My broke girl, acne healing, 5-step morning beauty routine.

For nearly fifteen years I struggled with aggressive, cystic acne. As advised, I dutifully washed and slathered myself with products labeled for combating acne. Consistently, I was troubled to discover that my skin was often more inflamed, angry, and broken out the more consistently I used the products. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place of doing little to my skin, and having deep pus-volcanoes all over my face… or following “expert advice” and developing redness and sensitivity in addition to the painful sores I already suffered from. I tried modifying my diet (it’s one of the main reasons I went raw-vegan), workouts, laundering routine, birth control and cleansing routine for over a decade and NOTHING helped. Finally (and very slowly, I might add), I began to notice habits and products that at the very least didn’t irritate my skin… and then I noticed habits and products that seemed to actually improve it. I consider it nothing short of miraculous that my skin is as healthy and glowing as it is now. I do carry some scarring, but even that is miraculously not as bad as it should be for suffering with this damaging condition for so long. I’m going to try to find any photos I can from when my skin was struggling but, honestly, I deftly avoided the camera for all those years. Hiding from a lens became a genuine skill of mine even when I was expected to be in group photos, and selfies were something I simply Needless to say, photographic evidence of me existing at all during these years is pretty slim.

But enough with the past! Let’s see something recent! Coming up are a few no-makeup looks from the last year. You can see a little sun damage thanks to my MANY years of competitive swimming, and summers roasting at the beach and surfing… but you can also clearly see a delightful lack of acne. This 33 year old, mother of four is hanging in there pretty well!

Here is my routine that I follow most mornings. In classic busy-mom fashion, there are actually many mornings where I don’t do anything to my face at all and my skin tolerates the neglect very patiently now! However, I do try to stick to this routine as much as I can because my skin is left looking downright cherubic, and is more resilient to environmental changes and stressors, and heals from any injury (including now very rare pimples) quicker than it ever did before. If you like this post, please let me know and I will try to prioritize a follow-up post about my night-time routine.

(Any Amazon links I use are affiliate links and I might receive a small commission from anything you purchase through these links)

Step One

There’s no subtle way to say this: I give a lot of credit for the healing of my skin to olive oil. I don’t even have a specific brand that I use, just any decent quality olive oil seems to do the trick. When I’m ready to start my morning cleansing, I first pour about a teaspoon of olive oil onto my palm, rub evenly between my hands, and then luxuriously massage all over my face and neck. Sometimes I allow the oil to soak in for an hour or so before moving to the next step.

Step Two

Steam. If you watch my Instagram stories, you are already familiar with my trusty steamer. This is the steamer I use:

This steamer also comes with some extraction tools that I also use sometimes. I’ve only used the basic tools that look like little loops, but they are very helpful for gently coaxing out blackheads and congestion without damaging the skin the way using my fingers do. I have been using this steamer for a few years now after receiving it as a Christmas gift… by now many of the labels on the device have completely worn off from use, but the actual machine continues to serve me well. (Thankfully by now I have all the dials memorized anyway). I strongly recommend using distilled water with any steamer you purchase, as it will reduce mineral buildups within the mechanism that will damage the unit over time.

Typically I steam my face for ten minutes, but happily sit there longer if time permits. I also massage the olive oil further into my face as the warm steam loosens the skin and allows it to permeate deeper.

Step Three

Time to wash. My method is extremely lowkey in the morning: just a washcloth and a bar of soap! I am currently using Ivory, but I have also used Dove, and Dial in the past and they all seem roughly similar… Dove seems to be the most gentle, and Dial seems stronger, but they are all comparable and I will happily use any of them. I use a clean washcloth every time, and soak it in warm water. Then I lather up the bar of soap, and gently, GENTLY massage the soapy cloth all over my face and neck. The skin is very loose and delicate after the oil and steam so utmost care and gentleness must be used. A soft washcloth seems like it couldn’t possibly be rough on your face, but after the softening effects of the previous step, it is very easy to overdo it with the scrubbing. After a lathery massage, I thoroughly rinse the cloth in warm water, and then use it to carefully rinse every trace of soap from my face and neck. After all the soap is rinsed, I tap my face and neck dry with a towel.

Step Four

All I wear on a daily basis is a tinted sunblock. I am finishing up a tube of Clinique CityBlock that is unfortunately no longer produced, and I have just started using IT Cosmetics SPF 50 CC Cream and really like it. I only purchase sunscreens that use physical blocks like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide… unfortunately, both of those ingredients are notorious for leaving an ashy, chalky look on any skin (not just people with darker skin… it looks bad on us pale people too, I promise!). I have been very impressed with the IT Cosmetics CC cream for managing to blend without giving a hint of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Step Five

After all that, I go out and live my life.

The end!


Butternut Squash Soup

This soup is comforting when served hot in winter, and soothing when served cool in summer. It is vegan and suitable for fasting periods, and is a fabulous way to get a whole lot of vitamins and minerals into one bowl! Feel free to substitute other flavorful pumpkins, gourds, or squashes (I recommend kabocha!) and to adjust quantities based on what you have available.

2 medium butternut squash (peeled, seeds removed, chopped)

5 stalks celery (chopped)

2-3 Granny Smith apples (peeled, seeds removed, chopped)

4 carrots (peeled, chopped)

1 sweet yellow onion (peeled, chopped)

garlic to taste (I use a full head, peeled, chopped)

1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste

water to cover/to preferred thickness (may use stock if preferred, but tastes great with just water)

coconut milk or heavy cream for serving

pumpkin seeds or other nuts or seeds for garnishing

Put all the chopped ingredients (everything except the cream and garnishes) in a large stockpot and pour in enough water to cover. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer vegetables until soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool until you can safely transfer to a blender or food processor (you will likely need to do this in batches), and puree until smooth. The soup will get quite thick once it is blended so feel free to add as much extra water or stock as you want to achieve your preferred consistency. You may also use an immersion blender if you’d like. Return to pot and heat, adjust consistency as you wish.

Garnish with cream, nuts, or seeds as you prefer. In the photo I used heavy cream, hemp hearts, and pumpkin seeds.

Christmas 2020 Gift Guide

By now everyone knows I heavily rely on Amazon for a lot of my purchases. During the lockdowns of 2020 I’ve depended on it even more, so in advance I apologize for basically every single link coming from one single marketplace. At this time I do NOT qualify for “affiliate links”, collect no commission for my recommendations, etc. Even if I did, I would only share things I have personally used and genuinely enjoy, or sincerely think would benefit some of my readers. For now, my recommendations are backed by the fact that I purchased them with our own money, which may reassure you of the unfeigned nature of my reviews.

First of all, I did NOT actually purchase this through Amazon, but since the Molton Brown ( website doesn’t embed nicely here on my blog, I’m using Amazon’s link to the product. I like getting the gift sets on sale during holidays, and I made my husband’s purchase on Black Friday during a big sale… I don’t pay full price for these items. The “Recharge Black Pepper” is probably his favorite so I got him a 10oz bottle.. not the set with the bar soap as pictured here. I also got him one of the “festive bauble” bodywash sets but the scents I got weren’t listed on Amazon for me to conveniently embed here for you however, keep scrolling:
This is a set that I got him for Father’s Day. Again, I’d purchased it earlier during some sort of sale. I encourage you to sign up to the Molton Brown email list or check frequently for sales. Like many high-end bath items, I’ve found that these are very potent soaps and a 10oz bottle actually lasts a shockingly long time. To the point that, on sale, the price becomes comparable to a lower-quality (and more garishly scented) drugstore wash that empties out like water.
Second-Born has been begging for these books of detailed search-and-find photos, and this is the year she gets one! My favorite planner company, Hobonichi ( did a cover with work from this artist last year… tragically it seems to have sold out before I could get my hands on it.
We have the entire collection of these My First
Little House books…. except this one that has inexplicably eluded us for YEARS. Finally Third-Born will be the one to receive it!
Schleich is the epitome of toy-horse design, in my opinion, while still being affordable and durable enough for play. I encourage you to explore their whole range of figurine toys ( that includes dinosaurs, medieval and mystical creatures, all the way to regular animals! If you don’t want to purchase these through Amazon, I know our local Tractor Supply carries them (and at a better price!!), so see if you have one in your area. Second-Born will find this item in her stocking, but I have no doubt it will be a hot commodity with all three of them. I am planning on going to Tractor Supply to pick up more from the series and stocking stuffers because this toy on it’s own will start a war.
Papo is another brand we enjoy and is comparable in selection and price to Schleich! This one is for Third-Born.
This is for First-Born. Please don’t judge me. This child’s favorite section in the newspaper (after the comics of course!) is the obituaries, so why would you expect her gift requests to make sense? When we had cable, our favorite channel was TCM, and she was OBSESSED with this movie that I thankfully recorded. When we cut cable, all of our recordings were, of course, gone. So this will be a long-awaited reunion!
Another gift for First-Born! She doesn’t necessarily want to be a vet, but she loves animals (like most children) and loves learning about how things work, so this seems like a good blend of the two. The fact that it’s inevitably educational is a plus for her homeschooling mother. *wink wink*
Following the educational theme, one of my resolutions for the coming year is to buckle down on our language studies. Second-Born loved using the English-only version of this series when she was learning to read, so I suspect she will also enjoy a bilingual version.
More Spanish delights. This one is for Third-Born.
Second-Born acts (and with the shape of her eyes, even looks!) like a character out of a Studio Ghibli movie. She loves my photos of my early years in Japan, Japanese YouTubers and bento-box tutorials. So now she will have a bento box of her own. Even though we homeschool, this may motivate me to take the kids out on more picnics (I probably need to buy one for each of the others, too!), and I’ve also toyed with the idea of making our weekday lunches ahead of time in the hope that it disrupts our homeschool time less than our typical lunch breaks.
This is the big-ticket item for First-Born! I always wanted one of these myself when I was younger, so I really can’t wait to hear how she does with this!!

Here ends my list of actual Christmas gifts. As I mentioned earlier, I am planning on going to Tractor Supply for more Schleich figurines to even things out, and I need to get some fun seasonal candies for their stockings. We are relatively low-key with gifts, but it really adds up with three kids (and the fourth on the way!!)

What follows is a list of things that, while not purchased as gifts, are items that I recently got and have found helpful and think some of you may be interested in as well!

For our bilingual classroom (actually.. polyglot classroom… more on that later) these posters are an impressive addition. They are heavy-duty and very professional looking.
Pretty self-explanatory! Well made, and simple enough to read with the youngest one, while complex enough to help me with my own vocabulary!
I described our classroom as “polyglot” (knowing/using several languages) and now you know why…. but it gets even better so strap yourself in before you keep scrolling. English and Spanish use alphabets that are nearly identical. Russian has the additional challenge of learning a new alphabet from scratch. Just as the girls all did coloring pages when learning their native English alphabet, I am DELIGHTED to have found the equivalent in bilingual Russian-English. I’m sure they will pick up the Cyrillic alphabet easily this way, just as they did the English.
A more advanced picture-dictionary (I already have the Spanish version from this publisher). I will likely be the primary user for now. It really helps my retention having pictures with the vocabulary!
I’ve had the hardest time finding Cyrillic posters, but this one turned out great and is actually a sort of…. fabric? Not paper. I haven’t hung it up yet as I’d like to mount it in a poster frame first.
I told you I wasn’t done!! In all honesty, the girls are going to have little more than a fun, casual exposure to Japanese for now. Even though I was born and raised a few years there (and did pick up a few phrases when I was young), I’ve never truly spoken the language myself and I can’t take teaching it seriously. This is more for me to slowly explore, and share the occasional fun trivia with the girls. It’s easy to dismiss this type of “lesson” as completely frivolous, but speaking from MY OWN experience with language it is SHOCKING how much a person can pick up even with occasional tidbits of exposure. At the very least they will get basic exposure, and exercise their brains. I don’t expect to guide them to Japanese fluency, but maybe we can at least walk through the door together and have some fun!
I’ve been hunting around for clogs for a while but they were all more expensive than I was willing to pay. At $60 these were a surprising discovery and I’m glad to have them. They run a little big and I think are most designed to be worn with socks.
This tiny piece of minimalist jewelry was given to First-Born on her birthday. Its small design fits perfectly on a smaller body, and it has held up nicely.
This was another item from First-Born’s November birthday. It is a very delicate and minimalist design that looks wonderful on small fingers, not overpowering.
Second-Born got these for her birthday over the summer and they are a big hit especially when friends come over. I don’t know what it is about kids and enjoying the most complicated way to move from Point A to Point B…
Another present Second-Born recieved over the summer… nothing says “fun” like the real possibility of accidentally launching your face into the pavement. Be sure to get a pogo stick if teeth are optional in your lifestyle.
Another present useful for maiming, also received by Second-Born.
The best leggings you will ever own, at any price point. These happen to be about $10 a pair. Never have I encountered such a buttery soft, stretchy, AND opaque legging in my life. The selection boggles the mind, and they do have a limited selection in kids sizes. I’ve been happily growing my collection for a few years now. You can check out the Leggings Depot storefront to see all their options (
My go-to tea strainers for individual portions. Comes in a pack of 2.
An excellent leash for small pets. We currently have it in two different sizes. Very easy to operate (for the human), and impossible to wriggle out of (for the cat… yes, we walk our cat)
I’m by no means an expert gardener, but I’ve found this book immensely helpful in giving me an idea of what should happen when.
Another useful book for the practical backyard gardener.
Fannypacks actually look cool when Herschel makes them. I have one in a rusty orange color. Hopefully I will get my hands on more!
I never thought there could possibly be anything to say about something as mundane as a “cell phone stand”… but this one is seriously heavy-duty and awesome! It’s hard to keep my husband from stealing mine away to the office!

Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Frosting

Making cinnamon rolls and icing from scratch is undoubtedly more work than using the canned variety, or buying them ready made from a store. However, if you take the time to make these just once, you will struggle to accept any alternative ever again… sorry! Even if these aren’t practical for rushed mornings, they are perfect for any occasion that deserves extra “oomph”… whether it’s an unscheduled weekend, or a gathering with friends or loved ones, you will not regret the work you put into this and whoever tastes them will beg you for more. Even though cinnamon rolls are often associated with breakfast, the made-from-scratch version can be tricky to get on the table in time without waking up very early. In order to eat them at breakfast, I usually start the dough at night. I let it rise the first time at room-temperature. For the second rise, I put it in the refrigerator (before I go to bed). First thing in the morning, I remove the dough from the refrigerator (where it has slowly risen overnight) and shape into rolls. Then the final rise is once again at room temperature while I complete my usual morning routine.


1½ cups lukewarm (not hot!) water

3 envelopes dry yeast (if you buy bulk, it’s 2 tablespoons plus ¾ teaspoons)

½ cup sugar

½ cup vegetable oil (I use canola)

½ cup mashed potatoes, totally plain (no milk, salt, or anything else)

1 egg

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder

5-6 cups all purpose flour (plus more for dusting work surfaces)
Cinnamon-Butter Filling

½ cup room-temp/softened butter

¾ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon powder
Cream-Cheese Frosting

1½ cups powdered sugar, sifted to remove all lumps

2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup milk (plus more if necessary)

3 standard 9-inch cake pans

Take a teaspoon of sugar out of your measured sugar and mix the teaspoon of sugar with the warm water and yeast and wait for it to activate and become bubbly (roughly 5-10 minutes depending on ambient temperature).

In a large bowl (preferably using a stand-mixer), add the remaining sugar, oil, potatoes, egg, and salt, and mix until incorporated. When the yeast is foamy, and the yeast mixture and briefly mix again.

Add the powered milk and 4 cups of flour and and mix for a few minutes. Slowly add remaining flour, a half-cup at a time, until the dough is pliable and but not too sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour. It is easy to knead more flour in if necessary, and it is better for the dough to be a little soft and sticky rather than stiff. Knead with a dough hook attachment on your mixer, or by hand, until this texture is achieved (roughly 5 minutes). Shape the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled. This can take between 1½ to 2 hours depending on ambient temperature.

Punch down dough, reshape into a ball, and return to bowl. Re-cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled again (the second rise usually takes less time than the first, closer to an hour).

Punch dough down again and place on a floured work surface. Divide the dough into three equal parts. The best way to do this is to use a kitchen scale to ensure all three pieces are the same weight. Reshape into balls. One at a time, press the dough flat into a rectangle shape (as best you can), then fold into thirds like a letter. This shape is easier to roll into a proper rectangle shape with the rolling pin.

Butter the cake pans and lightly dust with flour. Mix the cinnamon and brown sugar together. Roll a dough “letter” into a 12×8 inch rectangle. Spread 1-2 tablespoons of the softened butter all over the top (feel free to briefly microwave if your house is cold and the butter doesn’t spread easily), and sprinkle with a third of the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Roll the dough up tightly from the short side and pinch the seam shut. Slice into 9 even pieces, and evenly space them in one of the prepared cake pans. Repeat the process with the other two dough “letters”. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to for about 1 hour.

During the final rise, preheat the oven to 325F.

Once the third rise is finished, remove plastic wrap and bake the rolls for 10 minutes. Raise the temperature to 350F and bake for 5 more minutes.

Remove, and allow to cool slightly before pouring on frosting.

While cooling, place all frosting ingredients in a bowl (preferably a stand mixer) and whisk thoroughly. And more milk, if needed, to make the frosting thick, but still easily pourable.

You may remove cinnamon rolls to a serving platter before drizzling desired amount of frosting over them, but I typically serve them from the cake pans.

Tvorog: Instant Pot or Yogurt Maker

Tvorog (pronounced closer to TVOR-ok), is a type of farmer’s cheese that is easily made at home, and does not require rennet. There are many types of farmer’s or cottage cheese that are made around the world… Indian paneer is very similar. Tvorog is not the same texture as the cottage cheese you will find in typical American grocery stores, though. Tvorog is very finely grained, and drier. It is not typically eaten plain, as American cottage cheese is, but is incorporated into other dishes. The following recipe is an easy version based on a recipe I found on That’s What She Had , and compares very favorably with the tvorog I enjoyed when living in Russia. For more information and methods (especially if you do not have an Instant Pot or yogurt maker), I highly recommend visiting That’s What She Had: How to Make Authentic Russian Tvorog . She also provides troubleshooting if your tvorog doesn’t turn out quite right.

1 gal milk

1/2 gal buttermilk

Straining tool (I recommend using a nylon nut-milk bag that can by hung by its own cord as the cheese drains, is easy to clean and reuse, and is very durable)

(I have a very large Instant Pot, but you are welcome to halve this recipe if your equipment has a smaller capacity)

Allow both ingredients to come to room temperature by leaving them on the counter for a few hours. Pour milk and buttermilk into your Instant Pot or yogurt maker. Set it to the yogurt incubation function for 48 hours (do NOT scald them first as you would typically do for yogurt).

Leave it alone.

Really, just pour, turn on your device, and leave it alone.

Once the 48 hours is up, the mixture should have naturally separated into tiny curds and whey. Carefully strain using your cheesecloth, or preferably nylon straining bag. Hang the bag over a pot to catch the whey as the tvorog drains for a few hours.

Carefully pour or scrape it out of the strainer into your storage container, and store in the refrigerator as you would for regular cottage cheese. The amount of milk and buttermilk listed for this recipe yields at least 4 cups of tvorog.

Octopus in Tomato Sauce

Despite my birth and early years in Japan, octopus is not something that was frequently served on our family table when I was growing up. However, it really started to grow on me when I realized what a wonderful and unique source of nutrition it can be once I started abiding by Orthodox Christian fasting traditions, and found myself in extended almost-vegan periods throughout the year (seafood that isn’t fish is exempt from the no meat/fish rule, so octopus can be eaten throughout the year). Not to mention, seeing octopus in the table is certainly a conversation starter where I live!

1 package of Panna Pesca frozen whole (cleaned) octopus

1 28oz can tomatoes

Oil/fat to saute onions

1 onion

5-6 cloves garlic (or more!)

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 bay leaves (not pictured)

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (not pictured)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Flat leaf parsley

Pasta for serving (ditalini is pictured)


Slice the onions thinly and saute in a large pan with fat of choice (or water, to keep it oil-free).

Slice the octopus tentacles and body in roughly 2-inch sections.

Peel the garlic and put garlic and canned tomatoes in a blender and briefly puree.

Once the onions are translucent, add the puree mixture, salt, paprika, cayenne, bay leaves, and vinegar. Bring to a simmer, then add sliced octopus.

Return to a simmer, then cover and simmer on low heat until octopus is tender, roughly 30 minutes. Stir from time to time and add water as necessary if the sauce seems too dry. It should be like a slightly watery pasta sauce, as it will thicken a bit once it cools. Once finished, remove from heat and stir in fresh parsley, to taste (I use about a cup of chopped parsley).

Once the stewed octopus is finished, cook pasta, rice, etc as you choose. Spoon sauce and octopus over individual plates of pasta.🦑🍝


Coming from the Greek tradition, Lazarakia are a festive bread that are made to resemble Lazarus in his burial cloths, and baked by many Orthodox Christians on Lazarus Saturday. As a convert, I did not grow up with this tradition, or recipe… so while I can’t claim this to be “authentic”, I can claim it to be much beloved by my whole family!

1 3/4 cups warm water

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (one standard envelope

2 tablespoons sugar

5 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt

2/3 cup olive oil, plus more for pans

Whole cloves

Combine warm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl, stir, and leave until bubbly.

Once the yeast is ready, in the bowl of a standing mixer with the dough hook attachment, pour the flour and salt. With machine running, add water mixture, and oil. Run the mixer for a few minutes until dough is just combined, stopping to scrape down side and bottom with a rubber spatula as needed. Briefly knead by hand for a minute or two if necessary.

Cover the bowl with plastic and allow dough to rise until doubled (about 1 hour, depending on ambient emperature).

After first rise, punch down dough amd knead one or twice. Re-cover, and allow to rise until at least double once again (roughly another hour).

Punch dough down again after second rise is complete. Separate into 16 even balls. An easy way to do this is to split the dough in half, then split each section in half, and keep repeating until you have 16 portions. Roll each portiom into a roughly hotdog size and shape, then flatten slightly. With kitchen shears, cut three long strips through the bottom 3/4 of each roll, and cut the sides at the top of the first cuts, as shown in the photo below (the side cuts provide more definition for the head).

Braid the three strips at the bottom, and place on a cookie sheet that has been liberally greased with olive oil. Once all the buns are arranged on the cookie sheets, firmly insert whole cloves to resemble eyes. Allow to rise for about an hour.

During the third rise, preheat your oven to 350F.

Before baking, brush more olive oil over the tops of the buns, and push the cloves back in if some have worked themselves loose during rising. Bake untol golden brown, rotating baking pans halfway through baking time (about 20 minutes, or until desired golden color has been achieved).

2019-2020 Homeschool: What’s Working For Us This Year

It’s hard for me to start a post about our homeschooling… I’m overwhelmed and don’t know where to start… it almost sounds like how I feel about homeschooling in general! HA, I jest (sort of)! I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of this, and I don’t presume to advise anyone on this process. This post is only to share what I feel is working for us this year, as some readers may find a tidbit or two inspiring. Hopefully I will cover the most important things here, but I question if it’s really possible to cover everything… I will try my best. Feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions or have suggestions for more topics to cover in a future blog post!20200125_151218

I suppose the first step in any venture is planning. I do not currently use a teacher planner. I have tried a few versions in the past, and the whole process felt bulky and redundant to me. We are currently using individual student planners. I plan their lessons about two weeks out (at most) in their personal planners, and they work from there. Sophia reads her planner on her own and completes many of her tasks on her own, ahead of schedule. Adriana is in the process of learning to read, so I am more hands-on in reading her planner, and going through the lessons with her. I do use a regular planner for my personal use… to organize my life, family events and commitments, and any to-dos I may have for homeschool or otherwise. My personal planner catches any tasks that may need to be done that don’t necessarily fit into the student planners. This year I am using a Hobonichi Techo Cousin, and I love it. It has some quirks that may deserve their own blog post some day. I have used the Erin Condren (Hourly/Neutral Format) in the past, and also really enjoyed it. Yea… sounds like I may need to do a specific planner post! I don’t like officially planning much more than a week in advance, because I have found that when LIFE happens, all the plans get thrown in the air, it it is annoying to white-out and re-write months of plans… however, I do review all the materials we plan on covering at the beginning of each school year, and get a feel for when we should be aiming to hit certain curriculum milestones.

Speaking of materials to cover, let’s talk about curriculum. In short, I don’t use one! No, I’m not un-schooling… I just don’t use any of the big, formally planned curriculums you’d typically see for sale. The backbone of my lessons has always been the Brain Quest workbooks (Sophia’s, Adriana’s). These are not designed to be used alone. I suspect they are meant to supplement or review, especially over summer break. However, I feel that they cover a well-rounded list of concepts for each grade level, so we work through them and whenever one of the kids gets a little stuck on a topic, I dig up supplemental information to help reinforce that area. Being that my children are only in first and second grade (Sophia is registered for second grade, but is using third grade material), I am currently able to supplement their weak areas on my own by explaining slowly, using manipulatives, and making up more examples. I also use Teachers Pay Teachers as a wonderful source of supplemental worksheets, activities, and lessons. I know very well that I won’t be able to “wing it” as much as they advance further and further academically, but it is working fine for us for the time being. Over the past summer, I slowly accumulated a whole collection of old school math textbooks AND the corresponding teacher manuals to go with them! I have these sets for first through fifth grade math!!

The teacher book has the corresponding student pages in the center, and lots of extra information and activities and suggestions in the margins!

Unfortunately, I can’t provide links as these were all eBay listings… once I nabbed them, the offer was gone. But I am providing that information here to show you that with a little creative thinking, and some hunting around, you can find all sorts of valuable education materials, and for a fabulous price. This is especially true when your students are young. Sophia does her math work in a separate notebook, but I think Adriana’s first grade math text was designed to be written in… needless to say, I want to preserve it for future use, so I photocopy all work pages and keep them in her school binder. I think next year we will purchase a proper English/Language Arts curriculum for Sophia, as I am feeling that my explanations of grammar and language are not as helpful as they should be, and I just don’t feel confident with that subject anymore. She is doing fine for now, but it may be time to start using a professional curriculum for that subject. I feel I am a strong math teacher, and with the excellent resources I’ve already acquired, I doubt I will need to purchase anything more for math until middle school. Adriana is using a unique supplemental text to help her learn to read. It is a reprint of a McGuffy reader from 1863! Yes, 1863! Practicing a bit of this every day works well for her, and she is making beautiful progress. Luckily for all of us, this seller keeps listing reprints, and they can be purchased for (as of this writing) $5.99 and free shipping! It is legal to reprint these texts because they are so old that they are now part of the public domain. If you purchase one, please let the seller know I sent you!

But how do I juggle all this responsibility with a burgeoning “threenager” in the house??? Badly, let me tell you. It is hard to get anything done with someone that age running around. Every toddler parent already knows that! In fact, we struggled a great deal during the first half of this school year, as it was almost impossible at times to accomplish anything other than deal with issues related to her. She’s slowly growing and developing, and starting to fit into our routine better (instead of the other way around). Still, I often save lessons that need more focus for nap time, or I sit with one student, while the other plays with the toddler and keeps her as distracted as possible. I have tried using the TV as a babysitter – there, I freely admit it – but she is two, and not interesting for long, which I think it perfectly healthy. I also set up coloring and “homework” for her to do, but that doesn’t keep her occupied for very long either. Mostly, we are all just doing our best to stay patient and roll with the punches as we wait for her to grow out of this phase!

Other than that, I try to make sure that sitting down to do book work does not take up a large amount of our day. I feel strongly that children, and adults for that matter, learn best by living. I do my best to include the children in every aspect of my day, answer their questions to the best of my ability, and take time to research answers when I feel unsure. We are not part of a co-op, but frequently visit the library and participate in many extra-curricular activities in our community.

Goan Black-Eyed Peas

This recipe is designed to be cooked in a mini crockpot (mine is about 2 quarts), but it can be doubled or tripled and put in a larger crockpot. This dish can also be cooked in a pot on the stove over low to medium heat, and stirred frequently. Based on a dish that hails from Goa, India, I rely on this recipe whenever I’m eating vegan and want something warm, and very satisfying! It is also a meal I rely on when I know I will have a busy day, and want to come home to a hot, yummy meal, with minimal effort. I like the hearty thickness of this dish and enjoy eating it on its own as a stew, but it also goes great with rice, naan, etc. I don’t use any chilies in my version, but feel free to add to your taste!

1½ cups dried black eyed peas

2 small tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 small yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 teaspoons brown sugar (jaggery is even better if you can find it!)

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon powdered turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ can (roughly 6oz) unsweetened coconut milk

cilantro to taste

Wash the beans and soak them for at least 8 hours. I typically soak mine before going to bed at night, then start the crock pot in the morning to have the meal ready by evening.

Once soaked, drain the beans and add to crock pot.

Put the tomatoes, onion, ginger, garlic, salt and brown sugar in a blender, and blend smooth. Add to crock pot. Add enough water to just cover the beans. Stir, and put on the lid. Set the crock pot to high for 7 hours, and stir occasionally as the beans become thick at the bottom. Add more water if necessary, but the goal is for a thick consistency.

Once the beans have cooked until they are very soft and mushy (about 7 hours), add the coriander, turmeric, cumin, and coconut milk. Continue to cook for about 15 more minutes.

Serve warm with a drizzle of coconut milk, cilantro, rice, and/or bread.

I hope you enjoy!

Christmas 2019 Children’s Gift Guide

Up front, I feel the need to apologize for this post. Firstly, because my writing feels awkward after neglecting my blog for so long. Secondly, because I came up with this idea abruptly yesterday, and need to hastily post so that my readers can actually have a chance to read, shop, and have their items delivered before Christmas! So without further ado, let’s get to it! I will split this into two parts. The first part is a list of items (and links) that I have already purchased for my kids. Most of the items have already arrived, but some are not here yet. The second part is a list of things that I am confident they would enjoy… items that are still on their wish-lists but haven’t been purchased yet because even the most doting parents can’t buy absolutely everything (and it wouldn’t be good for the children if we did!). Most of these links are to Amazon listings, thought I am not affiliated with Amazon…. I just do a ton of shopping there! I will also add pictures of items as I am able, but I mostly want to get the list and links up without delay.

Items Purchased

Toddler Rapunzel Dress : I bough this for Gabriella, my youngest, months ago. However, I feel the need to share it here because of how well it has held up, and for such a fabulous price! Much of the dress is actually made of cotton, which I feel it rare these days.

Magnetic Bookmarks : You can find all sorts of styles if you do a little searching, but I have been using and loving this set for a while now. This is a great stocking stuffer for all avid readers, especially those who read on-the-go and struggle with other bookmarks slipping out.

Chatterbox Magazine Reprint (Entire Year 1901) : This gift may especially enthrall the reader with a diverse vocabulary and appreciation of history. Chatterbox magazine is a delightful publication for children that was published from 1866 to the 1950s. Those of you that know me already know that I boast an impressive collection of antique books and magazines. It is important to preserve, enjoy, and learn from these works, however it isn’t feasible for everyone to own original copies. Many copies are available to read for free online in the public domain, and some are actually available as reprints…… of varying quality. I have spent my money on many poorly-printed copies, but this particular brand/edition is one that we already own and enjoy. This volume contains all the issues that were printed that year. It contains beautiful illustrations, short stories, puzzles, poems, and nostalgia. (Suitable for Grown Up children as well)20191211_16572120191211_16573920191211_165758

Original Tamagotchi : Yes, my dear Millenial comrades, THAT Tamagotchi. The one from our youth! The one that took the entire planet by storm and was banished from most schools. I forgot how the girls heard about this “old” toy, but I looked up videos of it to show them how it worked, and they were enchanted. So I will have one for each of the older girls waiting for them in their stockings. This is the very design I purchased for them (iridescent mermaid vibes), but it comes in many colors.screenshot_20191211-173230_amazon-shopping.jpg

CD Player/Boombox : (::EDIT:: I ended up returning the CD player I originally linked because it was simply TERRIBLE. CDs kept skipping, the buttons were oddly placed, and the radio had no reception. We replaced with with a better (albeit more expensive) one and are thoroughly pleased. We also like that the new one has a cassette player as well!)

I’m not sure how many households own CD player/radio/boomboxes anymore. Our children don’t have tablets, digital music players, or cell phones. We have on TV in the living room and one desktop computer in the office, and my husband and I each have a smart phone. Both my older girls really enjoy listening to audiobooks together, and now they will be able to do so in the quiet of their bedroom instead of straining to hear amid the hubbub of living room or office activities. Which brings me to the next:

Portable CD Player : This item was, I believe, a Christmas gift from last year to Sophia (the oldest). I chose this one because it was the cheapest, and I wasn’t sure it would be wise to invest a lot of money for an electronic item for a child…. and with a grabby toddler in the house. I’m including it in this list because it has held up marvelously! I’m especially amused at the double-takes we get when she uses this “retro” device in public. She loves listening to audiobooks with this on car rides, or even in the house.

The Flintstones; Complete First Season : The girls caught a glimpse of the Flintstones while we were on vacation over Thanksgiving. They were both absolutely tickled by the “modern” caveman culture, so I immediately browsed for the DVDs on Amazon. I also nabbed one of the recommended items, which was:

The Jetsons; Complete First Season : The girls have never seen this show, and I’ve only seen a few episodes in my life, but if they thought the Flintstones were entertaining then I’m willing to bet they will enjoy this set as well!

Nova Natural Dollhouse Family : While I am providing the link for the family as a set, I actually purchased all the members separately so I could have more options on their individual features. It was only a few dollars more. This was my most expensive single purchase and I flinched as I paid, but Adriana (Second-Born) has owned and ADORED the dollhouse girl from this series (pictured below)… so much that the poor doll is absolutely disintegrating from all the love she’s enjoyed. I find that my girls prefer this size doll because they can be easily stuck in a pocket or bag, and are easy for tiny hands to manipulate. This gift is mostly for Adriana, as she is the most doll-obsessed member of the house, but I know the others will be delighted to see these as well.

Her name is Vasilisa, and we all think she’s charming. Adriana named her after the story of “Vasilisa the Brave”

I wasn’t kidding about her being “heavily loved”

Now that I’ve mentioned her name, here’s a link to the book that inspired it. The illustrations are divine, and anything from this artist would be welcomed by most children!

Training Chopsticks : My older girls like to insist they know how to use chopsticks and don’t require Western utensils when we go out for sushi. Then they drop food all over the place. This year, they will finally learn how to actually use chopsticks, and practice at home. Hopefully this set will help them practice the basics on their own, without me needing to split my time and attention even further at meals.

There are a few more items the girls will be finding under the tree, but I either couldn’t find links, or the items are simply too goofy/personal to list here.


Here’s a few items that the girls are hoping they will get. Perhaps another relative will get them, or perhaps they will have to wait. In any case, I hope this list gives you some ideas!

Tamagotchi ON : This is the newer, souped up version of the Tamagotchi, featuring a larger (and COLOR!!) screen, more activities, and an ability for your pet to interact and even visit other linked Tamagotchis…. and they can even get married!!! Aawwww!!screenshot_20191211-171413_amazon-shopping.jpg

Portable CD Player Belt : This gift isn’t for the socially faint-of-heart, but First-Born wants it so she can keep her hands free while listening to her audiobooks on her CD player. It is a perfectly sensible (if deliciously nerdy) request.

“My Other Shirt Is Made Of Mithril” : No doubt you can guess which child this is for. I really don’t need to explain any further… but I do want to say that this shirt is on my own wishlist as well!screenshot_20191211-171432_amazon-shopping.jpg

Melissa & Doug Dollhouse Castle: There are two in particular that caught Second Born’s eye: both the “girly” castle and the “boy” castle. I put both in her wishlist and we will see if any relatives are enticed by either. Otherwise, I may get one for her birthday in the summer. The hope is that her Nova Natural dollhouse dolls will fit. I think they are technically a little bit too big, but I don’t think it would be enough for her to notice or mind.

More Nova Natural Dollhouse-Sized Dolls: Second Born in particular just loves these dolls and is especially exited about the medieval series and the Nativity series. The links I’ve provided are for the sets, but the dolls may also be purchased individually, and there are many more dolls in general, as well as more members to add to each set, so please browse around if they caught your eye!

Toddler Harness : I admit it, Gabriella is a runner. So yes, I am “that mom” that is shopping for a child-leash. Judge me if you want, but these two harnesses caught my eye (and hers as she shopped with me!): butterfly harness, unicorn harness. If a relative doesn’t get them, I certainly will because this kid is a firecracker and my goal is to for her to at least survive to adulthood.

Like most kids, their wishlists are basically endless, but I do hope that this post gave you some ideas, and maybe a few chuckles. Seasons greetings to you all!