Thursday, May 31, 2012

Baking with Books :: How to Bake a Perfect Life

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara ONeal

My Mother-in-Law handed me a book to read over the Memorial Day weekend. Titled How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal, the book centers around a boulangerie, a bakery that specializes in selling bread, and its proprietor Ramona Gallagher, her daughter, Sophia, and Sophia's stepdaughter, Katie.

The novel opens with the reader being informed of the bakery's dire financial straits; pregnant Sophia's military husband injured by an IED; and Ramona's new unfamiliar house guest, teenage Katie, whose dad is in a German hospital, her mom arrested on meth charges, and her step-mom on an airplane headed overseas. The story line is anything but boring!


"He carefully finishes the pain au chocolat, brushing his hands, and regards me silently for a moment. Once, the story goes, he was in love with my mother, but my father swept her off her feet and she married him instead. Cat opened a restaurant to compete with my father. For decades now they have jockeyed for top honors in the city. When I look at my father, sturdy and square and blessed with Paul Newman eyes, I see that he must have been handsome at once, but I fail to know how he could have outshone Cat."

Throughout the book, O'Neal sprinkles in recipes Ramona uses in her bakery. As I read through the story, I thought I'd share a little bit about the plot's progression, as well as bake along with Ramona. This afternoon, I whipped up a batch of Pain au Chocolat {Translated: mini chocolate croissant} for a potluck dessert. The ingredients form a short list of deliciousness, which explains why I only came home with an empty platter.

Pain au Chocolat

2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed ( I like to use Pepperidge Farm)

1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp water (This will be the egg wash)

12 oz. chocolate chips

sugar for dusting

Let's Begin!

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Unroll each puff pastry and cut each sheet into 12 even squares. Brush each square with the egg wash. Sprinkle 4 to 6 chocolate chips in the center of each square and roll up tightly around the chocolate. Place on the baking sheet with the seam side down. Cover with plastic and refrigerator for one hour. Place egg wash into fridge, as well.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pastries from fridge, discard plastic wrap. Brush the tops with egg wash, and then lightly dust with sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Let the desserts cool before serving.

This recipe made approximately 30 small pastries in approximately 30 minutes.

I can't wait to keep reading through this delightful novel...and continue baking! Be on the lookout for the next recipe from this quaint boulangerie.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

June's Declutter & Organize Challenge :: 4 Weeks to a More Organized Home

Declutter & Organize Challenge!

One of my favorite bloggers is at it again! Crystal Paine from Money Saving Mom has offered her readers a 4 Weeks to a More Organized Home printable checklist to go along with her recent blog series. You can visit Crystal's blog and either subscribe to her 4 week challenge to receive daily emails or read through each of her individual posts.

This is a great opportunity for many of my friends and readers to help reorganize their homes over the summer. I love how Crystal's expanded list and short list both are streamlined and attainable goals for not only the busy homemaker, but also for working parents.

I'm planning to begin this challenge next Monday, so why don't you join me then and we can work through the clutter and get a little better organized in the process. I know the first challenge may take me a little while longer than most - I've got 3 bags I switch between and each one of them needs to be decluttered!

Summer's Here :: Summer Reading Programs

If you checked out my Summer Activities List last week, then you noticed I wrote about encouraging your children to participate in a summer reading program through either your public library or Scholastic's online program.

Barnes & Noble and Hastings both offer a summer reading program, as well. The boys and I have completed the Barnes & Noble program ever year since they became eligible.

Imagination's Destination is this year's theme for the program offered at Barnes & Noble. Basically, your child, whom is in the first through sixth grade, must read 8 books, fill out the reading journal, and return it to their local store to claim a free book from the reading journal selection. You can either print out the reading journal or pick one up in store.

Hastings offers a similar program - The Summer Book Club. While Hastings does not offer a reward of a free book for completion of their summer journal, kids are offered two coupons to use in-store as well as a chance to enter an online essay contest to win a computer. This contest is open to ages 18 and under.

If none of these programs seem to fit your family's lifestyle this summer, why not make your own and tailor the rewards to your children? Create a cute flier or reading chart, head to the dollar store for stickers, and pick out some cute prizes. Your children will have a set goal for summer reading and something to do besides playing video games!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Experimental Recipes :: Dog Treats

Before today, I've never made dog treats in my life. I'm the kind of person whom typically pays for those uber gourmet treats, especially the cute ones! Since this is the "Year of Firsts" for me, I decided to take on the challenge of making my very own.

I did a little background research on what types of biscuits and biscuit ingredients would be best for Duchess at The Dog Treat Kitchen. This site has plenty of great recipes from simple biscuits to the more meaty varieties. I went with the simplest recipe the first time trying my hand at canine creations and I received two barks up!

This recipe requires only 4 ingredients and if your children happen to mistake them for cookies it really is no big deal!

Let's begin!


2 cups flour
1 cup rolled oats (I used quick oats and they worked fine)
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cups hot water

Mix all ingredients together. You may need a little more flour as you knead the dough to get an even consistency.

Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface and roll the dough 1/4 inch thick. Use any style cookie cutter you wish. Here at Texas Homemaking the shape of Texas makes for an adorable dog biscuit!

Place biscuits on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Allow to cool before serving.

In a sealed container these treats will last 1 week at room temperature; 3 weeks in the fridge; and 6 months in the freezer. They would also make adorable gifts for the dog-lovers in your life!

Have you ever made dog biscuits before? If so, share some pointers or a favorite recipe with me, I'd love to try them out...for Duchess, of course!

Simple Living :: Creating Your Own Terrarium

Terrariums harken back to the Victorian era where ladies would create magnificent flora displays to showcase their horticultural talents. Beyond these small-scale man made worlds, the Victorians created the Conservatory in which hot tropic grasslands, humid rainforests, arid deserts, and even barren alpine hills were recreated inside. Where as modern terrarium containers include glass jars or open bowls, the Victorian terrariums where miniature replicas of their beloved Conservatories.

I recently taught my Junior Master Gardener class how to make terrariums. Terrariums offer a unique gardening experience in which children and adults learn to recreate a biome and the water cycle, as well as maintain a habitable world. The children thoroughly enjoyed this project. One child added a small frog to his terrarium.

Enjoy the beauty of plants indoors this summer by creating your very own!

First, you'll need to gather the following items, all of which can be found at your local gardening supply store: potting soil, pebbles or pea gravel, activated charcoal, and spagnum moss. You will also need plants for your terrarium. Some of my students brought plants from the garden: clover, ivy, and a variety of grasses and moss. Others bought their plants: ivy, ferns, and succulents. If you use succulents, instead of potting soil, you will need a specialized succulent soil. You will also need a container. The best containers are those made from glass. You can select an ornate jar or a over-sized pickle jar; it is really up to your preference. Succulents work best in an open glass bowl.

Let's begin!

First, ensure your jar or bowl is clean. Then, place approximately one inch of pebbles in your jar. The pebbles will act as your drainage.

Next, add 1/2 inch of activated charcoal. Make sure to not mix the pebbles and the charcoal. The charcoal is the filter for your little biome.

After the charcoal, add one to two inches of spagnum moss. You should pack it down slightly. The moss acts as your soil barrier.

Then, add one to two inches of potting soil. This will depend on the size of your jar and plants. Again, slightly pack this down. By now, you should easily be able to see the four layers of your terrarium through the glass.

This is actually my favorite part: you may now add your plants! After I get them planted, I like to add a few pebbles and moss pieces to the top for decoration.

Don't forget to add moisture to your terrarium. You want to ensure your plants are thriving, but do not over water. You can leave your terrarium open or closed, but you need to check on it daily for the first month. Make adjustments as needed. If you add an insect or small reptile, make sure you are feeding it properly.

I hope you enjoy this project as much as my students did!

I've started to get terrarium fever - I'm experimenting with this jar, as I've planted forget-me-nots in it. I'll update on their growth.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day :: Giving Thanks

Our Nation's Capitol

This weekend was a lovely break filled with great company and fond memories for our family. I hope your Memorial Day weekend was delightful and that while your family is in the process of welcoming the warmth of summer, you take the time to remember our troops, both past and present.

Thank you all for your service to our country.
Thank you Jake, Patrick, Octavio, Jordy, and Claire.

Weekly Goals :: 5/28 - 6/3/2012

Last week I posted a few of my weekly goals. I've crossed out and added to the goal list. Did you get your goals accomplished? Did you set new ones?

Goals for 5/21 - 5/27/2012

1. Repaint Adirondack chairs - This just wasn't in the cards for this week : ) It should get done soon!
2. Rearrange youngest son's bedroom
3. Reorganize boys' bathroom
4. Gather items for garage sale
5. Remove wasp nest from foyer
6. Work on Meal Plan

1. Splash Kingdom Water Park field trip
2. Pre-planning for next school year
3. Letterboxing
4. A special project for the boys
5. Piano lessons

1. Junior Master Gardener Class
2. Board Meeting
3. Emails and phone calls for fundraising

1. Continue reading The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe Absolutely loved it!
2. Continue working on my pillowcases for the Million Pillowcase Challenge
3. Week 3 of the Walk to Wellness Challenge
4. Blog articles and book research

Weekly Goals 5/28 - 6/3/2012

1. Plan out major goals for the month of June
2. Clean back patio and prep for summer
3. Wash windows
4. Clean out front garden beds; prune and feed roses; inventory garden
    supplies; make more Garret juice
5. Repaint Adirondack chairs

1. Design a birthday cake
2. Pick out games for family reunion
3. Take boys on an adventure
4. Sign the boys up for several summer reading programs

1. Prep JMG class on propagation; canned food drive flier; create JMG garden
2. 4H leaders meeting
3. Schedule fall home school field trips

1. Vote in Texas Primary on Tuesday
2. Work on several projects: sugar cocoa scrub, burlap signs, dog treats
3. Continue working on my book and writing blog articles
4. Continue reading The Lady in Gold  by Anne-Marie O'Connor and How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal and Our Island Life by H.E. Marshall (Yes, I've somehow managed to start 3 books simultaneously, and each one is decisively unique.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What I Did Wednesday :: Ellis Home & Garden

Yesterday, the boys and I went to Ellis Home & Garden to meet Cindy Best. A few days ago, she posted a contest on Facebook to win one of Ellis' stunning Deco Mesh wreaths. The rules of the contest were simple enough - write about one of your favorite 4th of July traditions and a winner would be randomly selected. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and eagerly chose a gorgeous patriotic wreath to hang on our front door.

While there, the boys and I perused the store and all of it's offerings. The Home & Garden center is filled with a variety of home decor: clocks, lamps, mirrors, rugs, wall art, vases, and even unique themed accents from the shabby chic to vintage western. Outside, the greenhouse holds a splendid array of flora, a large collection of terra cotta pottery, as well as decorative pieces, patio furniture, and water features. Ellis also offers floral supplies and one of the largest ribbon collections I've ever seen.

Ellis is a family owned company created in the late 1800's. Originally as a manufacturer of pottery in Marshall, the Ellis tradition has grown into 5 retail locations offering a variety of products, as well as specialized classes throughout the fall and spring seasons. Ellis' use of trendy displays to showcase their product line makes strolling through the center an enjoyable and creative experience.

At the Longview location, they periodically offer children's programming. This year, Ellis hosted a live concert by the acclaimed children's musician Andrew Best; planned a fairy tea party along their walking trail; and got the creative juices flowing with a pumpkin decorating workshop.

Ellis Home & Garden locations are in Bossier City, Longview, Texarkana, Beaumont, and Marshall. Center hours vary by location, so please visit the website for more information. You can also find Ellis on Facebook. The Fall and Christmas classes begin in September - make sure you get them on your calendar!

Thank you again Ellis for my beautiful wreath! I'm definitely going to have to take a class to learn how to make one.

It's Summer, Let's Play :: Activity List

In Texas, when the weather starts to bring 90 degree days and the images of playing on the lake trickle through your mind, you know its summer. Of course, as Texans, we understand summer doesn't officially start until June 20th. Yet, this extended weekend  includes Memorial Day, so many summer has begun!

What better way to kick off summer than to start it with a fun, kid-friendly list! Please feel free to add to the one I've started! I'll more things throughout the summer, but here's the list for now : )

It's Summer, Let's Play List

     1.  Have an all-out water war with water balloons, water  
          balloon launcher, and water guns!

     2.  Visit an art museum and replicate your favorite piece when you return

     3.  Join a library summer reading program

     4.  Take a nature walk and bring along a camera to document your trip
     5.  Enjoy a snow cone

     6.  Catch lightening bugs for outdoor dining (remember to let them go!)

     7.  Attend Vacation Bible School

     8.  Visit a Drive-In Movie theatre or participate in Regal Cinemas'
          Summer Movie Express 
     9.  Pick your own produce

   10.  Visit a State Park

   11.  Make home-made ice cream

   12.  Have a stargazing party

   13.  Write a song about your pet

   14.  Go fishing!

   15.  Have a family camp out

   16.  Visit an observatory

   17.  Float a river

   18.  Have a tea party

   19.  Go to a baseball game

   20.  Break out the old-fashioned games (checkers, chess, dominoes)

   21.  Grow a garden

   22.  Try a water sport (skiing, wake boarding, tubing, knee boarding)

   23.  Explore a cave

   24.  Burn fire ants with a magnifying glass ( my husband's suggestion)

   25.  Join the Texas Nature Challenge - it begins this weekend!

   26.  Venture out letterboxing or geocacheing

   27.  Sharpen your picking skills at garage sales

   28.  Catch a play at the Texas Shakespeare Festival
   29.  Go to your family reunion and meet new cousins

   30.  Chase hot air balloons at the Great Texas Balloon Race

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Update :: Luna Moth

Earlier in April, a friend's daughter sent me home with a Luna moth caterpillar. Once home, we placed it in a butterfly house and watched it form a cocoon.

About a week ago, we returned home from an outing to discover our little fellow had became an amazing Luna moth. An absolutely stellar creation; I simply had to share.

DIY :: Treasure Stones

Do you ever find something you can’t wait to make and then misplace the directions only to find them at a later date and think – “Wow, I haven’t made these yet?” Well, that is exactly what I did with the Treasure Stones recipe.
I reorganized my school closet Sunday afternoon and found this long-lost idea. In fact, I discovered this little project several years ago!
Last night, while the boys were enjoying their time with Dad (watching Top Gear), I put together the Treasure Stones without anyone knowing.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1 cup flour
1 cup coffee grounds (used preferably)
½ cup salt
¼ cup sand
1 cup water
1 tablespoon powdered tempera paint (optional)
Toys or trinkets

Let's begin!

First, I mixed all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Then, I added the water, mixing well. At this point, you can also add the tempera paint, but I did not have the dry variety on hand.

Break off a base-ball sized amount of the dough mixture and roll it into a ball. Make a hole in the center big enough for the treasure. For the bigger treasures, it was easier to plop the dough on the foil, place the item inside, and then cover accordingly.
Fill the hole with the toy or trinket and seal with the dough mixture.
Allow the stones to air dry for a day or two. Mine were ready to go this morning!

I must say, when wet, the natural stones do not look very pleasant, but once they have dried they really do resemble a rock.

These would be a fun addition at a birthday party. If the theme revolved around dinosaurs you could fill them with little plastic dinos; a pirate party could have them filled with gems and gold coins.
My boys enjoyed these this morning. It was a welcome break and a surprise treat during our school day.

They also make for a great sensory tool for those children needing an outlet to explore messy things as well as strong smells, since the stones do smell like coffee.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Quotables :: For Everything There is a Season

The Reading List :: Update

Update: It's been a few months since I've updated my reading list. I'm actually quite surprised at how much I've read since the beginning of February. I did have to add a few books to the list, just so I could cross them off! And yes, I sometimes tend to read out of order - that's just my wild, bibliophile-self shining through.

I'm an avid reader. I believe you can learn just about everything you need to know from a book - and then apply that knowledge to real, everyday life. With my life being as full as it is, I am amazed at how I find the time to read - but with any other passion, if it's what you love to do, the time will be there.

The Reading List

1. The Money Saving Mom's Budget by Crystal Paine

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Up Close by Jonathan Safran Foer I reviewed this book last month.

3. The only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need by Ellen Karsh and Arlen
Sue Fox

4.Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening by J. Howard Garrett

5. Soft Target by Stephen Hunter

6. The 10 Second Rule by Clare DeGraff

7. The Lady in Gold by Anne Marie O'Connor This is my current read! I was excited to find it in the library on Friday.

8. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

9. Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel

10.Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

11. A Place at the Table by Chris Seay

12. The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe Finished this one last night - intriguing story. A historical fiction must-read. Katherine Howe has created, yet again, a fantastic tale. 

13. Chasing the Sun by Tracie Peterson I reviewed this book earlier this month.

14. The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer

Do you have any good reads you would love to share?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Free Online Craftsy Class :: Sewing Machine 911

Sign up here for a free online class with sewing teacher, Claudia Miller, and Craftsy. You will learn how to fix pesky issues common with both vintage and new machines. Claudia offers tips and tricks to help you learn how to troubleshoot your machine when problems arise.

Claudia's online class will have you threading the machine and winding the bobbin like a pro. You will also become familiarized with all the working parts of your machine and their functions. Claudia will discuss the common problems that occur when beginning sewing on machines and also teach you how to properly care and clean your machine.

This is a great class for beginners and anyone whom has not been properly instructed on cleaning their machine. The best part is - its absolutely free!

Craftsy also offers many other online courses varying from crocheting to gardening to even paper crafts. If you've got the knack for crafting in any form, you definitely want to check Craftsy out!

Weekly Goals :: 5/21 - 5/27/2012

Last week I posted a few of my weekly goals. I've crossed out and added to the goal list. Did you get your goals accomplished? Did you set new ones?

Weekly Goals 5/14 - 5/20/2012

1. Remove red wasp nest from front foyer Here it is Monday and the wasp nest is still hanging in the foyer...wondering if my sweet husband is reading this today : )
2. Return items to attic
3. Hang up new pictures
4. Find garage sale frames to upcycle for boys' rooms

1. Piano lessons
2. Junior Master Gardeners' garden
3. 4H Elections
4. Create a summer to-do list

1. Fundraising meeting; contact donors
2. Wednesday night youth ministry
3. Pancake breakfast for Constable I just couldn't make this as planned.
4. Develop non-profit garage sale plans

1. Canning class
2. Continue researching book
3. Blog articles

Goals for 5/21 - 5/27/2012

1. Repaint Adirondack chairs
2. Rearrange youngest son's bedroom
3. Reorganize boys' bathroom
4. Gather items for garage sale
5. Remove wasp nest from foyer
6. Work on Meal Plan

1. Splash Kingdom Water Park field trip
2. Pre-planning for next school year
3. Letterboxing
4. A special project for the boys
5. Piano lessons

1. Junior Master Gardener Class
2. Board Meeting
3. Emails and phone calls for fundraising

1. Continue reading The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe
2. Continue working on my pillowcases for the Million Pillowcase Challenge
3. Week 3 of the Walk to Wellness Challenge
4. Blog articles and book research

I'm really looking forward to this week. Today, the boys and I are headed to Splash Kingdom. We've never been and I think it should be a fun time. Then, we're back in the books for the rest of the week with our Park Day on Thursday (more water fun with friends).

How is your week looking? Any special goals you're working on?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sundays :: Psalm 25

This stood out to me this morning at church. I thought I would share. I hope you have had a wonderful Sunday!

Psalm 25 1-15

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
2 I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

12 Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?
He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
13 They will spend their days in prosperity,
and their descendants will inherit the land.
14 The Lord confides in those who fear him;
he makes his covenant known to them.
15 My eyes are ever on the Lord,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Homeschooling :: Some of My Favorite Curriculum Links

I've had a lot of people asking me lately about what homeschool curriculum I use or what products are the best on the market for grammar or mathematics, so I thought I would share a few of my favorite links.

I do want you to know there is no wrong or right curriculum or even homeschooling style when it comes to deciding what is best for your child and family. I know families which use the classical method as prescribed by Susan Wise Bauer; the Charlotte Mason approach (true classical), unschooling, schooling at home via the public school system, eclectic, and more.

Knowing children from all of these types of educational homes, I can attest to their brightness and their creative drives. Homeschooling is essentially a tailored educational approach to each child in order for them to learn to their fullest capacity. All this being said, the following has worked best in our home.

Please feel free to share your favorites!

Classical Christian Homeschooling

Veritas Press - I have used the Veritas Press catalog as my book guide in the past. I love their Phonics Museum program.

Ambleside Online - This is a wonderful site for Charlotte Mason minded individuals to find a complete outline of the curriculum for all grade levels.

Simply Charlotte Mason

Shurley English

Saxon Mathematics

Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World

I included the following groups, not so much for curriculum, but for their knowledge in the law. These sites have wonderful definitions of the homeschooling styles as well as additional links to resources.

Home School Legal Defense Association

Texas Home School Coalition

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Michelle Leigh Production :: My Idea Book

 Over the past few years and several magazine subscriptions later, I've created an Idea Book full of articles, pictures, crafts, recipes, and more. It's my real-world Pinterest Board!

I started my Idea Book after I realized I simply could not keep all the magazines I subscribed to. I think I had a stack of over 35 (Living, Better Homes & Garden, Real Simple, and Women's Day) in the living room collecting dust. My husband was ready to recycle them all!

I began re-reading each one and tearing out pages I wanted to save. I made sure to really only keep those things I really enjoyed or knew I would someday create. As I began sorting though the pile, it turned out I only kept 3 or 4 items from each magazine that I felt were truly something I could use in the future. Why was I keeping this humongous stack of magazines?

After going though the stack, I had a small amount of keepables and a full recycling bin. I grabbed a Moleskin journal ( love these things! ) and set out to cutting, pasting, and notating.

While my Idea Book is a work in progress, I now have a workable area for future ideas. I've also cut back on the clutter in the living room by constantly updating my Idea Book. A good rule of thumb is to recycle your magazines at the end of each month and add your saveables to your book then. Don't store those articles you love in a file folder for that "sometime" or "later" moment, because then you will be back to where you started and instead of a nice organized magazine
stack, you'll have loose papers everywhere!

Get creative with your journal - personalize it, draw in it, or add tabs for easy organization. Make miniature paper books to add more information to a page or sketch your own thoughts and ideas. Don't like something you've added - take it out or cover it up! You Idea Book is simply yours to do whatever you wish with it. There are no rules, so let your creativity flow!

Towards the back of my book, I keep labels or information about my favorite products or stores. Some items I enjoy can only be ordered from specialty shops. By keeping pertinent information on hand, re-ordering is easy.

You'll love this fun, creative outlet; and unlike Pinterest, you can take your Idea Book anywhere and you links won't magically disappear!