Monday, November 26, 2007

Homeschool Buyer Co-op

The Homeschool Buyer Co-op is a free homeschooling organization for both new and veteran homeschoolers. Co-op membership is free and confidential, and entitles homeschooling families to discounts from hundreds of educational suppliers. The Co-op also sponsors "Group Buys" for curriculum packages that can save homeschooling families lots of money. On the site you'll find lots of free information, such as databases of free curriculum, field trips, and educational contests and scholarships.

There are different discounts on a wide range of goods and services. A couple of the discounts we have enjoyed include:

The Entertainment 2008 book for our area. I get one anyway, but saved a little chunk of the price, plus got points for the purchase that I can use to get discounts on still other products.

God's World magazines are something we love to use, but the price is prohibitive. With our group buy, we are getting them for half-price. This is particularly a good investment with the upcoming election year.

The Homeschool Buyer Co-op also participates in eScrip. Scrip is a wonderful way to support local schools and charities with very little time investment. Most programs require a separate scrip purchase. For example, I use scrip to support my local high school. I put a certain dollar amount on a grocery gift card provided by the high school, then use that gift card to pay for my purchases at that grocery store. It only takes a minute or two to add money to the gift card, and it's a whole lot easier than selling candy, gift wrap or magazines to support the school.

But eScrip is even more elegant, using cyber technology to track purchases made with my grocery loyalty card instead of a separate gift card. I look forward to when more stores are added.

All in all, the Homeschool Buyer Co-op is a great organization, and is continuing to grow and diversify as it matures. Well worth a stop by!

Click here for more information.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In the meadow, we can build a B&M

We lived in a sleepy little burg of 1000 before moving here. I used to go every Black Friday to the nearest town (of 10,000 people!) to do all my holiday shopping on one day and loved it. My mom and sister would give me their lists for us and I'd buy their gifts too, so they didn't have to ship cross-country.

I'm seriously scared to go to the malls or larger stores here. Too close to the city, too many people, and too many stories on the news of people getting pushed and trampled. If I get pushed, I fall over and I've hurt people too many times falling down and the cane going flying. Too dangerous.

But I miss going. It's really where the holiday season starts for me. So, I set the alarm for 4AM and gave it a shot. I drove past Best Buy at 5AM, and saw the line outside was all the way around the building. Hm. Not for me.

At Shoe Carnival they greeted me with a $10 gift card and a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer, so I got slippers for hubby and me. Not gifts, we need them NOW!

The fitted sheet on my bed has bit the dust, but the rest of the set was fine, so I toodled over to Bed, Bath and Beyond at 6 when they opened for a really nice replacement. I can't afford $100 for a set of sheets, but I can afford $25 for a really nice single fitted sheet (especially with a 20% off coupon!) I picked up a charging station there, too so hubby would stop losing his cell phone charger. That can wait to be a gift, I guess.

I dropped by Joann for some pillow forms at 50% off so I can get started making some special pillows for the kids (I'm taking their old special event T-shirts, iron-on-ing a photo of them on the back, then turning the outgrown shirts into pillows as keepsakes). I grabbed some crochet kits and a soapmaking kit (that's the one I used the 50% off coupon on) so they can make gifts for their friends.

At the Christian store I got all gifts: the kids some new music (Switchfoot, Mercy Me, Barlowgirl, etc.) and the new holiday CD by Jars of Clay. They had a 20% off coupon and a BIG cup of hot cider for me at the door. Aaah.

Best Buy was my last stop where I got some DVDs, a Wii game and my gift to hubby: a supercool computerized remote to control all our living room gadgets. We joke about our 7 remotes, but it's becoming ridiculous. When we switched from cable to sat TV he was saying he didn't like the new remote, so it's as good a time as any to consolidate. All of this stuff will be gifted.

Later, in the afternoon, hubby took us to Books a Million and Target. I didn't find anything in either store I can't beat the price on online. But, while at BAM I read up on the new Mac OS upgrade and found the gift I want to send to my oldest boy 'cuz he's da bomb!

I still have a ton of books to buy, but I can get those at Amazon much cheaper than the stores. I have money available there anyway because for the last three months I've taken my profit from my Amazon store in gift certs.

I didn't have to be up at 4AM, I didn't have to wait in long lines, but I wanted to. It kind of kick starts the holiday season for me. I didn't get but a handful of gifts, but saved more than $50 on things I needed anyway because of the special Black Friday coupons and sales.

The rest? Free shipping at online stores! YAY!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We also have crabs.

No, this isn't a health-related post. We have actual crabs. As pets. Land hermit crabs. Okay, maybe not so much as pets, but they live in an aquarium in our house.

They're really pretty cool, but they are a lot more work and expense than the info sheets at the pet store would have you believe.

Right now we have a total of 10 crabs:

4 purple pinchers (Coenobita clypeatus): Leia Clawgana Solo, Luke Sandwalker, Obi Wan Crabobi, Yoda

2 ruggies (Coenobita rugosus): Chewbacca the Ruggie, Han Solo

3 equadorians (Coenobita compressus): C3PO, R2D2, Wicket

1 strawberry (Coenobita perlatus): Darth Maul

We have also had a second strawberry, Depa Billba, who died after a complicated moult and a purple pincher we named Anakin Sandwalker, who died from post-purchase stress syndrome. They are buried in the front yard with the appropriate grave markers (an empty shell filled with tiny artificial flowers.)

Here are some photos:

A crab peeking out from behind the logLeia, Han and Wicket discuss the benefits of their particular species

This is a shell fight. There were no injuries, and the offender was moved to isolation for about 24 hours during which he calmed down. When returned to the general population, he ceased threatening others.

Ah, the elusive Darth Maul. Contrary to his character in the movie, our Darth is very shy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Aw, whatabunchasweeties!

My girls decided I needed a "date" night with hubby, so they planned a dinner for us. They got all the necessary groceries during our last trip, set the table, even used plastic dinnerware so they could do the dishes all by themselves. We had Happle Bagel Sandwiches (half a bagel, topped with cheddar cheese, a slice of tart apple and a sprinkling of cinnamon, broiled), homemade chili con carne, yogurt crunch (plain yogurt mixed together with granola and chocolate chips) and Bananaoids (frozen chocolate-dipped bananas) and "wine" (grape juice). It was wonderful. Food always tastes better when prepared by someone else! They did a lovely job of decorating, too. Rosie made place cards, and Christie set the table. Kate was the chili cook and oversaw the operation.

Hubby and I had such a lovely time on our date that we decided to continue it the next night! We left the kids in Blair's capable supervision and went to see Dan In Real Life. It was so refreshing to see kids being respectful of their parents, yet still being kids; grown children and parents interacting intelligently; smart adults making very human mistakes and owning up to them; and it was all done without sex, violence or language. I really enjoyed this movie.

Hm. If Steve Carrell isn't careful he's going to keep on making good movies like this and Evan Almighty and get noticed by Christians. That'll pretty much be the end of his career.

In new news, John, the one child of mine who very, very rarely gets ill, has developed a fever today. This is a new bug entirely, the cough and tummy problems we've dealt with so far this autumn didn't include fever. Oh, and I've got the cough.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cold Comfort Lunch

We're still fighting this cough thing. Now Blair says her upper teeth hurt when she bites down—a sinus infection? So, I dug out my nutritional materia medica and tossed together this lunch yesterday:

Cold Comfort Lunch
Chop 2 garlic cloves, set aside. Cook a pound of orzo in a quart of boiling vegetable broth for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and let it absorb the moisture while it cools. While that's all going on, chop a small onion, six shiitake mushrooms and eight green beans into tiny bites. Steam those with the garlic for 5 minutes, drain. Toss the veggies in a large bowl. Drain the orzo and add that to the bowl. In the pan you steamed the veggies over medium heat, toss 1/4 cup of pine nuts until toasty and light brown, but don't let them sit or they'll burn. Add those to the bowl. Strip the leaves from eight or nine stalks of fresh thyme, grate 2 carrots and add the thyme leaves and carrots to the bowl. In a separate small bowl, stir together 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth and 1/4 cup raisins. Add that in and toss all together. Serve with a little parmesan on top.

Garlic and onion are prized for their immune-boosting and infection-killing abilities. Shiitake mushrooms have antiviral properties. Thyme is a miracle worker when it comes to calming coughs (we have a bowl of boiling water with thyme for the kids to "tent" their heads when they start coughing.) The fresh lemon juice is a great source of vitamin C, and raisins are alkaline. Orzo is filling, and the small pieces of veggies are easy to chew and nutritious, making this meal a real "comfort food" for when colds strike.

At snack time, I didn't want the kids eating a bunch of immune-suppressing sugar, but they wanted something sweet. I also wanted a big nutritional "BANG" for those who are not feeling well enough to eat a lot. So of course, I turned to sweet potatoes! Ah, all that orangy goodness. You just can almost feel the beta carotene working its wonders on you. Of course, they taste great, or they wouldn't get eaten!

I just peeled and sliced 3 large sweet potatoes in 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices and tossed them in a big bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil. Onto a pan-sprayed cookie sheet, into a 500° oven for 20 minutes, and voila! Snacktime! They were crispy on the outside and sweet and chewy on the inside. Didn't even need salt.

I wanted something for dinner that would be soothing on upset tummies, cough-suppressing and warming, but not overly filling, and this chowder fit the bill.

I call it The More (Vegetables) The Merrier Chowder

I mixed together 3 cups of vegetable stock, a large chopped onion, a tablespoon of stripped thyme leaves, a teaspoon of cumin, 2 cloves of minced garlic and got it boiling. I turned the heat down to simmer and covered it for five minutes. I stripped a cob of corn and tossed that in with a handful of frozen peas, four stalks of chopped bok choy, three stalks of chopped celery, a chopped up red bell pepper, two chopped carrots and two chopped zucchini. I let it simmer for about 15 minutes while I put the bread in the oven to warm. Now, I'm not normally a fan of white bread, but this meal just screamed out for an Italian loaf and I didn't have a whole wheat one ready. In a separate bowl, I mixed together 3 cups of milk, three tablespoons of peanut butter and a dash of Tabasco. I added that to the soup and stirred it around. It was the perfect eating temperature almost immediately. We had elderberry preserves on the bread, well, the kids did. I dunked my bread in the chowder!

Kate was still hungry after dinner and wanted something sweet, so she put together this yummmmmmmy dessert:

The Cider House Pears

Boil a cup of apple cider with a 4-inch sprig of rosemary, cover and reduce heat to simmering. Add five sliced pears and simmer five minutes. We served it with whipped cream.
Yup, that's Kate's hand!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fourth Floor Nurse's Station

One of the distinct disadvantages to having a large family is when illness strikes.

We have two bugs going around our house right now. One is a nasty tummy bug that gets worse, then better, then worse, get the idea. I've had it for 12 days, my personal cut-off time for allowing myself to get better before calling in the guns. Hubby's had it for about seven days and Blair for about two. Seeing a pattern here? Like a 5-day incubation period?

The other bug is like a cold, but not so much with the sniffles and sneezing, and big time with the cough. Rosie caught it first, today is her ninth day. She was better yesterday and I let her go outside for some fresh air and sunshine. But you can't keep a seven-year-old sitting down in fresh air and sunshine, so she was up and playing a lot. Too much. She's having quite the rebound today after not sleeping well last night for all her coughing.

Kate is in her sixth day of the coughing fits. She is pretty perky and healthy-looking during the day, but at night she keeps us all (and herself) awake with the hacking. And poor hubby's allergies have been making him crazy at night, with his head packing in after being laid down for 30 minutes or so.

Of course, they all sleep better with their heads slightly elevated, which means they all sleep in the living room. And the insomniacs make them crazy with their trips to the bathroom and kitchen until 2AM when Blair finally zonks out and starting again at 4AM when John gets up for the day!

Rosie finally gave up and crawled in bed with me this morning for a little peace and quiet. Bless her heart. She's a snuggler, though, and breathed all those lovely germs right into my face until I managed to drag myself out of bed.

In a large family, you have two sickness scenarios:

Everyone gets sick at once. That works fine if Mama stays healthy and can fetch and carry. But in 27 years mama-ing, that has only happened to me once. I find it's much more likely for Mama to get sick right along with everyone all at once. The upside to that would be everyone convalescing together, watching movies and eating soup together and no one hollering about how badly THEY need to go to the library. The downside? This Mama tends to get illnesses rather heavily, so while the children are sniffly, I come down with bronchitis and pneumonia. And do the cooking and cleaning and tending, not resting and napping, which makes the bug hold on all the longer.

Everyone gets sick, one at a time. Ah, the nickel-and-dime-you-to-death scenario. If you assume 10 days from first sniffle to last cough, times seven people in the house, you're talking a whopping two months of care-taking without a single trip to church, the movie house, or the mall. Then consider there are two "cold and flu seasons" in a year and suddenly a twelve-month year becomes one-third shorter and less efficient!

Homeschooling helps. Our public-school-attending friends are sick much more of the time than we are.

Back, five or six years ago, I took a phenomenal herbal medicine course. I learned how to make tinctures and elixirs, syrups and teas, how to grow herbs to make medicines, how to diagnose and dose, the whole nine yards. And the knowledge has served me well. I still use that information frequently. But I'm beginning to see that I need a different approach.

I am currently studying nutrition as a disease preventative. Good to know the remedies for illness, but I'd rather avoid the illness to begin with. And I'm sure it helps quite a bit, as shown by our only two small bugs a year. Oh, but I'd so like to avoid those two bugs as well.