Monday, September 28, 2009

Fried Tacos

All afternoon, my house has been filled with the aroma of homemade taco sauce. Earlier today, I set it simmering on my stove, because tonight we are having one of my favorite dinners. Tonight is FRIED TACO night!!! Yeah hooray! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE fried taco night!!

In our family, fried tacos are a tradition that started back when my grandparents lived in South Louisiana. They met some friends who taught them this new way to cook tacos, and it has been the way we do it ever since. In fact, the way most people make tacos, to us, is cheating. You're not REALLY getting tacos, unless you get them fried!

So you may be wondering right about now just how in the world to "fry a taco". Well, I'm so glad you asked! Favorite recipes aren't meant to be kept secret. They should be shared, so everyone can have a chance to try it, and maybe even make it a family tradition of their own. So get ready, because when you finish reading this, you're going to want to run out and get your ingredients so you can cook and eat them yourself.

First, you need to make your sauce. It needs to cook for AT LEAST 2 hours, but preferably more, so you want to get it going early. You need:

Two large cans of diced tomatoes
One onion chopped fine
One can V-8 juice (optional)
Salt and pepper
Jalapenos finely chopped (optional)

Put it all in a big pot, cover it, and turn it on low so it will simmer. Let it cook at least 2 hours, or more if you have time. The longer you cook it, the better it tastes. Likewise, the less time you cook it, the more likely it is to just taste like tomato juice. Here is what it should look like.

Now for the tacos! You want to have all of your ingredients ready before you begin frying, because it goes really fast once you start. You don't want to be trying to find things in the middle of frying, or they will burn! Believe me, you do NOT want that to happen! So start by grating your cheese and chopping your lettuce.

After you get them ready, put them aside or even back in the refrigerator until you need them.

Next, you need to have some corn tortillas. You can use white or yellow - they both taste just as good. Take your thawed hamburger meat, and patty it on one half of your tortilla. You don't want to patty it too thick, or the meat will not cook as quickly. You need it to cook in the same amount of time as the shell.

After you have all your tacos ready, you're ready to fry. I use my large electric skillet, because I can fit 7 or 8 in at a time. Since there are so many in our family, we have a lot to fry, and I want to get finished as quickly as possible. But, you can use any kind of skillet to fry them in. When my husband and I were first married, I used my cast iron skillet, which only held 3 at a time. But since I wasn't making many, that worked well.

Pour cooking oil into the skillet to about an inch deep. You will need your oil to be very hot for them to cook correctly. Drop the open tortilla in the oil, and when the oil softens it enough to bend, use a fork and fold it over. If you try to fold it too quickly, it will break the shell.

Cook them for about 4 minutes on each side. What you want to end up with is a nice, browned, crispy taco shell. When you are ready to pull them out, use 2 forks on each side of the taco. Hold it on its side for a few seconds, while the extra oil drains out. If you don't drain them well, you're going to have REALLY greasy tacos. But be careful, because you don't want it to drop from between the forks and splatter you with oil. VERY PAINFUL! Drain it in a paper towel lined pan upside down. Putting it upside down for a few minutes helps to drain a little more of the oil out before filling them.

When they are cool enough to handle (don't wait until they're cool, though), flip them right side up, and stuff them with lots of the shredded cheese and lettuce.

Serve your fried tacos to your hungry family with a big bowl of taco sauce on the side. You can dip your taco in it, or just spoon it on top. Use the spoon to finish off the sauce at the end. It's good enough to be a meal on its own.

Here is my happy crew chowing down on theirs. Even my 3 year old loves these.

I hope you will give these a try. And if they don't turn out quite right the first time, don't give up. Try them again. It took me awhile to figure out how to make these turn out just right. But now, they are great every time, and it's something my family looks forward to with GREAT anticipation. It's a family tradition. You never know. They may just become a tradition in your family, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blueberries for Sal

About a week ago, Little Sister and I started our next lapbook. I just LOVE the Five in a Row books and lessons. Well, yeah hooray, they have a Before Five in a Row set of lessons, which means it is right on Little Sister's level! So that's what I decided to do with her for our next learning fun.

O.K., first I should probably back up and explain a little. For some of you, you have no idea what Five in a Row or Before Five in a Row even is. The concept is this. You take a book, usually a classic Newberry Honor or Caldecott Medal winner, and you read it every day for five days. Each day, after reading this great book, you do some fun activities that go along with the story. Each activity is a wealth of learning fun! Before Five in a Row is for children ages 2-4, Five in a Row would be for older children, and they even have Beyond Five in a Row for much older children. So really, this way of teaching your kids could carry you far into their schooling. And it covers so much information, you will be amazed at what they learn just from one book. We don't do this way of schooling all the time, but it is a fun way that I like to use from time to time in our eclectic learning style. My older kids always enjoy it. And with Little Sister, it was no different.

So I pulled a book off her bookshelf the other day, and we sat down to read. We began reading the book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky. The first time we read it, Little Sister was nothing but squirmy! But after we finished, we headed to the kitchen to pull out some hands on learning - my big bag of frozen blueberries.

In the book, Sal, the little girl, is putting blueberries in her "small tin pail" and listening to the sounds it makes - kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk. So I let Little Sister experiment with making those same sounds. I didn't have a tin pail, but a glass bowl worked just as well making the same sound.

We talked about different things you can make with blueberries, and decided to experiment with blueberries with Whipped Topping on top! She loved making it, and it was DELICIOUS!

On another day, Little Sister and I decided to try our hand at blueberry pancakes. Usually, I make the pancakes for breakfast without letting her help much. There just isn't time for helping first thing in the morning. But about 11:00 was a good time for us to get started on these, and it was a time that she was able to help. So this was what we ate for lunch that day! And they were soooo good!

First, I let Little Sister help measure out the 1 cup of blueberries. However, her hand got really cold, because they were still frozen, so I poured in the rest. Then we defrosted them in the microwave, and she got to help push the buttons.

I added the other ingredients, and she had the job of stirring it all together.

We poured them into the cast iron skillet, and then, after they were all cooked, we started eating!

In order to make our lapbook, I looked to one of my favorite web sites for purchasing curriculum online - In the Hands of a Child - and I purchased the lesson plans and printables for Blueberries for Sal. It was about $15 (roughly), and I was able to immediately download all the information right after check-out through Pay Pal. It is a very simple thing to buy from these people, and it is a wealth of good "stuff" already put together. It kept me from having to make each printable myself.

We worked on each topic a little each day for the week, as we were still reading the book once a day, and finally our book was ready to be assembled. Here is our finished lapbook. Little Sister did each of the activities with me, she did all the coloring and painting, and she helped glue each piece into the book. It is great fun for her to permission to use the glue stick!! But all the scissor jobs I took care of myself!

So there you have it - Little Sister's school work for the week. It was a fun way to learn with this little ball of energy! She wants to be big like her brother and sister, and she wants to do school just like them. But since she's just too little to do the same things as they do, this is a great way to start her off on her learning journey. The main goal with a preschooler is to teach them to love learning! If you can do that, the road is much easier!!

In another week or so, Little Sister and I will be starting our next Before Five in a Row book. Look for more of our fun times soon!!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Life is School, and School is Life

Often, I have people ask me what we do for school. Usually, when someone asks me that, what they really would like to know is what curriculum I use, what kind of schedule do I keep, what kind of hours do we "school" - that sort of thing. When you ask me that question, be prepared to hear anything but what you were expecting.

We start school around 9:00 each morning - that is, if Baby Girl and Little Sister are cooperating at that moment. Then, we work until lunch. Well, we do have to stop for Little Sister to go potty, get a drink, turn on her movie. Then there are the stops for any phone calls I get that interrupt. And most work stops when Baby Girl wakes up from her nap, because she thinks the world revolves around her and her stomach. There are also interruptions due to low blood sugar (generally right as we're getting ready to start spelling), so we need to stop and have a quick snack.

In the afternoon, we work around the two little one's naps, and we try to actually get a little more accomplished. But more often than not, I find I MUST take a short nap in order to make it through until bedtime, because the baby rarely sleeps more than about three hours at a time at night. So we stop for quiet time, and by the time I get back to them, the baby is crying and ready to get up from her nap. Some quick schooling before time to fix supper, and then we're stopped again for a couple of hours of eating and clean-up. Usually, dad is home in the evenings, so we try to spend time with him, or at least wind down from the day and begin bedtime chores - like pajamas, potty, book, blood sugar check, snack. Before you know it, the day is gone. What happened to all my time?

So how, you may ask, do I get ANYTHING done with the kids by way of learning, when our schedule is start-stop-start-stop-start-stop. I'm so glad you asked! With our crazy "kid-friendly" schedule, we need something that works FOR us, and not AGAINST us.

First, I want to point out something very obvious, but something that most people miss completely. School is not an 8am-3pm deal. Life is school, and school is life! Every day, all day, your children are learning. They are learning as they are going about their day - that is, if you take the time to teach them as you go about YOUR day!

My children help me cook, at which time I teach them math as we learn fractions and doubling recipes, chemistry as we watch what happens with baking soda or yeast, and home economics as we plan meals that are healthy, inexpensive, and will feed everyone. As we are taking care of Baby Girl, we are teaching parenting skills and child care. When we grocery shop, I teach my children budgeting skills, basic math, nutrition, government business - by way of taxes (a real shocker for my kids when they first learned they had to pay taxes!!) - and people skills as they speak to the cashier and pay for their own items. Every time we go to the park, we are learning nature science while walking the trails and looking at the flowers and pond, and as we visit the zoo, we learn animal science while talking about each animals characteristics, eating habits, habitat, and whatever else. As we go together out to our garden to prepare our raised beds and plant our seeds, the kids learn earth science as they watch and study ladybugs and earthworms, nutrition as they are planning what we will be eating in a few weeks, math as they calculate how much needs to be planted to feed all of us, and physical activity.

We talk about everything we do. We talk while we are doing each activity in our day, and I tell them the hows and the whys about every part of it. I want my children to understand the real life reason for learning what we learn. I don't want them to think that school is punishment that I make them do each day. I don't want them to be forced to sit at a textbook for six hours just to think that the reason for doing it was simply to fill up a notebook. I want them to be allowed to use their imaginations and be creative in every aspect of learning. I don't want them to be boxed in by a curriculum that tells exactly what they are to learn and when. Which brings me to another part of our schooling.

We are very eclectic! What that means is this. I pull from many sources, take what I want to use, and leave the rest. We have no textbooks - at all. If I were to try to have my kids finish a textbook in a year, I would absolutely pull my hair out from stress! But I do spend quite a bit of time at the library and on my computer. I decide what it is that I want my children to learn, and I go to work finding books that fit my criteria for learning that subject. Then I find a way to incorporate it into our day and our life.

I do lapbooks with some of our learnings, which is nothing more than a scrapbook of your child's work. Also, I have three-ring binders for each child and each subject for notebooking. Notebooking is simply doing a page on a subject, three hole punching it, and adding it to your three-ring binder. With either of these methods, you are free to add any amount of information you like. Do only one page if you just want to touch on a subject, or go much more in depth and have lots of pages to add to your notebook or lapbook. I like both ways equally as well. The reason for doing this is, not to be bound to a book, but to simply have a way to keep your child's work and have something for them to look back on and see what they accomplished. No, we don't only TALK about the things we are learning about, but we do lots of activities with each thing! One thing I DON'T do is busy work. I don't bore my children with worksheets of problems just to give them something to do so we can say we filled out a page today. But we do many fun, interactive, creative, complex projects that give them lots of hands-on time with what we're learning.

Now, I'll bet right about now you're thinking that you wished you hadn't asked me how we school after all! You're probably more confused now than if you had just continued to wonder. Not too many people school like we do. There are many who are afraid to go without worksheets, workbooks, and textbooks. They need the structure of what someone else has already put together. And then there are others who simply think that the way we school just isn't school in the first place. And I would say this to you. For those who are afraid to step out of the norm, you can do it! It can be done, and it can be done well. But it all depends on your level of dedication to teaching your children every minute of every day in every detail of life. And for those of you who think it's not really school, I would invite you to spend a few hours with my children. You will walk away amazed at the things they know - things that most children their age would never even be exposed to. Because of the way we school, I have time to spend with each one of them individually learning things that most books don't have the pages enough to cover.

Life is school, and school is life. Go live it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Five Red Apples

The kids and I have been hard at work with our homeschooling these past few weeks. Britches an My Man are learning tons of things and having a great time doing it! But...

Lately, I have had a time with Little Sister, because she is always asking to play with My Man and Britches. I send her to go play or watch PBS Kids, but in no time, she's back under our feet. After sending her away several times, I begin to feel really guilty that she is all alone in there and we're having all the fun. But she's just not old enough to do what the older ones are working on.

But she IS old enough to do her own "school." So I dug into my memories of days gone by, and began to think of the things I did with the oldest 2 when they were her age. When they were small, we did all kinds of learning together, and we had so much fun with it all! One of the things I did a lot of were lapbooks. It was always something Britches and My Man liked, so I decided to start one with Little Sister.

Lapbooks are really nothing more than scrapbooks that are put together using your child's school work. My friend, who originally introduced me to lapbooking, is EXTREMELY creative with her kids lapbooks. But being the un-creative person I am, mine usually stay pretty simple. The point is, if you're a creative and crafty person, make it more elaborate. But if you're like me, keep it simple. The point is to have a cool place to store your child's work, so you aren't just stuffing it in a box in the top of a closet somewhere. Also, it is something tangible that your child can pull out any time, look at it, and remember the things they learned.

So I told Little Sister one morning that she and I were going to learn all about apples. (Amazingly, my 2 oldest - who think she is a "baby" - stopped what they were doing and wanted to participate. I told them they were out of luck. This was our project, and they were working on the project they needed to finish that was more age appropriate for them!) Little Sister was so excited. I didn't send her to go play by herself, and I didn't sit her in front of the TV, so I was pretty excited myself. Here are some pictures of our fun.

To begin a lapbook, you need one manilla folder, legal or letter size depending on how much stuff you have and how big you want it, and in any color. We used a letter size red folder. Open it up flat on a table. Then, fold each side in to the center. Use a ruler to crease the folds. You now have a folder that looks like 2 shutters opening. This is your book. Then you can begin the fun stuff!

First, she colored a picture of an apple with a worn in it. If you notice, she decided to color the worm with 3 colors at once. Very pretty. I helped some, because she wanted me to, but I tried to get her to do most of it. I wanted it to be HER work.

We made a game that I printed off a web site that I came across. It was called "Five Red Apples." I used contact paper on the game pieces, so, as she was playing with them, they wouldn't get bent or torn. Then I let her glue the tree to the back of our book. She had so much fun playing this game over and over and over.

I glued the poem inside on the top left hand side, and I made a pocket to hold the game pieces under the poem. The pocket was made out of a piece of card stock that was held on with packing tape. I taped one side down, and then I stuck my finger under it a little to be sure there would be room for the pieces. Then I taped the other side and the bottom down.

I had given Little Sister a piece of paper to draw an apple. But when I came back to check on her, she told me she had drawn a cloud, like the cloud in our apple game. So I wanted to include that in her book.

Little Sister learned that there are 4 seasons, and she made a book showing the differences in an apple tree in each season. She also learned that apples are ready for picking in the fall!

We also made another similar circle picture chart - or whatever you want to call that thing - that we glued in the center of the book. It showed the apple tree in each of the different seasons. Also, at the very bottom center of the book, we taped down the seeds that we counted from an apple we cut. After we cut the apple for our lunch, she learned what a half and a whole are, and she was able to tangibly learn that it takes 2 halves to make a whole apple.

And these are the pictures of our finished book. She was so proud of her work. On the front cover, I cut her apple picture in half, and I glued half to each side. Also, I let her take a bingo dot maker, and she made red "apples" all over the cover. I came behind her with a green marker and made stems and leaves on them.

Just to be clear, she and I did not try to make the entire book all in one day. We worked on the different parts for a few days, and then I came back, while she was playing one day, and glued part of the book. She helped with the dots on the front and gluing the game on the back. She also glued in both "tree" books. The glue stick was a BIG hit!!

So if you have a pre-schooler who just isn't big enough for "big school" but still is underfoot, try making a lapbook with them. It is a fun way to learn on their level, and it can include anything you would like to teach them. The biggest point here is this. Don't teach only to your oldest children. The younger ones will feel left out and neglected. This project really helped Little Sister to feel like she was included with "the big kids"! And I haven't decided what our next lapbook will be about, but I know it will be fun, and we will be starting it soon!

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” ~Dr. Suess