Back to our little nuclear family

'R' left yesterday and 'A' misses her terribly.

It didn't take long to get the house back into some sort of order. The girls were pretty gentle on it while they played. The most delicious part of yesterday afternoon came during 'H's nap, when it was just me and 'A' together. The two of us haven't been completely alone in the afternoon for about a month and it was so nice to reconnect. We played together and then she helped me cook dinner. We made broiled tofu in a coconut curry sauce with short brown rice and some skewers of grilled vegetables on the side. The best part came during dinner, when she tried everything with an open mind - a clear difference from the past several days when she wouldn't eat anything because she wanted to be like 'R'.

'R' is a sweet girl and overall the experience was more positive than negative. I know that the real rewards for all of us - for our family and for 'R' - are still unseen, still to come. This experience has made me realize just how much my Christian upbringing has affected my outlook. I don't go to a Christian church now and I don't believe the tenets of Christianity, but I do hear a little voice telling me to do the right thing, and to have faith that if I do the right thing, the process will unfold as it should and the rewards will come, even if I can't see them now. Of course, Christians believe that the reward is entrance into Heaven, and that isn't my goal, but still, the messages are there, and they've stuck for good.

This experience also makes me see how idealistic and optimistic Jeff and I are. When we talk about why we wanted to have a child stay with us and what good can come out of it, I see that we have a vision of a better world. We believe we can make a difference; we believe that change is brought about by regular people doing small things; and we believe that our actions will have a long term effect on this world.

On a separate note, I got my lab results back from my doctor yesterday - basic stuff like cholesterol, and other tests like liver and kidney function, which are always good to do every so often. She put me on a Vitamin D supplement (Jeff's doctor just put him on one too, after seeing his test results. Most people in our neck of the woods are deficient and from what I hear, Vitamin D is a hot topic in medicine these days). She also put me on a Vitamin B-12 supplement, so now I'm popping 9 vitamin pills a day which is making me a little nuts!

The mystery I'm trying to figure out now pertains to my cholesterol. It's always been low, and I like to track my numbers over time to see what effect my lifestyle has on it. Since we gave up animal products, my overall cholesterol has gone down 8 points, but the other numbers (HDL, LDL, Triglycerides) have changed for the worse - gone up where they should be lower, and down where they used to be higher. When I think about the things that have changed that might affect it, I can only come up with exercise (I stopped visiting the gym regularly a few months ago) and shrimp (I used to eat a lot of it, and although it does raise bad cholesterol, it raises the good numbers even more). I'm going to go back to the gym for some good cardio workouts (yay for me!) and see if that makes a difference.

These photos of 'H' were taken during S'mores Fun Night last week at our home with little 'R'. 'H' is a cute little bundle of energy lately!

** big sigh **

So this is what lettuce looks like after it bolts, in case you were wondering. I was wondering because this is my first year growing a few plants and I had no idea what bolting really was. Now I know.

We're one week into our time with 'R', our Fresh Air child. It's certainly been a new experience for us. The girls love her to pieces. Only lately are she and 'A' having trouble playing together, and I figure it's because they've spent so much time together. I keep trying to make them have quiet alone time in the afternoon while 'H' naps but they refuse to be separated, even though they bicker a bit.

For me, it's been tiring, and most of the exhaustion is around the food issue. We don't eat meat, eggs or dairy and I do offer a number of kid-friendly meals here: pasta with a variety of sauces; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; pancakes; blueberry muffins; and then other things that some kids like such as hummus, pickles, black bean burritos and pizza with tofutti cream cheese & veggie topping.

Does she like any of it? No. She wants to go back to her fast food diet. And the things she does eat here, like pasta with margarine and toast with margarine? Those things she wants to eat in huge quantities. Two, three, four helpings. Giving structure to meal time is a whole new experience for me, because my kids eat a bit of foods that are basically healthy and when they feel full, they stop eating. I'm trying not to make food a big issue with 'R' but it's not something that can be avoided.

On the plus side, she's really enjoyed it up here. She lives in the Bronx and her access to the outdoors - and to larger indoor spaces - is limited. When she got here, I showed her the bathroom downstairs, and later when it was time for a bath I told her to go to the bathroom to get ready and she was blown away when she saw we had a bathroom upstairs. "You have TWO bathrooms?" Well actually we have 3. She also told the girls that they are so lucky to have our backyard. She really appreciates it.

Our only real "incident" so far has involved the cats. 'R' has treated them horribly from the minute she came here, despite all that Jeff and I had told her about how to act with them, what to do and what not to do. Finally we told her to leave them alone and ignore them but she couldn't do that either. She reminded me of those kids you see at the zoo who get the animals in the cage all riled up. It came to a head when Grace felt cornered by 'R' and lashed out a 'A' who was standing right next to them. Grace scratched 'A's leg with both paws. I can't have this happening in my house. I called my Fresh Air contact to tell her what happened and to let her know that with 4 days left to go, 'R' was definitely going to get scratched.

My Fresh Air contact and I agreed on a solution that felt right to me: 'R' is to not enter a room if the cat is in it and is to avoid the cats at all times. If the cat scratches anyone in the house again, 'R' will have to be placed with another family until it's time for her to go home.

It broke my heart to tell her she might have to leave, but I can't live any other way. Of course, right after I told her all of this she went and antagonized the cat again, but she's learning that she can't be near the cat and things are definitely much better.

So, will we do this again? Host a Fresh Air child? We can't have 'R' come back, because of the cat issue. And the food and her disrespect of people and animals is tiring, even if it is a good experience for her. We're still open to trying again with a different child. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I'm wondering how long this post will be up before the Thought Police find me and ask me to take it down. If you do an internet search for Fresh Air Fund experiences on both websites and blogs, you'll be hard pressed to find a description of a visit that is anything less than glowing. They must get rid of the negative ones somehow because I find it hard to believe that no one would post about it. And trust me, we're not the first family with a less than positive experience.

Shades of green

I've been thinking lately about what I'll do to prepare for the coming year with "preschool at home," as we call it. I don't want to have a curriculum exactly, but I do want to think about the flow of the days and the year as a whole. My goals for this year are to continue to emphasize the natural world and the importance of community service. Everything else is secondary. We've been spending a lot of time just observing nature, taking it all in, and seeing how one thing affects another. Some clouds bring rain, some show the sun. Some seeds make plants that grow food. Bees move pollen from one plant to another, creating more fruit. Plants grow a little bit more every day.

I am really wedded to the idea that observing nature is an important foundation for all else in life. Learning to appreciate the natural cycles and processes, to understand how things unfold, how everything is interconnected, and how it's all part of a larger system is what it's all about in life. Part of our "learning" includes time to observe nature, time to work in our garden, trips to the farm where we pick up our CSA share every Wednesday, and in the fall, we'll be visiting my sister Emily, who keeps bees, to see how she processes her honey.

I'm going to take time to sit down and outline the year ahead and think about ways to observe the natural process during each season. I've checked out the "prefab" curricula for preschoolers that lean toward the natural world (generally any Waldorf-based curriculum) but since it's "just" preschool (which I take to mean "before school") and since I really don't want to be bound to someone else's idea of what we should be doing, I'm going to follow my own plan.

Community service is a lot harder to plan out, and frankly I don't think it's something that should be well-planned at all. I tend to support causes that I happen to come across, things that strike me as important when I hear about them. Just in the past few months, I've supported, among other things, the women in Darfur who need solar stoves and now we're taking in a Fresh Air Fund child, and if you had asked me about these programs a few weeks before had I committed to them, I wouldn't have known what you were talking about. It's simple: I live my life. I find out about someone who needs my help. I do it because I can.

So, in light of that philosophy, I'm not going to make a community service plan, and instead I'll just let the causes "come" to us.

I just checked two books out of the library:

: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children by Sarifa Oppenheimer
: What is a Waldorf Kindergarten? by Sharifa Oppenheimer and Joan Almon

Both are wonderful guides for me, helping me to recognize the daily, monthly and yearly rhythms and the ways that children learn.

Weekend Time

Church today. It seems that every time I go, I get more involved. It's a good thing I guess, and the way it should be. Today the minister spoke about being our own worst critic and something she said really stuck with me - that children are here to grow into who they are, not to fill in the gaps in their parent's self-esteem.

We're busy getting ready for 'R', the little girl who will be coming to our home tomorrow as part of the Fresh Air Fund program. We're setting up her bed, getting her towel ready, plugging in a nightlight in the bathroom, and setting out her own sketchbook and markers so she can color while she's here... looking at the forecast, planning some activities (library, Howe Caverns, blueberry picking, Lake George, carousel and sorbet, backyard playtime, and more are on our list). We're looking forward to getting to know her and having her settle in.

S'mores last night, popsicles tonight... the summertime treats never end. It's a cool, sweet summer at our house this year.


This year, July is a month that is bringing us visitors almost every day. Jeff's parents ("Grandma Shelly" and "Grandpa Neal") just kissed us goodbye after a very nice 5 day visit, and in just a few days, we're happy to be welcoming a little girl from New York City into our home as part of the Fresh Air Fund program.

Finally the rain has dried up enough for us to have Family S'mores Nights, and I can't tell you how happy I was to assemble this basket filled with marshmallows, graham crackers and Newman's dark chocolate bars (no dairy). The girls love s'mores so much and I can't say it's just a kid thing in our house. Jeff and I love them too!

Last weekend we added a little extra excitement to our life when 'H' poked 'A' in the eye with a marker cap and scratched her cornea. Oh what fun a trip to the opthamologist is on a Saturday morning! 'A' got an eye patch, which she wasn't happy about (would you be?), and I, the good-intentioned fool that I am, promised her that I would put one on just as soon as we got home. Well, I tried it on and immediately felt dizzy and sick. Thank goodness for Jeff. He put one on and was her special buddy. She was such a trooper about the whole thing. I love her.

Things I'm happy about this week:

** The tomatoes are still growing and so far, no signs of blight. But since it's spreading so quickly and it's still so rainy, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before it comes to my garden. But so far, so good!

** 'A' went to the ballet with her grandparents this week and loved it.

** Jeff and I made blueberry jam one night this week and although the jam *hasn't yet set* (maybe it will set, maybe it never will, and if it doesn't, we have a number of jars of blueberry topping waiting for our pancakes this coming winter), it was a nice treat to spend time cooking with my husband.

Things I'm not happy about this week:

** A few of my squash plants succumbed to stem rot from all the rain we've had. I'm watching the others carefully and still don't consider any of them to be out of the woods.

** I found out the hard way that the vine crawling up our backyard tree is poison ivy. I should probably start using garden gloves, but I love to feel the soil and the leaves too much. The poison ivy tingle is not much fun to deal with!

This weekend calls for rest, cleaning up and getting ready for our New York City friend to come!


I took this one while I was out yesterday. It's my all-time favorite intersection. In the whole world. Why? Take a look at the gardens in the background. They're on both sides of the street and they are breathtaking. Every time I drive into Saratoga Springs in the summer, there they are, waiting for me. I love them.

I wish I could describe this feeling I have tonight - it's happy, but not happiness. It's fulfillment, but without anything specific that's been fulfilled. It's a feeling of being solid and steady, without seeing what might try to knock me down. I guess it's a feeling of peace with the moment. Just being.

Ever since I started to consciously simplify my life, I've noticed that I don't get "stressed out" as much as I used to. At this point, it takes a lot to get me rattled.

The garden is growing. So are my petunias in the hanging baskets. Keeping on top of them is a full time job, and if I skip a day of deadheading, they get all leggy and sticky. This is the last year I'm growing petunias! The LAST!

It's off to bed for me, for the second time today (I napped). Night, night.

One of our stops at the Cape was Old Harbor Station, once located in Chatham, now found in Provincetown. My stepfather, Dick Ryder, grew up with the Station not only in his family history, but also in his backyard. He just came out with a book about it, called "Seashore Sentinel: The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station on Cape Cod."

The surfmen who manned the station spent long days in rough weather watching the seas, waiting to help when a ship was in trouble. At the station, we see where they slept, where they ate, where they stored the emergency equipment, and how they used the breeches buoy to save passengers. His book fills in the rest - the personal stories and the action that you can't see when you walk in the building.

He also took us to Nauset Light, partly because it's fun to go there, and also because 'A' has been asking about lighthouses. Dick has the key, and we went up for the tour.

Back Home

Thrilled to go away, and more than happy to be back home now. Isn't that just how it should be?

I learned a few things about myself these past few days and I have been pleasantly surprised by what I've found. For starters, ever since we gave up meat and dairy a couple of months ago (on April 27, to be exact), we've pretty much stuck to our plan with one exception when we ate dinner out. Considering how much I have always loved cheese and butter, it's amazing that I've been able to walk away from it so easily. It's a testament to how great I feel now that I'm not eating it.

Mom suggested we eat lobster for dinner one night. LOBSTER. With BUTTER. Would it be good? Would we like it? Heck, we always used to! So we said yes, and waited to see how we would feel while (and after) we ate it. And of course we wanted to go down to the beach and see how many clams we could dig up to have as an appetizer.

So how did we feel? Was the lobster worth it? As much as I hate to say it, because it's such an expensive treat and because I always loved it so much, I don't think it was. Jeff didn't think so either. And that came as a complete surprise to me. It's one thing to say we're giving up certain foods, and then not eat them, but it's an entirely different thing to eat them again and not feel it was worth doing.

Something else that caught me off guard was seeing how firm my personal boundaries have become. I haven't done any conscious "work" on them, but here they are, clearer than they've ever been. I'm at a point in my life where my issues are my issues, and I don't want anyone else working on them for me (or with me). Ultimately, no one else can do it. It's up to me. I'm on a journey of personal responsibility that I have to take by myself.

Likewise, I'm not interested in crossing into someone else's "issue space". This is a change for me. My mother was telling me that she's in the midst of switching doctors because her doctor left the practice and now she's got to find a new one. And while this search is happening, she happens to have a medical issue that she's concerned about. And I'm concerned about it too. She knows she has to see a doctor but she's not running to the phone to make an appointment. Normally, I would be worried about her, and I would think about her and hope she's okay... obsessively, for a few weeks, or until she had seen the new doctor. This weekend I did worry, and I did hope she was okay, but only for a minute. Then I realized that it's not my body, not my search for a new doctor, not my phone call. I have my own health to think about, and my mother is an adult, a former nurse, and she's completely capable of taking care of her own health. So I'm letting her. I'm not going to try to get into her personal space and take over her issues. They're hers, not mine.

I guess you could say that I'm maturing. Geez, I thought that was something you did when you were young and learned to load the dishwasher without help... or something that happened when you were older and had seen more in life. It never really occurred to me that it would happen now, when I play with little kids all day and the last thing I think about are issues of maturity.

This is what Justine said we'll get from the farm tomorrow:

Cucumbers, Carrots, Lettuce, Parsley, Beets, Mesclun, Swiss Chard or Kale, and one additional vegetable not yet determined.

She said that many crops were destroyed by the hail last week.

I can't wait to check our little backyard garden tomorrow!

About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!