Homeschool Wednesday

As I've said recently, we're more of an unschooling family than anything else. That means we don't follow a specific curriculum but instead take opportunities to learn as they come our way. This week our resident House Finch family that built a nest in the hanging plant at our front door has been the inspiration for learning more about birds. The girls and I checked out a few library books in hopes of finding answers to the following questions:

How does the mother lay eggs?
Do other birds move into the nest after one bird family is done with it?
What do newly hatched birds eat?
How long do birds live?
Why do birds such as cowbirds lay their eggs in another bird's nest?

I also found this fantastic online resource that outlines an activity for building a nest.

Using the books, the nest outside our door and a naturalist class or two, we'll find out the answers to these questions.

Getting Organized

:: And then there were five... ::

I'm getting organized. I know, getting organized is so boring, it's an old, sad story. It goes like this: I get organized, then disorganized, then organized again, then disorganized again. I'm getting sick of it too. But I'm back in the saddle and trying again to get organized, so here it goes.

My basic problem is that I'm overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things I have to do. It is simply amazing to me that I devote very few hours of the day to paid work, and still I have too much to do. I would think that someone like me would have more time to... I don't know, sit down perhaps? Relax?

I don't, and I know why. Culprit #1: I don't say "No" enough. I'm working on it. Culprit #2: I have too many interests. I get scattered and my time slips away in so many directions. Culprit #3: I make all of our food from scratch. That takes time. Culprit #4: Let's face it, I like to be busy.

With all of that in mind, I've decided to organize my time differently. Maybe this is the answer! (Or not, I know it's not. But it's fun to dream) I've decided to break the weekdays up and write about certain things on certain days. Here is what you can look forward to hearing about around here:

Monday Meal Planning: What's cooking here this week?

Tuesday: Free day (you'll hear about whatever is on my mind that day)

Homeschool Wednesday: What lessons are the girls learning?

Organized Thursday: Despite the fact that I say I'm disorganized, my home, kitchen and life are actually pretty well organized. I'll tell you what's working in that department.

Life Lessons Friday: This is a sticky, tricky one. This gets to the heart and soul of me. Lately I have found that no matter how I say things, sometimes I feel I'm not being heard by the people I'm talking to. Other people who are around in my life hear me loud and clear and they think what I have to say makes sense. But the people I'm trying to talk to aren't listening. I'm starting to feel frustrated, and I hate that feeling. I've decided that on Fridays I'll write about this frustration, or write about what I want to say (that isn't being heard), and hopefully this will help me to feel better.

So stay tuned!

All about the Food Swap!

Finally, FINALLY, I've got two spare minutes, and I'm going to spend it telling you about the food swap!

First of all, do go to a food swap if you hear about one, and if you're close to me, register for this one and GO!

This was my first ever food swap and I had no idea what to expect. I figured I would bring some of my own homemade goodness and trade it for other homemade goodness. I had no idea what other kinds of items would be there, and what things would tickle my fancy.

I had hoped someone would bring a dependable sourdough starter, and although I didn't see one there on Wednesday, I am hoping someone will bring one in the future. I would swap for that.

Our swap was organized by Christina of From Scratch Club and hosted by Ashley who own Common Tread Saratoga, a fabulous knitting store.

I brought granola that I had made (I make so much granola every week; I figured I would bring something that I make a lot of all the time). I also brought lemon balm plants and catmint plants that I have growing in my garden. I make tea from both leaves. The catmint tea is really good to have after you've overeaten a delicious meal (not that something like that has EVER happened to me, *smile*). The lemon balm is wonderful in iced tea. I make a big pot of black tea and throw in some fresh lemon balm leaves to add some lemony, minty flavor. Yum!

Other people brought canned goods (jams, pickled items, sauces); baked goods (scones, savory and sweet), and Dianna, bless her soul, a wise woman who understands what women want more than anything, brought dinner-for-tomorrow. I swapped for TWO of her dinners-for-tomorrow, and I walked away with both gourmet enchiladas and chana masala. I think I speak for a lot of women when I say that pre-made dinner is the most wonderful gift ever. It doesn't matter who you are, or how you spend your time... dinner made by someone else is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

When I arrived I unpacked my loot and laid it out on the table. When the time came to review all the items and start swapping, I looked everything over and made my decisions. I had 8 items that I brought, so I wrote my name next to 8 items I wanted. I waited and held my breath and then... swap time! It was like playing "Pit", the card game. Whose name is down next to my lemon balm? What do you have for it? Granola? Yes, I can give it to you if you give me your strawberry jam.
And so on. It was a lot of fun and I feel like I made out like a bandit!

The next swap is Wednesday, June 15. What will I bring? I'll tell you, I've been making really good yogurt lately. I'll share a recipe this week. Maybe I'll bring that? I might also make a dinner-for-tomorrow dish. Maybe a meat rub mix for father's day?

And then there were four...

Now there are four eggs in the nest. Yes, I would say I'm becoming obsessed.



Made yogurt
Sorted through 'A's summer clothing and stored her winter clothing

Have to:
Work on a few websites
Make Nan (Indian bread) and rice to go with our Chana Masala dinner (a fabulous food swap item I scored the other night)

Want to:
Tell you all about the food swap!

In the meantime, you can read more about the food swap here, on From Scratch Club's blog (Chris organized the swap and she did a super job!). And you can find my post about Hakurei Turnips on FSC's blog .

Have a great day.

Birds, birds, birds

Our home is buzzing with excitement. First of all, I went to the BEST food swap last night. I spent time with people who love good food just like I do. Wow, it was refreshing. When I get my photos together I'll post a full review for you - tomorrow sounds like a good time to do that.

We also have some excitement in the Bird department.

We've been watching a new mystery bird at the feeder for about two weeks. It's larger than a house finch and smaller than a cardinal. Bright red at the head, and red all the way to the tail. Big beak. Brown and white striped wings. I've been looking at the bird book, wondering what it could be. Today I identified it: a Purple Finch. I told my mother, another bird watcher, and she said she's only seen one in her life (amazing, considering she's spent her life looking at birds). This is very exciting!

That's not all for our bird news. I realized late last night that a house finch had built a nest in the hanging plant outside the front door. This is at once fascinating and a huge inconvenience. We've watched finches lay eggs before, watched the babies hatch, and then watched them learn to fly. I look forward to doing that again. But having it at our door means we have a moral obligation to not use the front door or make a lot of noise near the door until the babies are out of the nest. The things we do for the birds around here.

I stood up on a chair and snapped a photo of the eggs. Yes, they're house finch eggs... two of them are, anyway. The third egg belongs to a cowbird. Cowbirds don't build their own nests or sit on their eggs - they lay their eggs in another nest. Sometimes they take out an egg that belongs in the nest and replace it with their own. I believe this happened here! Yesterday, 'H' and 'A' found a cracked finch egg on the driveway of all places. It had a yolk and everything in it. Now if I had mischievous children, I might believe that they found a nest and took out an egg. But my children wouldn't do that. I swear. Besides, they're too short to reach a finch nest. Now, how would that egg have ended up on my driveway? I believe a cowbird took it out of the house finch nest and replaced it with her own, then dropped the egg away from the nest. Sneaky.

Fun stuff. This is about as exciting as I like my life to get.

The garden is in!

The rain stopped for a short time yesterday, so I went outside and planted the little transplants that I've had for over a week now. Pac choi, lettuce, basil, zucchini, patty pan squash, cucumbers, nasturtium, marigolds, rosemary, turnips and peppers. The tomatoes are coming this week. As I was outside planting this:

... I saw this:

... flower buds and flowers everywhere!

And on my way inside, I stopped to pick some of these:

A good day indeed.

Homeschooling in the spring

I've told you a lot about our adventures with food allergies lately but not so much about our homeschooling adventures. We've been having a lot of fun! So much of it at this point is nature-based, because that's such a natural interest for my children who are 4 and 6 years old. But 'A' has been practicing some math too and after she gets new glasses next week I'm thinking her reading might kick in a bit more (yes... she's as blind as a bat and we'll see just how much she can't see at the doctor's office next week. That could explain why she so strongly rejects learning how to read most days).

We took a trip to Up Yonda Farm in Bolton Landing, the sweetest little Adirondack town. We met up with homeschooling friends and learned about the different types of creatures that live in ponds. The kids all got to use nets to scoop out as many creatures as they could find and put them all in an aquarium tank for observation. This kind of activity is so much fun for kids of all ages (and adults too, if I can be perfectly honest!). Up Yonda has so many programs running and we're all going back a few more times this summer.

After a year of homeschooling, I have come to define myself as an unschooler. For me that means I'm most comfortable going through each day without an agenda, without a curriculum, without an idea of what my children will be learning that day. I prefer to let it unfold for us. Luckily, we have plenty of opportunities throughout the day to let that happen and still learn tons. There are also times when my kids really want to do things so we take time to do them (like yesterday, when 'A' wanted to know how to add big numbers and carry the 1), and times when they don't want to do things, so we don't (like when 'A' does NOT want to learn to read and write more). I follow their lead and trust that it'll all work out in the end.

I've been reading Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Diane Eyer, about how children learn best through play, and I am struck by the chapter about the definition of play. Here is how the authors define play:

:: It is pleasurable and enjoyable (it's fun!)
:: It has no extrinsic goals (the point of playing is not to learn certain skills or facts, the point of playing is to play)
:: It is spontaneous and voluntary
:: It involves active engagement (you have to want to do it, and get involved)
:: It contains an element of make believe

I can't tell you how much of our daily life resembles this description of play. For us, it works. It makes us happy.

Butter? Nope.

If there's one thing I thought I had learned about living with a child with food allergies, it's this: "As much as you want to have hope that she'll outgrow it, keep your hope tempered. Don't get too excited about new treatments or milestones, because what works one day might not work the next." How is that for depressing? I've been trying something new with 'A' and it's been working so far, but today I pushed too far and we hit a wall. What I've been doing is feeding her baked products that contain milk. Research shows that children who are allergic to milk are able to eat foods that have been baked for 20-30 minutes. What's more, these same children who eat baked products every day are more likely to outgrow their allergy sooner.

I've been thinking back to a time a few years ago when 'A' ate a cookie at a friend's house that was made with butter and eggs and she had absolutely no reaction whatsoever. Wondering if she might be able to tolerate baked goods made with dairy, I made her a cake using milk last week. We sat down and I tested it on her skin first (the inside of her arm, the back of her neck, her face, her lips) and then she held a small piece inside her mouth for a minute. When I was sure she was fine, I fed her a small piece. Then a larger piece. So far, so good. For a few days, she ate a piece of cake a day.

This weekend I ran out of baked cake and needed to make muffins for her to eat, so I picked up some rhubarb at the farmer's market and today I made two different batches. One is made with sour cream. The other is made with both milk and butter. I've been wondering about whether or not I can bake with butter. It's certainly cheaper than the margarine she eats and when you consider that the ingredients in the margarine are linked to cancer, it's significantly healthier too.

Can I bake with butter? Not yet. I don't think so, anyway. I had her try a bite of one of the butter and milk muffins and her throat became irritated and she started to cough. In my experience, she was headed for an anaphylactic reaction, so I gave her a dose of Benadryl right away and within a few minutes she was fine. Some questions remain. If I had used rice milk instead of cow milk in the recipe, reducing the total amount of dairy protein, would she have been fine?

I have to say, I'm tired of this. It's not just that I'm tired of spending all my time cooking (I go through phases with cooking, and right now I'm tired of it), but I'm tired of worrying. I'm tired of being the overprotective, bitch mom who doesn't let her kid do anything. I'm tired of living part of my life in fear. I'm tired of being angry that food labels don't disclose all of the hidden dairy and corn. I'm tired of being resentful that the world is set up for children who can eat all the foods that 'A' can't. I'm just tired.

Going, going, going... and not stopping

Hi there. You find me here, on my personal blog, and now you can find me over on From Scratch Club too. If you haven't had a chance to check them out, take a moment to do so! The blog is about everything food-related and features a variety of unique perspectives. It's a great place to get lost for a while.

So here it is, the weekend, and I realize that I have not sat down to have a moment of rest all week. I've been planning 'A's "Little House on the Prairie" birthday party (which was yesterday), helping out with the plant sale at church (which will be held tomorrow), keeping up with my volunteer duties at church, sneaking in some website work when I can (I've got a site to work on full force next week), and between schooling for the girls and cooking for my family, I keep very busy. Interestingly enough, the very things that tire me out also give me energy and keep me going. How does that happen?

'A's party was a lot of fun. I'll give you an outline of what I did to make is as "old-fashioned" as possible. If you Google "Little House on the Prairie" party, you'll get a million ideas.

This party of was one of our last events with corn. 'A' is still so upset that she's allergic to it and we're phasing it out gently. I served popcorn, carrot sticks, hot dogs (I buy all beef hot dogs from the grocery store. I know nothing about buying meat because I don't eat it), turkey, and corn chips. They drank lemonade - lots of lemonade!

I'll start by saying that I am NOT a very good cake decorator! That said, I made a covered wagon cake, using Newman's cookies for wheels, crushed graham crackers for the dirt road, and licorice strings for the cattle reins. To make the rounded wagon cover, I used a small aluminum foil loaf pan and rounded the bottom by molding it around a glass jar. Since it had a rounded bottom and wouldn't sit straight in the oven, I put it into a second loaf pan, the way you would put a double boiler together. The second loaf pan served as the "holder" so that it would sit straight on the oven rack.

Games & play time:
Three-legged race
Carry the egg on a spoon and a bucket of water without spilling it
Wash "laundry" with washboards
Play in the sandbox, in the woods, and on the swings
Pin the tail on the donkey

Pa's fiddle music, of course!

We had a lot of fun and most of all, 'A' loved every moment of it. Now our whirlwind weekend continues as we transport plants across town from the greenhouse to the church. Have a good Saturday, and I'll see you soon.

Cleaning out the cabinets

I've been meaning to clean out the kitchen cabinets anyway, and the news about 'A's new food allergies is making me do it sooner rather than later.

It's easy to avoid dairy, eggs, corn, peas and sesame if you're cooking everything from scratch. But hey, I'm a busy mom and sometimes I don't feel like making each and every meal from the ground up (that's 3 meals a day, if you're counting). Sometimes I want to use pre-made soup stock instead of making my own (can't do that anymore - Better Than Bouillion Organic Vegetable Base contains maltodextrin, which is derived from corn); sometimes I want to use a falafel mix instead of grinding and mixing my own (but Fantastic Foods' Falafel Mix has corn in it).

Okay, okay, back into the kitchen I go, rolling up my sleeves and dedicating more time to cooking everything from scratch. That doesn't solve everything though.

There are the foods she loves that don't seem like they should contain corn but do. Like the Earth Balance margarine that 'A' knows and loves; all of the Tofutti products, such as cream cheese, cheese and ice cream; Boca chicken patties (a dinnertime staple), I.M. Healthy Soynut Butter (a lunchtime staple), marshmallows and graham crackers (s'mores, our summer favorite), and So Delicious ice cream.

Let's not forget about the foods she loves that are overtly made from corn, like corn (she loves seeing it on her dinner plate); corn on the cob; popcorn; and lollipops and candy (it's pretty hard to ignore all the corn syrup in them).

I realize that I'm already a few steps ahead because I do make so many things from simple ingredients on a regular basis. I make our bread, our cereal and the vast majority of grain dishes and sauces we eat from scratch. I don't use boxed mixes for sweet treats like cakes and cookies. I can my own jam and mix up smoothies in my own blender. I'm also an experienced label-reader, having dealt with food allergies for six years already, and I'm going into this new world with experience and wisdom.

So yes, I'm sort of prepared, but I'm definitely feeling that this is a challenge. It's as if I'm running on the track and someone raised the hurdles without telling me. Just when I was getting used to clearing them with confidence, a whole new set apprears.

Since 'A' is so upset about her corn allergy diagnosis, I'm planning to move along s-l-o-w-l-y as I "de-corn" her diet. I'll use up what we have on hand and quietly not buy more. I'll make an effort to create new favorites. I'll spend time coming up with a few veggie burger recipes she loves, then make and freeze them in bulk. I'll create the best breaded tofu recipe in the world and jazz up my cooked carrot recipes and make them her new favorite. I'll get that homemade wheat thin cracker recipe I've been wanting to try.

And most importantly, I'll show her that eating and cooking can be fun, relaxing and fulfilling no matter what the limitations are.

I know what I need to do, and I know how to do it. I think part of what gets me so emotional, or at least gives me the feeling of being beaten down, is knowing that I have to say good-bye to convenience foods once again until I figure out what's safe and what's not. I did this five years ago, when she was starting to eat table foods. Then I found that I was spending more time in the kitchen than I wanted. Happily, I found a few things on the grocery store shelves that she could eat without having an allergic reaction. Now those items are off-limits. It's one thing to say no to processed convenience foods because you don't want to serve them; it's another thing to say no because you can't serve them.

Thanks for seeing me down this new path.

Food allergy information

This is going to be a food allergy post, peppered with photos from the trip we took this week to Old Sturbridge Village (because a post should never be without photos!).

We took 'A' to Children's Hospital Boston, the Waltham branch, yesterday, to see a pediatric allergist. This visit was long overdue! We should have gone a few years ago. However, I don't think I would have known what to ask a few years ago, so perhaps it's good we went when we did.

Here's what went on and what we found out:

She is still highly allergic to dairy, casein, eggs and peanuts. We also added corn, green peas, sesame, and honeydew melon to the list of allergens.

She was skin tested for all of the above, and had blood drawn to be tested for all of those and a few more (like cumin, and a full nut panel). We also skin tested for chickpeas and cinnamon, both of which are negative.

I asked about the cough and the rash she gets around her mouth when she eats raw carrots, apples with the skin on, bananas and watermelon. The doctor believes this can all explained by Oral Allergy Syndrome. In a nutshell, OAS is a problem for people who are allergic to trees and weeds. When she eats the raw fruits and vegetables, her body thinks that she is ingesting tree and weed pollen, and it reacts accordingly. In her case, her throat gets scratchy and she gets a rash on her face. The solution to this is easy: get her on a dose of antihistamine every day until she can start allergy shots. Her seasonal allergies are very hard on her anyway, so the allergy shots will help her in more way than one.

I asked about the oral immunotherapy clinical trials, and if 'A' would qualify for one. He told me to check with Mass General and Mt. Sinai, and other hospitals. The trial at Children's Hospital is for children 7 years of age and older. The doctor does believe that within 10 years, oral immunotherapy will be available to a wide range of children and if she hasn't outgrown her allergies by then, she would benefit from it.

The doctor believes she has a chance of outgrowing her allergies. I asked specifically about dairy. Has he ever seen a child her age (6 years old) who is this highly allergic to dairy outgrow it? He said yes, within a few years even.

One new blood test is being done to see whether or not she's allergic to eggs when they are baked for at least 20 minutes. When eggs are baked, almost all the proteins break down, and some people are not allergic to those that remain. I look forward to finding out the results.

Our family reactions to the visit are all over the place.

'A' is very angry about the corn allergy diagnosis. She LOVES to eat corn. She refuses to believe that she is allergic to it. She still wants to eat it.

I won't speak for Jeff - he can do a guest post about his take on it if he would like.

As for me, I saw it coming, but that doesn't mean I'm not upset. I have observed her for a few years and I knew that she was allergic to these new things. Everytime she would eat hummus, she would cough while she ate (it was the sesame she was allergic to). Same thing with peas and corn. And when she would eat honeydew melon, her face would break out in hives and her throat would swell shut. Now I have some answers and I understand which foods she needs to avoid.

I'll tell you one thing, this makes it a lot harder to prepare meals for her!

More to come. I'm drained. It's not easy to parent a child with food allergies. I'll tell you about how I feel, which cookbooks I've revisited, the direction I am taking with 'A' and with this new information, these new challenges.

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!