Apple Pie Cookies

For those of us who really love to cook and bake, presentation tends to play a super important role in the way we prepare our food. Normally on an average week night it doesn’t matter, but for those special occasions or even semi special occasions I would rather go the extra mile and do something that’s nice to look at as well as to eat (bonus points if people struggle to take the first bite out of a desire to preserve the art!).

Apple pie cookies are as delicious as they are cute, and they are the perfect go-to recipe for pot luck events and parties. Picnics, birthday parties, gatherings with friends, dinner parties. They can fit in anywhere, and the best part is that they’re not all that difficult to make! 

2  (9 in.) pie crust
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tbs flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 granny smith apples (peeled, cored, and chopped)
1 jar of dulce de leche
1 egg
2 tbs cinnamon
1 tbs all spice
Round cookie cutter

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour, water, and sugars. Bring to a boil, and reduce temperature. Let simmer for a minute or two. Add mixture to a bowl with chopped apples (make sure the apples are finely chopped! Since these are cookies and not a pie, you’re going to want it to be less chunky!). Stir together until well combined.

2) Lay out one layer of pie crust. Spread on enough dulce de leche to cover the surface. Cover dulce de leche spread with the apple pie mix. Careful not to add too much!

3) Lay out the second layer of pie crust on a separate surface and cut out strips of dough. Lay the strips over the apple pie mix in a lattice pattern.

4) Dip a round cookie cutter into egg wash and cut out rounded cookies.

5) Mix cinnamon and all spice together in a bowl. Brush each cookie with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon and all spice.

6) Lay cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 23-24 minutes!

Curry Pineapple Chicken

Our family loves curry. By the standards of most people we probably use way too much in our cooking, but our general rule of thumb is that you drown everything in curry.

This recipe was a huge hit, particularly with my most critical and honest taste tester (my husband). Of course I dumped in  significantly more curry than this recipe calls for, but I would say the 3 tablespoons is a good starting point for those who are more cautious with the spice.

It’s fairly easy to make, which makes it a great midweek dinner. Definitely something that will appear at our table again, and again, and again.

3 tablespoons curry powder
4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 (8-9 oz) can crushed pineapple (undrained)
3 chicken breasts (cut up and cooked)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cooked basmati rice

1) Throw butter and curry in a large skillet, and stir for about 2 minutes. Add onions and cook until onions are soft.
2) Blend in flour and ginger, then add chicken broth and pineapple. Bring to a boil and simmer (uncovered) for about 5 minutes.
3) Add chicken, and simmer covered for about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon.
4) Serve over rice

Rice Box

Sensory play is one of the easiest ways to keep children entertained, while also encouraging them to explore and experiment. While it may be a hassle to clean up at times, I think parents can enjoy sensory activities as well. Personally, I love making various sensory boxes for my kid. I love playing with color and texture to make something interesting, and it’s especially rewarding to think that if it’s interesting for me to make, how much more interesting will it be for my child to play with?

Today’s sensory activity ended up being colored rice. It’s ridiculously easy to make, and the effect is colorful and incredibly appealing. I loved looking at the finished product, and the kiddo dove right in without hesitation.

What You Need:
– Rice
– White Vinegar
– Food Coloring
– A container
– Spoons, cups, and other objects to play with in the rice

How To:
– Mix 1 cup of rice with 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Stir in food coloring. Lay the rice out in a pan until it’s dried (I’ve seen recipes that suggest over night, but after an hour it was perfect). Put the rice together in a container, and let them have at it!

Flour Fun

I was yet again in need of a simple activity that would distract my son while I cooked dinner. Something that was easy to throw together, not necessarily a breeze to clean up (I just wanted to distract him while I cooked), and not something I had to hover over.

Well, we were in the kitchen weren’t we? Surely there was something I could dig up. A bag of flour ended up being  just what I needed. I sprinkled some onto the table of his high chair, added a bit of water for texture, and then turned back to making dinner. The room was filled with laughter, and I was satisfied with being able to get through the task at hand. Sure, the mess in the end wasn’t the easiest to clean up, but I personally thought it was worth it. Sometimes these things in life are all about surviving the moment. In that moment I needed to get dinner done and my son needed some stimulation. Eventually there was another moment where I needed to clean up the flour, but that was after I was able to sit down to my much needed dinner.

You may want to wait on this activity until you know for sure how your child reacts to wheat!

Water Painting

I love children who know how to make a good mess. I really do. Even if I’m the one cleaning up after them. It’s evidence of a child who loves to explore, who loves to experiment, and who has no boundaries or limits distracting him/her from a raw learning experience. A child-made mess is a beautiful thing in my eyes.

But sometimes it’s impracticable. Like when I’m cooking dinner, or prepping for guests to come over, or when I’m already on hands and knees scrubbing after another mess. I’m not going to pretend I’m 100% of the time chipper about letting “kids be kids”. There is a limit to my sanity.

The other day, baby boy managed to reach that limit pretty quickly. I was trying to cook dinner, and nothing seemed to entertain him. Should I let him down so he could completely destroy my kitchen? Normally I would, but I was about to have a breakdown  from an overwhelming sense of exhaustion.

Well, water is easy enough to clean up right? With that thought in mind, I began collecting little plastic cups to fill with water, when I suddenly had a new idea. Construction paper is not only bright and fun to look at, but when put into contact with water there is a color difference.

In a matter of moments I had a ridiculously easy-to-clean art project. I gave him some brushes of various textures (the sponge brushes work the best), a piece of construction paper, and a plastic cup filled with water. No paint needed. He simply brushed the water onto the paper.

One of the best parts? When the water dries it’s as if nothing happened to the paper (maybe it’s a bit wrinkled depending on how harshly baby treated it). Therefor, your materials are reusable!

Pool Noodle Bath Pit

I have a love hate relationship with bath time. Sometimes it’s a very enjoyable experience where I feel both baby and I are having a wonderful time playing games and singing songs. Other times I feel as if I’m really pressing my luck with the entertainment. Those bath toys get old fast, and my mind only has so many songs in the bath time playlist.
Recently I found a new way to make bath time a little more exciting for us. The best part? It’s super cheap.

I’m talking dollar store cheap.

All you need are 3-4 pool noodles (it’s best if you have a variety of color) and a knife. Okay, the knife is obviously not part of the actual activity. It’s simply the tool needed for set up.

All I did was simply saw little O’s out of the noodles, and dumped them into the tub.

I’ll admit that at first my son had no idea what to make of the noodles. The first bath was confusing and uneventful. The second time around, however, he seemed significantly more intrigued. He enjoyed kicking his feet to watch the ripples push the noodle pieces around, and especially liked lining the pieces along the edge of the tub. Now it’s one of his favorite bath time activities.

Storage for us wasn’t too much of a problem. I simply collected the pieces in netting and hung them on the wall. Easy enough!

When he’s a little older, I figured we could use the noodles to practice lessons on patterns by lining various patterns along the ledge of the tub. For now, we’re simply having fun exploring the interesting environment it creates at bath time!

Why Homeschool?

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

I went to public school, and for the most part I had a pretty decent time. When my husband and I first started dating soon after I graduated, he offhandedly mentioned the idea of homeschooling future kids. At first I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the idea, having just come out of high school and having a tiny bit of withdrawal. As time passed the idea grew significantly more appealing, and I quickly found myself more attracted to homeschooling.

Unfortunately a scary factor with taking on such a huge responsibility has nothing to do with how I’m going to provide a wholesome education. The challenge I find myself facing has more to do with how society reacts to my child’s education. I don’t know how often I’ve heard debates regarding the legality of homeschooling, or the accusations correlating homeschooling with child abuse. It’s so funny to me, because when I think about what a parent is risking by sending their child to a standard school (private or public), I cannot honestly see how such a choice is a better option. I’m not saying homeschooling isn’t without it’s struggles and concerns, and I’m not saying all parents should home school, but I do feel that if a person is ready to criticize a family for their decision regarding homeschooling, they should think about the package that comes with the other options available as well.

So, here are my responses for common criticisms I’ve personally received regarding homeschooling, and a few reasons why I feel it is the best option for my family:

1) What about socialization?
This is the number one complaint people have against homeschooling. I understand the concern, and it is a concern. I know of a couple home schooled kids who demonstrate the stereotype of a socially awkward person who never really learned how to communicate and interact with others . You know what though? I knew kids in public school who had those same habits and behaviors. I also knew kids in public school who had plenty of friends, but gained those friends through sketchy and shallow methods.

There are also the kids who come out of homeschooling as confident and pleasant people. They are the type of people who will light up any room they walk into, or make friends with complete strangers in a moment’s time simply by being engaging and friendly. Not every parent who chooses to home school does so for the purpose of sheltering their children from society. These days, there are communities for home school families. There are also a variety of extra curricular activities that get children out and among other kids.

When a parent chooses to home school, they usually know socialization will need to be a priority, and it will be something a parent will need to concentrate on. It should not, however, be a concern that is restricted to parents of home schooled children. Parents who send their children to public school need to be concerned with the socialization their child receives as well. Homeschooling may result in a lack of socialization, but to criticize homeschooling because of that issue means putting too much faith in the socialization a child receives in standard school. Public school produces the type of socialization that results in vanity, a lack of self confidence, bullying, and stupid decisions for the sake of impressing others. To pretend a public schooled child will be better off than a home schooled child is a serious assumption. With a strong family supporting a child, it is possible to get through public school without much damage, but it’s just as possible to successfully home school as well.

2) Will it be a decent education?
While talking to a friend of mine who was home schooled, I asked her what her perspective was regarding her experience (she is a very bright and successful person, and I really valued her opinion). She replied with words I could never forget:

“When you’re home schooled, the world is your classroom”.

One of the reasons behind our decision to home school is the fact that we want our children to have a different educational experience than what a standard school can offer.

The word “exploration” often comes to mind when considering the method of learning that children should be given, but that is the last word that comes to mind when thinking of the method traditional school uses. In a standard school setting, think of how much time a child spends in a chair learning from a lecture, book, or power point. Not to mention, schools are being thrown into testing hysteria. Teachers are so harshly pushed to teach by the test that schools end up concerning themselves with whether or not children will be able to fill in a scantron the correct way, rather than trying to instill valuable knowledge.

In my high school there was a unique program called “studies” that a handful of students had the opportunity to take. It was a two hour period where History and English were combined into one class. The entire structure was different from other classes I had taken. More often than not we were up and out of our seats experiencing our lessons through alternative methods. We participated in simulations. We did experiments. We acted out scenes from history and literate, and we debated complicated issues. It was ground breaking, and I had never learned from one class the amount of things I learned from the studies program. Unfortunately, there was always the threat that the studies program would be eliminated. The school, for whatever reason, was never too sure about the existence of the program, and a couple years after I graduated I had heard that it was cut. It had been a unique experiment in a dull and failing system. A diamond in the rough so to speak, but there is just no room for that sort of thing in many public schools.

That opportunity opened my eyes to the fact that education could be so much more than retaining knowledge from a book or lecture. It could be an experience. When I say I want to home school, I don’t mean to have my children sit in their pajamas at the kitchen table doing whatever work sheet happens to be in a book. I mean to do all that I can to involve them in what they are learning. With home schooling, I have the ability to turn education into something so much more than sitting in a classroom taking notes. Are we learning about American History? We can hop in the car and drive over to DC and see the Declaration of Independence. Are we learning about geology? There are some awesome places around here where you can find very rocks to hold in your hands and observe up close. Are we learning about the solar system? Get up and go to the planetarium.

Will children receive a decent education through homeschooling? It depends on the parents and tutors, just like it depends on the teachers a child happens to be placed under. As for me, I want the type of education for my children that is not restricted by a desk, liability, bureaucracy. I want to give them the type of education that the world has to offer.

3) You’re trying to push your religion on your children
I often internally laugh when people say they want to raise children to make their own decisions and form independent beliefs from what they (the parents) believe, because let’s be honest, no one truly lives by that, nor should they. Parents are a child’s number one teacher, whether they want that responsibility or not. They should be the ones who take charge in setting morals and foundational world views for their children.

With that said, I know of the parents who would intentionally hide a variety of subjects from their children in order to “protect” them from questioning their faith. However, that parenting flaw is no more dangerous than the idea that parents shouldn’t push their beliefs on their children. If parents don’t stand for something, their children will fall for anything.

There is a middle ground. It is possible to instill beliefs in children, while at the same time being honest with their education. Personally I think it is a disaster waiting to happen when children are hidden from certain subjects that might test their faith. They will not be in the nest forever, and eventually they will have to face those issues. A lot of homes schooling parents realize this. I am not keeping my child from public school in order to hide potentially faith breaking subjects. I want my child to know about Evolution. I want them to know the teachings of Bart Ehrman and Friedrich Nietzche. The difference, however, is that I want to present what I believe to be true as well.

In the end, I want my child’s faith to be their own. I don’t want them to believe in something simply because mommy and daddy told them to. I want them to take hold of it for themselves, test it, and persevere with it. I want them to have the type of faith where they are not ignorant of what else is out there, and yet they still stand strong in what they believe. That does not mean I leave them to draw their own conclusions. If children are supposed to be completely independent when it comes to their decisions on what to believe, there would be no point in school at all.

As parents, people are supposed to do the best they can to instill what is right and true into their children. That is exactly what I will do. That does not mean I hide from the criticisms, or the information that might stir a number of questions. It just means I present what I believe to be true, and why I believe it to be true. I offer the chance that maybe, just maybe, we are right and the standard is wrong. If my children come out with the faith of their parents, it is not because they were deceived. It will be because they have the evidence, both for and against, and made their own decisions based on that.
4) Family
Think about the amount of time a child actually spends with family when they are placed in public school. They might have a rushed breakfast with the parents (even that is often not the case). They get to school around 9:00 AM. Finish school around 3:00 PM. If the child is “well socialized”, they will probably have an extra curricular activity that might end by 5:00 PM. Kids get home, possibly have a meal with the parents. They then get up from the table and go straight to homework. By the time they complete their homework, it might be about 8:30 PM (and let’s not fool ourselves, this is pretty early for a high school student. Realistically we may be talking until 10 or 11, possibly midnight). Maybe two or three waking hours on a week day where a child might have time with their family. Sure you have weekends, but children have friends they might want to spend time with (it’s the whole socialization thing).

Some families are not okay with this. They may see a value in being able to have time for a relaxed meal vs.a rushed one. They may want to have flexibility in random family fun nights. With the schedule set by a standard school day you really have to twist an arm in order to find the time for families to enjoy one another, which is sad considering you only have 18 fast paced years before a child is packing their belongings and making a home someplace else.

Homeschooling in and of itself is family bonding. Families not only learn together, but they don’t have to conform to a schedule set by some system that accommodates millions of other families. They can take vacations when it is most convenient for them rather than when it’s most convenient for an administration. They can rearrange their schedule so that they can enjoy a night of board games or bowling, and not worry about a bed time. I want to enjoy the time I have with my children, and I especially want my children to enjoy their time with me. Families shouldn’t have to sacrifice their time together for the sake of their child’s education.

The decision to home school is often misrepresented, and misunderstood. It is often written off based on stereotypes and preconceived ideas. However, for those parents who choose to learn a little bit more about the home schooling option, and to explore what it can be, they often find something they believe to be better for their children. These parents often understand the concerns that accompany home schooling, and choose to work through those struggles rather than give in to the alternative.

It is not an option for everyone. Some families would benefit more from a standard form of education rather than home school, and that is okay. A child’s education must be a family by family decision. What works for one family may not work for another. In either case, however, there are struggles. It is important to recognize the fact that there are challenges in whatever decision a parent makes regarding their child’s education, and to assume that those challenges are without benefit could mean missing out on a truly valuable educational opportunity.