Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Chocolate Chip Cookies as easy as 1-2-3!

I admit it. I love baking, but I dread getting out all the measuring spoons, all the little containers...  Sometimes, I give up (my hips thank me), but that doesn't make me want them any less.

One day, when I was making pancakes, I looked at the back of the Bisquick box and thought, "You know, if I can make all these with this, and I know I can use it for baking a cake, why not cookies?" So I tried it, and these came out of my oven.

They were so easy, and FAST!  Don't they look great?  They were in the oven in under 5 minutes (and out in 10)! No measuring out a little bit of everything, or making a huge powdered mess on the counter.  Then, I realized that the ratio of ingredients made it really easy to remember the recipe:

1 cup margarine (or butter)
2 cups sugar
3 cups baking mix

Yes, there are a few other things, but "two eggs" is easy to remember.  (It's not like you have to actually measure the egg.) Sure, you can measure the chocolate chips, but I usually just rip open the bag and dump it all in.  I mean, you can't have too much chocolate. Ever.  And I never measure vanilla. I guess if you felt compelled to, you could measure a teaspoon or two, but I just slosh a little in and call it good.  (I also made these on vacation recently - using baking mix is perfect because then you don't need to pack all the "just a teaspoon" things.  I did skip the vanilla as I didn't have that, either, but I don't think anybody noticed - they still disappeared awfully fast.)

A few hints:

 -If you're making them with gluten free Bisquick, 3 cups is one box.  Since I only bake gluten free (so it doesn't matter who grabs a cookie), it's even faster -- the only thing to measure is the sugar! (1 cup margarine is two sticks.)

-Make sure you're using an "all purpose" baking mix, and not "just add water" pancake mix.  That has leavening and other extras in it.  If you're feeling brave, you could try it, but I'm not guaranteeing anything.  I'd just make chocolate chip pancakes instead.

-If you want to make these without eggs, that's not a problem.  Substitute 1/4 cup of applesauce or other fruit puree. If you want "don't bother measuring" cookies, use a single-serve applesauce cup.

1-2-3 Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
splash of vanilla (optional)
3 cups all-purpose baking mix (ie, Bisquick)
1 bag (about 10 oz) chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line baking sheets with no-stick foil or parchment paper, if desired.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Add the egg (or applesauce) and mix thoroughly.

Add the baking mix and stir until combined.

Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the baking sheet.  You can fit between 9 and 12 cookies on a sheet, depending on how large you make them.   I usually use a #40 disher scoop, which is about a tablespoon and a half's worth of dough, and put 9 to a sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the edges are slightly browned.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool on the tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to finish.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Monday, January 9, 2017

One National Park, TWO Junior Ranger badges

It's brutally cold out right now -- snow on the ground, wind chills in the negative numbers.  One of the boys joked that they were REALLY glad they weren't at Valley Forge this week, and I realized I hadn't shared about our field trip from there (when it was much warmer)!

This was actually our second visit to Valley Forge National Military Park; we had been there a few years ago when we had family visiting us.  This time, we went to earn Junior Ranger badges.  We actually earned two -- one for the park itself, and a second special Paleontology badge -- Valley Forge is one of several parks designated as a "fossil park."

We began at the museum in the visitor's center.  There are several exhibits in the museum about life as a soldier during the encampment.  I love how the Junior Ranger program cuts across so many types of study -- there's usually a page that involves critical thinking, some math, a bit of history and science.  One of the tasks were to search the center's database to find out about a soldier who is featured in the museum.

Other tasks were to find things that were needed during the encampment.  We learned that supplies were very limited. Between limited funding and the British takeover of Philadelphia, there wasn't a whole lot to be found.  Washington chose Valley Forge because of its location - not far from the city, but deep enough into the country to be able to find local provisions.

We headed out to watch the film (I can't say I've seen a poorly made NPS film, but this is one of my favorites), and then to work on the rest of our books.  We took advantage of the beautiful weather and worked on our Junior Paleontologist books while sitting in the courtyard.  This book focuses on all of the fossil and rock findings throughout the park system. (Note: If you visit a Fossil Park, you may want to print this book at home; while they generally have their "standard for that park" program books, not all of parks have the specialty books on hand.)

We then went back to working on our historical books.  One of the pages sent us out to the reproduction Muhlenberg cabins.

It's hard to believe how quickly the huts were constructed -- enough for everyone within just a few weeks!  Although, not freezing to death was probably great motivation. One of these tasks were to count how many logs were needed for each building, and then multiply how many trees were felled to build the camp.  Three students came up with three different numbers.  Did we count only long logs? Maybe they used the ends to make the shorter pieces. Do chimneys count?  In the end, we found out the Ranger's secret -- there isn't a firm answer, so they're mostly checking to make sure you visited them.  It's not about knowing exactly how many logs, but understanding how they were constructed, and the sheer volume of trees needed to shelter the soldiers.

Across from the cabins was a canon, marking where the Army's position would have been guarded.  Of course, the little boys had to pretend to be soldiers.

We then headed back on the driving tour.  There are several stopping points.  One is this memorial arch.

We eventually found our way to Washington's Headquarters.  A small, interactive museum can be found in a former train station -- in the early 1900s, the Reading Railroad established a station stop on the park grounds.  In the valley next to the depot is where the Isaac Potts house is located; General Washington and his entourage rented the house for the winter.

There was a young man who served as Washington's Aide-de-Camp, who worked in that very room behind Matthew.  Can you guess who it was?

We were running out of time, so we headed back to the visitor center to turn in our books.  I was disappointed we didn't have time for Washington's Chapel -- when we had visited here before, it was pouring rain.  I wanted to see the stained glass windows in the sunlight.  Sounds like a reason for another trip back!   The boys' books were checked and the little boys were sworn in as both Valley Forge Junior Rangers and National Park Service Junior Paleontologists.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Word for 2017: TRY

Our house is filled with Star Wars fans, and Yoda-isms are often invoked.  What's most popular? You've guessed it.

 (I think Nike's "Just do it," follows in the next breath.)

The problem is that when you live in a house with concrete thinkers, there also becomes an "I can't follow through all the way, so why bother?" line of thought.  Sometimes it's a fear of failure, and Yoda becomes a prod, but sometimes it's a logistical issue -- the mindset of "I know I am truly incapable of completing this, so why bother trying to start?"  I find myself even falling into the all-or-nothing camp.

I've chosen themes for the year before -- back in 2014, I wanted to be more proactive and less reactive.  I can't say I was all that successful because life eventually got the better of me and I was back in my "just put out the biggest fire" mode and have stayed there.  2015's theme was "Do a few things well," rather than trying to do it all.  My inner SuperMom still came busting out.  I admit, I didn't even bother for 2016, because while choosing an idea would have made for a good blog post, I really wasn't feeling particularly inspired by anything.

This year, I'm regrouping, with the word TRY.   It means, "To make an attempt at." It doesn't mean "accomplish on the first attempt."  I'm holding Mr. Webster to that definition. On my agenda:

  1.  Try new things - food, activities, ideas.  I am giving myself the grace to say I don't have to love them, and I don't have to stick with things if I don't.  But I'll pull out the Mom-ism that says "How do you know you don't like it if you don't try?" and give things a go.  This year, it's not about giving myself a pep talk, but also encouraging recalcitrant smaller people. Sometimes it's easier to say "Ok, don't bother," because it's easier to give up than encourage over and over.
  2. Try starting things, even if I can't finish right now and have to "try again later."  I probably can't declutter my closet in a day, but I bet I can sift through one shelf while I'm waiting for the bathtub to fill.  Each time I start running, I can try running a full mile, even if I have to slow down and walk the end of it. 
  3. Try to not worry so much about everything being perfect.  Life is a mess, and if things don't go according to plan, then just regroup and try again later.  

This year, rather than having a huge life-changing goal to work on, I'm focusing on improving in the moment.  2017 won't be about making one big change, but 365 little shifts.

Homeschool Review Crew Reflecting on 2016

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Resolutions for 2017 #GrouponCoupons #spon

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are mine.

As the "old year" ends, it's time to take stock and figure out what worked last year, and what you want to change going forward, right?  Groupon Coupons has lots of tools to help you make 2017 your best year ever!

How many of us are saying "I really need to change my (pick a topic) habits."  Losing weight is at the top of many people's list -- mine included, because when the "baby" is nearly done first grade,  I can hear the clock ticking on the statute of limitations of calling it "baby weight." For me, it's not about being "skinny." Sure, there are skinny people in their 40s, but I'm not a "skinny" person.  I'm ok with that.  However, what I would like is to be at a *healthy* weight, and one tool in Groupon's arsenal to help is Medifast.  With a nearly 30-year history of clinically proven success, it's something that has helped thousands of people get to a healthy weight, and can help you too! Portion control is a big part of the program -- because even too much healthy food is still too much food!  I'm especially impressed that they have a number of special diet options.

 Food allergies often make plans worthless -- I think, "By the time I substitute safe foods, I might as well do this myself!"  You should always check with your doc about what is right for you, but since Medifast features programs for people with diabetes, allergies, and six other lifestyles that have medical implications, it is an excellent option for a wide variety of dietary needs!
One thing I plan is to not lose sight of my plan being long term -- it's not about losing weight fast, but getting to a fitness goal.  Of course, I'd like to lose a significant number of pounds, but since reaching that number is not going to happen in a month (or probably even six or twelve!), I've set mini-goals for along the way:

  • lower my 5K running time to under 35 minutes
  • be able to comfortably use dumbells that are more than 5 pounds
  • complete a plank challenge
  • lose 10% of my body weight at a time (studies show that losing just 10% of excess weight can be beneficial, and 20-some pounds sounds a lot less daunting than the 80 or so that would put me in the "normal weight" category)

 It's hard to get out of the "I did well, I'm going have this piece of glossy, shiny chocolate!" mentality, but what about replacing that reward with something else bright and shiny -- like jewelry from Blue Nile?  Groupon makes it affordable as a reward splurge, giving you something tangible to work toward, and then look at and remind you of how hard you have worked.  With beautiful pieces for under $30 with Groupon Coupons, you can add "bling it up" to your resolution list!

Being HEALTHY is at the top of my resolution list.  Do you have any resolutions for 2017?

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Save Money with Groupon Goods

This is a sponsored post and may contain affiliate links.  All opinions are my own!  Thanks for your support!

With the holiday season upon us, I've been busier at the computer than ever.  I love being able to sit on my couch and shop.  Nearly everything I have purchased for Christmas has been delivered by "the package man."  Neal has taken to calling USPS, FedEx, and UPS the "Three Kings bearing gifts from afar."  (Go ahead and giggle.)  I have my favorite companies to purchase from, but with five kids to shop for, I'm all for saving money where I can!

I never considered Groupon Goods before as an option for holiday shopping.  Sure, I've used Groupon's main site and purchased discounted meals and experiences, but I admit, I never explored all that deeply because I thought that was all that it was! I was pleasantly surprised when I found out just how wide the Groupon Goods' offerings were!

There are tens of thousands of items to browse, from over ten categories!   I found a few really cool Christmas gifts for the kids.  I'm not going to give details because I don't want to ruin any surprises, but let's just say there will be an excited tween and a couple of very happy little boys -- along with a mama with a few dollars left in her pocket.  I will definitely be putting Groupon Goods at the top of my "favorite sites to shop from" list.

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Saturday, December 10, 2016

What's Happening Here (Week of Dec. 10)

Writer's block is not fun, especially when you like to write.  I've had "Write blog update" on my planner for probably two weeks now, but I just can't seem to get words from my head to my fingers.   I have a list of ideas to write about, but when I have a moment to sit and write, I just think..."Eh...not feeling it."  I have plenty to share -- pictures from our trip this past summer, some things we've done during schooltime, and even some random things, but somehow they never seem to make it to here.  It's been a busy season for us:

Celia played in the Rowan Youth String Orchestra concert in early December.

Matthew has also fully taken over for Luke as the Work-Study student for our Lilla Rose business.  He's worked a few indoor craft/vendor fairs, and one home boutique.  He's been dubbed "Guy Friday II" and is  looking forward to the spring when outdoor events start up -- he got a "how to put up the tent" demo from Luke and is itching to try it out.

Jude and Damien are looking forward to Christmas break.  (I think we all are!)  We've kept up with some of our regular subjects, but swapped out our usual Bible Study for a Christmas study, and our "fun" project has been a lapbook about the Clement C. Moore poem, "The Night Before Christmas".

We're starting to get the house ready for Christmas.  The stockings have been hung and the tree is standing and lit (ornaments are on this week's agenda).  Big brothers come in handy!

Two weeks until Christmas!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Homeschooling with the National Parks Service

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support! 

In 2015, we journeyed across about two-thirds of the country, and found that we loved doing the Junior Ranger programs at National Park sites.  Each site -- Park, Memorial, Monument, etc. -- has a program geared for children through middle elementary school (though plenty of adults like to do the programs as well).  This year,  as I simultaneously planned our 34-park cross-country itinierary and the boys' school year programs, I realized that instead of a textbook-based program, we were going to do a park-based history program.

Something we've discovered is that it can be very overwhelming to take everything in when visiting a National Park site.  There's the history of the park itself, the theme/person the park is based on, geography, architecture...where to begin? We also discovered the Junior Ranger program highlights important parts of a venue, giving an overview with enough details to learn, but not so many that young brains get frustrated and shut down.  Most programs are also cross-curricular: for example, a visit to the General Grant Memorial features activities not just about the man buried there (President Grant), but also architectural features of the mausoleum, while the Ranger guide to Yellowstone Park addresses the history of the park, the geology of the caldera, and even the animals that live there.  Even creative writing becomes fair game!

Included are individual activities, such as word searches or mazes, while other pages can became group projects.  Some of the more difficult activities that were divided among the scholars; one would work on a page while another did something different, and they'd share answers.

Many of the questions can be answered by carefully looking in visitor center museums or along trails, but often there are "Interview a Ranger" options.  At first, Jude was very shy, and only would go up to the Rangers with his book when he learned that it was "Ask the Ranger, or you can't earn your badge," but after a few interviews he became more comfortable with the idea of asking perfect strangers about their jobs.  We found the Rangers to be extremely kind and patient, as well as knowlegeable about their assignments.  We even found a few Rangers that became real-life Park Rangers because they had been Junior Rangers!

Junior Ranger badges are earned. They aren't given out just for showing up.  Rangers check books for completion -- and some will even ask questions about what Rangers should know.  On our trip this summer, Celia, Jude, and Damien filled their ranger hats and vests with badges, and someone asked about how they could get them.  Jude piped up, "They're hard work! You have to answer the questions and everything!"   From site-specific badges to topical ones like Paleontology and NPS History, these programs provide serious learning, not just a souvenir of the trip.

The National Park Service also helps preserve "hidden" stories.  Have you ever heard of George Rogers Clark? You've probably heard of his baby brother's cross-country expedition --  he would be the William Clark of "Lewis and Clark" and the Louisiana Purchase Expedition.  However, until we visited here, I had never heard of George.

The George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is in Vincennes, Indiana.  It was here that Clark, leading a small band of frontiersmen, secured Fort Sackville from the British and earned the support of the local Native tribes.  Sadly, his efforts have been generally omitted from history books, but if it wasn't for the eldest Clark's efforts on the western frontier during the Revolutionary War, there would have been no United States to expand westward!

Though all ages are welcome to participate, the official Junior Ranger program is for students generally ages 6 to 13 (elementary through middle school). However, we have also discovered a way for high-schooler Matthew to get more from his experiences in the parks.  While he didn't earn any badges himself on our recent outings, he often paired up and helped Damien, or would scout ahead to find where an answer could be found and lead the boys to the right section of the park.  We also found an offering from The Great Courses, entitled Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America. This course made a great spine for a study in the National Parks system, allowing Matthew to study the geology of all the National Parks.  We've combined the video program with a notebooking program (we're using the one we reviewed from NotebookingPages.com), reasearch, and essay writing to integrate our visits to the National Monuments, Memorials, and Historical Sites and create a two-credit high school program (science and social studies).

As a parent, I've also have had some great surprises.  At Malpais National Monument, one of the activities was to find the logo for the Continental Divide Trail.  This is the Rocky Mountain counterpart to the eastern Appalachian Trail.   We didn't realize this was even along our route!  Of course, we decided that we needed to hike a bit of it -- it was there, and we had hiked several sections of the AT in the past, so why not a few miles on the CDT?

I also pushed myself well beyond my comfort zone several times visiting parks, including driving the steep, switchback laden Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have to say it was worth it - we saw things we would never have otherwise had the opportunity to view.  Sure, we learned about the flora and fauna of the area with our Junior Ranger books, but there was a definite feeling of accomplishment for all of us when we reached the top and knowing we didn't take the "easy" way.

 The NPS leads the way in preserving these areas, as well as even older "roads" like the Oregon Trail.  Want to experience a pioneer's life, if only for a few moments? Walk uphill on a midsummer's day on the trail at Scott's Bluff.  We were very grateful to have an air-conditioned car to return to!

One of the best things about National Parks is the affordability.  Yes, we had traveling expenses, but entrance fees are either nonexistant or extremely low.  Recently, we visited New York City for a short vacation, and visited four sites without leaving Manhattan. We had two afternoons and a full day of activity that cost us nothing -- when you consider how expensive activities for seven in New York can be, this was a nice perk!

The most expensive places we visited are the "biggies" like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Petrified Forest, etc. that have higher entrance fees that allow several days' consecutive visiting.  However, with an $80 America the Beautiful pass, we actually saved money compared to paying individual park entrance fees, and if you have a 4th grader, you may be eligible for a FREE pass.  2016 was our second year with a purchased pass, and honestly, I almost feel like I'm cheating the system when I have calculated the per-park fees vs. the pass.  (Almost every NPS site also has a donation box, so we usually stick a few dollars in there to help support the individual venue.)

I think there is no better way to learn about something than to immerse yourself in it, and the National Park system makes this style of learning not only possible, but relatively simple.   It's easy to read and explain Jim Crow laws, but there's a much larger impact when standing in a hallway at the Brown vs. Board of Education NHS that includes signs for where which student is permitted to go. Riding in a boat through New York Harbor and approaching the Statue of Liberty gives a small idea of what immigrants may have felt when arriving in the United States. Of course, there's nothing quite like watching Old Faithful erupt or a bison eat his dinner with your own eyes!

It's also emotional to experience the highs and lows of the country where they happened:  the hope written in the declaration that was written in Philadelphia in the halls of Independence National Park and the gut-wrenching tragedy where Flight 93 crashed in the Allegheny Mountains on September 11, 2001.  There is at least one National Park site in every US state and territory, giving everyone a chance to explore! Even if you choose just to visit the sites of the National Park Service as a one-day field trip, I highly recommend taking the opportunity!

©2012- 2016 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://adventureswithjude.com
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