Sunday, December 27, 2015

Personal Planner

Yesterday I shared about our new school planner & today I thought I'd share about the personal planner I bought for myself. I've been asked a few times why I'd need a planner, I think it's a bit of a silly question to ask, but my answer would be pretty simple: To plan things.

More specifically I often end up writing down things I need to accomplish in a week in our school planner, our menu, & more. While it works I often run out of room too & had decided, well before opting to purchase a school planner, that I would purchase myself a personal planner this year.

This one is also from the lovely Plum Paper Planner company, but it's a personal planner in the Morning, Afternoon, Evening layout format. I believe on the website it's considered option #1. I went through a lot of mind changing before purchasing this crazy planner too. I was going to get a family planner, but decided against it for various reasons. In the end I went with the MAE layout & while I've only mapped out one full week {the planner starts on Monday} I'm happy with it thus far. Again, I'd have to update you after a good amount of use before I could comment deeply about any major affection for it.

This planner set-up is very much the same as my Large Teacher Planner in that there's a year at a glance spread over 2 pages & then it jumps right into the months. I haven't taken photos of that as they are the same, on a slightly smaller scale, as the previous planner I showed. The monthly dividers are the same with space for 3 goals, birthdays, events, things to remember, & then a 2 column blank space at the bottom. The monthly calendar page is also a 2 page spread with space for notes & or whatever you might want to jot down. There's also a note page at the beginning of the month which I'm planning to use as a journaling page, but again we'll see.

Then comes the weekly spreads. Now, something unique to the Plum Paper Planners is that you'll notice the dates on the lefthand side of my planner are grey & the the dates on the right hands side are blue. When a month doesn't end on a Sunday you'll find that they've opted to include that week in both months that the week crosses over. That way you can choose which month of your planner to use it in. I've opted to use this month in January, obviously, because I didn't have a planner like this last year.

I opted to use some stamps & a couple of stickers in my planner spread. Will I do that each week? Who knows, I enjoy it & did it with our school planner last year too. The grass is actually cover the words "checklist" which is the area I'm using for our weekly menu. The jar on the lefthand side of the paper were free stickers I spotted somewhere in my travels & downloaded to print on sticker paper. The lovely bookmark was a gift from my eldest. It's fantastic because it's not only magnetic, but when I close my planner I can still quickly locate the exact spot I need to go to in order to check my day/week. Plus, it has one of my very favourite Bible verses on it for when I'm feeling frazzled.

At the end of each of my months I paid a little extra to have a To-Do list section & a check list added in. Behind that is also a note page, but that came with the planner & wasn't something I paid to add in. One thing I really loved about The Well Planned Day planner was the little perforated grocery lists she had in there for each month. If I recall correctly there is/was something like 8 of them per month. Anyway, I'd pull them out on a weekend & write out a list of things we needed to do in order to have a clean home & a day of rest. We'd divide the list amongst ourselves & be off running with our small section in hand. While these to-do lists aren't perforated I just pulled out my CutterBug & perforated Januarys.  The check-list was a way for me to keep track of things I need to do routinely & won't bother to write down daily. Instead I just jot a reminder to do the Daily Check-List.

I opted not to share the photo of my January check-list for now, but I broke it in half, again with washi tape. The top half are things I tend to do daily around my home while the bottom half is a list of books I'd like to tackle in January. The backside is currently empty but may change as the month goes on. I saw a lovely idea for keeping a list of things that need to be done in various rooms around your home. From little jobs one tends to put off, to bigger jobs one may need to wait on financial funds for..

I decided to add on the Fitness Section, I'm not sure how much of it I'll end up utalising in full, but we'll see. Each month has a 2-3 page spread you'd use. The page on the left is your starting page where you jot down all your personal information from measurements to goals. The scale atop are for recording your weight each week. On the right hand side you're suppose to use the space for your exercise, reps, & fluid intake. Now generally I use Edomondo for tracking my fitness, as well as Fitbit, & MyFitness Pal for the food/water intake. I'm not sure there's honestly enough room to record all my workouts either as we tend to go for 2 walks a day & then I either jump on the bike at some point or go for a third walk with the kids. Add that to toning & I'm not sure I'd fit it all in, but we'll see what happens. I honestly love the left hand side for keeping track of goals & measurements.

Once again I added on to this planner. I added a large section of checklists & notes maxing out the recommended amount of additional pages. Those will be used for a large variety of things throughout the year. At the end of those two sections is a small portion of contact pages & US Holidays. Admittedly I was excited to see the contact pages as I didn't add in a contact section. I didn't feel the need for 10 pages for contacts, but having just one page holds 28 different contacts!

In the very back of this planner is also a 2017 at a glance page & then more stickers. I can't remember if I added an additional sheet of stickers or not. I use them to mark things on the monthly calendar that may change or birthdays. I haven't opted to use them yet on the weekly pages but I may to mark Robotic Club meets, Sporting Events, etc. We'll see. Of course at the very end is a 2 sided pocket just like my other PP planner.

While I'm not using the lovely stickers in the back to mark things too far in advanced in the weekly sections I am using post-its. Some post-its are directly on specific days, such as Leap Day, while others are here in the note section. This is a book I need to order in time to read it to the kids before Easter.

All in all I'm really happy with the my planner. We'll see how it goes as we actually put it into practice throughout the year. It's easy to be smitten with something before you actually use it so I hesitate to do more then just give a quick run-through of what it looks like & how I intend to utilize it.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2016 Planners

This year I really really debated making or purchasing a planner. While I've purchased many planners over the course of our 11 year homeschool journey none of them have ever been 100% spot on, the closest {for a while} was The Well Planned Day which we used & loved. I've also made many planner adapting the qualities of the purchased planners into one large planner that fits all my needs. The thing is, though, it takes time & effort. The layout & the design tend to be the easy parts & the fun parts, making sure I have no typos, my dates are all in order is another story.

I started working on my 2016 planner halfway through 2015 so we could map out some getaways for the new year, & wouldn't you know I'd made a huge blunder with dates & had to fix that. Which was the deciding moment for me. I put my plans for a new planner on hold & opted to purchase one. I figured I could purchase a planner, spending a nominal amount depending on shipping, or I could spend our entire time off working on a planner. Mr S agreed that purchasing one would be so much better because he'd actually like to see me during his holidays.

I opted to purchase a Plum Paper Large Teacher Planner for our school planner this year. I'm not gonna kid you when I say I did a lot of research on this planner, & many others for that matter. I watched more YouTube videos about this thing.. Did you know there's such a thing as an "unboxing" video for planners? Oh man, there is & some are just.. Yeah, but I did find out the information I was after, & made the purchase.

One of the most amazing things about this planner is that it does not start in July but in January. Truth be told, some people hate this feature, but for a family who homeschools January - December each year we love it. Our new academic years start in January & run with the calendar year, having a planner that does that excites me in absurd ways.

You can also have the cover personalised, I didn't. Yes, you can see my name in the above photo, but that's my personal planner from the same company which I opted to personalise at no extra cost. While our little school does have a name we've never been called upon to use it & so I rather preferred the clean look of just having the year on the front of our school planner.

I thought I'd give a quick tour of the inside of our lovely new planner & a quick overview of our initial thoughts. As school hasn't officially begun I've only given it a test drive so I'll have to come back & update you on our thoughts after we've used this for a term or two.

So let's take a peak.. The first page actually has the typical page for you to write your name & personal details on, I'm skipping a photo of that & moving right into the Year At A Glance Page. I love how big these calendars are! I opted to highlight our terms & circle days I know Mr S will be off work to help me note days we'll be taking off as well. Yes, we really do 4-10 week terms each year..

Each month has some nifty space to jot down things on the back of the divider. I opted to snap a photo before filling in goals {character & habit training}. I've marked our term start date & the local public school terms. I often like to refer to when the local kids are in & out of school for our own personal get-aways or day trips, library runs, or just a day at the pool. There's a note page at the beginning & end of each month that I'm debating using for goals achieved by the kids, funny things they say, or just a journal of how our days/weeks are going. We'll see what happens.

The monthly calendar is a 2 page spread which I love, in my homemade planner last year I'd made a 2 day spread for it as well to give more room in our boxes for writing. I found some freebie stickers online to mark Aussie Holidays as this planner only has US holidays marked. I've marked our intended slow start back for Term 1 which has all ready changed once since taking this photo & will likely change again.. thus why it's in pencil! I mark weeks "on" in pencil on the monthly spreads as well incase we should opt to take a week off. I may, or may not, go back & mark days. Despite having teens they were disappointed we didn't do something fun to mark our 100th day of school last year. I'm debating surprising them with a fun day our, but who knows what the year will bring. 

Each week is a large 2 page spread too, which I love. Many pre-printed planners only have small areas to write in & I find that we have to make up acronyms for everything or else nothing fits. On my "test drive" I found I didn't have to do that at all & could easily fit everything into the boxes which really delighted me. The skinny boxes on the far left are blank, I opted not to pay extra to have subjects written in. In the past on my home planners I've written in our subjects & then if we finish a subject for a term/year I find myself feeling the need to skip a perfectly good section I could be writing in. I figured this way it was wide open & we could do whatever pattern we wanted. The weekends are small, but I'm not fussed by that, generally the only schooling that happens on weekends are science labs, if needed. 

Each month proceeds exactly in the same fashion & then there are 3 further sections in the back. The first one is dubbed "My Class", & it's a section I'll have very little need for. As I told Mr S, "If I don't know my student's addresses & parents we've got problems." There's also a behavioral  log in there as well as pages to keep track of any medical problems students may have.

There's also a place for logging birthdays & then another Year At A Glance page. This one has room to write things down vs just highlighting dates. I may mark down specific books or studies we want to do in a term, dates we may be on/off, etc. In general, though, this is likely one of the only pages in the section I'll use. I didn't consider, until after I'd purchased the planner, to request that this section of pages be sent along but kept out of the planner. That may sound odd, but the lovely people over at Plum Paper are fantastic about being obliging to personal requests.

I added on a section of check-list pages. I had a few ideas in mind for uses for these & so I was happy to pay the extra $1 to have them added in. I've taken 2 of the checklists & all ready broken them down into 4 terms on one side & blank on the reverse. The front side, as you can see, will have curriculum for a child written on it & the pages, or lessons, aimed to be accomplished per term. We'll adjust as needed as we go along. I generally make a spreadsheet of this information at the start of each year which makes weekly planning a breeze. It also helps the kids to look over things & see where they could be in each subject if they broke it down in sensible chunks. The thicker blue line is some washi tape I had & I wrote on it with a white pen.  The blank side of each child's checklist will be used to keep track of books read over the course of the year. I'll be using the remainder of the checklists for a variety of things from book basket books to habits we want to set in motion this year. I know some people like to use the section for grades, but I don't know that I'll bother with that to be honest.

The final section is a notes section, again something I paid to add on. I need notes sections in my planners, & ample amounts of them too! I jot down books, movies, cds, library lists, art projects, science kits, challenges.. You name it, & it pretty much ends up in this section of my planner. In the very back is a 2017 At A Glance page {1 page spread} & 2 pages of stickers. Those stickers are made to fit the weekly planning boxes. There's also, all though I didn't snap a photo, a pocket in the back of the planner that is two sided. I kinda love my planner pockets & often try to put one in my homemade ones too. What goes in them is anyone's guess, just papers I need to keep track of during the school year..

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Trifle Story

At all family gatherings everyone pitches in to bring a bit of this or a bit of that, we generally confer together so there aren’t doubles or triples of anything & the host sets the general menu for the day. Thus was the case for our lovely gathering earlier this month with family. As we won’t all be together later this month for the holidays we thought we’d turn it into a bit of a feast in which we could celebrate the love for our Saviour as well as each other.. 

So the traditional holiday deserts were present: Christmas Pudding, Sticky Date Pudding, Allergy Safe Ice Cream, & trifle. Trifle is always a big deal in our home. Maybe because I don’t make it often enough. In fact, I’ve never made it & thus when Mr S’ sister asks what she can bring along to any gathering he always declares, with great certainty, “Oh trifle for sure.” He doesn’t often expect it to appear, but when it does such a fuss is made!

Needless to say when the trifle arrived Mr S & his brother-in-law, Mr C, made a huge fuss & bother over it. Each stating it was their’s to only be eaten by them, then agreeing how much of a portion they’d share with the other before finally conceding it must, at once, go in the fridge lest the whole thing melt or worse, get dropped.

And so the trifle remained in the fridge for quite some time. We went about our normal nightly routine of washing dishes, clearing away Friday evening books & Cricket supplies, before taking the dog out for a rather late, but enjoyable, walk. We chatted about many insignificant things on our walk, & enjoyed many laughs with Mr & Mrs C while the children stayed home & entertained Nana & Cousin C.

We came home to laughter & craziness. A guinea pig atop one of the coveted Union Jack pillows in her element watching all that was going on; hoping, secretly, that someone might sneak her a bit of vegetable aside from the slightly wilted & wimpy carrot stuffed near hear nose. While I iced my knee & our Jayde had a grand wrestle with Mr C {a family tradition for sure} the rest of us discussed grammar & punctation until I freaked everyone out by mentioning things like predicates. In which everyone else agreed they just stuck semi-colons in at random to be sure to please English Teachers. Teachers discussed the foolishness of so much emphasis on grammar being taught vs real life writing skills which students desperately lack.. And before long someone noticed the time & decided we should all retire for the evening.

Plans were made for who was going for morning runs vs morning walks. How to escape the driveway of cars if one needed & other such silliness when Mr S remembered the trifle in the fridge. He quickly suggested he & Mr C have an evening snack to which the wives all said, “No, it’s for tomorrow!”

There was a fair amount of grumping & slumping as people took turns circulating between the bathrooms to brush teeth, & when Mr C finally had his chance Mr S pulled out the trifle & declared, rather loudly down the lengthy hallway, “I’ve decided now is the perfect time to have a little bedtime snack..” Mr C came dashing up the hallway to be sure he got his own fair share before I chastised Mr S & encouraged him to put the crazy trifle away before it was all lost.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when people had all closed their doors & goodnights were shouted through the home that I embarked on the Great Trifle Prank. I quickly found a bowl that was similar in size & style to the one the trifle was in & I quickly gave it a coat of cream & stuck a dirty spoon in, of great size no less, for good measure. Then I tucked it on the top shelf of the fridge in view of everyone before removing the real trifle & hiding it behind the salads. Mr S watched, I needed a look-out after all, & had himself a grand laugh over the entire ordeal.

The next morning people went about their morning walks & runs before returning to the house sweaty & ready for breakfast. Breakfast is never elaborate in our home, & generally has a more fix it yourself or wait until the smoothie is made affair about it. Nana was happy chatting away to Mr C in the kitchen while others took turns cleaning up from their sweaty excursions. I took advantage of the moment & set about getting the morning smoothie made.

When I opened the fridge I stared in disbelief at a seemingly empty trifle bowl before turning around & saying, “Wow C you must have been so incredibly hungry last night then?”

Mr C, a little confused, turned & said, “No, I was fine, why?”
I pulled the door to the fridge open further & said, “It’s just that someone’s gone & eaten all that trifle & I figured it must have been you as Mr S was made to put it back & dragged out on the morning walk.”

Mr C dashed over to inspect the bowl & stood there for a moment, hands on hips staring at the bowl before the fridge door attempted to squeeze him the fridge. And thus began the great trifle debate of 2015. Who had eaten the trifle? Why? Surely no one had eaten the whole thing themselves & was still capable of moving? Hadn’t everyone gone for a walk or run? Except Nana.. But Nana despises trifle & she’d never truely touch it to be honest.

Thus Nana deduced that I must have had something to do with it. Until I reminded her trifle has both gluten & dairy in it thus I don’t eat it either. Nana’s deducting skills next landed on Mr S until I point out he was in the shower; next they fell to Mrs C. She too was in the shower, but somehow Nana was certain she was devouring trifle in there. Mr C & I both sputtered before bursting out in laughter at the idea.

Blame came round to me again in which Nana figured I’d moved the trifle to 100’s of little bowls to serve up later. It was an interesting though, but I don’t own 100’s of little bowls & further I have no fridge space for such things. Oh how the mystery seemed to deepen & before I fell into a fit of laughter at the accusations flying around the kitchen I flicked on my, rather noisy, blender.

Mr C, now in full alarm that he may have possibly missed out on the trifle, but certain that it couldn’t possibly be true, dashed off to bring back Mrs C to help solve the mystery. She opened the fridge, took one look at the empty bowl & said, “That’s not my bowl, Darling.” Well, that’s one mystery solved isn’t it then? No one was likely to have left a filthy empty trifle bowl in the fridge, but where was that real trifle after all?

A little digging amongst the leafy greens turned it up completely safe & unharmed. Mr S walked in at just that moment to hear, “Oh, THERE’s the trifle!” Thus he burst into laughter & said, “Drat now I can’t blame you for getting a bigger share then I did!” 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Planner Madness

For the past 8 years or so {save one or two in there} I've made my own planner in some fashion or another. I'm just a very good "wing-it" person. I like to have a plan, sometimes I abide a little too closely by the plan & get very very frayed nerves when people deviate, other times I'm cool with the swaying.

This year I really really didn't want to make my own planner. I don't know why, I've always fully enjoyed the process in the past. I've enjoyed the mixing of colours, the new layouts, hunting down favourite verses & quotes, rounding up pictures for my covers.. you name it, I've enjoyed it. Maybe it's the excess stress I've been dealing with the second half of this year, maybe not.. either way, I was determined that this year I was going to purchase planners.

Yep, planners. Plural. More then one. Why more then one? I didn't want my personal stuff mixed in with the school stuff. Crazy much? Maybe, but it's the direction I was being pulled this year & I figured if I was going to purchase something it would need to fit the needs I have. If you think I'm a book snob, you've not seen anything until you've seen me planner shopping. I'm pretty picky.

In the end I settled on the Plum Paper {PPP} because I could be a bit more picky about it & still get what I wanted. I could add in extra note pages, check lists, & more. For my personal planner this was really cool & I maxed the crazy thing out! I added in a heap of extra Note pages, a Fitness Section, Checklists, & To-do Pages.

I ended up putting off purchasing it so long that it gave me a lot of time to debate how I wanted it set up. It's weird losing the control of designing your own planner & realising if something isn't how you like it you're limited on the ability to rip it out, reprint & slip it back in. In the end I went with a check-list & to-do page added to every month. A fitness section in the back, extra note pages in the back, & extra checklist pages in the back. They have a nifty new menu planning add-on I might have snatched up too, but it wasn't available when I ordered.

Sadly, my planner doesn't start until January. Waiting so long to order it & not being sure how quickly it would travel through the post I didn't really want to go with a December start date. While I've all ready started filling in certain areas for January & how I intend to use it you'll have to stay tuned for a better review once I'm over the "honeymoon" phase & into the, "This works {or not} phase." In the mean time I thought I'd share some photos.

This is the personal planner, not the Teacher Planner. When I was debating ordering that one or just sucking it up & making my own Mr S suggested I just go ahead & purchase the teacher planner. It'll be larger {US Letter Sized Paper} & I'm excited about it. No photos of that one yet as it hasn't even shipped yet. I'm getting kinda anxious about that before the typical 2 week End Of Year Post Office Closure happens around here.

Did I mention it has my name on it?! I've only ever owned 3 items with my name on it. The first one came one year when I was babysitting & the children's mother & grandmother went out shopping. They came back & surprised me with a stamp with my name on it. They had no idea how touched I was, not only by the kindness but by the fact that someone found something with my name on it! The other was a pen I found, amazingly, preprinted at a party supply store. I got a little giddy when this showed up with my name on it..

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Our Top 10 Favourited VPD/SSS/Irlen Helps

We get asked about the things we like the most in our homeschool, but something I need to clarify is that while we have curriculum that we think rocks, books we love, & tools that help make our days run smoothly many of our choices are also based on the needs my children have.

I often refer to it as a "vision" issue, but in all factuality it's a neurological problem which is why depth perception & headaches are also a huge part of struggling with VPD/SSS/Irlen. It just so happens that because we process things differently we see more intently, we hear more loudly, & some of us even have an extremely heightened sense of smell & touch. Below is our list of favourite items that help us through our days with a VPD/SSS/Irlen diagnosis.

1. Audio Books. In all honestly we've been using audio books since well before my children were even born. I'd check them out of the library & pop them on the tape or cd player in the car as I drove my husband to & from work. Our top favourite source for Audio books is, of course, The selection of books is not only amazing the narration done on the audio book they have is phenomenal.  I'm not going to say every audio book is a winner, but in 10 years of being a member we've only had 2 that we weren't particularly keen on the narration of.  Other sources for audio books are: ScribD & Learning Ally {see below for more details}.

2. iPad/iPod. If someone were to ask who is most opposed to electronics in our home there'd be a resounding answer of, "Mum!" It's true. I'm often asking people if they have a timer running while they are using a device, or asking what they are doing {playing or learning}, or any one of a million other questions. Funny thing is, 2-3 years ago I lobbied for my son to get an iPad for his birthday. Crazy, right? I thought so, especially considering his age. Truthfully, though, I knew he needed it. Yes, needed. He needed it for audio books, text to speech ability, Siri Capability, & a vast array of other things that help him navigate his day. I'm not gonna lie I've never been a big Siri's fan. She's annoying, she never understands anything I say, & it seems I always activate her when all I want to do is check the time or my step count for the day. However, my boy has learned not only how to navigate Siri's unusual temperament, but her vast ability to help him. He's no longer ashamed ot play word games with anyone, he's no longer afraid to play games that require him to read or write in front of others, & he's no longer intimidated by books that take him 500x longer to read then most people. If he can't figure out how to spell a word, or he wants to verify that he's read a word correctly, or he wants to know the meaning of a word, he simply asks Siri. Sure, he can ask Mr S or I, & he knows it. He asks us all the time, he asks us so much there are times when I have to say, "I want to help you, but I'm so tired I'm not even sure if I've called you by your real name, your nickname, or some name I made up without even realising I did it. Ask Siri."

3. Calculator. Our eldest has VPD/SSS/Irlen on the extreme side & this means that when he's doing multi-step math problems he knows exactly what he's doing, but it's not uncommon for him to write a number backwards, upside down, or simply align them wrong. A calculator helps him not only survive math, it helps him thrive. This kid is crazy smart & the use of a calculator allows that ability to shine. He was terrified the first time I instructed him to use a calculator! "No way that's cheating, & I'm not going to cheat no matter how long it takes me!" I had to explain that a calculator can't give you the answer if you don't know how to find it yourself. There are times when he'll opt out of using a calculator for fear of getting rusty on his basic facts, days like that we split the difference & he does half the problems with a calculator & half without. It's helped rebuild his confidence in math.

4. Coloured Paper. I've mentioned it a few times over around here, but our specialist has the kids using coloured paper. The difference between my kids writing on white paper vs the colour that works best for their VPD/SSS/Irlen is amazing. I've shared photos & stories over & over of the difference with my kids & it never ceases to amaze someone who sees it. In fact, there are times when it amazes the culprit as well.

5. Glasses. Okay, so I know I stated that VPD/SSS/Irlen is not a vision problem, & it's not, which might make you wonder why glasses are a big deal. Did you know that of the 3 people in our home who have tested positive, none of us wear glasses? Two of us have been told forever & a day we have perfect vision while the other one has an underdeveloped ability to read small print, but it wasn't worthy of reading glasses. Our glasses look pretty snazzy with fancy tints in them in an array of colours, & while we're often asked if we're wearing sunnies we aren't. The objective of the tints is to help channel out the colour we are over processing. Yellow & red for all of us. Without our glasses we are grumpy, irritable, mean people who can't see straight & are often walking around rubbing our eyes & our heads.

6. E-books. I'm not a fan of ebooks, I've never been a fan of them. I've tried to be a fan, I have. I've read a few fictional novels on my Kindle Keyboard & I've enjoyed the experience, but in general I'm a real book kinda person. However, our eldest's thrives on Ebooks. He can adjust the size of the font, the colour of the pages, & the brightness of his screen when using his ipad. When I have him reading most eBooks he uses the Kindle Touch which has no lit back screen & is spot on amazing for him. He can still adjust font size & feel like he's reading a book just like everybody else. Our #1 source for ebooks is Amazon merely because they have a huge amount of them, but we do use other sources like ScribD. You pay a monthly subscription fee & have access to hundreds of ebooks & audio books. The catch is you can only access 1 audio book per month without paying extra & the ebooks can only be accessed on the Kindle Fire or an iPad or other tablet. Even still this kid is plowing through books of late making our $8 subscription to the website worth it.

7. I'm not sure how available this is to people outside of the USA, but I've seen it up for grabs over on Homeschool Buyers Co-Op as well as directly through their website. An annual subscription {not on special} is $119 USD, which isn't exactly cheap in my book. However, the world of books this opens up for my boy & the ability to do the Lit portion of his school on his own is totally worth the price. Many of Learning Ally's books are narrated by volunteers & if we lived stateside we'd absolutely sign up to contribute! You do need a letter from your Dr or Specialist stating that your child has a verified vision or learning disability that would benefit from audio books before they will grant you more then a 14 Day trial to the website. If you don't have a letter or confirmation they are willing & able to help you get that.

8. DragonSpeak. The programme itself is pricey & you have to pay for updates. It takes time to figure out & train, but once you do this programme is amazing. Just because my children have been diagnosed with VPD/SSS/Irlen doesn't mean they aren't required & taught to write. Our eldest, specifically, uses DragonSpeak to write his papers, take notes, & more. If you go with this programme you're going to really have to take the time to train the computer to work with you. One way I've done this is to have my children grab a 'baby' book & read to the programme one sentence at a time & then verify that everything was spelled correctly by Mr Dragon-Breath. I used this programme, for a while, to turn some of my boy's reading books into printable copies. Insanely time consuming, but he needed his books on Blue Paper & this was a method that worked for us.

9. Epson WP-4530 Printer. We've owned many Epson printers over the years, but this one, by far, has to be our top notch favourite. When our last printer needed replacing I had a list of specifics I wanted & this printer not only cleared ALL of those, but more. The ink lasts a LONG time which is a HUGE need in our home considering all my kids school books have to be copied onto their specially coloured paper. I wanted a flat loading paper tray because in the summer, around here, the paper can get all curly & such in the humidity. Add to that I can take a kid mathbook spine off & put it in the top of this printer, click 3 buttons & it will print both sides of the paper out without me needing to hover nearby. Love. I can print out the kids PDF books 2 sided with 1 click of the button, & my boy is delighted he can print from his ipad too. This printer is AMAZING. It prints, copies, scans, & faxes. All though, we've never intentionally used the fax option.

10.  Our beloved Dr T. I know she's made it 10th instead of 1st, but in all fairness this list is in no particular order. Dr T has not only helped us figure out what's going on & find a solution she truely engages with the children & wants to know what they've been up to during all those months since she saw them last. She & our eldest got carried away for 20 minutes discussing Field Hockey, & the delights, funs, & sorrows of the game. He shared with her how he had the ability to use a blue ball in one game & how he felt his ability to play was better then when his team used a white ball. He's right, actually, not only was he more aggressive he scored 3 goals in the first half.  Our youngest, being knew to the process, was nervous about the whole thing but she made him feel comfortable & listened to him without ounce blowing off any or his silly or sarcastic comments. She knows how hard to push them & exactly when they can't take another moment of it. She never leaves me, as a parent or a teacher, feeling like I could have done more for my children. I constantly walk away knowing I'm doing all I can for my children & generally leave behind names of resources we've found incredibly helpful that she's keen to pass on to other patients.

You may not find that all of these items work well for you, admittedly we don't all use every resource above. Our eldest, having VPD/SSS/Irlen the most severely absolutely uses every single resource above, where as my youngest & I tend to only use some of them. However, every day is different & that means our needs for the resources above differ based on the day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gluten Free Pie Crust

Yes, I'm mixing Thanksgiving & Christmas posts together, but it's all good, right? We had a lovely quiet Thanksgiving with just the 4 of us. It's the first time in about 7 years we've actually celebrated on a Thursday. We generally have our special meal the Friday after, but it just so happened that Mr S was off on Friday & we had Cricket that Friday. Thursday it was!

Our feast was completely allergy friendly with no gluten or dairy.. or egg or corn for that matter either, & not it wasn't complicated. I actually thought we'd have to settle for using Macro Chickens from Woolies because the Macro Turkeys that I found were all washed & injected with some form of corn. Don't ask, I dunno.. Wednesday evening, however, we spotted that awesome Turkey!

Here's a quick breakdown of our menu:

Mashed Potatoes -- I cook them in my pressure cooker because it takes 10 minutes. Seriously. Mr S mashed them by hand because the piece I needed on the Electric Mixer is broken. I use Nutlex, Coconut cream, garlic powder, chives, & the typical salt & pepper to season them with.

Green Beans -- generally I prefer fresh ones sautéed on the stove top or in the air fryer with a bit of garlic as well, but I went for simple & used some frozen ones & did them in the microwave instead. Easy peasy.

Cranberry Sauce -- Normally I purchased dried cranberries & pour a cup of them in saucepan, cover with water & boil for 2-5 minutes. Then use a stick blender to puree them & season however you want. I generally use Orange & Stevia. This year I went mega simple & found a jar of OceanSpray whole berry sauce that I heated on the stove top. Let's just say Ocean Spray is not $1 a jar/tin here..

Turkey -- I don't do stuffing due to the gluten issue, in fact I can't remember the last time I made stuffing. I know there are many recipes for a sausage or other meat based form, but honestly we're all good without stuffing. Instead I used 1 lemon, 1 orange,  1 lime, 1 head of garlic {yes the whole thing}, & one onion to stuff the bird with. I just quartered the fruit & the onion & sliced the garlic head in half horizontally. Brushed the bird with olive oil & sprinkled salt & pepper on top. It took about 4-5 hours to cook in the 200C oven. I left it uncovered until it was golden & then covered it with foil.

Apple Pie -- I wasn't actually going to make Apple pie, but I forgot when I made the pie crust that the recipe is for a double crust! Whoops. I was then going to make an open faced berry pie, but yeah I didn't have any berries in the freezer! I did, however, have apples set aside that I was going to use for the main meal. Instead I made apple pie filling up & put a crumble type topping on it. The crumble topping was coconut sugar, almond flour, & buckwheat flour with Nutlex cut in. I didn't really measure much to be honest.

Chocolate Pie -- This was the only pie I'd intended to make! I got the crust all made up & popped it in the oven & used our traditional standby, allergy friendly, chocolate pudding recipe to fill it with. I've never added the optional seasoning or the coconut. I use Dairy Free dark chocolate, coconut sugar, & skip the vanilla due to corn issues.

Apple Juice -- I was going to make punch, but realised, way too late in the day, that I'd forgotten to get things for it. Thankfully we have an amazing Apple Orchard that bottles Juice not far from our home & that means that pretty much every shop in our area has their amazingly awesome fresh juice on hand. I nipped down to my local IGA & snagged a bottle. The fancy cups were leftovers from a few years ago when we surprised Nana with fizzy apple juice when her house sold after being on the market for nearly 3 years.

Chocolate Covered Cranberries -- A total splurge. While we were fetching the Apple Juice we popped in to our local Health Food shop which is right next door to the IGA. I was hoping to pick up a small sack of Maple Sugar for the apple pie topping. I couldn't find any on the shelf & while the girls were busy with other customers had a wander around & found the cranberries. It's a pretty rare occasion that any boxed food, much less a sweet treat, can be purchased for people in our home to eat, so one this one passed the test they made it to the desert table.. the maple sugar, however, was not in stock.

Pretty simple menu, really, but we enjoyed ourselves. We played a few games of Tic-Tac-Toe before heading out to walk off dinner & make room for pie. We normally kick off the end of Thanksgiving with a watching of Christmas With The Kranks, but our anxious child asked if we could watch something funnier instead.

I've been meaning to share our Gluten Free Pie Crust recipe for a long time now & since we're talking about pies it seems a great time to share! Growing up I used the recipe in the back of the Betty Crocker 1-2-3 cookbook for oil pastry, my family dubbed it the best pie crust ever & I was forever given the task of baking the holiday pies. I took my roll seriously until the year I had 2 small children under foot & decided to cut corners & buy some pre-made Pillsbury Pie Crusts. Yep, next year I made the pies in October & popped them in the freezer, which was a huge relief to my brother who made a surprised visit & wondered why I was making Thanksgiving Pies on his birthday.

Gluten Free fours don't behave in the same way glutenous flours do, & it can be crazy hard to manipulate taste & texture. For a long time every pie crust I made was considered an abomination, mostly by me, all though the guys rarely complained. Then one day I stumbled upon THIS pie crust recipe. While it wasn't exactly like the one I'd been making for years it was Gluten Free & it wasn't an abomination. It wasn't exactly perfect but it was pretty darn close!

Then one day I was standing in the kitchen with my chicken pie filling all ready to go & needed to whip up the amazing pie crust, only to discover I was out of certain ingredients. I decided I had two choices. I could cancel dinner & suggest everyone go to bed {I was totally in favour of this idea} or I could sub ingredients. I'd subbed things before, but not as much as I was going to have to sub this time. In fact, I was kinda quaking a bit as I started pulling other flours out of the pantry & imaging the mess I was going to end up. Funny thing is, it turned out to be the BEST version of the pie crust EVER. I jumped up from the table & quickly jotted down my alternate ingredients & the very next week we had the same meal again, you know, to be sure it wasn't a fluke that the crust had come out so awesome. It wasn't. We've made it a half dozen times now & it's been beautiful each & every time.

Here's the measurements & flours we ended up using:

5 ounces almond meal -- I know the recipe says Almond Flour & Meal are not the same thing, but where I live Almond flour is actually called Almond Meal. I use the Nature's Works brand.
2 ounces Buckwheat Flour -- I use the white version, I did attempt it once with the brown version that still had some small husks in it & the pie was a disaster. Yes, Buckwheat Flour is Gluten Free & it's amazing stuff too!
2 ounces Arrowroot Flour -- I buy it in bulk at a local health food store, or in a pinch the small tubs of it from Woolies, either one works
2 ounces Millet Flour -- I just get the stuff from my local health food store that comes from a local farm
3 ounces Potato Starch -- Again, from my bulk health food store, just make sure you're using starch & not flour they are different.
2 ounces Sorghum Flour -- I tend to use the Sweet White by Bob's Red Mill or the White from my local bulk health food store, they both work exactly the same.
2 t Guar Gum -- I forgot this last time & it still worked just fine
1/2 t salt -- I usually use Pink Himalayan Salt
9 T coconut oil -- DO NOT MELT, I just scoop it right out of the jar & into the food processor
11 T ice-cold water

Measure out all your flours, gum, & salt out & dump them in the food processor. I give it a blitz to incorporate it with the salt & guar gum. I measure out my coconut oil & just dump it into the food processor. Blitz it again to get it all worked in. The crust doesn't hold together at this point, so don't freak out. With the blender running I add in my water at this point & if it's not one big lump of dough in there I add in more water 1 tablespoon at a time until it is. I've only had to add more water once.

I roll this out just like normal pie crust, all though I've not attempted a lattice top with it yet. Best part is, if it falls apart or rips while I'm putting it in the pie plate I can just smooth it back together without effecting the texture of the dough. The recipe generally makes enough for a top & bottom crust plus a little left over. I generally roll the extra out reasonably thin & put on baking paper on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle it with a little cinnamon & maple or coconut sugar, bake for 15-20 minutes & attempt not to burn yourself when it comes out of the oven.

I've used this pie crust now on a few different, non GF, friends who've all dubbed it amazing. I guess the real test will be making it for my US relatives to see if it passes with them or not..

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Few Lovely Books

Despite the VPD/SSS/Irlen Diagnosis that run through our little family, it can be pretty hard to keep up with what everyone is reading these days. In fact, it's traditional for me to purchase books for everyone for Christmas & one child requested book 32 in a series he's reading. The book shop didn't even know the series went that high. Makes me so so grateful for ScribD, but more about that later..

While these aren't the only books people in our home are currently reading I thought I'd share about the 4 books pictures above:

1. Tea & Sugar Christmas. A sweet friend recommended this book to me & I may have squealed aloud when I saw our library actually had a few copies of it. The book is about the Tea & Sugar Train that ran from Port August to Kalgoorlie from 1915-1996. The back has a little history in the train & photos of people shopping on the train too. It's a sweet little story with equally sweet illustrations by one of our favourite Aussie illustrators, Robert Ingpen.

2. Australian's Let Us Barbecue. Come one, who didn't sing that when reading that title?! There's an entire series of these books based on well known Aussie songs, folklore, & poetry. We use to check them out regularly when our boys were much much younger. Oh my how one of our's adored "Im A Big Bad BushRanger.." I was strolling through the picture book section of our library when I spotted a new-to-us title in the series & decided to snatch it up. Yes, my children are teens & yes one of them might have said, "Seriously Mom?" But, no one whinged when I read it aloud to them earlier today.. Beautiful illustrations & typically fun & silly lyrics.

3. Julie Andrews Treasury For All Seasons. If you're wondering, yes I mean that Julie Andrews. You've read her book called Mandy, right? I read it as a child & read it again as a young Mother, & really need to obtain a copy to read to my own children. As for the book above it's full of poems & stories broken down by months & seasons. They are designed for the US seasons, but that's never stopped us from enjoying a delightful book before. In fact, our poetry book for next year is very light compared to the one we just finished so I was rather excited to preview this one to add to our Book Basket for next year.

4. The Christmas Mystery. Another tradition in our home is to read a book each day from the Sunday after Thanksgiving all the way through Christmas Morning. I had grand intentions of writing a story for my children for this year, but life happened & the story didn't. I was all excited when I picked up a book at our local Christian Bookshop to read to our kids this year, but one child found it a little too edge of the seat for him, or perhaps he was just out of sorts which is common for him these days. Either way, we shelved it, for now, & I offered to let the oldest {he very much cherishes our traditions} pick out any book from the stash of Christmas Reads he wanted. He choose The Christmas Mystery. This book is designed to be read December 1-December 24 & follows both a modern world mystery as well as the events leading to Christ's Birth. After borrowing it a few times over from our local library I finally purchased our own copy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

5 Favourite Christmas Decorations

We decorated the house earlier this week & I snapped a few photos, all be them not fantastic, of some of our favourite things to hang up this time of year.. {LtoR; Top To Bottom}

1. Homemade Stockings. We actually own several homemade stockings. The ones above are ones I made when we lived in America. While looking for some other goodies for us Mom came across our old stockings & posted them to us. I'm not really sure what I was thinking with the dangling beads on them, I'm not generally a sparkly-bead-kinda person, but the guys think the beads are awesome. Maybe they were the ones who suggested the beads, who knows! 

2. Names of Jesus. Four or five years ago I made up circles with the names of Jesus on them to hang over an archway in one of our previous homes. It was fitted perfectly to the area & started the tradition of hanging banners, or some form of decoration, for birthdays & other holidays in that spot. In our current home we only have one slightly arched doorway & it's in the middle of a very long room. This year I opted to hang it in the lounge room over a window. The picture is much darker then the room actually was, & it's lovely to sit in the sun during the day & see the many names there.

3. Stuffed Stars. Another item I made for a specific location in a home we previously lived in. We often have the debate in our home as to the Star of the Angel atop our tree, as we feel each had a significant roll in the birth of Christ. Either way, stars clearly hold a special place for me in regards to this time of year & a few scraps of material, some left over cord & we have star garland. It currently hangs near the entryway of our home & each time it comes out we discuss making Red, White, & Blue ones which could be used for both Australia Day & July 4th. All though, I lobby for Gold & Green for Australia Day..

4. Jesse Tree. We've always been big on choosing to celebrate the birth of our Saviour for Christmas, & you know it can be hard to encourage a giving spirit in a young child when they are surrounded by people asking them what they want for Christmas. One way we've kept our hearts focused on why we choose to celebrate Christmas has been with a Jesse Tree. We follow the story of the world from Creation through to the birth of Christ.. we follow the fall of man, the prophecies of a Saviour who'd bring hope & love, to the birth of the promise fulfilled. I may have teens now, but it's still a cherished part of our tradition to hang it up the Sunday after Thanksgiving & take turns reading the scriptures & hanging the ornaments. Each year we state how we really should make one for Easter to follow the Life of Christ, maybe this year.. Before I'm asked, I can't provide a link to purchase the Jesse Tree, it's something I made myself, including the little clay ornaments. I have, however, been considering making a few & offering them up for sale so feel free to let me know if you'd be interested in that or even a pattern for it.

5. Countdown Chain. While I didn't snap a photo of it, we also have a beautiful cloth countdown chain we use each year as well. Remember making them of paper for any grand event you couldn't wait for? A birthday, Christmas, the visit of a relative? One year I made some from cloth & included Bible Verses on them.