Sunday, September 25, 2016

Two Kombucha Flavors for Fall: Ginger Pear and Apple Cinnamon

As a nice change from our favorite kombucha flavor, in the Fall I like to make the most of autumn's seasonal fruits by making ginger pear and apple cinnamon kombucha. I originally posted these recipes several years ago, and thought I'd re-post them now that Fall has arrived.

Required Ingredients and Equipment

To make flavored kombucha, you need to start with some plain kombucha. You can see my recipe for making kombucha tea here. 

Once the fruit and spices are added, the kombucha is allowed to ferment for 2 days on the counter to develop the flavors and create a bit of fizz.

Mason jars work well for making these flavored kombucha drinks. If you want your kombucha to be extra fizzy, Fido jars work well.  

Recipe: Ginger Pear Kombucha

Ginger pear kombucha has a delicate pear flavor, just mildly sweet.

Makes 1 quart
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced ripe pears
  • 1/4 tsp finely minced fresh ginger (I use a garlic press to mince the ginger), or a couple smallish chunks of peeled ginger
  • 3&1/2 cups finished kombucha tea
  1. Combine all ingredients in a quart mason jar
  2. Cover tightly and allow to ferment for 2 days at room temperature. 
  3. Transfer to the refrigerator.  The pears can be left in while the kombucha is stored in the fridge. 
  4. If desired, the kombucha can be strained before drinking it to remove the pears. We think these fermented pears actually taste fabulous, so we like to leave them in.

Recipe: Apple Cinnamon Kombucha

This apple cinnamon kombucha tastes like tart apple cider.  It is refreshing and delicious!

Makes 1 quart
  • 2/3 cup peeled, diced sweet-tart apples (such as Fuji)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, or 1/4 of a cinnamon stick
  • 3&1/2 cups finished kombucha tea
  1. Combine all ingredients in a quart mason jar
  2. Cover tightly and allow to ferment for 2 days at room temperature. 
  3. Transfer to the refrigerator.  If the apple cinnamon kombucha will not be consumed within a few days, its a good idea to strain out the apples before you store the kombucha in the fridge.
  4. Since the apples are fairly flavorless after the fermentation process, strain them out before serving the kombucha.  If you want the apple cinnamon kombucha to be more sweet like apple cider, feel free to stir in a bit of maple syrup into each glass.

What are your favorite kombucha flavors for Fall?

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Banana Muffins (nutrient-dense)

Every weekend, I bake a few items that can be used for simple breakfasts throughout the coming week. I usually bake my husband his favorite breakfast of grain-free custard cake, as well as some muffins, granola, or cookies for the rest of us to enjoy. My latest recipe for easy weekday breakfast is banana muffins.

I've used a combination of flours in this recipe: Einkorn, coconut flour, and sprouted spelt. Einkorn is an ancient variety of wheat that is naturally lower in gluten and higher in protein than modern wheat. The addition of coconut flour allows these muffins to be more-filling, since coconut flour requires extra eggs into the batter.  And the sprouted spelt gives a nice bit of nutty flavor and boosted nutrition (and since the spelt flour is sprouted, the phytic acid anti-nutrient has been reduced). I've made these muffins using a combination of sucanat and sugar for the sweetener; however, sucanat can be used exclusively if you prefer to stick with only unrefined sweeteners.

Banana Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

  1. Line a muffin tin with paper cups.  (I prefer If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins do not stick to the sides of the cups.) 
  2. Zest the lemon using a microplane rasp or other zester.
  3. Combine the Einkorn, coconut flour, sprouted spelt flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. Whisk it all together to break up any lumps.  
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 
  5. Mash two ripe bananas in a medium bowl. I like to use a potato masher to mash the bananas, but a fork would work, too. 
  6. Combine the butter, sucanat and sugar in a large bowl (a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer works great for this recipe). Cream together for a couple minutes until the mixture turns slightly lighter in color.
  7. In the meantime, combine the eggs, vanilla, and almond extract in a small bowl. (I find that a Pyrex glass measuring cup works great for this because the pour spout makes it easy to add these ingredients to the mixer while it is running.) Do NOT mix up the eggs at this point.
  8. Once the butter and sucanat/sugar have become well-mixed, mix in the eggs one-at-a-time.  With my stand-mixer, I can just pour in each egg while the mixer is still running.  Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well. (It is okay if the mixture looks a bit curdled during this step.)
  9. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just mixed. Because the Einkorn flour does contain gluten, make sure not to overmix or the muffins will be tough. 
  10. Mix in the mashed bananas.
  11. Use a 3-Tb scoop or large spoon to scoop the batter into the muffin cups.
  12. Bake the muffins at 350 degrees F for 27-32 minutes, until a they are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out dry.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving.
  14. Serve and enjoy! Delicious when paired with a glass of raw milk.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Q & A About Cod Liver Oil

Why and How We Take Cod Liver Oil
Cod liver oil is a true superfood. This nutritional powerhouse provides Vitamins A and D, plus Omega 3's, DHA, and EPA.  Weston A. Price's studies showed that the diets of traditional people contained ten times the amounts of Vitamin A and D present in modern diets, and this higher nutrient-content led to people with robust health and virtually no cavities. 

In working to improve the dental health of children, Weston Price used cod liver oil as an important supplement to a nutritious once-per-day meal being given to children who had rampant tooth decay. With just one healthy daily meal plus cod liver oil, Weston Price "completely controlled the dental caries [cavities] of each member of the group." Additionally, two different school teachers reported that one of their pupils (who was undergoing Weston Price's nutritional protocol) had changed "from one of the poorest in the class in capacity to learn to one of the best."  

In my own family, Rosita's extra-virgin cod liver oil is the only supplement we take. We don't take it daily, or even year-round. Rather, we take it in the winter months when our sun exposure is lower and we start to feel a craving for it. I tend to crave a dose of EVCLO about twice a week in the winter months.

Cod Liver Oil Controversy and Confusion

Over the last few years, there has been much controversy surrounding fermented cod liver oil, which my own family stopped taking back in 2012 after experiencing multiple bad reactions to it. Many people are now confused about what all the controversy means, whether test results even matter, and which cod liver oil to take.  In my own role as local chapter leader for both the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Hunt Gather Grow Foundation, cod liver oil is one of the things I am asked about the most. 

I decided to have a written conversation with Archie Welch, who is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to cod liver oil. I wanted to know the answers to questions such as these:  Does the species of cod actually matter?  How can consumers tell whether they are buying true cod liver oil? What factors should be taken into account in order to make wise decisions about which cod liver oil to take?  Following are my questions with answers from Archie.


Questions and Answers About Cod Liver Oil

How did you become interested in the science and methods involved in cod liver oil production?

In 2007, Dan Corrigan founded Corganic with a mission to help others recover and maintain their health through diet. Dan, Karen Myers and I had met some years earlier putting together a health festival. We enjoyed working together and shared a passion for holistic health and nutrition. Dan asked Karen and me to join Corganic in 2009 which we agreed and we’ve been working together ever since. 

From the outset we set the bar high for Corganic to sell only the best foods and supplements, and if the best isn’t available, we’ll make it ourselves. Unhappy with the lack of quality in the probiotic market, Dan and Karen started working with mothers of Autistic children, some with severe gut issues. After years of research and testing they developed GutPro, a very potent yet gentle probiotic. GutPro is the only multi-strain probiotic that contains absolutely no fillers, no soil strains and not cultured on dairy or soy. Any strains that could adversely affect those with very sensitive digestive systems were omitted. GutPro has produced amazing results for thousands of people with gut issue and remains our number one selling product.

Along with the introduction of GutPro we created Organic 3 as our brand of digestive health supplements which now includes GutPro capsules, GutPro Infant, Yeastbiotic, Primal Gut and Primal Soil probiotics plus two highly effective digestive enzymes- GutZyme Assist and GutZyme Restore.

Helping people re-establish their gut flora with our therapeutic probiotics and digestive enzymes is a crucial first step. From there it is a matter of providing them with foods and food-based supplements that can boost their nutrient levels and immune system. In 2012, cod liver oil was high on our list of therapeutic foods that Corganic could provide in addition to our Organic 3 product line. That is how I first became interested in the production, history and science of cod liver oil.

I know you've done a lot of research into cod liver oil, and I found your article about cod liver oil history to be very illuminating. You were instrumental in getting Rosita to produce their extra-virgin cod liver oil (since they were previously only making ratfish oil in very limited quantities). With so many other cod liver oil options on the market, why did you think there needed to be another one?

My initial investigation into the cod liver oil industry was an eye opener. I quickly learned that 99 percent of all cod liver oil on the market use processes that severely damage the vitamins inherent in the oil. Most of the producers will then fortify the oil with synthetic vitamins. This was unacceptable to my business partners and me. In 2012, the only naturally-produced cod liver oil was the Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil. We tried the fermented cod liver oil, but found it to be much too harsh for our clients, who by and large have very sensitive digestive systems, in addition to taste and texture sensitivities. 

I stumbled across Rosita in the winter of 2012, and as you pointed out, they were making ratfish liver oil. Using an old Viking technique for extracting the liver oil without the use of heat, pressure or chemicals, Rosita is able to capture the nutrients in their raw state, which is exactly what we were looking for in a fish liver oil. Ratfish liver oil contains rare lipids, vitamins, omega fats and other nutrients. Only drops are needed daily and the taste is mildly fishy. We still recommend ratfish liver oil to our most sensitive customers.

I had discussions with Rosita about using the same Viking technique for extracting cod liver oil from the Atlantic cod. They had played around with cod liver oil previously for their own consumption and said it was definitely feasible. At my urging and their own desire to make a cod liver oil that was of the highest quality and efficacy, they moved forward with plans to make Rosita Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil a reality. We first introduced samples of EVCLO at the Weston A. Price National Conference in 2012. From there it took another two years for Rosita to get the antioxidant package perfected, purchase a bottling facility, run tests, obtain the necessary certifications and work out all of the details that come with launching a new product. Rosita finally launched EVCLO in the fall of 2014. I may have started the conversation and urged Rosita to create Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil, but they took the reins and made it happen. Rosita is an amazing small Norwegian family business of dedicated people passionate about nature and good health. 

So while there are a multitude of cod liver oils on the market to choose from, there is only one cod liver oil that is made fresh and raw from wild-caught Atlantic cod. EVCLO is in its own special category. Discerning customers who understand the significance of a fresh cod liver oil on their health are passionate about EVCLO.   

Can you give a brief breakdown of the typical steps involved in cod liver oil processing, what they are, and why how/why they lower the quality of the oil? 

There is a blog Corganic created that explains all of the industrial processes cod liver goes through for the vast majority of the brands on the market.

The end result of the industrial process is the creation of a pharmaceutical grade cod liver oil that is shelf stable, almost completely cleared of contaminants and easy on the taste buds. The oil is also sterile, denatured and fortified with synthetic vitamins. Rosita’s philosophy is to produce cod liver oil in such a way that it remains in its natural unadulterated form. All of the health-giving nutrients in EVCLO are fully available to the consumer just as they exist in the liver of a living codfish. 

Okay, so I know that Rosita is the best cod liver oil, because of the way it is produced and the way I crave it in the winter months. One common complaint I hear is that it is too expensive, although I think the price ends up being fairly low when people are willing to take it just as often as their body craves it instead of taking it daily. If you couldn't use Rosita, what would you look for in a cod liver oil? Which factors do you think are the most important?

Most people understand raw milk, free range eggs or grass fed beef from a local farmer are more expensive than the factory farmed version they can buy at the grocery store. We believe the nutrient value of the farm food and its value to your family’s health are worth the extra expense. If we apply that same logic to cod liver oil you can begin to see why EVCLO is priced differently than other cod liver oil brands. EVCLO is crafted fresh and raw in small batches to produce one of the most valuable foods you can dispense to your family. 

Knowing how most cod liver oil is produced, if EVCLO was not available I would focus on getting my vitamin A from eggs, meats, liver, etc. and my vitamin D from fatty fish and sunlight. The beauty of fresh EVCLO is getting concentrated amounts of nutrients in their natural state in one daily teaspoon. 

For those who feel they cannot afford EVCLO, there are still options especially for those taking high doses of synthetic vitamin D as prescribed by their practitioner. Nordic Naturals Artic cod liver oil is industrially processed which damages the vitamin A and almost completely destroys the vitamin D. They are the only industrialized producer that I am aware of that does not add synthetic vitamin A and D to their oil. According to the Nordic Naturals bottle label the oil contains 140 – 885 mcg of vitamin A which converts to 230-920 IU of vitamin A per teaspoon. The vitamin D level is listed as 0-20 IU/tsp which is basically saying there is zero vitamin D. Vitamin A and D should be taken together ideally in a 10:1 (ten units of vitamin A for every one unit of vitamin D) ratio to prevent vitamin A toxicity and depletion of vitamin D. Taking Nordic Natural Arctic cod liver oil would provide some natural vitamin A to help to balance out the high doses of the isolated synthetic vitamin D drops and tablets.

A few other brands state their cod liver oils are cold pressed preserving the natural state of the vitamins. Cold pressing is the process of extracting the oil from the liver which is a bit of a misnomer. It’s what happens after the oil has been extracted that determines whether a cod liver oil is industrially processed or not. I would be wary of low cost cod liver oils advertised as virgin or extra virgin. 

Factors I believe are important in a cod liver oil are the species of fish (Gadus morhua), the vitamins A and D in a good ratio (in the range of 10 units of vitamin A for every unit of vitamin D), minimally processed, sustainable fishing practices and a producer that is transparent with their processes from start to finish.  

Are there any rules/regulations regarding the labels that consumers can be aware of (such as there are for organic foods, free-range vs pastured eggs, etc)?

The only rule governing the production of cod liver oil is the Omega 3 DHA/EPA thumbprint. True cod liver oil made from Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) has a unique DHA/EPA ratio that favors DHA (the DHA levels are higher than EPA levels). The opposite is true for most all other fish species including other species of cod. Beyond having the correct EPA/DHA ratio there are no rules which opens the door for companies that will say and do anything to promote their oil as the best and most natural.

Even the largest and most respected names in the cod liver oil industry can mislead the consumer. For example, the Supplements Facts on the Carlson Labs cod liver oil bottle label states the vitamin A and vitamin D are (from cod liver oil) which would lead one to believe the vitamins are in a natural state. However if you call Carlson, they will readily admit they add synthetic vitamins. Truly it is buyer beware when it comes to cod liver oil and fish oils.

With all of the controversy over what species of fish is used to produce cod liver oil, why does it matter what type of cod is used? Is there a difference in the nutrient-profile between different species? And what species was used historically?

For 200 years true cod liver oil has been produced from the Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) species of fish. Only recently has there has been the production and distribution of cod liver oil from other species of cod with the notion that “cod is cod”. Species of cod i.e. Haddock, Lingcod, Alaska Pollock, Pacific (Alaska) Cod, Blue Cod, Rock Cod etc. share traits with Atlantic cod but are very different in their feeding grounds, lifespans and nutrient profiles.

It’s important to understand that all of the historical documentation on the dramatic healing effects of cod liver oil, all of the important studies performed using cod liver oil including the discovery of fat soluble vitamins A and D in the 1920’s, all of the clinical successes from administering cod liver oil and all of the production and consumption of cod liver oil from its earliest inception as a medicinal to the present have been from Atlantic cod liver oil produced primarily in northern Norway. To assume the medicinal qualities of cod liver oil from Atlantic cod are somehow conveyed to another species of cod is scientifically and historically unfounded. There is simply no data to back up such claims.

Rosita’s philosophy is simple. Catch the same fish (Atlantic Cod) from the same waters (Northern Norway) that has been historically documented to produce the most potent and healing cod liver oil known to man.

Do you know what species of cod was used for the cod liver oil used by Weston Price in his groundbreaking nutritional studies?

The Price-Pottenger Nutritional Foundation delved into the archives of Dr. Weston Price and sifted through hundreds of photos, manuscripts, papers and notes to discover the cod liver oil that Dr. Price may have used. 

According to Dr. Price’s notes he was very aware of cod liver oil production in Norway and Iceland as he undoubtedly sought out the best cod liver oil for his experiments. Based on their processes which included fish caught on small boats, livers brought to shore the same day, the oil captured raw/fresh and is light (pale) in color, Dr. Price deemed the Squibb brand of cod liver oil to be “excellent”. Never heated, never exposed to chemicals and protected from sunlight, moisture and oxygen Squibb Cod Liver Oil was produced strictly from Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) in Bergen, Norway. 

Dr. Price's notes describe a cod liver oil that falls directly in line with how Rosita produces Extra-Virgin Cod Liver Oil (EVCLO). 

And I think it is interesting that Weston Price also recommended that people use caution with cod liver oil dosages, and not force cod liver oil upon their children. Price did find that cod liver oil had superb health effects, but during Price's day, cod liver oils were generally rancid, and so Price knew that taking it in large quantities could actually have negative health consequences. I am so glad that now, because of modern technologies including natural antioxidants and nitrogen-flushing of bottles to prevent oxidation, my family can take extra-virgin cod liver oil and not have to worry about those rancidity issues.  Are there any relatively easy ways for consumers to tell whether a cod liver oil is made with true cod?

Check the Supplement Facts on the bottle label for the Omega 3 fatty acid profile. If the docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) levels are higher than eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) levels, it is a sure sign you have purchased true cod liver oil from the Atlantic cod (G. morhua). If however the EPA levels are higher than DHA levels, it is not a true cod liver oil. Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, Nordic Naturals Arctic Cod Liver Oil and Rosita Real Foods Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil all have the correct ratios for true cod liver oil. There are several brands with this ratio upside down that are not using Atlantic cod and incorrectly labeling their product as cod liver oil.   

What about ways that people can assess the quality of their cod liver oil (such as its appearance and taste)?

Winterization is one of the many processes commercial cod liver oil is exposed to. The oil is cooled to sub-zero temperatures, causing crystallization and reduction in the amount of saturated fatty acids, triglycerides and waxes. Removing the saturated fats and triglycerides destabilizes the oil, as the remaining polyunsaturated fats, in the form of omega fatty acids are fragile and oxidize easily. A cod liver oil that is watery in appearance and pale is more than likely winterized. 

A quick test you can perform to determine if your cod liver oil has been winterized is to cool the oil down by putting it in the refrigerator. If the oil clouds up and gets thick, then it has not been winterized. If it remains clear and easy to pour, it has been winterized. Chances are if the oil is winterized it has also been exposed to molecular distillation, deodorization, alkali refining, bleaching and other invasive processes that denature the oil.

Rosita’s Extra Virgin Cod Liver Oil is never exposed to industrial processes; the oil is made fresh and raw just as nature intended. 

What are some things to be wary of in reading the labels on cod liver oil bottles?

Bottle labels can be misleading. Many producers either omit crucial information or state it in such a way as to be purposefully confusing or vague. If you really want to know more about a particular cod liver oil brand it is best to read their website or call them up and ask the following questions:

  • What is the species of cod used to make the cod liver oil? If the species is not Atlantic cod I would steer clear of it regardless of whether the vitamins are in their natural state or not. Atlantic cod has the perfect ratio of vitamins which is why it is so healing. Other species of fish and even other species of cod do not have this important ratio. The imbalance normally occurs with having too much vitamin A and not enough vitamin D. This can eventually lead to depleted levels of vitamin D and possibly toxic levels of vitamin A.
  • Are the vitamins A and D preserved in their natural state? Molecular distillation and deodorization are processes for removing contaminants such as PCB’s and dioxins. The heat used in these processes can reach 390 degrees Fahrenheit severely damaging the vitamin levels and denaturing the oil. As previously stated the Nordic Naturals brand of Arctic cod liver oil is molecularly distilled but has no added synthetic vitamins. The vitamin A levels are between 466 IU/tsp and 2,950 IU/tsp and the vitamin D is basically zero. Any cod liver oil brand that is molecularly distilled and indicating a vitamin content above these levels is adding synthetic vitamins.
  • How are the contaminants removed? This is where I start to see some of the lesser known producers start to grapple with their descriptions. Cod can live up to five years or more. During that lifetime they absorb a certain amount of contaminants thanks to our polluted oceans. It is crucial the contaminants are brought down to acceptable levels. The large producers are proud of the fact their cod liver oil is molecularly distilled. They want their customers to know the oil is pharmaceutical grade and the contaminant levels are near zero. To these producers the near-zero contaminant levels are more important than preserving the nutrients in their natural state. Other producers are not so open about their processes for removing contaminants or they ignore the subject altogether. If a producer gives a vague answer or no answer to this question they either have no controls on the contaminant levels or they do not want you to know the oil has been distilled and then fortified with synthetic vitamins. Using materials from the ocean that attract contaminants, Rosita Real Foods filters EVCLO and ratfish liver oil in a very gentle manner that does not employ the use of heat or chemicals. EVCLO’s contaminant levels are below European and US limits while preserving the nutrients in their raw, extra virgin state. Rosita is the only cod liver oil producer testing each batch of EVCLO and ratfish liver oil for contaminants and then posts the results on their website.
  • What is the color of the oil? True cod liver oil is a golden color. Pale yellow oils are a sign of bleaching and/or other industrial processing. Reddish oils indicate that it is not Atlantic cod from the Norwegian region.
  • Does the oil require refrigeration? This is a question that doesn’t get asked often enough. Cod liver oil has an abundance of fragile polyunsaturated fats that oxidize (go rancid) easily and very little in the way of natural antioxidants. Even though Rosita's EVCLO is fresh and raw, the bottles are nitrogen flushed and the oil is capped with no oxygen coming in contact with the oil. Once a bottle is opened and exposed to air the oxidation process begins. Refrigeration does a great deal to slow down that process. Producers who do not require refrigeration more than likely used intense processes to sterilize the oil similar to the processes used to make vegetable oils.

Thanks, Archie, for taking the time to answer all of my questions!  I hope this information will help people in being able to choose the best cod liver oil for their families. I love that you provided ways for people to assess cod liver oils on their own, since there is so much misinformation in the cod liver oil industry and on labels.

Do you find this Q&A to be helpful? Do you have any other questions about cod liver oil?





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Friday, August 26, 2016

Our Homeschool Curriculum for 2016-17 (with a 9-year-old and 6-year-old)

This post is the third in my Back-to-Homeschool Series for 2016.
Although we homeschool year-round, each August we officially start our new school year. It is a fun and exciting time when we dive into our new school supplies and books. This post will detail our curriculum and resources for the 2016-17 school year.

Building Good Character

One of the most important aspects of our homeschool curriculum is the focus on building good character. I believe that teaching my children to be honest, responsible, kind people is more important than the acquisition of academic knowledge, so I focus quite a bit of my efforts on character development. My recent post about Core Phase delves deep into this subject and gives lots of examples of how I work to develop good character in my children, so check out that post for more information about how I purposely work on character in our homeschool.

Individual Interests

An important part of encouraging my children to love learning is in allowing them to pursue their own interests. This is one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling: that my children have as much time as desired to follow their passions. I'm supporting my children's current interests as follows:

9-year-old daughter Alina
Alina is now several years into having her own chicken egg business. As she is getting older, she is getting to take part in more aspects of the business, such as planning the long-term goals for her flock, making decisions about managing the health of the flock, and learning about profit margins (or, in this case, learning about how far we are from actually turning a profit). Having her own business has taught her much about raising and caring for animals, handling and saving money, the value of hard work, and long-term commitments.

Alina has also been highly interested in horses for the last couple years. I support her interest in horses by taking trips to see horses nearby, by paying a portion of the fee for monthly horseback riding lessons (she pays part of the fee with her egg earnings), and by helping her find books, videos, and documentaries about horses. 

6-year-old son Ian 
Ian is very interested in cars and machines. I am supporting him in this interest by taking him to job sites to observe machines in-action, taking the time to look at classic cars and machines we see around town, and allowing him to explore the innards of old broken machines and gadgets. I help him find books, videos, and documentaries about machines and cars, and I am also supporting his interest by helping him learn how to use different machines in our home. He is immeasurably excited when he gets to use the steam-mop, Cuisinart food processor, and shop-vac.

One curriculum resource that supports Ian's interest in machines is Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Discovery Kit. Both of my kids love doing the experiments in this kit, and Ian especially loves learning more about how electricity works.

Academic Subjects

I do not push my children academically, but nonetheless I do give them exposure to plenty of academic subjects and pursuits.

I help set the stage for reading proficiency by reading aloud often. We read chapter books and picture books with beautiful language, engaging storylines, and memorable characters.  Through reading aloud, I am able to show my children just what a wonderful world is hiding between the pages of books. My children participate in a Read-Aloud Classic Book Club, wherein the children discuss books with their friends once a month. I also make a point of reading on my own frequently; children naturally emulate their parents, so it is important for them to see me engaging in reading and discussing books as part of my own lifelong education.

My 9-year-old daughter is an advanced reader who reads voraciously, so I no longer do anything in particular to help her with reading. She does periodically ask to do a "reading lesson" wherein she reads aloud from a McGuffey Reader.

My 6-year-old son is in the early stages of learning to read. Besides finding opportunities to practice reading in our everyday lives, he also asks to do reading lessons using either Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane or McGuffey Readers.

We don't use a formal writing curriculum. Instead, I encourage my children to write in the following ways:
  • I make sure that my children see me writing in my own notebooks on a regular basis. This makes a huge difference in the amount of writing that they choose to do themselves.
  • Since their writing skills lag behind their composition skills, whenever they ask I will write or type poems, stories, or songs for my children.
  • When we do Nature Study, my children have the option to write in their Nature Notebooks.
  • My children have Pen Pals in Nevada and Canada. My children love receiving letters in the mail, so this has been the biggest motivator for them in practicing their writing frequently. Most often, I will type the letters for them in an appropriately-sized printing font and then print out the letters for my children to trace.
  • After seeing me write in my commonplace place book over the last several years, my daughter decided to start her own commonplace book. She uses this book as a place to copy down her favorite poems.  
  • My children each have their own calendar, which they use to keep track of upcoming events of their choosing. 

I am not using a traditional math curriculum for my children. Rather, they are learning math in the context of everyday life, through games, and through math read-alouds. For more details of how I teach math without a formal curriculum, check out this blog post.

In addition to the resources mentioned in that previous blog post, this year we are also using the following new math resources:
  • Math and Magic in Wonderland - This delightful book tells the story of two sisters and their magical adventures with math. We've only begun this book recently, and both of my kids were clamoring for more. I love that the language in this book is beautiful, that the storyline is interesting, and that the math problems are designed to elicit curiosity instead of boredom.  The math problems thus far have been too advanced for my 6-year-old son to participate much, but my 9-year-old daughter enjoys them.
  • Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out - Last year, Bedtime Math replaced Life of Fred as my children's most-requested math read-aloud.  Each page includes a short blurb about a random topic, and then there are a few related math problems of varying difficulty-level.  After we work through the problems, my kids and I like to watch a few short videos on youtube about the random topic from the book. For instance, last year we watched videos about subjects such as pole vaulting, lego designers, and short-order cooks as supplements to Bedtime Math. We finished the first Bedtime Math, so we will be working our way through the second book in the series this year.
  • Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter and Sir Cumference and the Viking's Map are our new Sir Cumference books for this year. These engaging picture books cleverly wind mathematical concepts into the stories. Whenever we read Sir Cimference books, we usually end up spending another 30-60 minutes exploring the concepts from the book. For instance, last year we made paper models of the different geometric shapes used in Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and we learned how to create paper cones to simulate the cones from Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone.
  • 5 Games for Building Logic - This PDF from Math Inspirations details 5 new games that we will be incorporating into our math studies this year. I love that the PDF includes variations for younger players and an emphasis on discovery rather than repetitious arithmetic. The games in this PDF will make use of other math resources we already have, such as Cuisenaire Rods and Uno.  
World Culture and Geography
What began as a small idea to take a virtual world trip during the summer has turned into a semester-long project that my children are loving. Each week, we visit a new country through books, art, music, coloring pages, and recipes. So far, we've visited Africa, Europe, and South America. We still have North America, Australia, Asia, and the Middle East to go. Our world trip will last through the rest of the Fall semester.

The following resources are aiding in our exploration of world cultures:

When we finish our world trip, we'll be ready to dive back into our history curriculum.  I am using a 4-year cycle for History and Science which originated in The Well-Trained Mind. (I don't recommend following the overall schooling methodology laid out in The Well-Trained Mind as that is what led us to have total school burnout, but I do still like to use some of the ideas from that book.)

The cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time. This school year will be my daughter's second time studying Ancient History, and will be the first time for my son. We will be using the following history resources:
  • Story of the World Volume 1: Ancient Times - We are using this book as our history "spine".  The audio version of this book offers a great option for turning driving time into learning time.  Because we have used this book once before (4 years ago), I know that I prefer to follow a different order for the chapters in the book. Instead of following chronological order as in the book, I prefer to focus on each ancient culture individually.  (I'd be happy to share the order of SOTW chapters that I use if anyone is interested.) 
  • All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide - This excellent book is a great resource for me in finding picture and chapter books to supplement Story of the World. Whenever either of my children seems particularly engaged in a topic from SOTW, I use All Through the Ages to find more books on the subject at our local library.

Our science studies for the coming year will be centered around Animal Science, Human Biology, and Nature Study. We'll be using the following science resources: 

  • Animal Science
    • The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth - This book is a feast for the eyes that includes full-color photographs of all sorts of insects and animals. We will use this as a "spine" that can lead to further explorations about specific creatures that pique my children's interest.
    • The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia - This intermediate-level book has a detailed section about the animal kingdom that will allow my 9-year-old daughter to go deeper into learning about animal science.  
    • 7 Specimen Dissection Kit - This kit includes 7 animals and tools for dissecting. The animals are frog, perch, crayfish, grasshopper, earthworm, clam, and starfish. We will be dissecting one animal each month.
  • Human Biology
    • First Human Body Encyclopedia - This engaging book is loaded with pictures and interesting facts about the human body. It is a great book for helping young children become acquainted with the human body's marvels.
    • The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia - This intermediate-level book includes a large section on the human body that will allow my 9-year-old to dig deeper into learning about human biology.
    • Ultimate Visual Dictionary - My daughter loves poring over this book which shows detailed pictures of pretty much anything I can think of. The human body section is fabulous.
    • Amazing X-Rays: The Human Body -This cool book is fun to look at with the kids and gets them excited to learn about the human body.  It includes 16 X-rays which can be looked at with the built-in light box, as well as a small book that includes other information about the human body.
  • Nature Study
    • There is a detailed post about how we use Nature Study here. It can be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves, working on our family garden, or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks and hikes, looking at the flora and fauna in our own yard and desert landscape. The following resources aid us in Nature Study:
      • Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter.
      • We make frequent use of our National Audubon Society Field Guide and Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America in our Nature Study.
      • Project Feederwatch is a very enjoyable way to integrate math and science into our home school. To participate, we observe the species and numbers of birds in our backyard about once or twice a month. In addition to reporting the number of birds we see, we are also required to report the weather conditions (low/high temperatures, precipitation, etc). Both kids love participating in this program.

Both of my children have expressed an interest in learning Spanish, which is spoken by many in this part of the country. Rather than using book-based Spanish resources (which have not worked well for us in the past), we are using Pimsleur Spanish CD's.

These CD's focus on teaching Spanish in the same natural way that people learn their first language while they are babies, which is through just listening and speaking. There is no book to accompany the CDs; rather, we just practice speaking Spanish along with the CD.  Most often, we listen to the Spanish CD's while we do our morning routine (getting dressed, doing chores, etc.).

Although we don't use specific curricula for many subjects in our homeschool, my children do enjoy having some workbooks to use at their leisure. These are the workbooks they are using for this year:

Workbooks for 9-year-old daughter

Workbooks for 5-year-old son

Beauty and Creativity

I think it is important to focus on beauty and creativity in our home school, so I make time weekly for the following activities. 

Circle Time
Once a week, my children and I have Circle Time, where we sing, dance, and read poetry together. Our poetry book is Favorite Poems Old and New: Selected for Boys and Girls (which is a great compilation of poems about a wide variety of topics including childhood, the seasons, and family). You can read more about our Circle Time here.

Arts and Crafts
I try to make sure that at least once a week my kids have the opportunity to do arts and crafts. Examples include freeform painting, simple sewing projects, and holiday decorations.

Besides the usual construction paper and markers, our arts and crafts supplies for this year include:

Art Appreciation
For over a year, we've been enjoying an ever-changing art display of 6 pictures in our living room for Art Appreciation. Once a week, I change out one picture, and the children and I study it together, telling about what we see in the picture. Over time, we study the works of different artists and cultures. The kids love this, and I love being able to enjoy so many different styles of art in our living room.

Music Appreciation
In conjunction with Art Appreciation, my children and I are learning about the lives and music of great classical composers. We are working through the Music Masters CD's, which tell the story of each composer as well as demonstrate some of their music. This is a great way for us to make use of driving time, and we are all gaining a great appreciation for classical music.

My children and I also attend music concerts. These range from classical music concerts to A Capella concerts to Christmas concerts.  And once a year, in December, we have a small family music recital which the children are welcome to participate in. Through these concerts and performances my children are able to gain first-hand experience with the beauty of music.

Free Play
Play time is hugely important in brain development. Though we do school work throughout the week, I make sure that there is plenty of time for my children to just play every day. Through their play time, they are able to engage their curiosity, develop their creativity, and learn much about how to interact with each other and their environment.

What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?

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