Variations on the Theme

December 31, 2010

Christmastide at Life in the Garden

If you only knew what a goofball I am, you’d know how amused I am that anyone has asked me about this wee blog design.  Check out the new Theme page (right up top) for my vast, unrivaled knowledge, or you can click here.  Should take you about 33 seconds to read it.  Evelyn Wood peeps, you get 2.7.

Cheers, and HEY – be safe out there tonight!  I want to see you all tomorrow. ❤


Bread Tutorial Coming Soon

December 29, 2010

I’ve been making our whole wheat sammie bread for about two years now.  I’ve been wanting to do a tutorial since before we moved last spring, but life was too complicated for a bit there.  Since we’re a bit more settled now, this is a great time for a tutorial.

I have a couple of wonderful kitchen tools that are pretty close to life-support status:  I can’t live without them.  Well, ok, I probably could live without them, but I couldn’t bake without them.  Well, that’s prolly a stretch, too.  Technically, I suppose that I could bake without them; but these implements of mass nutrition have moved so far past gadget category that they have attained Necessary Tool status.  Tools so necessary, in fact, that if they weren’t here, certain food would just never happen around here.  Like the kind we eat.  So, in this modern day kitchen that is longer on good intentions than it is on time or skill, I need every good tool I can find.  Any guesses as to what they are?

I’ll be working on the tut over the next couple of days.  If you post your questions, I’ll do my best to work them in!

A New Classic: Egg Nog Cake with Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting

December 26, 2010

Egg Nog Cake

Firstie was wanting an Egg Nog cake for his special December day.  Not finding a recipe for “egg nog cake” anywhere on the web, I did the only thing that a girl can do in that situation:  I panicked.

Then my creative brain kicked in and reminded me that cake making was pretty straight forward in its formula; just give it the appropriate seasonal flair and it should work.  I was completely unprepared for how well it would work.  I served it with our homemade Vanilla & Ginger Snap ice cream for a very memorable day, and a definite new family favorite.

I hope that you get a chance to try it, and that you love it as much as we do.  Cheers!


C = Cup and tsp = teaspoon

1 1/2 C butter, softened
1 1/2 C extra-fine granulated sugar
4 egg whites
4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground clove
1 little splash of bourbon
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 C Egg Nog, plus a bit more to reach consistency*
Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting (below)

* When I first made this recipe, the consistency was close to dough-like, so I kept adding a bit more egg nog to get more of a batter. Still not quite what I was expecting, but the end result was fabulous.

350* oven
1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until creamy.
2. Beat in egg whites one at a time.
3. Beat in vanilla and spices.
4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with egg nog, beating just until combined.  Don’t overmix.
5. Spread evenly into two greased and floured 9-in round baking pans.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
7. To cool, put your cakes directly into the freezer from the oven for 45 minutes, then remove to the counter for decorating.*  PLEASE only do this with metal pans; the extreme temperature change could cause any sort of ceramic or glass pan to shatter.
8. Ice with Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting.
9. Top with crushed ginger snap cookie and chill for one hour.
10. Cut into 16 slices and serve with Vanilla & Ginger Snap ice cream.  Deo Gratias for simple joys!

– For goodness sake, please do NOT use margarine; you will absolutely break my heart. And besides, nothing says love like butter.
– My vanilla doesn’t have alcohol, so my amounts may be greater than those with alcohol-based vanilla; you may want to adjust your vanilla accordingly.
– I really do recommend the freezer right after baking; I have had consistently moist cakes, despite the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing. Just make sure to use metal pans if you go right to freezer from the oven. You will love it!
– Oh, and always double the vanilla (the doubled amount is already in this recipe).
– For the egg nog, I used Hub’s homemade twist, “loosely based” on Sal’s Easiest Egg Nog (Hub’s changes were to substitute half & half for the low-fat milk, and to use more eggs).

1 Qt half & half*
9 whole eggs
A couple of handfuls of sugar
A bunch of vanilla
And probably some cinnamon and nutmeg

Mix it all up in a bowl and chill it in the fridge.
Makes enough for the cake.  Hopefully.
* Hub says, “I only used half & half because the store was out of heavy cream.”  Lord, how I love this man.

Vintage Bourbon Cream Frosting

2 blocks cream cheese
1/2 C softened butter
1 1/4 – 16 oz boxes powdered sugar (a bit more or less to taste)
8 tsp vanilla
2+ tsp Kentucky bourbon (or more according to taste)

1. Cream the cream cheese and butter.
2. Cream in the powdered sugar.
3. Cream in the vanilla and bourbon.
4. Chill 30 minutes or until cakes are out of the freezer.

I use an alcohol-free vanilla, and tend to use more than in alcohol-based vanilla; you may want to adjust your vanilla accordingly….The picture is a half-iced cake, to give an idea of consistency and texture of the frosting.  I was running a little late, so didn’t chill it but 15 minutes and it was still wonderful.

For Homemade Ice Cream:
2 C milk
1 C extra fine sugar
3 C heavy whipping cream
6 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon, ground or freshly grated
1+ C Ginger Snap cookie pieces, about the size of a sweet pea, give or take.

1. Using a hand mixer, dissolve sugar into milk.
2. Add heavy whipping cream, vanilla and cinnamon and beat on medium for one minute.
3. Place mixture into ice cream machine.  Follow manufacturer’s instructions for making ice cream.
4. Five minutes before the ice cream is done mixing, add the Ginger Snap cookie pieces, a bit at a time.
5. When ice cream is done mixing in the machine, remove to a freezer-safe bowl and chill for an hour.

For Store-bought Ice Cream:
1 package vanilla ice cream
3 tsp vanilla (no such thing as too much vanilla)
2 tsp cinnamon, ground or freshly grated
1+ C Ginger Snap cookie pieces, about the size of a sweet pea, give or take.

1. Soften the ice cream (I like to leave mine on the counter for a bit).
2. Stir as soon as it’s “stirrable”.  (Oh, yes, you’ll learn all sorts of new words here.)
3. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon.
4. Add cookie pieces, mixing in thoroughly.
5. Leave out for a bit, so that the ice cream softens the ginger snaps just a bit.
6. Place in freezer to set, about an hour or so.

This is a really wonderful softer ice cream, especially when served with the Egg Nog cake.  After it’s set in the freezer, you can leave it out for 20 minutes before serving, or cut back on your freezer time.  Whatever works for you.

Yep. We thought so, too. 🙂

Making Your Own Foamy Math Dice

April 26, 2010

Teaching Addition to our youngest young man has presented all sorts of challenges that has left me with small bald patches all over my head is giving me wonderful opportunities to learn new things.  One of the things I am learning about is Auditory Processing issues.  The more I learn, the more the pieces are starting to fall into place.  Dianne Craft’s page has been a Godsend – thank you, thank you, Julianne!

I asked my homeschooling friends for ideas on how to teach this.  One particular friend (hi, Vero!) suggested using dice as a manipulative – great idea! – and it worked well.  Then, remembering our awesome success with the Memorare and Pictographs, combined with Dianne’s advice for right-brained/visual learners, I thought that it might be worthwhile to see if I could mix dice with concept of using color, while minimizing sound distraction as much as possible.  Inspiration!  What I came up with is something we call “Foamy Math Dice” and the tutorial is below if you’d like to make your own.  Oh!  There is a pdf in the right side bar for the dice tiles.  Please help yourself.  : )



Materials you'll need to make your Foamy Math Dice


– Laminated card stock PDF (in sidebar)
– Scissors or paper cutter
– 2 Foam blocks  (one to try at Amazon)
– Glue that bonds to foam
– Wet erase pens (even though dry erase is shown – it’s all I had on hand O: )


Step 1:  Following the template, cut out tiles from your laminated card stock.  The blocks I am using are just a smidge larger than 1 1/4″ on each side, so the tiles are 1 1/8″ square.  I left a margin of foam around the tiles so that they stay nice and quiet.

Step 2:  Glue the tiles onto the cubes.  I’ll bet you were surprised by this step.  😉  I did alternate which cube I was gluing, to make sure that each tile had enough time to dry in between.

Step 3:  Draw the dots onto your new Foamy Math Dice.


As far as teaching Addition, why am I excited about this tool?  It allows me to control the numbers that Pip is learning to add.  I can have a die made up of blank sides or a single dot for Zero or 1, and then add dots from there as he learns.  Yes, I definitely love the Foamy Math Dice.  I hope you do, too!

Book Binding

April 15, 2010

We have learned how to bind books for our curriculum and have posted a book binding tutorial on the page tab above.  Enjoy!

Teaching the Memorare with Pictographs

January 6, 2010

UPDATEDER: It’s now almost a year later, and we all still know the Memorare.  Yay, Pictographs!

UPDATE: It’s now one week later and we all pretty much have it memorized.  I still have the board up and Pip (6), most of all, loves to sit at the table and say the prayer; it’s become his favorite.  This has definitely worked for us – thanks be to God.

We have been needing to learn the Memorare for a long time. As a Catholic homeschooler, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t yet know it by heart. My soul had about had it with that situation, and I woke up this morning with the resolve that Today Was The Day!

The Holy Spirit, being perfect in all things, gave me just what I needed to teach this: the idea of using pictographs to illustrate the main sections of this short (but powerful!) prayer.  On the white board, I wrote out the first half of the prayer, leaving plenty of drawing space in between the lines (it worked out to be three lines per half). Then we worked together to decide what symbols went with each particular section and I drew that symbol right underneath the section. I also redrew the symbols on the lower half of the board to keep the visual cues for them.

I didn’t get a picture of the first half of the prayer, but here is a picture of the second half:

PS – I’m using straight pins as tiny nails to keep the white board on the wall.  They’re small but mighty!


Here are all of the pictographs for the sections of the prayer:

Remember, O Most Gracious Virgin Mary,

Remember = thought bubble

O Most Gracious = yellow halo w/orange circle

blue “VM” = Virgin Mary


that never was it known

that never = “no” symbol

was it known = book (for things that are known)


that anyone who fled to thy protection,

that anyone = a + a picture of a knee + 1

who fled = we went with the aurally similar “flood” (house under water)

to thy protection = yellow padlock with heart-shaped keyhole (holy, loving protection)


implored thy help,

implored = beggar’s tin cup

thy help = a red cross


or sought thine intercession

or sought = magnifying glass

thine intercession = prayer hands (crossed thumbs with straight fingers)


was left unaided.

was left = L

unaided = a red cross inside a black “no” symbol


Inspired by this Confidence, I fly unto thee,

Inspired by this Confidence = a yellow light bulb with a capital “C” as the filament

I fly unto thee = an eye with stick birds for eyelashes


O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother;

O = same halo with orange “O”

Virgin of virgins, = blue “V” for Virgin and small white “v” inside halo

my Mother; = “M” made out of pink hearts


to thee do I come,

to thee = number “2”

do = a dew drop

I come = a stoplight with only green filled in (“arriving” or “traveling”)


before thee I stand,

before thee = a bee with a number “4”

I stand = stick figure standing

sinful and sorrowful.

sinful = black heart <bleah!>

and sorrowful = sad and crying green face


O Mother of the Word Incarnate,

O Mother = purple “O” around the pink heart “M”

of the Word = dotted “W” in a solid line box

(If I had it to do over again, I’d make this a Chi Rho on the cover of a book)

Incarnate = n + followed by a car with an “n” + the number “8”


despise not my petitions,

despise = mad, red face

not = red “no” symbol

my petitions = a stack of petitions with a green check box


but in thy mercy, hear and answer me.

but in thy mercy = borrowed the mercy symbol from Divine Mercy (no, we know that Mary isn’t Divine : )

hear and answer me. = a question mark inside an ear



Amen. = “a +” and a little crowd of men


I hope this helps explain this lesson.  Please share your ideas and improvements if you try this with your own children!


Jennifer +

Editable Workbox Planners are Up

August 17, 2009

I’ve finally gotten a bit of time to re-create the planners in an editable format.   They are Microsoft Publisher files and are very simple tables that will allow you to easily customize them to fit your needs.  (These planners are now letter-sized to better fit into files, crates, and binders.)

Look over there in the green “Clippings” box in the sidebar on the right.  The files are “WorkboxPlanner_Days1-5” and “WorkboxPlanner_MonFri”.  Feel free to edit to your heart’s content.

I hope that these files help in a small way to plan a smoother, better, more peaceful year for you and your family.

Have a wonderfully blessed school year, everyone!