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Archive for February, 2015

Turn on the oven, friends, because in 30 minutes you could be devouring delicious, gluten free, garlic and rosemary bread sticks. Substituting almond flour for 2/3 of the flour makes them low(er) carb. Using some potato starch and tapioca starch makes them crusty on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. (Since potato starch and tapioca starch are derived from root vegetables – tapioca comes from the cassava root – it’s technically grain free, if you’re looking for a Paleoish bread that actually tastes like bread.)  Adding Parmesan cheese to the dough makes the flavor amazing!  And did I mention that the smell is so divine that I want to go lick the leftovers so I don’t have to share them with my family? Excuse me…

GF Rosemary Bread Sticks

I’ve also used this recipe to make pizza crust that is crispy on the bottom, yet pliable, so it supports toppings without being floppy or crumbing to pieces. If you value self care, you will choose the optional step of brushing garlic butter on the edges of the crust at the end. My kids have decided that this is now their favorite pizza crust, and it’s probably because of the garlic butter.

Low-carb Pizza Crust

The only downside of the pizza crust is that it’s best enjoyed fresh from the oven – which means I just gave you an excuse to eat the whole thing. You’re welcome. When I tried to reheat some leftover pizza that had been refrigerated, the crust had absorbed the sauce and turned soggy. Perhaps leftovers could be frozen and reheated in the oven instead of the microwave for better success. Or you could go with the preferred method of eating the whole thing. Your call.  The bread sticks reheat well on subsequent days. The bottom crust becomes soft instead of crusty, but still tastes awesome – especially when dipped in olive oil.

(Pssst, if you’re interested in a weight loss plan that includes this pizza once a week, check out my “Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4” easy weekly menu plans. Yes, I lost about 20 lbs. while still enjoying pizza!)

Mmmm... low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Mmmm… low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Low Carb, GF Bread Sticks/Pizza Crust

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. almond flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour/starch (they’re the same)
1/4 c. potato starch (NOT potato flour)
2 T. Parmesan cheese (I used the kind from a can)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
(For bread sticks, also add 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. + 1 T. hot water (hot enough to dissolve the honey)
2 T. olive oil + more for topping dough
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 egg

Bread Stick Toppings:
Olive oil
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed between fingers
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese
1 T. melted butter

Pizza Crust Directions:
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your baking stone/pan.  This makes a 13″ – 14″ pizza, so make the circle at least 15″.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  If using a baking stone (recommended), place it in the oven while it preheats. (If you don’t preheat your pan, the crust may not crisp as well.)

Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together.  You should have a wet, sticky dough. Don’t worry if it seems more like batter than dough.

Place dough on the parchment paper and, using a greased spoon or silicone spatula, spread it out using circular motions, greasing the spoon as needed.  (I just spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray when it starts to stick to the dough.) Spread it as thin as you can, with a raised ridge at the edge.  If desired, brush with a little additional olive oil.  (I skipped this step, but plan to do it next time.)

Slide a rimless cookie sheet under the parchment paper to help transfer the crust to the hot baking stone/pan.  Bake 8 minutes, then add toppings.  (I used Prego pizza sauce, Hormel Nitrate-Free Pepperoni, Falls Brand All Natural Hot Italian Sausage, mozzarella, white cheddar, and shredded Parmesan.) Bake 8 minutes more until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

For The Most Awesome Crust EVER: Melt 1 T. butter with a dash or two of garlic powder and brush on the edge of the finished pizza.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks! Sooooooo good.

Bread Stick Recipe:
Follow the above recipe, adding garlic powder to the dry ingredients. After spreading the dough/batter into a 10-in. circle, use a spoon or spatula to press a few indentations into the dough. Drizzle with olive oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Crush rosemary between your fingers and sprinkle over the dough. I used a coarse-grind pepper grinder to lightly top the dough with pepper, then sprinkled a light coating of Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Melt 1 T. butter and drizzle over the top. Use a pizza cutter to cut into strips or wedges and serve immediately. Store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, and serve warm with olive oil for dipping.

Keepin’ It Real…
Not all of my experiments turn out so well.  Here’s my first attempt at making grain free chocolate chip cookies.  The taste is spot on, so I will definitely be trying again, but they’re a bit…thin.

Grain Free Cookie Attempt

Grain free chocolate chip cookie…pieces.

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Yesterday, I wrote a version of 1 Corinthians 13 that reflected my view of what love looks like for me as a mom.  Oh, it was very creative and well thought out. This morning I erased it. Sure, I could try to describe for you what love should look like for a mom, but the truth is I’ll probably fail to meet those expectations by lunchtime.  The danger in comparing ourselves against a list of criteria meant to artificially define holiness is that we have one of two responses:

  1. Look at how good I am, according to that list. I must be a “good Christian.”
  2. I fall short of that list, so God must be disappointed in me. I should try harder, but what’s the point? I’ll never be good enough.

The first trap is self-righteousness that does away with the need for God (until our world falls apart or we blow it in some way). The second trap is legalism, attempting to define our worth in God’s eyes by our works and ability to follow our rules. Thankfully, we who are in Christ Jesus are saved by grace and no longer live under the “law” – which includes all my good intentions and “shoulds” that I’ve tried to live up to.  Grace is the doorway to freedom in Christ, but many devoted Christians refuse to walk through it because we can’t accept that God could love us as we are.

This morning, during my precious quiet time with Jesus, I was reminded that God is love.  To live a life that is characterized by love simply means staying connected to the Source of love. Rather than striving to live up to a list of expectations, the only way I can truly love others is to keep my eyes fixed on the One who gave up the riches of Heaven to die for me because he loved me while I was still in the depths of my sin.

So instead of sharing with you what I think love should look like, based on 1 Cor. 13, let me tell you Who love looks like.

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.  God does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

To be filled with love is the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, because God is love. Do you want to know how to love others; how to be an effective parent, spouse, member of the Body of Christ? The answer is not in doing more and serving more and working harder to please God. He already loves you. All we need to do is come before him daily with a grateful heart, asking him to fill us with his Spirit, and thanking him in advance for loving us and providing us with everything we need to live a fruitful life. For “the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The trick is to not go back to the legalism of trying to define what “fruitful” looks like according to the world’s standards, or even well-meaning Christian definitions like the one I tried to write (or all those inspirational quotes on Facebook that constantly remind us that we’re falling short in some area where we really should BE MORE AWESOME).  Oh, I know the fear that creeps in when we dare to preach grace because “someone” might use it as an excuse to break the rules! Dear one, let God be the judge.  He made the rules, and he chose the way of love and grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

God is love. Will you let go of the guilt of not measuring up and allow him to love you today?

 

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If your child has illegible handwriting well into elementary school, struggles with spacing, has an awkward pencil grip, can’t seem to put his thoughts down on paper, and shuts down when you put a worksheet in front of him even though he may know all the answers, there’s a good chance his struggles with writing may be caused by dysgraphia, a lesser known learning disability.

When people ask me why we chose to homeschool, I often site the heavy emphasis on writing in public school that made learning drudgery and homework overwhelming for my son, since he couldn’t keep up with all the worksheets (in first grade – how sad).  With my son’s permission, I’m going to share with you our journey over the past 5 years of homeschooling, what a typical school day looks like for the writing-averse, and how he’s gone from hating writing to loving it.

It was actually a relief when I figured out that dysgraphia was the root of my son’s resistance to doing worksheets, not belligerence or laziness.  He naturally loves to learn, and since we made developing a love of learning one of our top priorities for elementary school, it quickly became obvious that we needed to separate learning from writing.  I made accommodations for him in his other subjects by:

  • limiting worksheets to one a day, for grammar practice only
  • switching to oral spelling tests (using lists from The Natural Speller)
  • allowing him to dictate his math work to me, meaning he would solve problems aloud while I wrote down what he said
  • using vocabulary flash cards, games (like Bananagrams, Great States Jr., Math Bingo) and computer programs (like Spelling City, online math games) instead of worksheets for extra practice
  • testing his comprehension of what he read by letting him give oral reports or simply discussing what he learned

Handwriting During the Elementary Years
When he did do writing, our focus was on the mechanics of writing.  Since his printing was atrocious, I gave up on trying to correct the damage that was done during his public school years and turned my attention toward teaching him to correctly form letters in cursive (since it’s easier to train the brain to do something new than to undo patterns that have become entrenched). We waited to learn cursive until 4th grade, and used the Handwriting Without Tears book.  I tried to make it fun by emphasizing the artistic aspect of cursive, showing him various ways to form the letters and letting him choose what worked for him.  For the most part, we skipped capitols since I prefer printing capitols anyway. His daily worksheet was done in cursive and required to be legible, but learning took place in other courses through the means outlined above.  We also used special graph paper for math to help him keep his numbers properly lined up in columns, since dysgraphic kids also have trouble with letter and number spacing.

As for creative writing, we did very little unless initiated by him.  I used the book, Draw Then Write, to encourage writing practice in a fun and interesting way, since he liked how-to-draw books.  He would follow the directions for how to draw an object (animal, car, etc.), fill in the background to make it a picture, then write a few sentences about his picture.  He was allowed to do creative writing in printing, and I didn’t bug him about his lettering, but did require him to use proper capitalization and punctuation.

Because writing was so uncomfortable for him during his elementary years, we just focused on practicing cursive and writing grammatically correct sentences.  My husband and I both love writing, and we wanted our kids to share our love of writing, so it was difficult for me to keep writing on the back burner for so many years, but our patience has paid off.  My only regret is that I stopped letting him dictate stories to me to type (like he did when he was little) because I wanted to encourage him to write them himself, which he never did.

Writing During the Middle School Years
In 6th grade, I had him go through the keyboarding lessons on the Free Typing Games website. (There are also really fun games for practice, if you don’t mind all the ads.) Learning how to type, with proper fingering to speed up the process, was a game changer last year.  All of a sudden, writing was about getting his thoughts down on paper, instead of physical torture.  Experts don’t know why keyboarding is easier for kids with dysgraphia, but it is.  We still focus on one handwriting assignment each day, but are finally free to explore longer writing projects by using the computer to type them.

I’ll admit, waiting until middle school to start teaching writing can make you feel a little anxious and behind the curve, but Julie Bogart, author of the Brave Writer program for homeschoolers, has helped put my fears to rest.  She points out that writing should first and foremost be about putting your thoughts on paper (not trying to figure out what your teacher wants you to write), and emphasizes creative writing before teaching expository (essay) writing. I also read The Little Book of Talent, which emphasizes mastering foundational skills before moving on to more advanced skills.  So my writing goals for 6th grade were to simply master writing interesting, grammatically correct sentences.  I let my son choose 10 of his vocabulary words to type into sentences, which he loved since he’s naturally creative and expressive.

Our Current Homeschool Day/Week for 7th Grade 
Here’s roughly what our regular studies look like right now, with a continued emphasis on learning through non-written means (mostly on the computer), handwriting practice, and beginning to explore creative writing.

  • Spanish through the Rosetta Stone program on the computer
  • Pre-Algebra through the Teaching Textbooks program on the computer
  • Spelling lists from the Natural Speller, with mostly oral tests and occasional written tests (writing the spelling word only, but using it in a sentence orally)
  • Grammar/proofreading practice on IXL.com (where you can do up to 20 questions on their language arts program a day for free)
  • Independent study on various science and history topics of interest through reading library books and watching educational videos on Discovery Education Streaming (including favorites like Mythbusters!)
  • Family Read Aloud (he sometimes reads, sometimes follows along while I read from our family’s favorite series, The Heroes of Olympus, a continuation of the Percy Jackson series)
  • One writing exercise/project per day
  • Weekly classes (P.E. through our city’s Rec Center, science lab on various STEM topics, and cooking class with Mom!)

Weekly Writing Activities

  • Monday Copywork: Julie Bogart helped me see the value of doing copywork once a week with the sole purpose of focusing on the mechanics of writing.  I did not do copywork in the early elementary years because it would have felt like torture, but now that most writing is done through typing, copywork is doable.  This is mainly when we practice cursive now.  I have him copy down a Bible verse that has been helpful to me each Monday in a special journal just for recording verses (which I hope will become a valuable keepsake). I also encourage him to memorize his verse each week, and share with him why this verse is meaningful to me.
  • Tuesday Word(s) of the Day: He loves our Word of the Day vocabulary practice because this is when he gets to focus on writing an interesting sentence.  I copy two new vocabulary cards from a workbook I found at the thrift store, and challenge him to use it in an interesting sentence on the back and illustrate it.  He’s allowed to print, so the focus is on correct grammar and punctuation, as well as proper use of the word in as creative a way as possible.  When he’s finished, he files his words alphabetically in a file box.  When we finish this book, we’ll move on to the SAT vocabulary words.
  • Wednesday Family Free Write: Since my husband works from home on Wednesdays, we do this as a family after breakfast.  We set a timer for 5 minutes, announce the topic, then everyone writes.  Afterward, we take turns sharing, with my daughter (the youngest) going first and my husband (the funniest writer) going last.  By allowing them to read their work, I get to enjoy hearing their story without the distraction of getting hung up on proofreading mistakes, so this has been really enjoyable for all of us. Once again, it was Julie Bogart who introduced me to the concept and importance of the 5 min. free write, and she’ll even send you daily writing tips if you sign up on her website! Sometimes I use her writing prompts, and sometimes I pull ideas from Rip The Page: Adventures in Creative Writing.  The benefit of the free write is that it allows you to develop your unique writing voice and try different techniques without the burden of having to polish every story.  Sometimes the kids want to finish a story they started, and so I try to allow extra time for creative writing.  But sometimes they don’t want to, and that’s fine.  The benefit of doing it as a family is that they get to hear more advanced writers (in a non-competitive way) as an example of the kind of writing they’re working toward. I’m already seeing my son’s unique writing voice develop, which is exciting.
  • Thursday Note-Taking or Writing Project: This day is flexible, depending on what we’re studying.  Sometimes, the kids will spend time typing a story they’re working on.  Last fall, my son spent 2 months working on an 8-page Lego Christmas story for his cousins, complete with pictures of Lego creations he created to illustrate it!  It was a huge accomplishment for him.  I helped with some proofreading, but did not make any rewrite suggestions (also on the advice of Julie Bogart).  When the kids work on their own stories, my focus is on proper sentence structure – the foundation of writing – and breaking it up into logical paragraphs (the next step).  However, since Christmas we’ve also begun preparing to take notes through the use of listening guides that accompany some of the videos on Discovery Streaming.  I basically just give them a worksheet to jot down answers on as they listen to the video (and reward them with M&Ms).  Because it’s a video, not a lecture, we can control the speed of delivery of the information, so we can pause it if the kids need more time to write before moving on.  I’ve also let them choose a topic to study through reading and watching a video, and encourage them to jot down notes before giving an oral report later.  I don’t look at their notes, but try to encourage them to see note-taking as something of value to them, not me.
  • Friday Dictation: This is also new this semester, on the advice of – you guessed it – Julie Bogart (who is, apparently, my mentor).  However, I’m primarily focusing on the listening aspect of dictation, and keeping it light and fun through the use of mad libs.  The kids each fill out half of the list of words needed (which has the added bonus of reviewing the parts of speech) and are required to write legibly in either in printing or cursive.  Then I give them a copy of the story with blanks for them to fill in as I read the story with their words.  They love this and have no idea that it’s practice for filling in listening guides!

You may have noticed that I switched to “they” partway through my list.  Yes, I have a daughter who is in 5th grade.  She does the same work as her brother (because she can, not because I’m pushing her to do advanced work), although she does a little more writing for spelling because it helps her learn.  She is not dysgraphic, and does lots of extracurricular writing because she loves to write.

Next year, we will begin essay writing on topics of interest to the kids.  There will be plenty of opportunities to develop their research and report writing skills in high school.

Love of Learning Is the Key
If you have a dysgraphic child, I just want to encourage you to relax. The “standards” and benchmarks imposed on kids in public school are not indicators of what your child has to do at each age.  When you step back and take the long view, there is plenty of time to prepare your kids for essay writing before they leave for college.  What matters most is that they develop a love of learning. In fact, by not requiring my kids to write a report on every book they ever read, they fell in love with reading.  By not requiring endless science worksheets or reports on field trips to children’s museums, my kids fell in love with science.  By spending lots of time engaged in discussion instead of doing reading comprehension worksheets, my kids have become articulate speakers (based on comments from their Sunday School teachers, orthodontist, strangers at the dollar store…). Just because the public school system relies on worksheets to measure knowledge doesn’t mean that’s the best way to learn.

So don’t push your child to write everything if he’s resistant or give up hope that he’ll ever want to write.  Yes, it’s hard to be patient and not compare our kids to others, but all kids have strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t let one weakness become the focal point of your child’s education, whether it’s writing, math, reading, or whatever.  Just focus on helping your child enjoy learning, stretch himself a little each day in his areas of weakness, and celebrate each little milestone.  That’s really what this post is about; I’m celebrating a child who previously hated writing and now begs to do creative writing before school.

Just keep loving, hoping, and asking God for guidance and patience. (Oh, how I’ve prayed for guidance and patience every day!) I give all glory to God for helping me find the resources mentioned above at just the right time for just the right price, and for giving me patience beyond what I thought I was capable of before I started homeschooling. He will help you, too!

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