Hanukkah and Christmas already, eh?


Didn't we just have Thanksgiving? Now it's Hanukkah and Christmas season?

It takes me a while to transition. This year I'm on the ball though, and I think it has to do with the ages of my girls. 3 and 5 are wonderful ages for completely immersing ourselves in the holiday of the month. Here it is, still November and less than a week after Thanksgiving, and our Christmas tree is up (not decorated, but up - a big deal!). Our non-dairy Hanukkah gelt is in the cabinet, waiting to make an appearance Wednesday evening. Holiday music is playing. It doesn't feel like my house, but I'll take it!


Thanksgiving was a treat - relaxing and fun. We all met at my mother's home on the Cape. We spilled out into two houses next door to each other - the "grown-ups" in one house (the Gen X grown ups), and the grandparents and grandchildren in the other house. It worked out so well! Everyone had a great time.


My older sister made me suggested I try the Insanity workout with her. It was TOUGH but it got my blood moving and it just might be the thing for me. When I got home I checked it out online and saw that it costs about $150 (ouch!). I found someone on Craigslist who is selling it for significantly less and I'm picking it up tomorrow. This should be interesting! It might be just what I need to push through some of my lack of exercise/love of food issues. Sometimes I just need to stop thinking and whining and start moving. You know?


All in all, life is good. Very good.



Sunday Afternoon


Where did the week go? Where did yours go? I spent mine:

* Slowing down and reevaluating

* Cleaning out the closets - ALL the closets, and making a lot of trips to the thrift store to donate many of my unwanted items.

* Spending time with Erika, a friend and fantastic blogger. We cooked a gourmet dinner, drank the Beaujolais Nouveau, and talked about simplicity (one of our conclusions: Living Simply doesn't mean Easy Living)


* Decorating gingerbread houses with the 4-H kids (to be displayed during the Victorian Streetwalk in December, then placed at our local nursing home for the residents to enjoy)

* Keeping a close eye on Erma, who is having a lot of trouble getting around on her old, creaky legs. I'm going to call the feline acupuncturist tomorrow morning. It breaks my heart to watch her suffer.


* Watching 'A' count, add and subtract


* Getting close to my food source: I harvested Swiss Chard and Brussels Sprouts from our garden and worked at the farmer's market on Saturday morning.

* Starting a knitting project: a pair of fingerless gloves to wear during the cold and frosty hours at the market. I'm using the pattern from this book.

See you back here soon!







Back...


After a week, I'm back. My time away was well spent. The cleaning crew was at my home every day, washing every lightbulb, every plant leaf, every can of chickpeas in my cabinet. I made myself scarce. Jeff's parents were visiting last week and we spent a lot of time outside the home. It was all good. This week the cleaning crew is gone (and the house smells NORMAL again), Neal and Shelly are at home in Florida, and I am settling back in.

In the meantime, I have a new stove (I opted for a convection oven this time around, something I've never cooked with but am eager to learn about). I have professionally-cleaned, dust-free drapes hanging in my home this week. I have a reorganized craft closet and cookbook shelf - thank you cleaning women! I have a new perspective on things.




Every so often, I do this... this whole "thing." I extend myself too far, then I snap and recoil. I've come to understand that I'm like a rubberband - not content to live a life of consistency, but instead a life where I extend too far and then reach a limit and contract, going back into my shell until I'm ready to come out. When I look back upon my life, I see a series of extentions and contractions, and lots of time in-between where I am simply "who I am."

What does this mean for me? For starters, it means I'm cleaning out my closets. Every few years I clean out every closet and give away some of what I own. And boy, does that feel good. There is nothing I love more than downsizing. Contracting also means spending more time with my family. I'll teach more, do more crafting, and pay more attention to my home, my children and husband, my plants and my cats.

Before I know it, I'll be stretching out again.


Today the girls had swimming lessons and we went to the State Park for a Preschool Naturalists class. They came home with the cutest leaf-tail turkeys. It was a good day.


First snow of the season


We had the first snow of the season today. Good thing I finally acknowledged that Summer is over and Autumn is here, right? Because otherwise it would have been hard for me to see those big white flakes coming down.


The "overcooked dinner" incident has be rephrased by professionals as a "protein fire" and tomorrow morning I will greet a team of recovery professionals at my door. They'll be here the rest of the week. Jeff's parents arrive tomorrow as well. I'm looking forward to waking up next week with my house back to normal.


Erma is looking forward to getting back to normal too. She's so arthritic. These past few days with the windows open has been hard on her body. (It's been cold!) Last night she dragged herself to the front door and waited for me to come home from my Small Group meeting. She meowed a big "meow" when I entered and proceeded to tell me (with her eyes) that the cold weather has been hard on her and she can't live like this anymore. Then she collapsed - all of her limbs gave out and she fell down. I brought food and water to where she was, then bundled her up in a down blanket and put her to bed in front of the raging hot pellet stove. I knew that I had to do something else too, something I didn't want to do. I have a bottle of Metacam (Meloxicam) that I keep for emergencies such as this. Metacam is deadly for cats. It works - it'll get her moving around again, but it kills her kidneys. I've spent 17 years buying the expensive cat food without animal by-products, with the intention of keeping her as healthy as possible. I get so angry when I think about throwing all of that away by giving her a week's supply of Metacam. But I do it when she really needs it. And now she does. I'll be watching her.

Tomorrow is a new day. For all of us.

a new day


Gnocchi for dinner

Today I got away from the smoky house smell for a bit while I worked for Michael Kilpatrick at the Saratoga Farmer's Market. I really enjoy working for Michael because I get to sell local, organic food to [seemingly] happy people, and he pays me with local, organic food. I love knowing that the product I handle is something I support 100 percent, and the pay I receive comes from a good, honest place. In those respects, it's one of the best jobs I've ever had.

I have a lot of respect for Michael. He's doing so many things right. He grows food that other farmers couldn't think of growing year-round. He communicates with his customers not only via the internet, but also face to face. He's largely self-taught and brilliant. He's aware of the larger issues involving food. He knows how important it is to provide local and organic food to the community. And he's so young! I'm sure there's so much more he's doing that I don't know about. His table today at the market was teeming with produce - lettuces; chard; broccoli and cauliflower; leeks; squashes; root crops including carrots, beets, turnips, jerusalem artichokes, rutabaga, radishes; onions and garlic; kohlrabi; ginger; and so much more. It's November - cold and frosty here, and Michael manages to have it all.

It's emotionally fulfilling for me to work at the market. That's a good thing.


Here are some things to be happy about:

My girls LOVE broccoli and jerusalem artichokes and I bought both today from Michael at the market

'A' started making her baby doll a dress from the fabric I used for her big-girl sundress during the summer

I made gnocchi for dinner tonight for the first time, and it wasn't half bad

Our family ski forms have been submitted. Jeff and the girls will ski, and I will snowboard. We're all looking forward to January!

Sleeping a long, wonderful sleep tonight

Life is interesting!


Our woodland compost pile, functional and satisfying at the same time

Well, isn't life interesting. If your life isn't as interesting as you'd like to be, you can have some of my "interestingness." I'm happy to give it away. I want to return to a state of "boringness." How can I get there?

Yesterday afternoon I read a lot more stories to the girls than I usually do. I was having fun and so were they. Time got away from me (as it usually does) and before I knew it, it was time to leave for 'A's 4-H group. I had just enough time to chop up some vegetables and throw them into a quick soup. I threw some leeks, potatoes, herbs and a can of chopped clams into one pot, filled it with water, and put it on to boil, planning to turn it down to a low simmer while we were away. I made a quick lentil-y type soup for the girls in another pot and also turned up the heat for a few minutes.

Well, a few minutes went by and I found myself putting coats on the girls and calling out last minute things: "go to the bathroom! wash your face! get your shoes on!" Before I knew it, we were in the car. I left my cell phone at home, something I do about fifty percent of the time. The other fifty percent, I have it with me but the battery is dead. I grew up during the pre-cell phone era, and I remember the good old days when you could go an hour or two without talking on the phone. Having it with me at all times is not a priority. Besides, isn't it nice to be out of touch and elusive a few times a day? All on your own? I think so.

Halfway there, I realized that I left the stove on HIGH. I problem-solved (something I have a lot of [unnecessary] experience with) and decided that I could turn around, go home and turn it off, or I could continue on my way and look for a pay phone (ha! have you looked for one of those lately? I don't know about your town, but my town doesn't have them anymore), or ask to use someone's cell phone at the 4-H group and call a neighbor for help.

I continued on and called for help. A neighbor did go to our home and turn the burners down. But it was too late. By the time Jeff and I arrived home, the house was filled with smoke. Filled. The smoke detectors were chatty, and the two pots full of our dinner were ruined. So was the dinner, obviously.

It bothers me that I left the burners on HIGH, not because it was a dumb thing to do (which is was), but because it tells me that what I'm doing right now to simplify and reclaim our quiet, centered family "space" isn't enough. Something is missing, and I don't know what it is. I've done all I can on my own to steer our family on a solid and comforting path. I need help. And I wish I knew what kind of help I need.

I have an inkling. I've been here before. It's time to explore my spiritual path a little more. It's time to uncover a little more meaning in everyday rituals, everyday life. Time to ask more questions.

Jeff would tell you that it's time for me to stop being such a renegade home-chef and to start using a timer and actually following a recipe with intent. Hmmm. I guess some people live like that.



So, here are my questions, in no particular order:

How do people do it? Get it all done, I mean, and still be happy?

I'm starting to wonder if my personality is such that I can be either an organized, energetic, professional working woman (which I once was, in New York City, no less, and I was pretty proud of the work I did), or I can be a mom who is emotionally and mentally THERE for my children but not quite "there" when it comes to running the household and completing logical tasks. The working-woman ME probably wouldn't have forgotten about the soups. She probably would have had them prepared in advance, like, last week. And labeled.

When I finally do decide to start exploring some sense of spirituality, what will it look like? I've probably been exploring it for a while now without realizing it. I keep waiting for it to show up in syllabus format. I need a teacher, a book and a path to follow. At the same time, I don't. I've gone through things that no one would ever want to be a part of in their lifetime, and they shouldn't, and in some other ways, I am so naive and I keep myself tightly sheltered. How do I tread on that path, carrying lessons I didn't want to learn, and fearing other lessons that I probably should learn?

Why do I feel like there is something wrong with me? By "wrong" I don't mean that I don't fit in. I feel like something is really missing in my thought process. My brain's wiring. This is alarming, and is the root of all of this exploration. I've been so aware of the need to simplify, so aware of my need to hunker down during stressful times and regroup. You would think I would be able to leave the house without burning it down. Especially because my house is my home, the place where I interact with my family, the place where all of my love and energy is concentrated. I'm certainly not doing this on purpose. So what gives? Where is my energy going?

Today I read on the UUA website this reading and it struck home.

I think those are all my questions for now. I think that's enough! It's tiring to ask all of that in one day. Do I really want to know the answers?

Homeschooling


Writing about homeschooling yesterday made me think that I should tell you a little bit about what we're doing here and how our days flow. Every homeschooling family does things differently, and it's always neat to catch a glimpse into another family's life. I love homeschooling my children, and although I realize it's not for everyone, I would love to see more parents give it a try. It's fun and not all that hard. I see it as another aspect of our every day life.

When you start talking to homeschoolers, one of the first things you realize is that there are many different approaches. There are official names for some of the philosophies, and since I don't really understand what each of them means, I'm not going to list them or tell you about them. I just know what we do. My general philosophy is to keep our schedule on the looser side and follow my children's cues. I don't push, I don't decide everything they do, I don't keep us on any particular track. My role is to support and guide them.

I may suggest to 'A' that we do some math or reading work, and she is the one who decides if she wants to do it. We work on it for as long as she wants, and then put it away. This works very well for now. At her age, I don't feel comfortable telling her to do some work that she clearly doesn't want to do. I would feel differently if she was 10 years older though. Sometimes adults and young adults have to spend some time hammering away at a project that isn't always fun to do. Not all the time, but sometimes. There are things I have to do for work projects that I dread. I do them because I enjoy the other aspects of the job and I know it all has to be done. That's just life.

One of the big questions is, "do you use a curriculum?" I do and I don't. I see many opportunities for learning throughout the day, and not all of them are tied to a curriculum or a book. When we spend time outdoors, observing the natural world, we're all learning and there's no curriculum involved. We're learning about the changes that take place outside throughout the day and throughout each season. The garden and the woods are home to creatures that are helpful and friendly, and also home to some that are not. Plants need sunlight, water and nutrients in order to grow, and we see it take place in front of us. The outdoors is not the only place the girls learn. When we go shopping or to the library or on another type of excursion, they are learning. They learn about driving directions, planning a route, spending money, making choices, interacting with people of all ages, how to leave a place feeling satisfied and happy, and how to remember to go to the bathroom and take a drink from the water fountain when they pass one. When we're at home and they help me with laundry and cooking, they're learning how to take care of the home we all share, how to help out and be useful, how to identify tasks that need to be done, and how to prioritize the housework. When they play "Laura and Mary," they're learning about reading comprehension, role playing and theater, history, how to be courteous to one another, and how to take turns.

I do use the RightStart math curriculum and so far 'A' and I both like it. I also take math books out of the library and our favorites right now are those written by Greg Tang. 'A' doesn't work on the math curriculum every day. I may ask her 3 times a week if she's interested, and she'll say yes to me twice or so.

I'm following this book for her reading work. She's less enthusiastic about sitting down and learning to read than she is about math. I don't push it. We'll get there. I would be shocked if one of my children grew up not liking to read. I would rather have them ease into it on their own terms.


So how does our day flow? The girls wake up sometime between 7 and 8 am. 'A' has gotten in the habit of opening her curtains, making her bed, changing out of her pajamas, putting her pajamas away, and brushing her teeth before she comes downstairs. She usually spends about 20 or 30 minutes on all of this before I see her.


The girls play for a bit before breakfast. By the time we sit down to breakfast, it's 8:30. I make breakfast and serve it to them, and they clear their dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Now it's 9:30. Breakfast takes a long time because we talk about what we're doing today, what we did yesterday, and all kinds of other things. Lately they've been asking about the clock and wondering how to tell time. I try to explain a little bit and then they say they don't get it. I'm not surprised. They're a little young for the concept. Then the next day at breakfast they ask all over again.

Some mornings we leave the house right after breakfast and go to swimming lessons or an art class that is geared for homeschoolers. 'H' has gymnastics during the week. Sometimes there's a nature class at the state park. That's about it for scheduled morning activities. The library has story times but I haven't felt the desire to attend any yet. Our days are pretty full.

If we don't go somewhere in the morning, I'll ask 'A' if she wants to do a math or reading lesson. The girls will usually play "Laura and Mary" or build something with blocks. We might play outside, or tend to the yard. Now that the weather is cooling off, I'll be doing more indoor crafts with them during the day.


Lunch is at noon. We all sit around the table and have something light - a sandwich or some soup. Clean up is the same as it is at breakfast: we all load our dishes in the dishwasher.

The time after lunch is usually spent at home. Sometimes I'll read the girls a story. Usually I prepare dinner and tend to some housekeeping issues while 'A' and 'H' play or draw. Once a week we leave the house in the late afternoon to attend 4-H or Daisy's. I used to go to the gym in the afternoon and bring the girls to the child care room. I got out of practice and I need to work that back into our schedule. Occasionally we'll visit a museum or take a field trip to visit someplace new in the afternoon. I don't do that more than once a week. Not one of us benefits from the feeling of being "on the go". I try to keep it all to a minimum.

Dinner is at 6 pm every night, and after dinner Jeff usually gets the girls in and out of the shower and reads them stories while I clean up the kitchen. I often have at least one recipe or work in progress in the kitchen, so I tend to my project and clean up while he spends some time with 'A' and 'H'.


What I've found so far is that it's all one big learning experience for all of us. I overscheduled us in September and paid for it with my physical and emotional health. It's easy for me to sometimes look at my weekly calendar, full of so many "empty" spots, and sign us up for any number of things. I forget that those 5-hour unscheduled blocks of time at home are the times we spend together relaxing, learning, making our home a little cozier and our relationships a little deeper.

That's essentially what we do here. Simple. Happy. It makes sense to me.

thinking about things, and rethinking things (a rant, and a rave)


'A' and 'H' helped me clean up the garden today

A funny thing happens as you get older. You rethink things. You change your opinion. And then you change back again. And rethink again.

Jeff and I have been together for several election cycles now. We consider ourselves to be pretty liberal. But every two to four years, one of us feels overwhelmed and disgruntled and we want to throw in the towel. One of us flirts with moving to Canada and the other one talks him down. Then a few years pass, and one of us wants to move to the woods and go off-grid and the other one says to her, "that's not a good idea right now..."

We're both educated, caring, intelligent people. We want what is best for the world. And - I speak for myself here - it's time to rethink some of it. I've gotten to the point where I don't think the people who are elected to public office have any of our best interests in mind (I mean us regular people). The issues that are important to me aren't on the mainstream radar at all. I believe in eating local, organic food. I don't support government subsidies for the corn and soy farmers. I don't support the subsidized school lunches that contain all that *crap*. I want to vote and say NO to it. I don't support a lot of the health care practices that are considered to be "normal." I say NO to unnecessary testing for myself and my children. I wish others would too. I take care of my health and I wish others would too. I would love to vote NO on all of that. I homeschool my children and reject the fact that many of the extracurricular activities that are available to them are beneficial, and I find myself happier every day that I do. I would love to vote NO on so many of the things that children today encounter in their everyday life at school and at home: things like too many children for each teacher in the classroom, not enough time outdoors, the pressure to conform and perform, and the LONG hours each child faces each day - at school, followed by after-school (and evening) activities. I would love to vote NO on that.

But it's not all about voting NO, and usually there's nothing on which to vote NO. I'm becoming aware that my views aren't consistent with the views of your average Democrat. I don't fit in. Do I still vote? Yes, but I'm not happy with it.

That is my rant.


My RAVE for the day is this: I'm loving our homeschooling lifestyle more and more all the time. I LOVE that my children and I can rise and shine when the moment strikes us; that we can whiz through the math lessons super-fast when I realize 'A' "gets it"; that I can say OKAY to skipping learning how to sound out words again and again and again because she says she's not interested, and there's no pressure, no stress, no guilt, no criticism.

As we move more and more out of the mainstream, and opt out of things that we once considered to be normal and essential, I see that it's starting to have a snowball effect. We homeschool. We eat local food. We spend time outdoors. We say NO to activities that take place during our dinner hour. We say NO to overscheduling, and YES to working outside when the weather is nice. As I come to understand that children don't need to be enrolled in every sport while they're young "just to see what it's like", I learn that children might actually thrive when they have the time and space to explore their backyard at their own pace. I've come to understand that my children are doing just fine in a homeschooling environment, and I am loving the fact that we're together all day, every day. The consistency is wonderful. The family time is wonderful. We are wonderful together.

So that is it. I am feeling particularly opinionated today, probably because I'm feeling out of place in the world, yet perfectly in place in my own life. My eyes are opening just a little more; I'm making a few more connections; and I'm gaining a deeper understanding of myself as a person and as a parent. Oooh, I'm growing! Just as my children are growing! It's all good.


Carrots from the garden! And Swiss Chard too.

election day


Jeff and I voted today. But we vote every day. How? With our wallets, with our lifestyle. It's not as inclusive as I would like - we still purchase gasoline for our cars, we buy pasta and rice milk at the grocery store, we have a mortgage on our home, we invest in the stock market for retirement. And don't even start the conversation about where the money to pay for all this comes from. But by and large, we are voting with our wallet in a way that makes us happy far more than ever before. I feel good about our choices.

inspiration


The girls and I walked to the playground today to get some fresh, crisp air and free ourselves from all the candy we ate (I'm proud to say that I have actually exhibited some self-restraint today... some). It was a wonderful walk - no whining, no talk of being too tired, no crying. They played for a long while at the playground before we headed home.

The trees at this time of year are so inspiring and have so much to say. They're finishing up saying, "Look at me! Look at my beautiful leaves!" and now they're ready to spend a few months saying, "Look through me! Look at the beautiful sky! Look toward the sun!"

I've been finding inspiration in all sorts of other places lately, including here and here.

Have a great day.



November!


So here it is, catching me off guard as it always does. It's November! How does this happen? They say that time moves faster and faster the older you get.... what does this mean for me 30, 40, 50 years from now, if it's moving at warp speed already?


We had a lot of fun dressing up and trick or treating yesterday. 'H's fairy costume received finishing touches throughout the afternoon. I used McCalls M6138 pattern and made the most complicated dress in the pattern set (of course). What most surprised me was how much I liked the wings. I didn't think they would come out that well and I was really happy with how they went together. They were big and fluid, but not floppy.


'A's dress is the one I made last year. It was too big last year and still a bit big this year. She LOVES it and so do I. It's supposed to be a princess dress but this year, since she's obsessed with all things Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie, she wore a bonnet and called herself a prairie girl. And that worked out just fine because our friend Erika and her son joined us last night and Erika was "Ma." Ma and Mary Ingalls donned their bonnets and quilted blankets (for warmth) and we toured the neighborhood.


Oh, and a rock star from the 70's joined us too.


Today's task is to get rid of all the Halloween candy. Last year I let them eat a piece a week until Christmas. Ugh. It lasts forever that way. This year I have a different approach: I'm having them eat all they want by the end of today, then we're sending it to the troops overseas. 'H' is certainly doing her part to eat it all up. Oh my! We'll be leaving soon for a walk to the playground (I'll be walking, they'll be skipping, jumping and running). I think we'll all benefit from the fresh air, exercise and break from the candy bag.

And once the candy is gone, we'll have something else to fixate on. The girls are getting to the age where they like to pick out the music we listen to and they like to sing along. I'm so happy with their #1 choice: Dan Berggren. Dan is a phenomenal Adirondack folk singer and songwriter. His music is meaningful and from a parent's perspective, it's so darn wholesome! I couldn't wish for more.

We have one of Dan's CDs and the girls absolutely love it. They listen to it over and over and over again. 'A' says that a few of his songs are her "most, most favorites" and the rest are her favorites. She and 'H' love them all. We recently asked him to recommend two more of his CDs that we could give to 'A' and 'H' for Hanukkah. Surprise, surprise(!), he's having a Buy 2, Get 1 Free sale in November, so he picked out a third for me and Jeff. It's a good thing we have this 3rd one for all of us to enjoy now, before Hanukkah begins, because Jeff and I wouldn't have been able to wait another month to listen to some new music. Is all of this inspiring you to check him out?


What could be better than enjoying a little candy while we listen to our favorite songwriter?

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!