For our first year of homeschooling, we wanted to finish up US History, since that is what the schools in the area were doing–and my daughter had started US History the previous year, so it made sense to just keep going for the sake of continuity.

I spend a lot of time looking at textbooks. I’ve planned enough college courses to know that the right book can make all the difference, so a lot of time went into all the books we used. While I have a degree in history, American History is just not my thing, so I couldn’t just wing it.

In the end, we settled on the final volumes of Joy Hakim’s History of US. I read a lot of good reviews, there were student workbooks and teacher guides for us to use, and it seemed to cover all the requisite events and time periods. Now that we are coming to the end of volume 10, I can confidently say that we made the right choice.

The three books cover Reconstruction to the present, and they cover “typical” history (politics, wars, presidential elections), social changes (Constitutional amendments, Civil Rights, women’s rights, environmentalism), and popular culture (music, literature, and the arts). Does it cover everything? No–that would be close to impossible. There are topics that are glossed over, and there are others that are simplified. Part of that is that the books can be used at the elementary or the middle school levels–there are different ancillary materials depending in the grade. Not every topic is appropriate for all age groups, but the series strikes a happy medium. I didn’t feel there was anything truly neglected.

My daughter liked that the chapters were short–typically 3-5 pages. That made them manageable, and she typically did a chapter a day, and 3-4 chapters a week. There were often several chapters on significant figures that each focused on a specific period of his or her life–showing how a person’s childhood, for example, shaped the things he or she did as an adult.

I did supplement with other things. Novels and other literary works were brought in to add more information and different perspectives to a topic. For example, she read The Book Thief and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl when learning about World War II, and A Raisin in the Sun when learning about race issues in the mid-twentieth century. We also watched films, TV shows, and documentaries. The CNN series The Sixties has been particularly useful for study of that decade, and we are about to start the companion series The Seventies and The Eighties.

That does bring me to my one complaint about the Hakim series. The most recent history is more skimmed over. I would have liked a bit more depth as we get closer to the present, but I did live through a lot of it, so I can add first-person knowledge–and maybe that is why those years are a bit more under-developed.

Overall, the series was a success for us. In junior high and high school, I never got much further than the Civil War, so I learned a lot too. My daughter has even expressed disappointment that Joy Hakim doesn’t have a similar series for world history, which has got to be a pretty high compliment from a student–the desire to read more.

Technically, we have been homeschooling throughout the summer, and subjects have been worked in throughout the month of August, but this is our first week of full-on homeschool with all subjects.

We tried embracing the full-on unschool philosophy: just follow your bliss and school will happen, but that was an abject failure. Weekly goals also didn’t work–everything was left until the end, and then there was a mad panic. So, we had a talk and agreed that an actual school schedule would be best. She needed class periods and daily assignments. So I went to work to figure that out.

Since I am a college professor, I think in terms of how college classes are laid out, so we have a MWF set of classes (US History, Algebra, and Literature) and a TR set of classes (World Religions, French, and Physical Science). On Tuesdays, there are music lessons, and on Thursdays, we are going to try to learn some Chinese. This way, there is some balance between types of classes.

In addition to planning the classes, I also created an actual schedule with daily goals or assignments, so, for example, US History is 7:30-8:30, then a 15 minute break before the start of Algebra, and so on. When 8:30 hits, that class is done, so any work that is not completed goes into the Overflow times right before lunch and in the afternoon.

For today, at least, it worked splendidly. She finished all her work on time, then we had lunch and took a 15 minute walk before instrument practice. After practice, we went over some past assignments and talked about the first 150 lines of Beowulf, which was her literature reading today. I read some of it in Old English; we looked at some pictures of the Sutton Hoo ship burial; we talked about how Tolkien’s scholarship on Anglo-Saxon literature found its way into his fiction–all the things one thinks off when they think “homeschool.” We even got in an episode of TV while we were eating our lunch.

Right now, I think she is watching cat videos. Considering how well today seemed to go, I think that is OK.

I received a review copy of Vegan Ice Cream, by Jeff Rogers, from Blogging for Books, which is run by Penguin-Random House. At first I was really excited because I am always looking for new ways to make ice cream on my own–and save the $5-7 it costs to buy a pint at the store.

However, when the book arrived, that excitement turned to dismay–the book had previously been published as Vice Cream, and I had owned a copy–and been disappointed with it. The disappointment stemmed from the fact that the recipes primarily used soaked and ground raw cashews for the ice cream base. While this is fine in principle, I am just not a person who will go through that amount of labor to make ice cream. When I want ice cream, I don’t want to have to wait several hours for it to happen. And the price of raw cashews doesn’t make the process cost effective. So, I was a bit frustrated.

I decided to give the book a read, and I noticed a difference in this new edition. In the Basics chapter, Rogers states “You may substitute coconut milk, in part or in full, for the cashews and water in my recipes” (9). This was better! Of course, he goes on to explain how to make coconut milk from a whole coconut, but I didn’t see why canned coconut milk couldn’t be used instead. Yes, there is less control over the ingredient, and making coconut milk from scratch is probably better, but I did mention that when I wanted ice cream, I didn’t want to wait hours for it–or have tons of equipment to clean afterward.

The first recipe I tried was the Chocolate Pecan, and instead of the 1 1/2 cups of cashew-water blend, I used a can of full fat coconut milk, using soymilk to make up any shortage. It was delicious! Rich, creamy, and chocolatey. I think we devoured it all in a weekend. Most of the recipes make a quart, so it is a bigger amount than one would typically by in the store–most pre-packaged vegan ice creams come in pint containers.

I also made the Raspberry, again with coconut milk, and that was also delicious. Having eaten dairy ice cream as a kid, the lack of flavors available in vegan ice cream at the store is disappointing. Having a book like this, which has all the basic flavors as well as some more unusual ones like Jalapeño Heaven and Carrot Cake, should satisfy any ice cream craving.

To round out my testing of the recipes, I did make some Vanilla with the cashews as directed. It was good, but there was a strong cashew flavor, obviously. For me, coconut milk is pretty much a neutral flavor–I don’t taste it in baked goods or ice cream–or maybe I just expect the coconut flavor, so I don’t notice. I didn’t dislike the cashew flavor, but it also distracted from the vanilla. Maybe it would be less noticeable in a stronger-flavored ice cream. Also, the nuts weren’t ground up as finely as maybe they should have been, so there were bits of cashews in the ice cream. I will chalk that up to my impatience for ice creamy goodness.

All in all, I am happy to have a copy of this book again. Going forward, I will probably stick with the coconut milk substitution, but when I have a craving for ice cream, there are plenty of flavors here to deal with that.

As a side note, I always keep the bowl of my ice cream maker in the freezer, so when I do want to make ice cream, it is ready to go!

For more info on the book, click here.

Author info can be found here.

So it looks like this is happening. Our daughter has asked repeatedly to try homeschooling next year, and circumstances have aligned to have that be the best option for her. Our reasons are academic and financial for choosing to homeschool, not religious. Unfortunately, that is the market a lot of companies target with their materials, so resources have to be vetted very carefully.

So far, trying to come up with a plan has been the hardest part. How do we approach this? On our own, with an online school, with a Co-op? In the end, since I have a background in higher education, I decided I can figure out most of the curriculum on my own. So I took to planning this the same way I would plan any other class I was going to teach–with lots of time on Amazon and various publisher websites.

My daughter’s current United States History class will end around the time of Reconstruction, so we will pick up right around then next year. I found the series The History of US, which seems to be pretty good, so we will be using volumes 8-10 of that. Several literary works will also tie in, for example, The Diary of Anne Frank (not the actual title, I know, but that is how everyone knows it), War Horse, by Mike Mopurgo, the young adult version of Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, A Raisin in the Sun, To Kill a Mockingbird, and, probably, Code Talker, by Chester Nez (just need to check that for age appropriateness, but I imagine it will be OK). There are also several movies that we can incorporate, both film versions of books we are reading and others. 

So, at least that is all set!

Book Review: Raw & Simple

August 25, 2015

The idea of raw foods had intrigued me for a long time, so when I had the option to review Judita Wignall’s Raw & Simple, I decided to have a go at it. The recipes are pretty straightforward, and the pictures are gorgeous–lots of color ones for inspiration and salivating over. At the beginning, there is an explanation of the Raw Food Diet, the benefits, and stocking your pantry. The introductory materials take up the first thirty-seven pages, so there is a great deal of information. The recipe section is broken down into Breakfast, Smoothies, Beverages, Soups/Sides/Starters, Salads, Mains, Fermented Foods, Condiments, Desserts, and Snacks–so it really does cover all meals.

I did take some short cuts. I did not make my own milks, choosing instead to use the ones I buy at the store. So, it is possible to cheat a little if you need to–or if you don’t want to go 100% raw or are short on time.

From the Smoothies section, I made Happy Monkey, which has banana, almond butter, coconut, and cacao nibs and powder. I did buy raw cacao products to see if they tasted any differently–they don’t. I am a huge peanut butter and chocolate fan, so this was delicious! It makes enough to serve two, but no one else wanted to try, so it was all for me!

I chose the Cauliflower Smash as my Side, which is meant to be a mashed potato substitute. I served this to everybody, so I did warm it a little bit, but it mimicked the taste of mashed potatoes nicely. It was a bit grainier than potatoes, but that was the only significant difference.

I had some cabbage from my CSA, so I used it to make the Colorful Cabbage Salad, which is like an Asian Cole Slaw. With purple cabbage and carrots, it was indeed colorful. The dressing had lime juice, so it was also nice and citrusy. We are all fans of cole slaw, so that was a big hit.

I made the Pesto recipe to use on regular cooked pasta. I love me my pesto, so I wanted to compare this to my regular recipe, which, with the exception of toasting the pine nuts, is also raw. This version was a lot more garlicky, but the amount of garlic could be varied according to taste.

The Chipotle Not-Chicken Salad Wraps were also good. Lettuce is used instead of bread, so it is good for those reducing carbs. The main ingredient is sunflower seeds, which I had never used for “chicken” salad before, but it was quite good.

I made two desserts: the Superfood Seed Bars and the Chocolate Haystacks. The bars are a blend of seeds, coconut, cocoa nibs, and goji berries. They came together really well, and could be eaten right out of the freezer, which is where I kept them to reduce temptation. The haystacks reminded me of a treat my grandmother used to make with chow mein noodles and chocolate–only here, the noodles were replaced with coconut. They are really easy to make, taste yummy, and store well in the fridge–to keep the chocolate nice and firm. Not that you are likely to have them for long!

I don’t know that I could eat raw full time, but there are definitely some recipes I will go back to, especially now that I am starting to think again of lunches for back to school–for the teachers and the student!

Over Mother’s Day weekend, we took a trip to Universal Studios in Florida. My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan, so it was a place we simply had to go. We flew down on Thursday morning and came home on Monday. There is a lot to talk about, but I figured it would be easier to break it into bits. Since a friend asked me about the hotel we stayed in yesterday, I figured I would start there.

We stayed at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is one of the park hotels. There are four on-site hotels, with a fifth one under construction, and Cabana Bay is the “budget” option. First of all, staying in a park hotel is the way to go. Granted, this was my first trip to Florida, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but if we were to go again, I would absolutely stay on-site again–though I might try a different hotel just for comparison. For Harry Potter fans, it is pretty much a must, since you get into Hogsmeade, which is part of Islands of Adventure, an hour before the park officially opens–as long as you have tickets to the park, of course. Note that this is the only part of IoA that opens early.

Anyway, as the trip got closer, I was nervous about the hotel. I had read mixed reviews online, and there were several comments about noise, cleanliness, and unhelpful staff. But, switching to another of the park hotels would have been much more expensive, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

The airport shuttle dropped us right at the hotel’s front door, and we went right to the lobby. We got there really early–about 11AM–so checking in was not an option, though we did try. However, the hotel is prepared for this. They took our luggage, and we had access to the rest of the hotel while we waited.

We walked around to get the feel of the place. It is made to look retro–like you time warped to 1960. Very Mad Men/I Dream of Jeannie. There are old cars in the driveway, and the decor is art deco. It is cool and gives off a funky vibe–in a good way. There are two pools, a bowling alley (extra cost), arcade (extra cost), a gift shop, and several food/drink spots.

There is no restaurant, per se. There is a bar in the lobby, a full Starbucks, a food court, and a bar/grill by each of the pools. The bowling alley serves food also. The food court is fairly expansive, though there weren’t a lot of vegan and gluten-free options. It is organized into sections, each focusing on a different type of food. There is a salad bar, which was pretty good. There is a veggie burger, but it isn’t vegan. However, one can get a side of fries, which I did on the first day to go with my salad. There is a station that serves bigger meals, and they had a tofu stir-fry, which had me all excited until I found out the sauce was made with heavy cream. But that same station has side options of rice, black beans, and vegetables. My daughter got that a few times. Once the rice wasn’t ready yet, so we got roasted potatoes, and those were really good. My husband got pizza once, which he said was quite good–and he is picky about his pizza.

It was a bit disheartening that they had vegetarian options, but they didn’t go the extra step. There are loads of great vegan burgers out there. It would seem to make sense that, if you are going to have a veggie burger, make it work for all non-meat eaters. Same with the tofu stir-fry–there are options to heavy cream that would make it just as good. But my daughter and I did not go hungry!

The prices were pretty reasonable–the sides of rice and beans, for example, were each two dollars and change, but they gave us a lot. The best deal is the drink cups you can purchase. You pay a flat price based on how long you want to use them–there is a computer chip in the base that keeps track of when it expires. Then you can get all the beverages you want–soda, lemonade, coffee, even Icees. We each bought one, and used them quite a bit. It also gave us more motivation to drink more water in the park, since we could save having other drinks for when we were back at the hotel.

The food court does serve breakfast, but not until 7AM, so we never used it. Our room did have a dorm-sized fridge, so I brought breakfast foods with us. At home, we eat much earlier than 7AM, so it wasn’t going to work for us. And we were catching the shuttle to the park by then every day we were there. I picked up an iced mocha from Starbucks to have on the shuttle–Starbucks did open at 6AM, so we could have gotten breakfast there if we needed to. And you can use your Rewards card there if you have one–it did earn stars. I didn’t try to cash in any of the free drinks I had.

The shuttle from the park to the hotel was great. I don’t think we ever waited, whether it was going to the park or coming back. Granted, we left early in the morning because we wanted to take advantage of that extra hour. We usually returned to the hotel around 2PM, and there was always a shuttle waiting at the park to bring us back–sometimes two.

The hotel is divided into five sections: Americana, Thunderbird, Continental, Castaway, and Starlight. We stayed in the Americana wing. We had a little bit of a walk to get to our room, but it wasn’t terrible. The wing did extend beyond us, however. The room wasn’t huge, but it was big enough for us. Four adults might have found it a bit too cozy. The room was clean, and the bathroom was good–reasonable shower pressure. The sink is separate from the shower and toilet, so that helps getting ready in the morning. There was never an issue with noise. My only complaint is that the room was not cleaned until late in the day–between 2-3PM. We returned from the park before it was cleaned every day, so we had to find something else to do–usually that meant a trip to the pool. It was never a major inconvenience.

We only used one of the pools, and it was pretty good. It was not very deep anywhere, so my daughter could roam all over. It was also never terribly crowded, and my husband and I found an umbrella table to sit at each day without any trouble. There was music playing, and one day there was a DJ, but it never got too loud. I am really noise sensitive, so that is something I notice. There are also sand “beaches” near the pools, and my daughter found them fascinating. The sand was white and really soft. Since she had only experience New England beaches before this, which tend to be a bit more rocky, she kicked off her flip flops and ran through the sand a lot. There were also palm trees scattered around the pools. In the evenings, they show movies by the pool–they call them “Dive-In Movies.” However, they started late enough that we never took part. Only Universal movies, of course!

There were people there who were not going to the park everyday–who were just hanging around the pool–so it is possible to stay there without going to the park. Overall, I think it was a good experience, and I would stay there again–maybe in a family suite next time, which is a little bigger and has a kitchenette.

Cabana Lobby

             The Lobby of the Cabana Bay

Cabana Pool

                           One of the Pools

Cabana Poolside

        At a Poolside Table–                      With One of the Drink Cups

Last week I found this website called Lighter. It is, on the surface, a grocery delivery website, but they also share recipes on their Facebook page, and you can sign up to test them. I received four recipes last week and chose one to make–the colorful quiche.

I picked this one because it was really simple, and it appealed to me most out of the choices. Plus, we like to have tofu scramble on Sundays, so this was in the same family. Tofu, toasted bread, spinach, spices–it was basic, but it was really tasty. I added some Daiya cheddar shreds and turmeric. The family approved–my daughter even said it should be on a restaurant menu! It was supposed to serve two, but I cut it to serve three, and no one complained.


Back on Track, I Hope!

April 22, 2015

Life would be so much easier if I didn’t love food.

But I do. And within my vegan and gluten-free restrictions, I love it all–sweet, salty, spicy. I love to cook, and then I love to enjoy what I made. I love to try new things from the store. I love to go to the local vegan bakery and to eat out at restaurants.

The problem is that I am not so much a fan of exercise, so I need to have some pretty strict controls in place to keep from overdoing. And that control is hard to maintain.

In November 2013, my diet kind of went off the rails, and it stayed there until a month or so ago. I put on some weight–not a lot in the grand scheme, but enough that some of my clothes stopped fitting and others were approaching that point. I just couldn’t get my act back together. I also noticed that I lapsed in my posts here, partly, no doubt, because I felt I had little good to say about myself.

But last month I decided I had had about enough, so I recommitted to eating well. I bought a VivoFit, and I wear it constantly. I have it synched with a food tracking app, so I can earn foody treats by moving more. I started to going to Zumba again. So far, my knees are holding out, and it is paying off. Slowly, but I am making progress.

As long as I pay attention and diligently track what I eat, the pounds are coming off. I am doing better about not buying lots of extras at the store. Weekends are still tough, but I am working on that. I have discovered that a routine is key–and limiting temptation.

Of course, the other members of my family also love food, and it is a challenge to make them understand that we can’t have cupboards loaded with treats. Mainly because I work mostly from home, and, if it is here, I will eat it. Do I lack willpower? You betcha. But, on the other hand, not buying lots of snacks is good for everyone in the long run, and it gives us extra cash for other things, like books or yarn. 🙂

To be continued!

When I heard that Starbucks was going to offer coconut milk nationwide, I was intrigued. While I don’t buy coconut milk for drinking, I do love ice creams and yogurts made from it. I also buy the canned versions for cooking and baking, and recently, for turning into amazing whipped cream. For drinking, we stick to soy and almond as of right now.

But before I give my opinions about the new milk, a small digression. As I read about the new item in advance of its being available, a lot of the comments were negative. Are the soy and coconut milks offered by Starbucks perfect? No, of course not. Would it be great if we could get non-dairy milks without carrageenen and other iffy ingredients? Sure. But I think a lot of people lost sight of the big picture here. Starbucks doesn’t have to offer any alternatives to dairy milk. While there are more people avoiding dairy everyday, we are far from the majority. Perhaps a little gratitude that our non-dairy needs are being considered at all would serve us better than complaining that they got it wrong. It’s a step in the right direction.

Back to my review. I tried the coconut milk in my usual Saturday mocha. It was good–definitely added a coconut undertone to my drink. The thing I didn’t like about it was that it was thinner than the soymilk. It also didn’t have the same degree of foaminess. Since I don’t really have a problem with soy, I will likely stick with that option for now as I prefer the extra creaminess. But I like that it is available as an option, and I may try it again when I shift to iced drinks in the warmer weather.

If nothing else, I do appreciate that Starbucks is broadening their options and thinking about people who cannot, for whatever reason, have dairy or soy.

Even in the twenty-first century, it can be difficult to be a vegan. Most restaurants are still way behind the times when it comes to menu options. People still look at you funny and wonder how you can possibly survive without all the wonderful and artery-clogging options out there. It is at times like those that I am so happy to have a book like The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions, by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman. When I first saw the book, I didn’t think I needed it. After all–I have been a vegan since 2003, and I was vegetarian for a long time before that. I knew all about substitutions–or at least I thought I did. No how much you think you know, if you are a vegan, cook for vegans, or simply want to include some healthier options in your diet, this is a great cookbook to have in your arsenal.

The book is helpfully divided into color-coded sections: Dairy (including cheese), Eggs, Meat, Animal By-Products (honey and gelatin), Gluten, Soy, Refined Sugar, and Fat. At the end is a comprehensive chart covering everything. There are the substitutions, but there are also recipes using those substitutions. The authors also indicate what ready-made substitutions can be found at the store–and when it is easier to buy rather than make.

The first recipe I made was the Basic Soymilk Mayo, which is in the Egg section. There are actually two mayo recipes, that one and another using tofu. The soymilk mayo has two variations, one that involves cooking, and one that doesn’t. I haven’t made the tofu recipe or the cooked soymilk one, but the no-cook version is worth the cost of the book. I really don’t think I will ever need to buy pre-made vegan mayo ever again. It is really easy and really good–it actually has an “eggy” taste. I use Light Silk Soymilk (or the store brand equivalent), and it still comes out thick and rich. I use it for cole slaw, pasta salads, vegan tuna/chicken salads, and as a condiment on sandwiches.

Another recipe from this section that I made was the Chick-o-late Brownie Cake, where chickpeas are the substitute for the egg. I made the gluten-free version, and it was really good. You would never know there is a can of chickpeas in there.

From the Dairy section, I have tried the White/Milk Chocolate Bar and the Chocolate Pudding. As a vegan, white chocolate is difficult to find, so I thought this recipe would be the solution. Raw cacao butter is on the expensive side, but I did get a big enough package to make each recipe once–and I have enough to make the milk chocolate again. I wasn’t able to find vanilla powder, so I used vanilla extract, and I didn’t purchase the optional soy lecithin. Still, the end result was pretty good. I used some candy molds I had, but an ever better use for them would probably be in baked goods.


Kitty-themed White Chocolate


White Chocolate Flowers


The Chocolate Pudding was also quite good. I used Silk’s Light Chocolate Soymilk, and I am often concerned that the light won’t thicken well, but no issues! Some of the pudding was used to make the Walnut Chocolate Brownies in the Egg section, and they got raves from my daughter!

From the Meat section, I made the Taco Meat, and that runs a close second to the mayo for a recipe that, on its own, is worth buying the book for. The recipe has a gluten-free version that uses TVP, which is the one I made, and a soy-free version using wheat gluten. It was so good–and so easy! You don’t even need taco seasoning, because all the spices are right there in the recipe.

Further in the chapter is a recipe for Pizza Pepperoni Topping with the same gluten-free and soy-free options. It was OK, but I blame the fact that my liquid smoke is really old, and not the recipe, for it not being perfect. I used to love pepperoni, but the vegan options at the store have too much gluten for me, so this was nice to have on my pizza! I also tried the Bacon Bit recipe, but it came out a little watery. Next time, I will try less water or a longer baking time. Might also add a bit more salt.

The Gluten chapter opens with an All-Purpose Baking Mix, and it is used in some of the recipes. I also tried it in some other recipes, and the resulting products had really nice crumb and texture, better than I’ve gotten with other a-p flour substitutions. I made the Chocolate Chip Muffins, which called for the baking mix, the Provençal Socca, the Superfudgy Coconut Cookie Bars, and the Coconut Cinnamon Raisin Bread. All were really good. Socca is a flatbread that is cooked in a skillet like a crepe. We had them plain–the recipe includes ideas for toppings–and they were really tasty.

Provensal Socca

Provençal Socca

There are a few sections I haven’t tried yet, but I have seen a lot of testy-sounding recipes that I am excited to make. And I recently read on Facebook that they are working on a second volume. When that one comes out, I won’t be hesitating!



Kim Harrison

The View From My Office


mindful style

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Filling the Well

ideas are like oxygen: a journal by Carrie Vaughn

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