Organized Thursday: Keeping Homeschooling Records

If 'A' were to start school in September she would be in 1st grade. In our state, this is the year when I have to officially register her as a homeschooler (by filing a Letter of Intent with the school district). There are a few pieces of additional paperwork that need to be prepared throughout the year, including an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP), Quarterly Reports and an Annual Assessment.

This is also the year I'll start to be a little more organized with my homeschooling plans and records. 'A' is getting older, and she's ready for days filled with a little more purpose. I've been thinking of what kind of filing/record keeping system will work best. Here are my requirements:

* I want to easily record the books we take out of the library. Ideally I would copy the author and title from the library's website and paste it into my records. I guess then that this record keeping system will be electronic, not paper. I want more than just a document listing the books though - I would like to be able to tag each book with one or more topics (such as "spring" "science" "birds") and be able to search and sort.

* I want to be able to plan ahead by seasons, months or weeks, making notes about what topics to address at certain times of the year. I need an "Idea List" where I can write down things that we can do in the future.

* I want to record what we do each day/week.

* I also have a fair number of paper materials that need to be kept somewhere handy. DVDs, maps, activity ideas I've picked up here and there. Right now I have them sorted by subject. I would like to be able to make a quick note in my electronic system when I have a new material for the paper file. For example, under "Science" I might write "NASA Journey to the Stars DVD" to remind myself that I have it.

* I need to have a place to keep finished work. Sorted by subject, I suppose, and date. This will be the last system I set up - I need to see what finished work is going to look like (size, shape, etc).

* I want some sort of a system for taking handwritten notes - notes by me and notes by 'A'. She'll take notes or draw pictures about things she sees during a science-oriented field trip, for example, and I'll take notes at the same time about interesting facts that we can discuss for review after the field trip is over, or more questions to explore. Composition books, maybe?

* I'll want to start using a composition book for her spelling lessons. Right now I have her write on a single piece of paper and I save them, but I think having it all in one place will be easier for all of us. Ditto for math.

* Most of all, the entire system needs to be free.

Where do I start?

Homeschool Wednesday

From time to time I've talked about 'A's approach to learning how to read and write. A while ago I decided to give up on actively teaching her how to read. It seemed that no matter what approach I took, it ended with tears and frustration. She's not open to overt instruction when it comes to reading. She:

* will only do something if she can do it perfectly the first time (this is a painful way to go through life, and I am on the lookout for gentle ways to show her that it's okay to try and not be perfect, over and over again)

* blames others when she feels frustrated. Example: she wants to read a book, and picks one out. She sits next to me to try to read it but is frustrated with the process. She starts to yell at me because she "can't do it".

On the bright side, she also:

* is the most highly motivated child I have ever met. She does things because she wants to do them, not because other people want her to. She appreciates praise but is not motivated by it (the way 'H' is - what different personalities they have!)

* loves to write, draw, hear stories, act out stories and make up her own stories. I'm not a childhood education expert by any means, but I think those things are important ingredients in the Learning How to Read recipe.

Also on the bright side, I've learned:

* when she reads and gets stuck on a word, I help her out by telling her if the vowel is a short or long sound.

* as soon as I sense her frustration mounting, I ask her if she would like to stop reading.

* I ask her once a day if she would like to do a little reading, but it's a quick question and if she says "no," I don't say anything else.

Lately she's been writing note after note after note and giving it to anyone who is interested. They're all written phonetically, so it sometimes takes me a few minutes to figure it out what she's trying to say. The funny thing is that even though many of her words are misspelled, she honestly believes that they are correct. That's why she can write them and still feel as though she's doing it perfectly the first time.

Now that I have some experience working with 'A' as she learns to read and write, and I understand her approach, I appreciate the effort she puts into her phonetic notes. Everything about them is self-motivated: deciding when to write and what to write are her decisions. I think this is a significant step for her and she is now finding herself further along on her journey toward literacy.

As much as I think this is a good thing for 'A', I have a real problem with learning how to read phonetically. Both Jeff and I learned to read in the 70's, when learning phonetically was all the rage in our classrooms. But the English language, with all the exceptions to the rules, isn't designed to be learned phonetically. Perhaps our brains learn better by sounding things out, and we just have the wrong language to learn? Take simple words that 'A' has tried to sound out this week: Of, One, Where. When she follows The Rules I teach her about short and long vowel sounds, those words sound like this:
Of = Ah-f
One = Oh-n
Where = Weer

And when she's busy writing her phonetic notes, she always sounds out "of" and writes "av". Yes, "of" does sound like it should be written "av," at least the way we pronounce it in our home.

When she's open to it, I show her how to spell a word or two and have her write it out 10 times, with the hope that it will "stick". There are some things that simply must be learned by memorization and drill. I guess the puzzle is figuring out when she's ready to learn them. My thoughts now are that she'll continue to write her phonetic notes and at some point she'll incorporate the correct spellings as they start to make sense to her and she remembers them.

As I write all of this, she's sitting down to read a few pages of "Biscuit Meets the Class Pet." I took a quick photo. She's reading beautifully. Clearly she's memorized some of the words and some she's sounding out. What I really like is how she reads with emotion, as if she's telling the story to someone and wants it to sound interesting. I dared to tell her that. I added something about how not everyone reads aloud like that and she responded with, "I don't care how other people do it."

A journey, folks. This is a journey and she and I are both on it.

Monday Meal Planning

Summer is here... how can I tell? My desire to cook is kicking in. I worked at the farmer's market on Saturday and the Kilpatrick Family Farm stand was jam packed with so many different kinds of exciting vegetables. I wanted to buy them all and cook them up. In my mind, everything had the potential to be turned into a delicious meal. But I have so many vegetables in my kitchen from my weekly CSA box and I just can't justify getting any more. I stood there selling those wonderful vegetables, thinking about all the meals I could whip up, and wished I could spend a week cooking.

It feels sooo good to get some zip back in my step.

The only problem with the desire to cook again is that I want to make flavorful dishes with interesting ingredients and my children don't feel as excited about that as I do. So, what am I going to feed my children this week?

Jeff and me: Linguine with grilled fennel and sun-dried tomatoes, salad
'A': pasta with olive oil and a vegetable
'H': hot dog with a vegetable

Jeff and me: Chickpea spinach stew (in addition to some other goodies - that's our contribution to a potluck dinner we're attending)
'A' & 'H': roasted chickpeas, carrots

Jeff and me: Garlicky white bean puree with sauteed beet greens, salad with roasted beets, goat cheese and walnuts
'A' & 'H': Middle Eastern stuffed lentil bread (if they like it and it's easy to make, it'll become a staple in our house)

Everyone: Coconut soynut butter & banana stuffed vegan french toast


While I cook this week, Jeff will be preparing the gazebo for screens and a screen door. Finally we're undertaking this project to screen in the porch! I love our home and our backyard and the only thing that's missing is a place to sit outdoors in the evening without the threat of being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. You know what I mean.

Jeff has never done a project like this before, so after he took apart the existing railing and got the gazebo down to bare studs, we called my stepfather for help. Dick is a very handy person and we knew he would know just what to do next. We were lucky that he and mom could make the trip over this past weekend. Jeff now has "homework" to do to prepare the gazebo for their next trip - in 2 weeks - when they'll hang the door and finish up the screening. And then we'll all sit down inside and enjoy it!

Until then, my favorite late afternoon relaxation spot has been taken over by lumber and boxes of nails.

Organized Thursday: Do Your Emotions Affect How Organized You Are?

Are you an organized person? Sometimes? All the time? Not often?
Do you get organized in bursts and starts, excited when things seem to be in line, with trouble staying on top of them after a while?

I consider myself to be an organized person, and I would answer those questions with "Sometimes" and "Yes." To me being organized that means I have an active "system" that I rely on and periodically tweak. My system keeps me organized so that I don't have to spend so much time doing it myself. I don't take time every day (or every week) to sort through things, and I'm not so good about putting things away in their proper home. Instead I use what I think of as a Holding Bin System. If I have papers that need attention, they go in my "Active" folder on my desk so that they don't get lost. Clean laundry goes in a basket on the appropriate floor (downstairs for Jeff and me, upstairs for the girls). Miscellaneous items that need fixing or need to be returned or given to people have a place on the kitchen counter. Things pile up in the assigned holding bin, and after a while I take some time to go through the folder/pile/basket.

I've noticed through the years that I tend to sort through those piles for a few simple reasons:

1. I have bills to pay or time sensitive things that need some attention (this applies to my "Active" folder).

2. Company is coming (this applies to the laundry baskets and kitchen counter pile).

3. Things have piled up so high that it no longer seems like I have a clean house with a pile here and there, instead it seems like I have a house full of piles.

4. I WANT to.

It's only recently that I've paid more attention to the meaning of #4. When I start to feel like I want to get more organized (and it's not because of numbers 1-3 above), it's a signal to me that my emotions are driving my actions. This happened just the other day. I cleaned out all of the file folders on my desk (the ones I currently add to on a regular basis - activities for the girls, church business, work stuff). I purged, sorted and filed. After I finished the files, I moved on to the desk drawers. And finally, the magazine/reading material basket. Those are my paperwork "hotspots," the places where things tend to congregate and get stuck. I did it because I suddenly decided that I wanted to know what was in those files, drawers and basket; where things could be found; and because I wanted to unload the things I didn't want anymore.

Boy, that felt good.

I do this every few months. I used to view it as a fresh start, a time to get organized "once and for all." I'll tell you, looking at it that way set me up for failure. I've come to realize that I don't want to spend a day getting organized and then stay that way all the time. It's just not my style. It makes me uncomfortable to have to put things away every day. Besides, I have a million other things to do. I like to semi-clean up every day, moving things to a holding bin close to their final destination, with the promise that someday, for some reason, they'll find a home.

My emotions are always changing. I have ups and downs, more energy some days, less on others. My desire to keep things orderly is an indicator of how I feel. After taking this past week to lay low, say "no" to new requests for my time, energy and creativity, and focus on myself and my family, I'm finding that my desire to clean things out is growing strong. I've given myself a break from life, and I'm getting ready to bounce back. Weeks from now (or maybe months), when I'm feeling rushed and overwhelmed, I'll look around at the tall piles of stuff in my home and I guarantee that I won't have the desire to clean anything out. That's okay, I know that it will cycle back around. In the meantime, I'm still an organized person.

Homeschool Wednesday

I was working with 'A' on a number of projects today and thought I would snap a quick photo of our table. Oak leaves for a leaf collecting project; a book about space; shrinky dink paper and colored pencils; spelling lessons. It's not unusual for the table to be covered with a number of in-progress projects.

We spent the morning at home but originally had other plans: we were supposed to wake up bright and early and head to the Adirondacks to the Warren County Fish Hatchery with home school friends for a class. Today's thunderstorms kept us all away.

Here's something that falls under the "interesting but not surprising" category. In the last week, while I've been trying to keep a low profile in order to heal, I've found that the quality of my parenting has gone up dramatically. The girls and I usually have good days, but there are times of the day when the tension rises: leaving the house and trying to get somewhere on time and cleaning up toys are the main ones. But this past week, the tense moments simply aren't popping up. For starters, we haven't had to be anywhere on time because I've cancelled all of our outings. But it's more than that. The girls have been a pure pleasure to be with, all day, every day. They've been so caring, creative and responsible. And responsive. They're both quick to use problem-solving skills when they encounter something that frustrates or confuses them. When they can't figure something out on their own, they ask me for help instead of whining and demanding a solution. Wow, I can't tell you what a difference this shift makes for our family harmony.

I'm sure that part of it relates to the fact that I've slowed down. I'm feeling more relaxed, playful and spontaneous, and they pick up on that. The lesson is, what's good for mom is good for the children, and what's good for the children is good for the whole family.

Monday Meal Planning

Now that our CSA share has started up for the summer, I'm having trouble planning meals for the week. I like to plan my meals on Monday, but I pick up my vegetables on Wednesday, and I don't know what I'll receive until that day when I actually get my box. This makes meal planning a bit challenging. I could switch to meal planning on Wednesday nights or Thursday mornings, but it goes against my way of doing things, so I won't.

I know what I would like to serve all week - PASTA. These antibiotics are really hurting my stomach and I find that taking them with pasta helps a lot. Truthfully though, there are only so many dinners in a row that I can serve pasta and still be excited about it. So here we go:

Jeff and me: tilapia, asparagus, roasted red potatoes
'A': Sliced Turkey, pita chips, asparagus, a bite of tilapia
'H': Hot dogs, pita chips, roasted red potatoes, asparagus, a bite of tilapia

Jeff and me: vegan Hoppin' John with collard greens
'A' & 'H': Hopefully vegan Hoppin' John

Jeff and me: Chickpea Tacos
'A' & 'H': Hopefully Chickpea Tacos

Jeff and me: Salad Pizza
'A': Pizza with hummus and carrots
'H': Pizza with tomato sauce and cheese

Meal planning gets more and more challenging as time goes on. What do other parents feed their children?


I am:

...Wishing all the fathers a Happy Father's Day today!

...Happy that we stayed home all day and crossed many things off the "To Do" list.

...Resting and watching my infection slowly get better.

...Feeling good about the strawberry jam I made today (no pectin, stainless steel pot, and it reached 219 degrees... I think it's a good batch).

...Appreciating the silence I hear outside. Global Foundries started operations near here last week and it's been excruciatingly loud ever since. Until last night. Finally, a good night's sleep.

...Playing with my camera. I took a photography class yesterday and am looking forward to exploring a bit.

...Hoping I can go strawberry picking tomorrow with friends. If I can't, it's because the antibiotics are telling my body I can't travel.

...Wishing you a good night.

Life Lessons Friday: Learning to let go and watch things unfold

Updates, updates, updates:

The baby birds: They're all dead. Yup, all of 'em. Why? Who knows? Too much peeking in? Too cold last Saturday night? Were the roofers who are ripping off our old roof too annoying? Were they sick? I'll never know. On Sunday we were leaving for church and I did my daily peek. There were fewer in the nest and one was laying on the bottom, legs splayed out behind it. It looked dead. When we returned later in the day, the nest was empty. The mother came and stayed in the nest overnight, and by the next day she was gone.

Sad, yes. But I have to say, it was a bad situation from the start. A nest at our front door, roofers on top of the house... not to mention it was a House Finch family, and they have spent the past few decades crowding out other birds at feeders, taking over more and more territory. If it had been a rarer breed, the whole thing might have been different. I might have never peeked, I might have rescheduled the roofers, I might have locked up the front door for a few months.

Learning to Rest: Me. Learning to rest. I'm trying, really I am. Actually I am reluctantly learning that I have to. I'm sick and I need to take my health very seriously this week and next so that I can get better. Last week I got bit by a bug or a spider and I had an allergic reaction that lasted for a few days, followed by a skin infection called cellulitis. My leg swelled, got red, became super hot, and it kept getting worse. It's not something that will go away on its own, so I sought medical help. I'm now on super-strong antibiotics that are slowly making my leg feel better, but my stomach feels worse. I'm eating lots of homemade yogurt, trying to keep things together and my attitude positive. Five more days left of antibiotics. I know I'll make it.

I'm wondering if drinking raw milk would make my stomach feel better or worse these next few days. If all the good bacteria is being killed off, will I be able to digest the raw milk and stay healthy? Will the bacteria in the raw milk help me? Or hurt me?

Learning to Read: 'A'. It turns out that she doesn't need glasses, not yet anyway. So we're back to the original idea, which is that she just will not have anything to do with sitting down and learning to read with a teacher. However, she does get out of bed every night after we tuck her in, and she tries to read and write on her own. I think it's wonderful. Just this week, she started writing notes to me and Jeff. I'm learning that she'll gracefully accept one gentle suggestion about her spelling, but not more than one. As I made strawberry jam this week, she drew a picture of jars of jam and wrote me this note: "Do you love str barae cjam Mommy." My answer is, "Yes!"

It's taken me a while to get used to letting go and letting her teach herself. She's so clear with me that she will teach herself to read. It's been hard for me to really and truly keep my hands out of it. I am definitely closer now than ever before. She'll do it on her own time and in her own way.

Allergies & Asthma: 'A' visited a local allergist this week and we got her official asthma diagnosis. I've been waiting to hear those words. Even though she's used a nebulizer and an inhaler over the past year, no one has ever confirmed that she has asthma... until this doctor said it. It's new territory for me. I can tell when she's good and wheezy, but there are signs leading up to that point that I haven't learned to pick up yet. The *good* news that came from this most recent visit is that our insurance company will pay for allergy shots and the shots should help her seasonal allergies (which are awful in the spring, kind of bad now, and might be a problem in the fall, as she is allergic to trees, grass and ragweed). AND the shots might help her Oral Allergy Syndrome (which is where she gets red splotches on her face and a tingly tongue when she eats raw fruits and vegetables). It's not fun to be sick, to be poked and tested, but at least there are some positive things coming out of all of this.

Here, there and everywhere!

I'm here, just laying low while I spend time: nursing an infection, picking strawberries and making jam, participating in the FSC Food Swap, teaching math ("if Almanzo was 15 when Laura was 5, how old was he when she was 15?"), picking up our CSA share from Denison Farm, and watching the roofers tear off our roof and put a new one on.

I'll leave you with a link to my post on From Scratch Club's blog and a promise to return soon.

Monday Meal Planning

Seeing how the meals I planned last week didn't go over well with my family (new dishes are tough on the girls), I'm opting for tried and true favorites this week.

Jeff and Me: Pecan Mushroom Veggie Burgers on salad
'A': Pasta with olive oil and broccoli
'H': Peanut butter with blueberry jam and crackers, broccoli

Jeff and Me: Salad pizza (my all time favorite meal. I make a crust with tomato sauce and top it with a greek salad.)
'A': Pizza crust with hummus, broccoli
'H': Cheese pizza, broccoli

Jeff and Me: Stir fry with brown rice, chinese cabbage, mushrooms, green garlic, broccoli, and carrots. Tofu or shrimp? Hopefully I'll have enough pac choi from my garden to make a hearty salad as a side dish
'A': Brown rice, cooked carrots and roasted chickpeas
'H': Roasted chickpeas, raw carrots and cooked mushrooms

Jeff, Me and 'H': Zucchini burgers on a bun with sweet potato baked fries and a salad
'A': Mashed sweet potatoes, rice from last night, and ...?

Who knows?

I'm still figuring out meal options for 'A' now that we're omitting corn, sesame, cumin and peas. I'll say it again - corn is in everything it seems, and omitting it from her diet is hard. She used to eat pizza crust with tofutti cream cheese (gross, I know, but way better than the soy cheese alternative in my opinion). Tofutti products contain corn, so I don't purchase them anymore. I gently switched 'A' over to hummus on her pizza instead of cream cheese. I had to come up with a new hummus recipe and so far she thinks it's delicious.

Hummus for someone who is allergic to tahini and cumin

Add to the food processor:

Chickpeas (I generally use canned chickpeas. The organic cans don't contain BHT, a chemical that Goya adds to their canned chickpeas.)

Some garlic (a clove or two?)

Some lemon juice (1/4 cup? the juice of one lemon maybe)

Salt (a pinch)

Sunflower butter: start by adding a teaspoon, blending it in, and seeing how it tastes. The Sunflower butter acts like tahini, thickening up the hummus and adding an earthy depth.

Blend and taste. Voila! You have hummus. Sort of.

Life Lessons Friday: learning how to prioritize

Last week I wrote about my new To Do List for my phone. While I can't say I'm completely thrilled with the product, I will say that my life changed after I started using it. I'm not sure I'll purchase the software when my trial period ends. It slows down my phone and it doesn't always sync with my computer. I will however look for another type of Task List software to try out.

As soon as I wrote out all of my tasks and had them in plain sight all day long, I was able to see so clearly why I feel like I can't get anything done. I have too much to do! I've been telling myself for a while now to just say "No" to new projects. Now that I see how my time is spent, it's much easier for me to see the need to say that magical word.

How do I want to spend my time? I only have so much time to allocate to different activities every day. Certain things are fixed, such as working specific hours for pay. But the other things that fill my time... do they help me reach my personal goals?

My top goals and intentions are:

taking care of my health
educating my children
appreciating my husband as much as I can

Others are:

living a green lifestyle
staying close with our extended family and our friends
running my household as smoothly as possible
being involved in my church

Those goals are reasonable and attainable. The funny thing is, when I looked at my To Do List, my top priorities weren't at the top. In fact, everything listed under "Other" owned the prime real estate on my calendar. Guess what was at the bottom.... so far at the bottom that it didn't even make it on the list? Me and my health. There were no blocks of time carved out for exercise, and no time set aside to think about mindful eating.

When I realized this, I knew right away what I had to do. I made time to go to the gym. It felt great to be back. I'm going 4 days each week. Something else happened too. I decided I didn't want to be spending so much time doing things that other people can do just as well as I. If it wasn't one of the top 3 priorities, it would have to wait. I went about my life, watching opportunities for involvement float past me and I didn't jump up to grab them. I thought about ways I can shorten my To Do List and put the focus on the Really Important Things.

It's only been a week, and although I feel happy about this, it hasn't been easy. I have had to curb the urge to get involved in things that "look like fun" and understand that someone else will come along who will do it just as well as me, and perhaps better if they're not overwhelmed with too many projects, as I sometimes am. I have had to talk myself down from feeling selfish because I want to spend so much time on things that primarily benefit me and my family. It's not selfish to focus on us, I know, but I haven't been accustomed to thinking about it so clearly. There are a few old ways that need mending here.

All in all, I see the value of writing things down and keeping track of what causes frustration, pain and confusion. It took not more than a day of looking at my To Do items to determine that I was unhappy with how my time was allocated. It's so much easier to address an issue if you take a moment to gather a few facts.

Putting yourself at the top of the priority list is good. Making changes and taking action to reinforce it is better. Learning how to do it over and over again until it becomes part of who you are is best.

Organized Thursday

Truth be told, I have no right to write anything about being organized on a day like today. I'm feeling like my desk is a little messy, my dishes are a bit too dirty, and I'm afraid I'll be running late for a meeting I have tonight. Well, isn't that what life is sometimes about? When things feel hugely unorganized, I do a few small things to make myself feel like I'm back in the driver's seat.

Here's my top 5 list of little things that make me feel like I have my act together (especially when I don't).

1. Clean out the car. Spend 3 minutes picking up trash (scraps of paper, junk mail, etc) and 1 minute putting all of the things that need to go inside in a totebag (and bring the totebag in later).

2. Plan dinner menus for the next 2 or 3 evenings and make a list of what ingredients are needed. It takes so little time and it clears my head.

3. Clean off the [insert word here: coffee table, dinner table, your desk, your dresser]. Sometimes when I see a lot of clutter, I feel overwhelmed and it makes me feel even worse. If it's piled high with things that need attention, straighten up those piles, put them in a big bag/box/basket, and enjoy looking at the clean surface of your furniture.

4. Have an "Active" folder or basket and use it. I have a folder in which all of the things I absolutely need to tend to are placed. Bills, sign up forms, papers I'll need to reference are all there. Things that cannot get lost, forgotten about, or swept under the rug. Spend a minute adding things to the folder or flipping through it to see what needs to be done. Knowing that the important things are in one place, even if I don't look at them every day, gives me peace of mind.

5. Unplug and think positive thoughts. Turn off the news, close your browser, don't look at your email for a few minutes. Think of someone important to you, past or present, and what you love about them. What would they be proud of if they saw you today? What are you proud of? Feel good about yourself!

Homeschool Wednesday

Some of the foundations of our homeschooling life are learning to appreciate nature and appreciate the community in which we live. We like to explore new venues, but day after day, we frequent the same places and say hello to the same people. My girls have come to know many adults who care about them, and they look forward to our time out and about. Today we journeyed back to Denison Farm, the farm where we pick up our vegetables every week all summer long. It was our first trip of the season. How we looked forward to it! It's not that anything spectacular happens each time we're there. What's magical is knowing the people who grow our food (Justine and Brian Denison); being surprised (and impressed) by the vegetables we receive every week; and returning to a beautiful, quiet farm week after week; making our way down the to the creek, saying hello to the goats, and looking for wildflowers along the way.

Life lessons for little homeschoolers: notice the butterflies; see crops grow and change throughout the season; say hello to adults and remember their names; find comfort in seasonal routines; be respectful of hot, sleeping goats; don't wade too far into murky water; enjoy food that's grown close to home. I think those are good lessons.

A Baby Bird!

The cowbird is here. I snapped this quick photo yesterday evening, shortly after it hatched. The girls and I had wrapped up a lesson on baby birds before this big event took place. We learned that baby birds need to develop flight feathers and wing muscles before they can fly.

Now that I look at this photo, I have another question: Where did the egg shell go? Did the mother and father House Finch remove it from the nest? Where did they drop it?

sigh... dinner wasn't a hit.

The Chickpea pasta sauce went over like a lead balloon... with ALL of us. I made pasta with olive oil for the girls (with asparagus on the side) and put in a frozen pizza for Jeff and me.

I'm trying to keep my dissatisfaction to myself. Trying.

Monday Meal Planning: Please tell me my family will like these meals!

I'm sitting down to plan out meals for our family for the upcoming week. I can't tell you what a challenge this has become as my children have gotten older and their preferences have changed. Not to mention the new corn and pea allergy diagnosis for 'A'. I know you don't want to hear my whining, so I'll keep it to a minimum. I'll just outline what the parameters are so you'll have an idea of what I'm dealing with.

For 'A':
No dairy, eggs, sesame, nuts, corn, peas or cumin [allergies]
Taste freakouts happen over: tomatoes, black beans, tofu, anything that resembles sauce or a dip, salad, peppers, veggie burgers
LOVES: pasta with olive oil, hummus, chickpeas, rice, edamame, couscous

For 'H':
Taste freakouts: pasta, hummus, couscous
LOVES: tomatoes, beans, pizza, edamame, salad, peppers, veggie burgers, sauces and dips

Let's take a quick moment to compare lists. Yup, it's true, a lot of the things 'A' LOVES, 'H' doesn't care for, and vice versa. My goodness. Add an increasing list of allergens to the mix and I am left with a lot of frustration and very little inspiration.

The whining is done. Here's my list of meals for the week - all of these are new recipes for us. Will they like them? Will I end up feeling defeated that I put time and effort into these new recipes and they weren't well received? Or will the girls give them thumbs up?

I'm taking these recipes from two cookbooks, "Vive le Vegan! Simple, Delectable Recipes for the Everyday Vegan Family," by Dreena Burton and "Vegan Lunch Box Around the World" by Jennifer McCann.

Pureed Chickpea Pasta Sauce with Fresh Herbs over... what kind of pasta? 'H' will ONLY eat pasta that looks like spaghetti but is cut into short pieces. So I guess I'll serve it over the cut spaghetti. I'll serve this with a green vegetable, like asparagus (which we have locally now), green beans (which aren't local) or broccoli (not local either).

Rosemary Seasoned Tofu Balls - according to the recipe, this is kind of like a meatball, which you would serve with red sauce over pasta. But since one of my children doesn't like sauce and the other one doesn't care for much pasta, I'm going to serve these plain with vegan scalloped potatoes and a green vegetable.

Sunflower Lentil Pie. Mmmm, with lentils, sunflower seeds, and celery, this sounds like pure comfort food! I'll serve this with yet another green vegetable.

Chik'n Pot Pie: This is the meatiest vegan pot pie recipe I've ever tried: seitan, veggies and potatoes cooked into a delectable pie crust.

Roasted Red Pepper Cannellini Bean Sauce over cut spaghetti. With [yawn...] another green vegetable.

I'll let you know how these dishes are received... keep your fingers crossed!

A Revival!

Our Unitarian Univeralist Joint Service was held at the Round Lake Auditorium today. I love the annual joint service - it's a time for me to feel reenergized, to feel the love of UUs all around. And the Round Lake Auditorium is beautiful. If you're "in the know" about organs, you'll be happy to hear that it's home to a 1900–pipe Ferris Tracker organ. I'm not "in the know," and I'm impressed. We had a nice morning, followed by an equally nice (and relaxing) afternoon, family style.

This week: you'll hear about upcoming menus tomorrow, and later this week about how I'm learning the importance - and meaning behind - saying "No."

Life Lessons Friday: Living in a Culture of Fear

I love so many things about how we live in the present day, but one thing I don't like is how we live in a culture of fear. Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes not.

I'm a parent of two girls who are 4 and 6 years old. Not a week goes by that I'm not reminded about how "scary" the world is for parents and their children.

I hear the voices of fearful parents all around. Parents of teenagers and pre-teens leave their children home alone and worry about what is going to go wrong; parents of young children don't let their children play in the yard alone, for fear that an animal or human predator will attack them. Children don't go to camp because their parents fear they might be afraid of the activity of the day; they don't go on nature walks because a tick might bite them. The list goes on and on. The message? Our children aren't safe. Someone, or something, is going to get them, and it's our job to protect them.

Sure, those things could happen. More often than not they don't happen. Is the world really a more dangerous place than it used to be? Or is it our perception?

I try hard to not give into the fear. My children play outside without me watching over them; in public places they sometimes leave me to observe something they see. As time goes on and they get older, their range of independence will grow. I like to think I'm comfortable with it. After all, when I was their age, I was walking to kindergarten on my own (1/2 mile each way, and I took the shortcut through people's backyards), walking with my sisters and cousins to the candy store (1 mile each way), and riding my bike around the neighborhood with friends. I wasn't older than 5 or 6 years old. I never felt that I was in any danger, and apparently, because I'm here to tell the tale, I wasn't.

Just as my parents didn't keep me close to them out of fear, I can't keep my children hidden away in hopes that danger will never touch them. How would they learn and grow if I didn't let them out into the world? I do tell them what to watch out for, what to notice, but I can't live their lives for them. I can't learn their lessons for them. I can't have their experiences for them.

All of this is easy to say when I'm feeling safe and in control. The other night something happened here and I had a flash of doubt about my children's safety. The feeling settled down and I thought it through, and I'm back to trusting that we're all as safe as we can be.

It happened while Jeff and I were eating dinner. I gave the girls each a popsicle and told them to eat outside. They were outdoors for a while. Jeff mentioned that it seemed awfully quiet out there. From my chair, I couldn't see them, but I assumed they were fine and didn't give it a second thought. Just then, they came inside and announced that they had walked all the way down the street and back, just like they did last night. What??? I didn't know they had walked down the street and back last night. Were they safe? Did they watch for cars? 'H' said, "we didn't even get hit by a car, not even once!" Bless her! Even in my disbelief and mild shock, I thought she was so cute.

In that moment, I didn't think it was okay for my children to be exploring the neighborhood with such a free reign. Now that I've had time to think about it, I see that I was most upset because I didn't know in advance what they had planned to do. I appreciate how they were relaxed and living in the moment, one thing leading to another, and before they knew it they had set out on a journey to the end of the street. But what would have happened if I had looked for them and couldn't find them? I would have panicked, and that would have been ugly.

In my heart I want to let them go free, the way I had so many chances to go free. My head is almost there. I'm not sure what it will take to align both in the right direction. What I do know is that I can't live in fear.

Organized Thursday

As I've said recently, I'm feeling a *little* overwhelmed with all I have to do. By "a little" I mean A LOT. The crazy thing is that when I look at all I have to do, it's basically good stuff, things I love to do. I have nothing to complain about. We have (more than) enough food to eat and clean water to drink; a safe, comfortable place to sleep; two healthy, wonderful children; a supportive, energetic network of friends; we have the luxury of walking barefoot in our backyard and watching the birds every day (hey, I lived in New York City and not a day goes by when I don't give thanks for this green space we have outside our door); and most of all, I get to spend my day educating my children and cooking up fresh food. It's all good.

Good for me, anyway. I know plenty of people (including many of my near and dear relatives) who would never want to spend the day as I do, but for me, it's perfect. Almost. If it were a little less busy it would be better. Isn't this the chant of most people? I've asked various people for a few years how to slow it all down. I've gotten a lot of answers, but so far not many of them have applied to my life. Most people I ask say, "I don't know how to slow things down." The supermarket magazines all promise that if I buy a new set of baskets or other organizational tool, my life will slow down and I'll appreciate the smaller things. I attend our UU church most Sundays, and there I absorb the lesson that if I keep our family schedule pared down, spend time in nature, and talk with my children about (among other things) spirituality, life will slow down.

What I've learned, after listening to countless women talk about how they spend their time, is that life for mothers of dependent children is never slow. The take-away lesson is this: "You have a lot to do everyday. Get used to it. Steal moments for yourself when you can. Appreciate your children today even if they are acting in a way that exasperates you. They will grow older soon, and you'll look back on these years fondly. Oddly enough, you'll look back on these years as slow years, even though for you, they went by in a flash."

OK, lesson absorbed. If I can't slow it down, how can I at least have a little peace? I'm tired of waking up in the middle of the night, thinking of all the things I have to do. I'm tired of knowing that there's always something that needs to be tended to, and most likely it's something I'm sure I'm forgetting about.

I thought I was addressing this issue a month or two ago when I got my new phone. Wow, internet, calendar, and phone in ONE! What couldn't I do now? Well, I'll tell you what I couldn't do: make a LIST that worked. All my adult life I've been a "list maker." I've always used a pen and paper, and my list includes things that need to be done today as well as things I would like to have done at some point in the future. I would number it, rewrite it, put notes in the margin. With my phone, I couldn't make the list work the way I wanted.

Last night I decided to change that. I downloaded a trial version of a program called DejaOffice and it lets me add tasks with specific time frames, which I like. There's also room to add notes to my tasks, something akin to writing in the margin. I think this might help me get back on the right track. I can write things down and keep better track of what's outstanding, and I won't have to wake up at night wondering about all the things I have to do. That sounds delightful, doesn't it?

I love my "old fashioned" ways of keeping things organized, but I'm learning how to embrace technology. I think I can meld the two together in a way that works for me.

What kinds of technology work for you?

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!