough press/noodle press then go with the smaller balls. We were hand rolling and it took a lot to get them as thin as we did.

Grab a ball of dough (cover the rest because otherwise they dry out pretty quick) and smash it as flat as you can with your hands (this was Issac’s job.) I use a silicone baking mat for all rolling–it is one of the few things I have found that doesn’t make a sticky mess and require tons of flour. Once flattened roll dough out as thin as you can, flipping and rotating every few minutes. This is a great job for kids who love rolling dough–the dough is not sticky and doesn’t require tons of flour. Hold it up to the light every so often to find thicker areas. Ours were too thick –you want them to be only a little over a millimeter thick, if that.

Once you have it as thin as you want moisten the top of the wrapper then add the filling (make sure the filling is relatively dry). Cover the filling with the side closest to you, pull wrapping it tightly then fold the sides in (very similar to making a burrito) then roll it over itself until the whole thing is wrapped. It is best to have it super thin and have several layers although ours only had one layer–this makes for a thicker shell though the kids liked it as well.


Finally, fry the rolls until golden brown. It is better to deep fry them though if you rubbed oil over them you can put them in the oven. This is where a thin wrapper is best as frying a thicker wrapper means you have to cook it longer to get the inner wrapper cooked through.

Yeah it is more work to start but if you get the kids involved it is fun. Plus you can freeze a whole bunch and warm them when you are in the mood for a quick meal. We also make all kinds of perogie/calzone style dumplings along this same lines–I make a biscuit or pizza like crust (usually I just make extra dough when I am making biscuits/pie/pizza and freeze it for when I have filling ready) then add similar fillings, boil or fry them then freeze for a quick, easy to heat, and VERY filling meal.

It saves us a lot of money and if the kids are involved they learn a lot about how their favorite foods are made, not to mention how to prepare healthy alternatives to ready made junk food.

Wordless Wednesday (or look at our new play shelter!)

Cool damp weather brings out the worst in me–this week I am taking it easy as I am relying on my herbal supplements, eating right, and wisdom to keep my arthritis from having a full-fledged flair-up.

So of course I would decide to help the kids build a new shelter today, this time out of wood and tarps instead of just bungee cords and tarps. 🙂

It is comprised of an old apple tree, an old wooden climbing toy, scavenged wood, tarps, lots of bungee cords, some nails, plus an old sliding board from the climbing toy. All aspects of this shelter were scavenged, nothing was purchased for the project.


Yes, this project included hammering, and sawing, and carrying heavy things. Yes, I know those are not wise things to be doing when you are already fending off an attack of rheumatoid arthritis.

(The kids helped a lot and did a lot of the planning though I had to do the sawing and some of the carrying and hammering.)

It was well worth it. I spent the rest of the day resting and playing Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, huddled in a pile of blankets trying to keep warm–which was nice in its own way.

I have actual work I need to do but was not up to that so just sat and rested.

The kids spent that time playing in their new shelter and discussing how the next one will be even better ( Rachel spent quite a bit of time perusing Issac’s new “The Dangerous Book for Boys” for how to build a tree house–I have a feeling that will be their next such project. :))

(This shelter is nice because it is out of the wind and when we do get snow will provide a place for the kids to get out of the elements without having to climb the hill to our house. 🙂 They can’t wait for snow!

On Being Frugal and Eating Out

This post got me thinking about the changes that we have made over the last 11 years regarding our finances. We have gone from being very in debt spendthrifts who ate out constantly (it was our only “date” type activity other than movies) and bought all kinds of things when we wanted, and who bounced more than a few checks while living paycheck to paycheck them to having no credit card or car debt (and now no hospital debt), almost never eating out, buying all clothing items at the thrift shop, and slowly building up a “cushion”. We don’t use a budget, because neither of us work well with a budget (we naturally overspend when we have a budget) and budgeting doesn’t work well when you are trying to give freely without one hand knowing what the other hand is doing. God is blessing our lack of budget giving and our “keep a general idea how much money is spendable in the bank” attitude. We no longer stress about money and now both of us, together, balance the check book and hold each other accountable about where money is being spent.

That is not really the point of this post but it does explain where we came from and how we got here–a little anyway. So how did we go from obsessively eating out to NEVER eating out?

  • The easiest part is that food allergies make eating out more hassle than it is worth. When we discovered our food allergies it was too hard to find someplace everyone could eat. It helped break the habit. Quitting cold turkey for two years REALLY helped.
  • When we discovered food enzymes and were able to eat out again we had to be careful and analyze WHY we were eating out.
  • Once we understood WHY we could figure out how to replicate those aspects at home. In our case it was having a nice meal together, without a lot of fuss, of our favorite foods in a nice atmosphere. Replicating those aspects at home turned out to be easier (and cheaper) than expected.

Here is how we did it:

  • I figured out our favorite types of food then looked for quality, cheap alternatives at Aldi. The kids and I used ethnic foods as a homeschool project and got all kinds of kids ethnic food recipe books out and tried what looked good. We love Mexican, Italian, and Chinese foods which are all cheap and easy to make at home. Figure out what everyone’s favorite eating out foods are then figure out how best to replicate those at home. If it is something that has a special recipe a lot of websites have “secret recipe” copies that are awfully close (I have a GREAT imitation Krispie Kreme recipe if someone wants to try it.) The small amount of work making it is well worth the $20-$40 saved by NOT EATING OUT.
  • Changing the atmosphere in the kitchen helped as well. When we do an “eating out” meal we set the table extra nice and make sure the kitchen is really clean. A lot of it a matter of attitude–if you spend some time cleaning up so you can “eat out” at home you will feel great about doing it. Get the kids involved–they LOVE to help when they are thinking of it as “eating out”. (Getting out the Chinese bowls and chopsticks or setting the table like a fancy restaurant or even eating off paper plates changes the feel.
  • Make the food ahead. I keep some of our favorite “eating out foods” in the deep freeze for when we are in the mood to go out. Since convenience is part of why eating out is fun, having the foods ready to go makes it easy to switch gears and eat in. If you are into Chinese takeout, Aldi carries a great range of Chinese specialties that taste the same as the restaurant version and cost less than the price of a single meal to feed a family of 5. If you get the whole range they have available you can have a Chinese takeout meal made at home (with everything from egg rolls and stir fry, noodles or rice plus General Tso’s Chicken ) ready within 5-10 minutes with no driving for the price of a single meal of the same from the restaurant– plus have enough leftovers for two whole meals for your family of 5.
  • When I realize how much money we save just by staying home then I don’t look at the price of the foods the same–sure the foods are slightly higher priced than what I would normally pay for a homecooked meal–but when you consider that if you went out, by the time you pay for gas, tip, and the restaurant bill that same meal which cost $5 to prepare and 10 minutes time would cost 45 minutes time and $45. The same goes for fast food joints. Keep some quick meals of the sort you enjoy at home in the freezer for those times where you are tempted to go out.

Also, set aside a little for the money you save by NOT going out to purchase something you enjoy doing as a family. One of the best things we did was find something else we enjoyed doing as a family to replace going out–for us it is playing video games together or going to the park or walking around the mall (not buying stuff.) Considering that for us not going out saves enough money to buy one video game that will give the family hours of fun is a pretty good incentive to eat at home. When the kids start bugging to go out we point out that a trip to the Chinese restaurant is the same price as two DS games (which they can play together since they each saved up for a DS) or one computer game (which Daddy plays while they watch) or two purchased DVD’s or a month of free rentals at Netflix puts the going out into perspective. If you don’t like those think about what your family likes to do together, then use those things as an incentive to eat at home and use a little of the saved money to do a fun activity together. One of the cool benefits we found is that by doing this we changed the “feel good” aspect of eating out–if you train your children to associate feeling good and being a family with food you are setting them up for trouble when they are older. Move the focus of family away from food and food becomes just one more way to be together instead of way to feel like family.

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