Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Little Red Mailbox

All ready for Valentines!

Who's got mail? You do!

This little red mailbox is a great motivation for young writers. You'll find them checking their mailbox several times a day, and there is plenty of enthusiasm to write a note when there is mail to read and return!

Get a mailbox for each family member and write their names on them in permanent marker. Find different locations around the house to put each mailbox in to heighten the fun. When the flag is up, you've got a letter!

I used this in my home to put little reminder notes (today is your piano lesson), I-love-you notes, and little question-answer letters, just for fun (and writing practice, of course!), like this:

Dear Louisa,

If you could have a pet, what would it be:


What would you name it?


What do you want for dinner tonight?


Write me back!


If you have a reluctant writer, I think you'll find these little mailboxes are great handwriting motivation! At just $3.99 each, they are cheaper than a writing practice workbook, and much more fun!

See the little red mailbox here.

Valentine's is the perfect writing-practice holiday!

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French Onion Soup

Thrifty, easy, tasty!

Winter is here, and I love soup! Here's one of my favorites—it's so easy to make, and tastes gourmet. Serve it with a hearty salad and plenty of burning candles for a cozy dinner.

French Onion Soup

1 T. butter
2 large yellow onions, cut in thirds lengthwise and then sliced thinly
2 quarts beef broth OR 4 cans (14 oz) beef broth & 1 can beef consomme (undiluted)
1/4 cup parmesan or romano cheese
french baquette or crusty whole grain bread, sliced diagonally into 6 thick slices
6 slices white cheese: munster, swiss or provolone

In a large soup pot, saute onions in butter until soft and translucent. Add broth and stir in grated cheese. Simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors.

Arrange thick slices of crusty bread on a cookie sheet. Top with a slice of cheese and broil until melted and bubbly. Scoop soup into bowls and float cheesy bread on top just before serving. Serves 6.


(See more of my recipes in my cookbook, Hopkins Healthy Home Cooking.)

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Friday, January 15, 2010

To My Grown-Up Son

My young son Ammon— interested in snails, plants and everything else!

I am still pondering on the thought of becoming the woman I wanted to be. My goal has always been to be a good, loving, caring mother. I think I have been, but we all remember the things we could have done better.

Once many years ago, when I was very ill for a few weeks, I began to see life through my children's eyes. Unable to do much more than lay in bed, or on the couch, the cares of adult life began to fall from me, and I could see how very busy and occupied we appear to our little ones. All I wanted to do was play with my son Ammon and his toys. I could suddenly see the very great value in one-on-one time with a child, doing what he enjoyed. I was not well enough to play, but that was what I truly yearned to do.

Children need us—they need our attentive self, our listening self. They need us to slow down and see life through their eyes once in awhile. And to be playful and move slower. That is why my philosophy of education is based on making it fun and interesting for kids. As soon as I got well enough, we got out Ammon's legos and created things together. I laid on the floor and played with him. We constructed a lego cable car that traversed the room on a cord. Play is always much more entrancing when a parent joins in! I wished that I could always keep that viewpoint, but when I got completely well, the load of adult duties was waiting and my hard-earned perspective gradually waned.

If you are a mother of young children, and want to make a most important resolution this year, consider this one from another of my favorite poems:

To My Grown-Up Son

My hands were busy through the day,
I didn't have much time to play

The little games you asked me to.
I didn't have much time for you.

I'd wash your clothes, I'd sew and cook,
But when you'd bring your picture book

And ask me, please, to share your fun,
I'd say, "A little later, Son."

I'd tuck you in all safe at night,
And hear your prayers, turn out the light,

Then tiptoe softly to the door.
I wish I'd stayed a minute more.

For life is short, and years rush past,
A little boy grows up so fast.

No longer is he at your side.
His precious secrets to confide.

The picture books are put away,
There are no children's games to play,

No good-night kiss, no prayers to hear.
That all belongs to yesteryear.

My hands once busy, now lie still
The days are long and hard to fill.

I wish I might go back and do
The little things you asked me to.

—Alice E. Chase

My grown son Ammon with the banana tree he is growing indoors!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Instead of Macaroni & Cheese

Quickest dinner on the block!

I used to rely on boxed Macaroni & Cheese for a quick, easy meal for my kids when I was short on time, or when my husband and I were going out. It is cheap, and the kids like it. I tried not to read the list of ingredients on the side of the box, nor notice the neon-colored powder packet that turns into brilliant orange "cheese" when you add milk and butter. And stains my wooden spoon. Wonder what it does to our kids' insides!?

Here's a quick and almost-instant meal that is nutrition-packed, and just as yummy! Yummier. In fact, I crave this stuff, it is so good! No need to tell anyone that the "rice" is really cauliflower . . . they won't guess!

Instead of Macaroni & Cheese

1 head of cauliflower
2 tsp. mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup grated medium or sharp cheddar cheese

Optional: cooked hamburger, chicken, or etc.

More optional: parsley flakes, other seasonings, other cooked veggies, etc. (creative cooking)

Break cauliflower into florets (or chop) and steam in a covered pot for 15 minutes until tender. You can check by inserting a knife into the thickest part. The smaller you chop it, the faster it will cook.

Mix in a serving bowl or casserole dish: mustard, mayonnaise, salt, and grated cheese. (I like to use the horseradish-type mustard!) Add cauliflower to bowl and mash with a potato masher until cauliflower is crumbled.

Stir in meat if you want, but it is a fabulous dish without it. Smooth mixture in the dish and top with more cheese. Finely grated cheese will melt while you are saying the blessing on the food. Hey, that's quick!


Just add some raw veggies and you've got a very quick, healthy meal!

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Your Comments


I love hearing your responses to my blogs! Thank you so much! Some of you comment through the online blog comment form, but most of my readers email me directly. The problem is that the way the blog sends those emails to me, most of the time when I write a response back to you—it just bounces back to me.

Will you do me a favor and respond through the comment section of the blog? I hope that is not too inconvenient. Some of the emails I get are fabulous, and I want everyone to be able to read them and benefit, and I also want to be able to comment back to you! When you email directly, though, neither is possible.

If you get my blog posts right into your email inbox, which almost all my readers do, the email looks something like this:

All the headings are links and will take you right to my blog on the internet. If you click on the heart logo, it will go to my blog. If you click on the title of the blog, in this case: The Woman I Wanted to Be, it will take you to that exact post, and all you have to do is scroll down below and click on the word: "comments" to read others' comments and also to leave a comment in the comment box. It is really quick and easy. If you have a problem, email me and I'll try to walk you through through the comment section. Better yet, all those more computer literate than I am might be willing to comment and help!

Thanks for reading my blog. I am always so excited by your comments--so much collective wisdom of all you readers, moms, women. I love you!


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Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Woman I Wanted to Be

My sister told me about a sermon she heard on the topic of New Year's goals at an inter-faith meeting. A rabbi said that his resolution is to ask himself, every day, the same question that the passenger on the airplane that landed safely in the Hudson River asked. As the aircraft was about to plunge into the river below, he asked himself, "Am I the man I wanted to be?" So, the rabbi suggested that our resolution might be to ask ourselves that question as we start each day.

Great food for thought! Am I the woman I wanted to be? I had so many hopes/dreams when I was younger. We are just as sure as can be that we will, with all due respect, do things differently and better than our mothers did. I can remember having a goal as a young bride to wear flowers in my hair every day . . . ah, the lovely ideas of youth! Thankfully we gain more wisdom as we age. Some of our goals were fair to abandon as they were foolish or impractical, but some are still good, although forgotten, and should be resurrected.

The girl I used to be, and the goals I had, make me remember this favorite poem:

Lest We Forget

She came tonight as I sat alone
The girl that I used to be. . .
And she gazed at me with her earnest eye
And questioned reproachfully:

"Have you forgotten the many plans
And hopes that I had for you?
The great career, the splendid fame
All the wonderful things to do?"

"Where is the mansion of stately height
With all of its gardens rare?
The silken robes that I dreamed for you
And the jewels in your hair?"

And as she spoke, I was very sad,
For I wanted her pleased with me . . .
This slender girl from the shadowy past
The girl that I used to be.

So gently arising, I took her hand,
And guided her up the stair
Where peacefully sleeping, my babies lay
So innocent, sweet and fair.

And I told her that these are my only gems,
And precious they are to me,
That silken robe is my motherhood
Of costly simplicity.

And my mansion of stately height is love,
And the only career I know
Is serving each day in these sheltering walls
For the dear ones who come and go.

And as I spoke to my shadowy guest,
She smiled through her tears at me,
And I saw that the woman that I am now
Pleased the girl that I used to be.


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Monday, January 4, 2010

Buttermilk, Sour Milk and Other Dairy Questions

To make a cheese ball, you need ranch dressing.
To make ranch dressing, you need buttermilk.

Here we go again on another adventure!

A reader writes:

Now I come with another question! I am from El Salvador and cannot buy buttermilk in the stores. We do have a few milk cows, so we have all the milk we want and lots of cream. I make butter from the cream and then of course, have buttermilk. It tends to thicken with several days in the refrigerator and is really good to drink--even if I am the only one in the family who thinks so! My question is now--is using that buttermilk good enough for your recipe of ranch dressing or should I try letting it clabber more? I am rather ignorant about all this working with milk, yogurt and so on, but would like to know more. I do make yogurt and some native cheeses, but would love to know more and make more types of cheeses. Maybe some day when my home educating is mostly in the past! We love ranch dressing and if I could use up some of the buttermilk in this way I would be so excited.

Yes, you can! The very best is real buttermilk, which you have. Start by making the recipe for ranch dressing with 1/2 cup less buttermilk than it calls for (since real buttermilk it is thinner) and then add some more if needed until you get it the right consistency. I used real buttermilk when we had a cow, and the dressing tastes wonderful!

Here's a little bit that I've learned about dairy products:

Buttermilk from the U.S. grocery stores is actually a product similar to yogurt, in that it has been cultured. Real buttermilk (what's left in the container after you churn the cream into butter) is healthy, sour, thin and fabulous to cook with! It makes the best pancakes, biscuits, and quick breads because the lactic acid in it tenderizes the grain.

Sour milk, which is raw milk that has set out at room temperature (or left in the fridge) too long is interchangeable with buttermilk in recipes and is treasured at my house. I never throw out sour milk! Milk sours because of the healthy bacteria in the milk that ferments the milk into a thicker yogurt-like substance. (Pasteurized milk has no live bacteria in it and goes rotten, instead of sour, and should be thrown away.)

Yogurt is yet another strain of bacteria that produces another type of cultured milk. Different bacteria make different tastes of cultured dairy products. In the USA, you can also buy kefir which is cultured from bacteria and yeasts. Across the world, there are cultured dairy products unique to each country such as yogurt drinks in India, tart buttermilk from Bulgaria, and much more which are healthier than plain milk. The healthy bacteria (and yeasts) make the protein more digestible and calcium more readily absorbed.

When we had a cow, I would often make cottage cheese. It is really simple! Just pour 3" depth of raw milk into a stainless steel pot, cover it and leave it out on the countertop over night or until the milk has solidified and looks like white jello. Take a sharp knife and cut straight down through the clabbered milk in straight slices. Turn the pot and slice the other way, forming small cubes. Gently heat the pot until the liquid whey fully separates off from the curds (the cubes you cut). Strain the curds out and give the whey to animals as feed, or use it in breadmaking. Rinse the curds, salt them lightly, and stir in some thick cream. There you have it—cottage cheese.

You can make blocks of hard cheese by packing the curds into a mold and squeezing the liquid out, under pressure, and then letting them age. If you want all the details for making cheese at home, The Encyclopedia of Country Living has wonderful instructions for every type of homemade dairy product.


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Saturday, January 2, 2010

To Be Charles Bingley

We've had lots of people in our home this Christmas, and many different personalities. It is always instructive to me to see how each person acts and interacts, what they talk about and especially what they laugh at—that tells so much about a person. Much of how we behave seems to be programmed in by our upbringing—like father, like son. And much of it is our own unique character and person, created by our choices. People are a fascinating study.

My daughter Emily received the 6 hour movie version of Pride and Prejudice for a Christmas gift. How I love British romance! The (true) gentlemen are so proper and restrained, so mannerly and protective of the female gender. The (true) ladies are charitable, and have intelligent and articulate speech. It is a pleasure to view life in a gentler time than our own.

Are you acquainted with Charles Bingley, the most agreeable, amiable and pleasant gentleman that ultimately marries Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice? What a wonderful character! No matter who he is introduced to, he is genuinely interested in and obviously delighted to meet. He is ever-approving, good-humored and gracious . . . and forgiving of his brooding, negative friend Mr. Darcy. When faced with blatant breaches of English propriety, such as Elizabeth Bennett's "six inches of muddy hem from tromping about the countryside", all Charles can see is her "quite pretty face". He notices none of the disageeable, and all the good in everyone and is just pleased as punch with everybody and everything. What a charming personality!

So, after much thought and observation, I have decided that my New Year's Resolution this year is to be Charles Bingley!

Wish me success!

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Louisa created this fictitious image of London's Thames River on New Year's Eve

My daughter Louisa is learning how to do graphic design on the computer. As I watch her work, I can't even follow what she does—she is so fast! Louisa is naturally artistic, so it was a good fit to introduce her to computer graphic design. She is just 13, but she is now creating images for our website, emails and my blog.

Once again, I rejoice in the freedom and genius of homeschooling that allows young people to follow their interests, to explore and find their niche . . . learning anything and everything that interests them!

A toast, this New Year's Day:

to homeschooling!

to our freedom!

to the future!

Happy New Year!

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