Thursday, January 31, 2013

Let’s Celebrate

Four weeks of Paleo-ish, lots of Shredding; 7 pounds lost, muscle gained. (Not bad considering I had a few bad days in there.)

And, as everyone knows, chocolate cake is the only way to celebrate.


Hot, gooey, dense, sweet, rich chocolate cake.

How about hot chocolate cake with about the same number of carbs as a (much smaller) Yoplait yogurt? BUT, it is sweetened with honey, has 13 grams of protein, and has NO GRAINS (or dairy).

How about hot chocolate cake that bakes in 60 seconds?

Yeah, that’s what I said. No way is this going to taste like real chocolate cake.

I’m eating my words. And a mug of chocolate cake more often than I’d like to admit.

It’s incredible. Not only the taste, but the way it satisfies. It is so filling. I don’t fill up easily, especially when it comes to desserts. But by the last bite of this mug cake I think to myself, That was just right; one more bite would be too much. I’m guessing many of you would find this portion too much for just one person.

But it is so much better than a whole pan of brownies or a batch of cookies endlessly calling my name.

I say, eat a bowl of veggies for a mid-morning snack and then have chocolate cake for lunch. {grin}

I found the original recipe at Paleo Angel. You can thank me later. Are you ready to bake cake? Go grab a big mug (at least 16 oz.).


Dump the ingredients right in your mug.

2 Tablespoons almond butter
1 1/2 Tablespoons honey (1Tbsp wasn’t quite sweet enough for me.)
1-2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (I just heap a Tablespoon as heaping as it gets.)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1 egg

(Chopped nuts—optional)

(I have also added cinnamon and cardamom with great success, but I just tried almond extract instead and it was divine.)

Mix well with a fork. Your batter should look like brownie batter.


Stick your mug in the microwave for 60 seconds. Part of the cake will still be very moist, like a chocolate lava cake. But don’t over-bake it, or parts of it will be too dry.


I find that the hardest part is letting it cool long enough so that it doesn’t burn my tongue. Well, that and fighting off children who crowd around hoping for a bite…



If pumpkin is more your style, try this pumpkin mug from my friend Cori at Wonder in the Woods.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hi, There!

I know my face doesn’t show up often here on the blog, so I thought I’d make a point of saying hello. {grin}


The Random Collection


Leif and Lola on a sick day last week. My mom and my best friend were kind enough to parent the older boys at their CC classes.

We had several freezing days in a stretch. Now we’re just back to gray and wet.


Just another day at our house. Sitting on top of the tv armoir, singing the timeline song. Lola nekkid, other than a pair of her brother’s undies. Awesomeness.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Helen Keller


I recently picked up two beautiful picture books about Helen Keller at the library for the boys.

Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson & Raul Colon has lovely illustrations and excerpts from Annie’s own letters. I love the addition of the black and white photos inside the front and back covers as well as the copy of Helen’s first letter home.  


Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport also has lovely illustrations, but I am particularly fond of all the quotes of Helen’s own words. The following two specifically struck me. 

[Speaking of the first word (water) “spoken” into her hand:]

“That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, and set it free.”

“I have the advantage of a mind trained to think, and that is the difference between myself and most people, not my blindness and their sight.”

They reminded me of an article I just read in the most recent The Classical Teacher magalog by Memoria Press. Cheryl Swope shares an excerpt from her new book Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (soon available from Memoria Press). In the article, the author shares this quote by Helen Keller:

“When I read the finest passages of the Iliad, I am conscious of a soul-sense that lifts me above the narrow, cramping circumstances of my life. My physical limitations are forgotten—my world lies upward, the length and the breadth and the sweep of the heavens are mine!”

I just got the shivers.

And I can’t wait to dive into the Iliad with the boys next week!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mt. Hope Academy Curricula ~ History (The Tie That Binds)

Alternate title: Giving Structure to the Spaghetti

Back in November I began a curricula series, starting with The Great Conversation, the driving themes behind my curricula choices. I followed up with a list of my top core skill curricula for elementary in The Simplicity Version. Now I would like to dive into a more detailed list of favorite curricula and resources by subject, as well as give an idea of how we put those into action here at Mt. Hope.

The obvious starting place for us is history as the Ultimate Story that holds all people, places, events, ideas, discoveries—in essence, all of life.

Science, government, mathematics, exploration, art, geography, language, philosophy, commerce, architecture, inventions, agriculture, theater, religion, music, literature, and cultures are all woven into the one unfolding, chronological story of our world.

Susan Wise Bauer states in The Well-Trained Mind:

“[T]o the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated…The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links between fields of study can be a mind-twisting task. A classical education meets this challenge by taking history as its organizing outline, beginning with the ancients and progressing forward to the moderns in history, science, literature, art, and music…

“This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature — subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student progresses in maturity and learning.”


Subjects and information, whether memory work or stories or a documentary on t.v., instantly have context (or an established mental file-folder) when a student has a general grasp of the flow of history. For that reason, my first recommendation is the memorization of a basic history timeline. I specifically and enthusiastically recommend the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards from Classical Conversations. Paired with the Timeline Song, this resource makes the spread of human history accessible to young children.

Leif, my six year old, has a great portion of the timeline memorized. Luke, my eight year old, memorized it within a couple months of relaxed review. At the very least, seemingly difficult names of people, places, and events roll of their tongues with ease—and capture their attention when heard elsewhere—fostering familiarity and interest, and reducing intimidation. The cards are gorgeous and each contains brief information for added context. The song, unlike many educational songs, is catchy and enjoyable, even for adults. We have listened to it often for months on end, and it has yet to get on my nerves. The boys love it, and it makes memorization a cinch.

One reason that a full history timeline is my first recommendation is that history exposure doesn’t always come in a perfectly unfolding chronological package. Whether or not you begin history studies with the ancients when your child is in the first grade, he or she will most likely be introduced to other people, events, or ideas in moments outside of planned lessons. There is no reason to avoid books, documentaries, field trips, classes, discussions, current events, or performances just because they don’t fit neatly into your history schedule. And what about the second child who folds into family history studies during the medieval or modern period?


Image from Add-a-Century Timeline

There are many resources available for purchasing or creating a visual timeline. We haven’t been diligent with creating our own timeline at home, but this is a great way to gather content from various subjects into one place. I’m hoping to light a fire under myself to get our timeline put together, shrug off my perfectionistic tendencies, and have the boys help me choose and enter information from our memory work and general studies so that we have a visual representation of the course of history and integration of all subjects.

When we began Classical Conversations, I had no idea that the history sentences would enhance our history studies to the extent that we’ve experienced. As with the Classical Acts and Facts History Cards, the history sentences that the boys memorize each week are a huge bonus to our lessons. Quite simply, memorizing the songs before reading about the content in The Story of the World considerably improves their interest and retention—even when the stories are read months or years later. The songs are fun and catchy. Leif memorized them well at the age of four. The history sentences/songs are one of the boys’ favorite aspects of CC.

All of the Classical Conversations Foundations memory work for all three cycles, including the timeline events, are outlined in the Foundations Guide. Each cycle contains 24 short history selections (each 1-3 sentences long; a couple are lists). The history sentences in song form are included on the audio CDs which must be purchased individually for each cycle.

[An example of one of the history selections: “English King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, limiting the king’s power. Later, England’s King Edward III claimed to be king of France and began the Hundred Years’ War in 1337.”]

The Story of the World series was mentioned in my Simplicity Version as my top recommendation for history for the elementary student. We are on our second trip through the four-volume series. I loved the narrative-style books the first time through, and I am enjoying them even more the second time around with a wider range of student ages. They are fabulous as a stand-alone resource or as a jumping-off place for additional reading and rabbit trails. The Story of the World easily can be supplemented for older students.

For all-in-one integrated lessons, The Story of the World Activity Books include corresponding history encyclopedia references, non-fiction, historical fiction, and literature book lists, map work, comprehension questions, sample narrations, coloring pages, crafts, and activities. I use the book lists extensively, but—much to my boys’ dismay—rarely get around to the projects and crafts. (Sigh. Not a super-mom in this department, for sure.)


The boys and I have been practicing our note-taking skills while reading selected chapters from The Story of the World. We stop every paragraph or two and review the most important or interesting facts. I write on the white board, and they copy the notes down on their own paper. We turn these notes into a few sentences which we write on notebooking pages and add to our 3-ring history binders. This is about as far as I’ve gotten to tying in The Story of the World directly with writing, and we don’t do it for every chapter. I’ll talk more about writing a bit further into the curricula series.



The Story of the World gives us a basic outline for history topics, but rarely do we stop there. At any given time our house (and car) is littered with history books, both non-fiction and historical fiction. I check the upcoming topics and pull books off our shelves as well as put books on hold at the library. The selections range from simple picture books to more difficult chapter books. Each of my boys read what they are capable of reading. For Levi, that means every book I can find on the subject, simple to complex. Luke reads the picture books and simple chapter books. Leif reads whatever sparks his interest.

For example, at the moment we are studying ancient history—more specifically, (early) ancient Greece. A sample of the books on the toppling stacks are:

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky, a gorgeous picture book with a surprising amount of information about the Greek scholar Eratosthenes (blurring the lines between history, science, and math). This book is a favorite of mine.

The Minotaur of Knossos by Roberta Angeletti, a fun picture book about a modern boy who falls asleep reading about King Minos and the Minotaur, wakes up among the ruins of Knossos, and meets Sir Arthur Evans, the archaeologist who discovered the palace of Minos. 

The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug For Troy by Laura Amy Schlitz, a simple chapter book about a German man who fell in love with Homer’s epic poetry and set off on a lifelong quest to find the lost city of Troy.

Magic Tree House Fact Tracker #10: Ancient Greece and the Olympics: A Nonfiction Companion to Magic Tree House #16: Hour of the Olympics by Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Boyce.  

Archimedes and the Door of Science by Jeanne Bendick from the Living History Library series, a chapter book again blurring the lines between history, science, and math.

Occasionally we also have more weighty historical fiction selections, which are read primarily by Levi. On the list for the coming months are The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, and Julius Caesar by Shakespeare among others.

I could list favorite history-related books (especially picture books) all day long. I’m fairly certain this is one of my favorite things about homeschooling!

Our current historical literature stack is a fun one with Greek myths and Homer, but we’ll get to literature a couple posts down the road.


Another book currently on “the stack” is the first book in the new historical fiction series from Veritas Press, Pages of History Volume 1: Secrets of the Ancients. It covers history from Creation to the Reformation (with a Christian world view) in a time-travel adventure. Levi and Luke both devoured all 438 pages within a day or two. Luke immediately wanted to get the next volume. I told him he would be waiting a while…


The boys also enjoy reading through the history encyclopedias we keep handy. I often assign specific pages to correspond with our history topic, but rarely do they stop at just a couple pages. Luke loves The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History, and The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia is at a slighter higher level which is perfect for Levi. 

As if that list isn’t quite long enough, we occasionally watch related documentaries or internet videos, as well.

Music of History - Ancient Egypt from Music of History on Vimeo.


While these resources make up the base or “spine” of our history studies, threads of history appear in every other subject.

Next up: Geography

(This post does contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission for purchases made through the links. I am so appreciative of those of you who have helped support Mt. Hope Chronicles! Thank you!)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Life Randomness


I was doing so well posting at the beginning of the month, and then…


That’s a good thing, though. This living life.

Eating yummy food. Exercising. Doing lessons. Watching the boys swim. Chasing Lola around. Playing cards with friends.

Speaking of Lola. Heaven help me. She has officially hit the ‘can’t let her out of my sight’ phase. I mean, she always has been there to an extent, but she has taken it to a whole new level lately.

After three crazy, curious, loud, active boys, I was hoping to get a bit of a reprieve this time around. Yeah…no.

She gets into everything in a split second. And she goes for the good stuff. Medicine. Permanent markers. The fish tank.

She loves writing…on furniture. I have not a speck of house not decorated with Lola’s signature. She got the lid off the Benedryl a couple days ago. (I don’t think we ever called poison control on the boys. We have for her—a few times.) I found a pair of scissors and two trains in the boys’ fish tank. The list goes on and on.

She strips her clothes. She opens the deadbolt.

I have the bathroom door, school room door, and our bedroom door locked. There is a gate into the kitchen. The boys have to come ask me to use the bathroom. I’ve run into the bedroom door while in a hurry to put laundry away or some such errand.

And still she gets into mischief.

Combined with a son who cannot seem to do any school work independently and yet is distracted by peeling paint—we have a situation.

No, she doesn’t sit in her highchair. Yes, she climbs out of a playpen.

Anything I give her that is interesting enough to keep her attention also steals the boys’ attention (in fact it is extraordinarily difficult to keep her attention and a very simple thing to distract the boys). And I have to parent/teach them all in the same room.

This is a season. This is a season. This is a season. This is a season. This is a season. (Have I convinced myself yet?)

In other life news, the boys had a swim meet. Russ, Levi, and Luke competed. I realized that it might not be too long before we have five family members competing for the team. (I will content myself with being a swim mom. Someone has to keep track of the heat sheet.) Lola is ready for that time to be NOW. She kept saying “fwim” and moving her arms.

Here is Luke doing the 25 Back (he’s in lane 3, no swim cap):

And here is Levi doing the 50 Breast:

Luke was sick. Then Lola. Then Leif. And now I’m fighting something off. I’d just like to crawl under my electric blanket and stay there for the rest of January.

It has been so cold and gray around here. I feel like I’m living in a gothic novel. I’d like a day above 35 degrees, but least we aren’t shoveling snow.

What’s the weather like where you live?

What’s the view out your window?

How is your January going?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013



I mentioned in my last post that I am working on another Whole30. Well, it is more a general paleo/primal sort of eating that I am working toward and that will last more than 30 days. I’m trying to find a sustainable balance that will result in good eating habits, overall health, renewed energy, and a positive outlook on life. Right now I’m at about 90/10, and I’d like to keep it that way.

I know that paleo works well for me from my past success almost two years ago and even from my more recent attempts. I enjoy eating savory foods, eating when I’m hungry, not counting calories, and trying new foods and ingredients. I enjoy feeling full, having more energy, and not being a slave to intense carb cravings.

Rather than finding the “diet” restrictive, I find that it is focused on the “yes” foods. Meat, eggs, nuts, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats (especially avocado and coconut). Because dairy doesn’t seem to bother me, I tend to lean toward the Primal side of things by adding in butter, aged cheeses, and Greek yogurt (and some cream cheese) here and there.

There is a wealth of paleo/primal information and recipes available online. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to sift through. I thought I’d share (again) some of my basic menus and meal ideas as well as a few links for those interested. (I know a few people emailed me or commented in response to my last post.)

It would be interesting to find a local CrossFit location (the exercise phenomenon that is closely linked with paleo eating), but I am a huge wimp. And CrossFit scares me. Not only that, but I don’t have regular child care (Russ leaves insanely early in the morning and doesn’t get home from swim practice with the boys until 7:30pm) nor is a gym membership in the budget.

SO, I have happily returned to Jillian Michaels - 30 Day Shred, which will more likely be a 90 Day “can do 10 girl push-ups without dying” sort of result for me. I LOVE that it combines strength training with bursts of cardio. I LOVE that there are four progressive routines. I LOVE that the routines take only 20 minutes. 20 minutes? I can find 20 minutes in a day—much easier than finding an hour and a half away from home at a gym (with travel/transition time and all that). I can also face 20 minutes of working out even if I don’t want to. An hour? Notsomuch.

Getting started:

:: The Whole30 Challenge at Whole Nine is an excellent place to start. Reset your system and find out what foods have been negatively impacting your body.

::  If you are a person who likes to have a book in hand, Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle is a fantabulous starting guide. I just purchased it on Amazon, and it is a weighty, gorgeous book—worth every penny. (Seriously, the day it came I couldn’t figure out what was in the box because I could only remember having ordered a book, and the package was way too heavy for that!)

The pages are thick, the charts are well-organized and visually appealing, and the photographs are works of art. The book includes guides to paleo foods, stocking a pantry, nutrition and more. It contains specific information on various health issues, as well as customized meal plans for people with specific diseases and conditions. The second half of the book is filled with over 120 recipes, all visually represented. The author has also provided tear-out versions of her guides for added convenience.


::  Everyday Paleo is an excellent resource for CrossFit fitness information and recipes.

::  For a primal lifestyle, Mark’s Daily Apple has daily inspiration.

::  Elana’s Pantry is a great place for gluten-free baking. She has a staggering array of paleo recipes, as well. I’m dying to try her Paleo Apple Tart.

::  Civilized Caveman cooks up some pretty spectacular food. I can’t wait to try his Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Muffins with Honey Frosting!

::  My friend Cori at Wonder in the Woods has just started eating paleo and already has a few recipes and encouragement up on her blog.

If you have favorite paleo links, share them in the comments!

Food for Thought:

::  Drinking soda linked to depression (Not much of a surprise, though I find it fascinating that diet soda is suspect as much or more than regular soda.)

:: Alzheimer's is really just 'type-3' diabetes, new research shows (Interestingly, there is an article on the same topic in the Reader’s Digest this month.)

My Menu:


I almost always have scrambled eggs with either Aidell’s chicken apple sausage or Italian pork sausage fried up with kale and parmesan cheese (YUM!!).

Banana pancakes (Mash one banana, mix with two eggs—that’s it! They are one of my go-to treats when I’m feeling deprived. Still a lot of carbs, but at least there is some protein in there. They are sweet, so all I add is butter. They taste a little like banana bread French toast (not that I’ve ever had it, just as I imagine it!) and have a crepe-like texture.

I tried sweet potato latkes as a side dish for dinner a couple nights ago. They were yummy. I think they’d make a good breakfast dish, especially with added egg. Maybe with Greek yogurt and applesauce or fried apples? I want to try this recipe with parmesan cheese, too!

Greek yogurt with honey (I think this will be my “don’t have time to cook breakfast” option.)

I’m also wanting to make up a paleo granola with nuts and chopped dried fruit to be eaten with coconut milk. (I don’t care for flaked coconut or I’d add that too.)

And there are always leftovers. Who says you have to eat breakfast foods for breakfast?


Leftovers (particularly Hungarian Goulash and Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas, links below)

Taco salad (my personal favorite: lettuce, taco meat, chopped tomatoes and black olives, guacamole, and cheddar cheese and Greek yogurt when I’m eating dairy)

Tuna salad (lettuce with tuna and mayo and chopped tomatoes—also great with sunflower seeds)



Veggies (I’m going to try the cauliflower hummus recipe from Practical Paleo this week for dipping.)

Sliced cucumbers with vinegar and oil

Dried figs (I only eat one or two at the most since eating a bunch of dried fruit adds a lot of carbs, but they hit just the right spot when I am in the mood for a sweet treat and they are great for on the go. I found organic, no sugar added figs at Costco, and they are delicious! Remind me of Fig Newtons.)

Pepperoni sticks (they aren’t the clean, expensive kind, but sometimes I’m desperate for an easy, packable protein)

Salami with cream cheese (yeah, not the best choice, either, but BOY is it tasty)

Black olives

Sweet potato chips (I can’t find them at Costco anymore, so I need to make a trip to Trader Joes. Not the right kind of oil, but I’m not super vigilant about that.)

Deviled eggs

Celery with almond butter

Roasted kale (surprisingly tasty)


Hungarian Goulash (I’m so glad I made a big batch. It makes a perfect leftover. Next time I’d like to try mashed cauliflower to go with it.)

Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas (another favorite for leftovers with fresh tomato and guacamole, and Greek yogurt and/or cheddar cheese if I’m splurging)

Grilled steak (I marinate with coconut aminos, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, ground ginger, and minced garlic) and roasted veggies (This is one of our go-to meals: grilled meat + roasted veggie such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, or yams.)

Shrimp scampi over zucchini noodles served with salad

Bun-less loaded burgers (lettuce, tomato, dijon mustard, bacon, guacamole, and sometimes cheese) with raw veggies

Salmon patties

Pesto chicken

Cilantro Thai grilled chicken

Chinese 5-spice turkey lettuce cups (from Practical Paleo)

Italian stuffed peppers

Tomato and meat spaghetti sauce over spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles


I’ve been drinking about 32 ounces of Good Earth green tea daily. I love the Lemongrass flavor because it has a naturally sweet taste.

I also enjoy drinking an ice-cold La Croix fruit-flavored soda water daily. That is what miraculously got me over my soda addiction. I love the peach-pear or cran-raspberry flavors. They taste sweeter than the citrus flavors.


Sliced apples fried in coconut oil with cinnamon and sea salt, topped with coconut milk (my favorite!!)

Sliced banana with sea salt and cinnamon, topped with coconut milk and toasted sliced almonds

Fried plantain

Ice cream (frozen banana, coconut milk, and cocoa powder blended in the Vitamix)

Homemade chocolate larabars (I haven’t made any this time around, but they still make the list because I know I’ll have them at some point! Just pecans, dates, cocoa powder, and sea salt in the food processor. Add spices to taste—my favorite is cardamom.)

I made a pan of paleo brownies, but they weren’t very tasty. I plan to try a brownie mug the next time the craving hits.


You can find my Pinterest Paleo-ish board here for more inspiration.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten several things. I’ll add them as I think of them. Feel free to share any ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Life and a Thousand Pictures of Lola

I’m having quite the difficult time getting into the swing of January. But…onward, right?

We had our first day back to Classical Conversations on Monday. I wasn’t ready mentally, physically, or emotionally, but that’s one of the big reasons we’re in CC: to keep me accountable for getting our rears in gear.

I’m on day 7 of another Whole30. It has gone rather smoothly this time around. Probably because I’m not giving myself as much leeway as I did last time. I have some pretty big goals for the next three months leading up to my birthday at the end of March.

I haven’t even gotten baby time recently!! You can see darling pictures on my mom’s blog, though.

So many things to do, so little time self-discipline.

I have a plethora of pictures of Lola to share from the other day. They are blurry and unedited, but they are perfectly Lola.

I can’t get her to sit still and look at the camera. I had to bribe her with the ipad (she’s an ipad master). So I managed to get pictures of her sitting still, but not looking at the camera. Whenever she looked at me or smiled, the picture was blurry (blame our dark, gray winters and a house without great natural light—or maybe my poor technical skills). She is always in motion when she’s happy. I have two choices: pensive and in focus or smiling and blurry. She has an awesome range of facial expressions, though. And she’s my third kiddo with incredibly expressive eyebrows.


(This next one is in focus because it is her fake smile. Ha!)


Waving her foot at me:


She has fabulous bed head.


Believe it or not, I have a bunch more, but I won’t torture you with them until tomorrow!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Silly Lola

Just playing around.

And when nothing is quite right (and it is time for a nap…):


I have a million things to be doing today, so I’m on the computer editing pictures. Not just editing, but experimenting, which is even less productive. I can’t stop messing with this picture of Lola even though she isn’t even looking at the camera. I just like the mood of it, I guess. Which edit do you like best?


Just for fun, here are three more edits of a picture I posted yesterday: