Monday, March 20, 2017

Coconut Coconut Coconut

Our family doesn't drink cow's milk straight.  From time to time, I make yogurt from raw milk I get from my local farmer and we do eat good cheeses.  For foods where milk is required such as on granola or in porridges or just as a beverage to go with cookies, we use coconut milk.  For the longest time, I had been getting the "Light" Coconut milk at Trader Joe's because it had a very short list of ingredients.  When they stopped carrying it for while, I started getting the same kind of milk by the case from Amazon.  But all these commercial canned coconut milks still contain guar gum of which I am not a big fan.  

So yesterday I decided to finally give making it at home shot.  I know that I was not about to start hunting down and prepping fresh coconut so I researched how to make it other ways.  I found some recipes that make it from coconut creme (coconut butter or manna) and that was cool since I can easily get coconut creme locally.  But I was more intrigued by recipes that use coconut flakes because not only can I easily get coconut flakes at Trader Joe's, I use them in a lot of different ways and almost always have it on hand.  

I used this recipe, basically 1 part coconut flakes to 2 parts warm filtered water.  You blend it in a blender (I have a VitaMix) and strain it using cheese cloth or a nut milk bag.  It was very quick an easy and, oh my goodness, the milk is delicious.  It tastes very fresh, as if I had made it from a fresh coconut.  

And too add to that, it turns out that the pulp left over from making coconut milk can be dried and is what is commercially sold as coconut flour.  Mind blown! I had always really disliked making milks from nuts because I could never figure out what to do with the pulp that was left over.   That's not a problem at all when making coconut milk. 

I spread the coconut pulp out on a sheet of parchment and stuck it in my food dehydrator.  In an hour or so, it was fully dry and I had about 1/2 cup of coconut flour.  I was skeptical about how it would work in my baking but I made a batch of banana chocolate muffins this morning, and it worked perfectly.  

Making my own coconut milk is a win for so many reasons:  no unwanted ingredients, super tasty, and very economical.  I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I'm glad I finally got there!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Really Effective (aka It Actually Works) Deodorant Butter

I found the recipe for this deodorant butter a couple of years ago.  It was called "Kimberlily's Deodorant Butter" but today when I went to go check my old blog post about it, I found that the link to the recipe is now dead.  Not to worry.  I'm old school and always write things down in notebooks.  The original recipe was for a very small batch.  I've scaled it up.

Really Effective (aka It Actually Works) Deodorant Butter

1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup coconut oil (softened)
1/2 cup shea butter (softened)
1 teaspoon tea tree oil
8 teaspoons cornstarch

Place all ingredients in a mixer with a whisk attachment and whisk on high until fluffy and light.  Transfer to a container and cover tightly.

I have also done this by melting all the ingredients in a double boiler but I find that mixing it with a mixer ensures that everything is well incorporated.

This is by far the best natural deodorant I have ever used but I will post a disclaimer: my hubby finds it too harsh for his armpits (either the baking soda of the tea tree oil could be the issue I think).  He finds that plain coconut oil works for him.  That *definitely* is not the case for me.

What is nice about making this in the summer is that butters and oils are already very soft so it's super quick to whip up.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lemon Coconut Cookies

A couple of weeks ago, I tried Pamela's Gluten-Free Lemon Cookies and they were delicious--very lemony, light and crispy.  Perfect with tea.  The children, however weren't digging them. Z3 actually deemed them "the worst cookie [she] ever tasted."  Ah well, more for me!  Anyway, I felt like I could replicate the cookies at home and after a couple of attempts, I think I've got it! My version is grain-free and works well with coconut sugar if you prefer to avoid cane sugar.

Lemon Coconut Cookies

2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 cup arrowroot flour
1/2 cup organic cane or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup vegan (palm) shortening (I use this brand)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemons zest (zest of two lemons)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the shortening and the sugar together.  Mix in almond flour, arrowroot flour, sugar, lemon zest, salt and baking soda.  Add vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon juice and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop the cookie batter onto the cookie tray, about 2 tablespoons at a time (I use a cookie scoop which makes it very easy). Roll each cookie in your hands to make a neat ball but do not press the cookies down.  Bake for 15 minutes (but start checking them after 12 minutes).  Transfer them to a cooling tray.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Let's look at the real reason why a 4.0 has come to equal a smart person but a 2.0 has come to equal a not-so-smart person.

I haven't felt moved to write anything on this blog in some time but a few days ago, I saw this in my newsfeed and it got me thinking.

I totally agree with the first part of this statement.  As an adult who has completely re-evaluated all I was told growing up, I know that test grades are not the sum total of intelligence.  While being able to retain information and produce it when necessary (as written exams require) are certainly marks of a type of intelligence, there are different ways to measure the countless other types of intelligence.  This is the biggest failing of many of our current schools:  they fail to acknowledge that there are various types of intelligences and learning styles.  As such, there should be various teaching approaches that capitalize on the various intelligences, honor the different learning styles and there should be multiple ways to assess learning.

Interestingly enough, in graduate school we spent lots of time talking about the different intelligences and different learnings styles.  We investigated ways to teach to these differences.  And yet, in actual practice, only a few kinds of intelligences are valued in schools (mainly linguistic intelligence, i.e. being able to read and write combined with mathematical intelligence, i.e., being able do math quickly and accurately).  If your intelligence as a student is not dominantly linguistic or mathematical, you will struggle in a typical school.  And unfortunately, especially in recent years with all the high-stakes testing, education or what passes for education has been reduced to a measure of how much information a student has retained and then can later regurgitate.  Students are not asked, generally to employ higher level thinking (even though another big deal in graduate school was Bloom's Taxonomy).

And that's my main problem with this meme.  It seeks to point fingers at students who maintain 4.0 GPAs, basically dismissing their hard work and effort and saying that the *only* reason they have a 4.0 GPA is obedience.   It's a false argument.  I know many kids who followed the rules and didn't make trouble (my husband included) but were not A+ students.  Indeed, your average 4.0 student won't be a rabble rouser but most 4.0 students will have worked hard for it.   They studied.  They went the extra mile.  They put in the extra effort.  Personally, I spent my prom night studying for the AP Biology exam and went on to get  a 5 on it.  I think if we take a moment to think about, we can easily acknowledge that obedience alone doesn't yield a 4.0 GPA.  It takes determination, grit and discipline.  But it is crucial to note that these characteristics only lead to a 4.0 GPA if the student's style of learning is the same as the style of teaching and the modality of testing.    If other styles of learning and other intelligences were given equal regard in a school setting, if there were various forms of assessment, I think we'd have many more 4.0 students and many more students with a positive feeling about school.

For that reason, this meme is kind of petty.  It comes off as a 2.0 student mad that he doesn't have a 4.0.  And maybe he should be mad but not at the 4.0 student.  He should be mad at the school system who refuses to acknowledge his intelligence, refuses to teach to his strengths and refuses to test his learning in ways that are perhaps more appropriate for who he is.   But the 4.0 student is an easy target.  It's just as bad to assume things about a 4.0 student as it is to assume things about a 2.0 student.  A 2.0 student may absolutely be a brilliant, hardworking, determined and disciplined individual.  A 2.0 student is not automatically unintelligent or lazy.  Just as a 4.0 student is not automatically docile, obedient and unquestioning.  It's my belief that you can never build someone or something up by tearing someone or something else down. As such, I feel this meme is really misguided. Let's look at the real reasons why a 4.0 has come to equal a smart person but a 2.0 has come to equal a not-so-smart person.

So no, grades don't determine intelligence.  We have come to rely on them too heavily as a marker of all sorts of things.  We use them to assume too much about students without critically examining the environment in which these students are supposedly learning everyday and the system that claims to have the goal of educating them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

From Locks to a Mohawk

My second son, Z2, decided to cut his locks and get a Mohawk.  

Z2 had been growing his hair since birth.  Unlike Z1, he'd never had it cut and had grown a beautiful
crown of free-formed locks.  Like my own hair, it grew outwards instead of downwards and so it was kind of fascinating to pull each lock to it's full length, two to three times longer than when not stretched.

He had been asking to have his hair cut for some time and while we were considering it, we weren't quick to act.  We wanted the decision to be his, of course, but I for one wasn't sure that it was.  Other children made comments, strangers mistook him for a girl a lot (which I think had more to do with his very soft, pretty face), and I'm sure he picked up some negativity from family and other adults.  And I think these things really bothered him and were a driver for the desire to have his hair cut.  

But after having cut it and really having time to contemplate, I realize that the decision may have been more his own than anyone else's.  At least I hope so.  He's always been very particular about what he wears and sensitive to how he looks.  It very well could be that he was ready for a change for himself and that the other possible reasons for wanting to cut it were secondary or even tertiary.  That they didn't factor in as much as I fear they did.  He's enjoying his Mohawk tremendously and is very pleased with his decision to cut his hair.  Especially since it's summer.  He's happy to feel the air on his scalp and to not have to tie his hair back to keep it out of his face and out of his way when he's doing things.  He gets a real kick out of people's reaction to the dramatic change and doesn't regret it for one minute.  

Of course, I was emotionally attached to his hair in some way.  It was a beautiful set of locks, so thick and bouncy, and it definitely represented a mindset that I had and a spiritual/emotional place where I was.  The locks, his name, all of it.  Also, because of my own struggles with hair growth . . . I suppose I felt a sense of relief that his hair does grow and also a sense of vicariousness.   

The hubby was sad about it too but rightfully pointed out that if he does choose to grow locks again at some point in his life, it will be for his own reasons.  Reasons he will have pondered.  Genuine reasons.  And it will be his own choice.  

I am doing my best to raise my children with a voice to articulate how they want to live their lives. It's funny.  As soon as people saw that Z2 had cut his hair, they assumed and even expected that Z1 had done the same.  But no, Z1 has never expressed a real interest in cutting his hair although he likes to sit in his father's barber chair and pretend to have it cut.   My children don't have to do or like the exact same things or be the same way.  If nothing else, homeschooling them has emphatically taught me that lesson.  

At least in this small area of Z2's life, I'm happy to report, I did not feel like I needed to control what he did, even if I wasn't totally convinced the motives were correct. (And who am I really to say which motives/feelings are valid and which ones are not?) I want my children to grow knowing that their bodies are their own.   That they should treat their bodies with respect and love but that after that, they are free to adorn and dress their bodies the way they want.  Of course, folks will make judgments based on what they see but as long as they are cognizant of that, they can make conscious decisions about how they style themselves.  I want them to know that at the end of the day, they run their own show.  I'm trying to prepare them to do just that.  

And I'm always one to say that, after all, it's just hair.  But we infuse hair with all sort of meaning about who we are politically and spiritually.  I'm not here to debate if that's right or wrong but for now, I'm happy that for my 6 year old, it is really and totally just hair.   I'm glad he felt free to cut them.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Facebook Lite

I felt like I needed a break from Facebook so I decided to take one.  From my birthday, December 21 till my wedding anniversary January 13, I did Facebook Lite.  Which meant that while I did occasionally check pictures in which I was tagged and check my Facebook messages via my Yahoo account, I didn't post on my page, look through my news feed or visit any of my groups.  It was a good thing to do and I'm glad I followed my instinct to do it.  

Why did I feel l needed a break?  Checking Facebook had become a compulsive behavior.  I would end up on Facebook sometimes and say to myself, "Hey, this is not where I wanted to go!"  And then while on it, I would find myself rolling my eyes at some of the things folks were posting that frankly I found trite and annoying.  Things like, "Here is me using my hot glue gun to make a house out of popsicle sticks."  For like the 15th time that month?  Really? I'm just not interested.  I would hear myself thinking, "Being on here is such a waste of time! There's no need for it!"  Yet I would still scroll down.  Still check.  Every 30 minutes.  

Taking a break helped me to really understand why I was doing it.  And the answer is kind of brutal but honest: it's often lonely for me being a stay-at-home/homeschooling mom.  It can be very isolating.  Especially during the cold winter months when I tend to stay very close to home.  We don't go to the playground.  We don't go to the library and just hang out as often.  We don't go on walks or do nearly as many play dates.  (Winter is extremely hard on me.  I just kind of put my head down and try to power through December through March as best I can.)  Facebook, then, served to fill the gap.  Not completely, of course, but it is indeed a way to interact with other folks in some way.  To see what other adults are doing and thinking.   

I would say what made me start feeling like I really needed a break from it was that I recognized maybe not altogether consciously that I needed some real connection and interaction.  I wanted someone to come over and hang out, have some tea, and chat.  And so Facebook was actually becoming frustrating because it just wasn't a suitable substitute for the real thing.  

Lately I have been thinking again about my decision to be a stay-at-home mom and admitting to myself that even though I am more of an introvert, I do need almost daily some kind of physical, stimulating interaction with the world.  My old Saturday teaching job (which got so intensely boring and stressful after a while) would have me back but I don't really want to go back.  Do I go in search of another type of job? Where?  Will getting a job do the trick?  How can I get what I need while continuing to do the kind of hands-on mothering I want to do?  Maybe I should just hold off on any big decisions until the weather improves . . . 

I wish I could say that during my Facebook Lite period, I got tons of stuff done.  Lots of crochet and knitting, lots of reading, lots of writing.  Started to meditate again.  Something.  It was good to see that at least it wasn't Facebook keeping me from doing those things.  (It's mainly my 16 month old, my 6 year old and my 8 year old.)

So I am back on Facebook but the compulsive need to check it has vanished.  I go on once a day and that's that. The break helped me understand on a visceral level that Facebook cannot adequately fulfill my need.  There's no need to get mad at folks for posting their breakfast, lunch and dinner--that's kind of what Facebook is about.  You can see the meal but you don't actually share it even if you click the share button.

I did realize that Facebook is beneficial in some ways.  I do get a lot of my news there (like the news that one of my favorite poets Amiri Baraka passed--no one in my real life would have mentioned that or really cared).  And I find interesting articles and tips that I would never come across without Facebook.  So no, I won't be canceling my account anytime soon.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Continuing Education

It's my opinion, and many others agree, that learning should be a lifelong endeavor.  We need to learn in order to grow and evolve.  In order to become better versions of ourselves.  

Podcasts are a phenomenal method that I have discovered for continuing my education.  I often talk about the podcasts I listen to and I'm surprised at how many folks have no idea what they are or haven't the faintest idea about how to access them.  There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts available in every genre but folks don't know they exist or how to get them.  So I thought that today, I'd do a little primer on accessing and listening to podcasts.

For the longest time,  I accessed podcasts through iTunes. Basically, I opened up iTunes, navigated to the iTunes Store and browsed podcasts.  You can browse by category or you can search for specific podcasts.  Once you find a podcast you like, you have a few options.  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes and iTunes will automatically download the newest episodes onto your computer.  Once subscribed to a podcast you can then download previous episodes.   For the longest time, this is how I listened to podcasts.  I would download them to my computer and then sync them to my iPod.  Sometimes, I would listen to them directly from my computer but the portability of the iPod is unbeatable.  Another option is to just listen to the podcast episode that you are interested in right at the iTunes store (and avoid downloading it) or download just the episodes you'd like to hear. 

But downloading podcasts can start to eat up a lot of the space on your computer limiting how many podcast you may want to download.  Of course, you can always manually delete a podcast after you've listened to it or transferred it to your iPod or other listening device.  But in our busy world, sometimes those extra steps can be a deterrent.  Sometimes, I literally don't have the time to sit down, plug in and sync my iPod and delete stuff.  

Recently, the way I listen to podcasts has changed dramatically: I got a smart phone.  I know I am a johnny-come-lately to the world of phones that have access to the internet and Wi-Fi but I'm glad to finally have gotten on the boat.  My phone is a basic android phone and while it can be frustrating at times with how slowly it moves, one of the best things about it is a free app I downloaded called Beyond Pod which despite how basic my phone is, runs flawlessly.  It rarely shuts down or stutters--unlike some other podcast playing apps I had previously downloaded.  Beyond Pod is just an amazing, good looking podcast player app that allows you to do some cool things with your podcasts.  You can subscribe to the podcasts you like right from your phone and using your Wi-Fi (or other internet) connection, you can stream the episodes and listen to them directly from your phone. You can create categories for your podcast then add them to a playlist. Adding them to the playlist allows you to listen to your podcasts back to back continuously.  Every so often, I go in a build a playlist of the podcast episodes I want to listen to and don't have to really think about it again until every episode in the playlist has played.  I set it so it automatically deletes podcasts in the playlist to which I have already listened.  In this way, I keep up to date with the podcasts I love and never have to download anything or plug anything in to sync it.  

As a busy mom, it's sometimes challenging to fit everything all in.  I don't get to read books as much as I'd like to.  In fact, I just returned a stack of books I wanted to read to the library.  I had put a whole bunch of stuff on hold and they all came in at the same time (of course--it's feast or famine when it comes to ordering books at the library) and I know that while in my pre-child days I would have been able to knock out all those books in the 6 weeks I would have, I know now it's just not realistic.  And honestly, looking at that stack of books was stressful! So I just returned them.  It's also difficult to attend classes and workshops.  It's even a challenge to attend online conferences, seminars and workshops such as Sean Croxton's Real Food Con and the series of amazing online conferences put together and hosted by Intense High. (Luckily, it's possible to purchase the audio for these conferences and listen to them later.)  

Podcasts are an awesome way to keep up on learning about pretty much any topic that appeals to you.   They are a convenient and free means to continue your education.  And many of the podcasts I have found are done by real movers and shakers in their fields. These are professional folks offering their advice and experience.  This is quality information completely for free.  

So here's a list of the podcasts to which I subscribe.  I am looking at my feeds list right in the Beyond Pod Feed window and this is what I see.  

Categorized under Health

  • Balanced Bites (by Liz Wolfe of CaveGirl Eats and Diane SanFillipo, the author of Practical Paleo and the 21 Day Sugar Detox--I've been listening to this podcast since the first episode)
  • Latest in Paleo
  • Revolution Health Radio (Chris Kresser's podcast and another one I've been listening to since the beginning)
  • The Model Health Show (Shawn Stevenson's podcast and a great podcast especially for folks just beginning on their health journey.  A lot of the material here is review for me but I've also learned a few new and important things.)
  • The Paleo View [Stacy Toth's (author of Eat Like a Dinosaur and 1/2 of the Paleo Parents) and Sarah Ballantyne (who blogs at The Paleo Mom)--I love the information found on this podcast but I find it too chatty and too long--I can read the transcripts of their shows right on my phone using Beyond Pod).
  • Underground Wellness (Sean Croxton's podcast which is a jewel of a podcast--I can't say enough about it)

Categorized under Education

  • Busy Mom's Survival Guide (a wonderful podcast--I went back and listened to every single episode right on my phone with Beyond Pod)
  • Stuff You Should Know (this one is good even for the children sometimes--we've listened to podcasts on why the earth must rotate, samurai, ninja and the sun)
  • A Way with Words
  • Savvy Homeschool Moms (an *excellent* resource for homeschooling)
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class
  • TEDTalks

Categorized under Entertainment

  • NPR Snap Judgment (I recently discovered this one and I enjoy it)
  • This American Life (one of my absolute favorites)
I feel like I learn a great deal from all these podcasts--even the entertainment ones.  

I hope this post demystifies podcasts and encourages you to discover them for yourself.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thrift Store Scores

Two pairs of Hanna Anderson organic cotton pajamas, size 7/8, excellent condition for my eldest son. These pajamas retail at anywhere from $30-$42 each.  I snagged them for $3 a pop. In addition, I got a pair of fleecy, warm pajamas for him so now he is all set with pajamas.   

I also got a pretty flyy hoodie for myself.  Warm and comfortable but still a bit stylish.  

And a novel: This Much I Know by Wally Lamb which I've had on my list to read for ages. 

All told, a $20 endeavor.  Not bad at all.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Back at the gym.


Today was my first day back at the gym after being out for over a year.  Of course, I had good reason to have been absent but I am a bit surprised it took so long to get back.  I honestly thought that I would have achieved enough balance long before now to have been returned to the gym for six months already.  I guess I underestimated how much a new little one can turn you life topsy turvy.  In any case, I am so thrilled to be back at the gym.  I tried my hardest to work out at home but I realize that even with my best effort, I couldn't make it happen.  There were far too many distractions (dishes, laundry, e-mail, Facebook) and disruptions (children) and I realized I needed to just get out of the house and get into a zone if I was going to make it happen.

I felt a lot of trepidation about returning, though.  I knew I had lost a lot of strength and today I showed just how much.  I found squatting with just the empty Olympic bar to be plenty (when I left off, I was squatting 115 pounds).  I struggled to do push ups (and ended up doing modified ones).  And truth be told, I was also nervous about seeing folks that I had been working out around pre-pregnancy.  I'm a good twenty-five pounds heavier now than I was then.  Twenty-five?  Sheesh.  

I am doing the New Rules of Lifting (you will recall I completed the New Rules of Lifting for Women in 2011).  The program I am doing from that book is called "Man of Constant Obligation" and requires just two lifting sessions a week.  I found today's workout to be good but not quite enough.  I suppose it was a good workout though if the fire in my thighs is any indication.  But, I felt like I still had a lot more in the tank especially in regards to my upper body.  So, I am thinking about redoing New Rules of Lifting for Women although Lou Schuler has a new book, New Rules of Lifting Supercharged (basically an update to the original) which a friend of mine highly recommends.  Truth be told, after putting out $200 to join the gym for the year and another $125 to replace my glasses (which Z3 got a hold of), I don't want to put out any more money just now.  And they don't have the book at the library.  So I am trying to make what I have work.  I also have the Lift Like a Girl Program that I purchased some time ago so I may give that another look.   

I have a lot of work to do and it's a little bit daunting.  I have a lot of strength I need to gain back just so that I can even peek at my pre-pregnancy fitness goals (I cannot even do one chin-up now never mind the goal of 10 that I had).  And I have a lot of weight to lose. Last time, I did it on Weight Watchers and every so often, I am tempted to rejoin.  But losing weight that way wasn't sustainable and was neurotic.  I want to enjoy life and eating.  But even at that, I really don't have a handle on my eating:  way too much grazing and far, far too many sweets.  Daily sweets.  Multi-daily sweets.  (Hush yo mouth.)  So maybe I will rejoin Weight Watchers just for a time to get a better picture of the situation.  Overall, though, my goal is to keep my milk supply up for Z3 so maybe all serious weight loss attempts will have to get pushed back until after she weans.   And I am not rushing her at all. My goal is to exercise regularly for my psychological and physical health. 

They have completely remodeled the gym and it looks great.  Hopefully, it'll be warm in the winter (it used to be an icebox in winter) and cool in the summer (it used to be a sauna in the summer).  They still don't have kettle bells which is a bummer but they do have lots of punching bags so I may invest in boxing gloves. I have no idea where the balance balls, medicine balls and exercise mats went.  And they have rowing machines now but they do not seem to work and seem perilously close to some sheetrock looking stuff.  Oh, and on Wednesdays, there is a 5:30 AM kickboxing class.  I am 98% sure I will join it next week.  My goal is to lift on Monday and Friday and do the kickboxing class on Wednesdays.  If I can get yoga in on any of the other days, that would be really amazing but I am trying to balance my sleep needs with my fitness needs.  I don't want to sacrifice sleep in any way because that will sabotage all my goals in the end.  

Overall,  it was awesme to return to the gym today and I am looking forward to Thursday.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bringing the Volume Down

Some time ago, I came across this article, which I found to be a bit smug but had some good points.

I have always been conscious of yelling and always have known it's deleterious effects.  Before I had children, I never would have imagined myself as a yeller.  But three children later, sad to say, I tend to be.  Not all the time.  But lately, a lot of the time. And I can easily identify bullet #1 (you aren't taking care of yourself) and bullet #6 (you needlessly enter power struggles) as the reasons for my yelling.

This month I am committed to bringing the volume down.

I never feel guilty about taking care of myself, truth be told.  The issue is time and money.  That is, not enough time or money to do those things that I enjoy.  My yelling usually happens around bedtime and by that time, I am so drained and exhausted that I just want and need cooperation.  Which I rarely get.  I know that had I had 2 or 3 hours in the day to just be me, I would be a lot more patient and have more energy.  Maybe even be playful.  I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to go about getting myself more of what I need but I think it's a good first step to at least recognize the need.

And the power struggles.  I won't lie:  my two sons team up on me.  Then know how to push my buttons and if I'm not in the right frame of mind, they succeed fabulously.  If you look at Bullet #6,  I am actually good at point A(making eye contact and stating limits clearly) and B (giving simple choices).  But in the midst of the maelstrom, I often forget to acknowledge their feelings (point C) and I often don't have the energy or I have my hands too full to physically move them along (point D).  So I get frustrated and I yell.

One concrete thing I am doing this month is to cut out television after dinner.  My children are usually allowed one show after dinner and they are supposed to be done by 8.  During that time, I try to sit down and have a cup of tea and check Facebook or read articles and blogs.  So that time usually spills over into 8:15 or so and then we are rushing to try to get teeth brushed and books read by 9.   I am hoping that by restructuring our evening (which takes away my tea time) we will have a quieter pre-bed experience.  One that ends earlier and with less stress which will afford me more time to myself. Maybe.

My ultimate and dearest goal is to have a peaceful household where everyone feels safe and respected. Yelling undermines this goal tremendously and so I am very excited about changing that pattern.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Can an Omnivore and a Vegetarian Get Along?

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while and I'm excited to finally be able to do it.

I made a radical change to my diet a little over two years ago when I decided to become omnivorous again.  It was a difficult decision for many reasons but one reason especially stood out and that was the fact that at the time, my husband was a strict vegetarian.  He was not comfortable with my transition and it certainly caused a lot of tension within our household.  Our diets, we both thought at the time, were polar opposites.  How could we coexist?

Well, we are in a committed relationship that means we were committed to finding a way to live harmoniously with each other.  Since I am the one who cooks 99% of the meals, a great deal of how we were going to find a way to live peaceably fell up on my shoulders.

I believe that most of the discord we feel with those around us stems from the fact that we are focused on our differences and not our similarities.  This can be said in almost all situations where we regard another as totally opposite from us.  We are choosing to focus on the differences.  And I realized that I was doing just that.

So in order to restore harmony to our household, I made a conscious decision to focus on the things we had in common: vegetables and fruits, starches, fats, sweets, and ferments.

Vegetables and Fruits
Folks who eat a vegetarian diet and folks who eat a paleo diet both agree that plant matter is an integral part of a healthy diet.  This is a perfect area to focus on when trying to find commonality.  Every meal our family shares includes vegetables prepared in a way that everyone can enjoy it.  It's a beautiful opportunity to try new vegetables and to make vegetables in new and innovative ways.  There are all kinds of salads that we have tried.  New smoothie recipes that we have tried.  We've had to expand our horizons when it comes to vegetables and fruits and it's led to some beautiful discoveries.

As I don't eat rice or white potatoes, we've had the chance to incorporate many new kinds of starches including plantain, various types of yams and squashes, and breadfruit.  We've learned to eat cauliflower as rice and we've learned to use zucchini as pasta.

I think one of the easiest places to find commonality was fats.  As soon as it became clear that most of the fats we had been eating were not up to par, it was simple to switch.  No more canola, soy, or other vegetable oil for cooking.  We switched to coconut oil and red palm oil for cooking and we use only high quality, organic extra virgin olive oil from reputable sauces for drizzling over already cooked foods.  And we started eating avocado very liberally.  We also started to incorporate a little bit of grass fed, full fat dairy into our diets in the form of ghee (which I make in the slow cooker) and yogurt (which I also make).

I love to bake and this was very challenging indeed because most of the grain-free baked goods made with coconut flour or almond flour required eggs.  Initially, I was discouraged and gave up on being able to bake things the whole family could enjoy.  I was reluctantly baking grain free goodies and their corresponding vegan goodies.  It was exhausting.  But I have been able to find recipes for goodies that are both vegan and grain free.  I regularly check Elana's Pantry (her chocolate chip cookies, breakfast bars and raspberry streudel bars are a big hit here).  I've come up with good recipes for grain free and vegan pies. And I have found that many recipes for raw desserts work perfectly in both of our diets.  One case in point is an ice cream recipe my good sister friend shared with me.  It's got a simple ingredient list (cashews, water, maple syrup, vanilla and coconut cream) with hundreds of variations.   There's also my favorite dairy-free chocolate pudding.  A sprinkle of coconut flakes over that pudding makes for a decadent dessert experience.  It's also really good chilled in a grain free crust.

This has been most exciting for us.  I had been making yogurt for a while (with soy milk and then later with dairy milk) but recently, the hubby got interested in making kombucha.  He grew his own scoby and has been making it for almost a year now.  And it's wonderful.  The whole family--even the baby--enjoys it.  There are other ferment that we have tried to make such as sauerkraut and fermented carrots. It's fun experimenting and we all reap the benefits of fermented foods in our diets.  I am hoping to try some more ferments in the future.

So there it is. Oh, we still bump heads from time to time over dietary stuff.  And I still cook a lot (and I mean a lot).  But by focusing on what goals we have in common, preparing and eating food has become a much more pleasant and peaceful experience.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 2013-2014 School Year

The more I learn about learning, the more I've learned that knowing where to find information when you need it is far more important that memorizing things. And that REAL learning is not a thing you do, but an experience you have.
-Elliott Hulse

I'm a little ashamed to admit it.  Last year, homeschooling was hard.  I mean, really difficult.  Every day was a fight to get my children to do what work was on the schedule for the day.  And sometimes the fighting got ugly.  There were showdowns.  Tears.  Screaming.  Whimpering.  By the children and by me.  

What went wrong?  Before the beginning of last year, I decided to really start doing a better job of planning.  I had been listening to other homeschoolers through podcasts and YouTube, reading blogs and I decided that what we needed was more structure and more planning.  I bought a plan book like a real teacher and instead of writing down (in a cute little spiral notebook) what we did after it was done as I had been doing, I started to try to foresee the future and write down what we would be doing.  This was disastrous.  

I felt pressure to complete what I had written down for the day (even though I was the one who wrote it down).  And, in turn, I really pressured my children.  In my mind, I guess I thought I was doing a good thing.  Getting things done.  But what I ended up doing was damaging my relationship with my children and stripping away their love of learning.  And I felt awful about it.  But I also felt that in all of that frenzy, we really accomplished nothing.  

So when July came around and other homeschoolers started gearing up excitedly for the new school year, all I felt was serious apprehension.  The way our homeschool had run in the last year was not the way.  I couldn't even imagine another year of that kind of hell.  Something had to fundamentally change.  But I wasn't sure what.  

I think whenever a homeschooler comes to this place, they will be given two types of advice.  The first is that he/she should abandon all curricula and embrace unschooling.  The other piece of advice is that the homeschooler should abandon homeschooling.  The difficulties are "proof" that it is not working.  But neither of those options resonated with me on a gut level.  Not at all.

And then, almost miraculously, two different blog posts were posted in my Facebook feed and I found myself nodding emphatically while reading both.

I realized that what I needed to do above all else was to re-articulate for myself what I hoped to achieve by homeschooling my children.  And to reassure myself that it was all right to abandon some curricula that just weren't working (even though I had already paid for them).  

Look, the fact of the matter is that I want my children to love learning and to be able to learn whatever it is they want to learn.  So my goal this year is simple: teach math and Language Arts (reading/writing) and let the other subjects come in naturally.  My modus operandi is "easy does it".  I don't intend to push anything else except 20 minutes of these core subjects (and lots of "pleasure" reading).  I hope to get lots of fun science and art projects in since my children really enjoy these things (but we rarely had time to fit them in last year).  But that's if they want to.  I'm excited to offer Latin, history, geography, typing, chess and other optional subjects.  

I have no idea if relaxing our homeschool this much will be a good thing or will work but what I am keeping foremost in my mind is that without enjoyment, no true learning can actually happen.  As a matter of fact, I believe that will be the theme of the 2013-2014 school year for our homeschool.  I am now willing and ready to drop anything that is tedious, drawn out, or boring.  There are many different ways to obtain knowledge and suffering is not one.  I've got a bin full of math and reading games and activities to switch to when our studies start to become just the least bit frustrating.  And I'm trusting my children to seek out other topics of interest that they would like to pursue.  To find projects on which they'd like to work.  I am putting more of their learning into their own hands.  It's an experiment, yes. But I feel excited about it.  And the sense of dread I had has cleared.  I have significantly pared down my list of "must-have" school books and the cost to start the new school year is well within the $100 range.  (My husband is thrilled about that.)  

We'll still keep up with our activities.  Karate, soccer, swimming and music.  I am working on a science cooperative with two other families as well.  

So this year, there's no long list of curricula.  I can tell you in a few lines what we'll be using:
Math-U-See Delta
Daily Word Problems Grade 4
First Language Lessons Level 3
Winning with Spelling Grade 4
Word Ladders Grade 4
Cursive Writing Joke and Riddles

Explode the Code Book 3 and 3 1/2
2nd grade spelling lists from SuperTeacher Worksheet
Handwriting Cursive
First Language Lessons Level 1
Singapore Math 2A and 2B
Daily Word Problems Grade 2

I would like Z1 to continue to practice cursive daily (short sentences not long, boring paragraphs) and I'd like Z2 to start learning to write cursive (he still reverses some of his letters).  "Required" subjects should not exceed an hour to an hour and a half.   And that's it.  

Sure, there are a lot of books on our shelves and I will be sure to leave them where they can see them.  I hope they pique their interest but if not, I'm fine with that.  There are a lot of things I would like to introduce to and teach my children but again, if they are not enjoying the process, they are not learning. And I am not really teaching.  So I'm going to leave it at that.  I'm going to leave us a lot of space to change and morph and do what works instead of what I "should" be doing.  I'm going to relax a lot.  

School officially starts this coming Monday.  My children are not excited but I am hoping that our new approach to things will generate more excitement as the days go on.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More reading please!

With Z3 being in my arms so much of the time, I literally have my hands full.  Not much crocheting or knitting has been going on.  And as annoying as that is, there is one huge benefit:  I have been able to do much more reading.  You only need one hand to read and sometimes if a book will lie flat, you can read hands free.  And there is no yarn to get tangled in small fingers or hooks to be snatched out of my hand and waved around furiously, triumphantly, and dangerously.  

Check me out on GoodReads where I keep track of the books I've been reading.  There have been some amazing books (like Chimamanda Adichie's Americanah and In Dependence by Sarah Ladipo Manyika) and there have been some serious disappointments (like Bernard Malamud's The Magic Barrel and David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls).  But I am really enjoying this uptick in my reading and savoring the good, the bad and the ugly.  I have been taking my selections of books to read from many different types of genres and types of authors.  There's been some good non-fiction in there but also some wild science fiction and fascinating memoirs.  I've gotten around to some authors that I've always wanted to read but never did till now (such as Flora Nwapa).

Currently, I am reading two books in earnest:  Hold on to Your Kids and Happiness Like Water. Sometimes it can be difficult to read two books at the same time but these ones work well together.  I read a chapter or two from the former and then one short story from the latter before turning in at night. I can often squeeze in a chapter from Hold on to Your Kids during the day which is great because it's a bigger book  than Happiness.  I have put quite a few books on the back burner though and I am not sure if I will get back to them.  One is The Friday Night Knitting Club (rather trite and boring) and the other is Brick by Brick: How Lego Rewrote the Rules of Innovation (this was only a 2 week loan from the library and I couldn't renew it so I only got about halfway and I am not sure if I will be able to finish it now that I have it again for two weeks . . . it's interesting but not so interesting that I would set aside the two books in which I'm really engaged).  If you check out GoodReads, you will find others that are on hold indefinitely.

I am pretty sure I won't be able to post in-depth book reviews as I once did on this blog, but if a book really moves me, I am sure to review it on GoodReads.  I will link my review here.

I'm always looking for amazing books to read.  Or just interesting/off the beaten path books.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Feeling the Light

I am in the room.  It is already very warm and I am feeling relaxed.  A wonderful LivingSocial deal has introduced me to this beautiful, well-lit, airy Bikram yoga studio.  Once a week since June I've shown up.  Ready to give it my all.  And ready for the amazing after-effect of calmness and serenity.  Typically, I'm one of the last to rise out of final relaxation (savasana).

There have been many teachers leading this 7:30 class on Sunday morning.  It's Bikram so thei instruction is pretty much scripted from the beginning of class to the end.  But some teachers bring a lightness with them and crack jokes or try to connect with those taking the class.  Some teachers speak entirely too fast or with thick accents which makes me grateful that I know the 26 pose sequence well enough that I am not lost.

On this particular day, I look through the glass wall behind me and try to figure out who the teacher for today's class will be. I start to suspect it is a woman of color.  My heart automatically leaps!  This has never happened before.  I've had young teachers, older teachers, men and women.  All White. Maybe one Latino man.  And now, not only is the teacher a woman, she's Black.  Hooray!  I'm excited about class and though she is not my favorite in terms of how she delivers instructions, I'm thrilled to have her leading the class.  Just like I'm thrilled when I see other black and brown faces amongst the sea of faces when I go to yoga.  There have been times when I have been the one and only.  And times when the other-ing that happens in those situations make it so that I never want to return.

I should have been floating on Cloud 9 for the entirety of the class but truth be told, I've been feeling really tired.  Worn down even.  Severe allergies.  'Round the clock nursing.  Life.  And in that mental space, it's easy for negative thoughts to start niggling at the edges of my brain.  I look at the yoga teacher: gorgeous, young, well-put-together, tight body, painted toe nails.  I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  And then promptly look away.  My eyes?  Bloodshot.  My hair? Forgot to brush it and far, far too many grays.  Clothes? Ill-fitting.  Feet?  Rough-looking and toenails haven't been painted in eons. Yes, I feel bad.

But in that room, I had no choice but to look at myself.  And that's a gift.   Because 90 minutes of staring at yourself in 104 degree temperatures, bending and stretching, envisioning oneself going deeper and deeper into postures, summoning total focus will surely soften everything. Open everything. Loosen everything up.  And by the time I sealed my practice and uttered my namaste, I felt purged and empowered.  I easily pushed those harsh sentiments about myself all the way back to the recesses of my mind. Maybe even out?  I easily started to focus on the blessings, counting them one by one and not just paying lip service to saluting the light in those around me but actually feeling the light.

Yoga means a lot of different things to people. And at that, it can mean many different things to one person.  It certainly means a lot to me.  Folks can say what they will about yoga, but it has been and remains an integral part of my physical and spiritual life and growth.

Lately, I have been wanting to write again . . .

Lately, I have been wanting to write again.  Badly.  It's a wonderful feeling actually.  I fancy myself a writer but for a very long time, I have felt no inspiration.  No new stories have come to me.  And the stories that I started have stagnated.  And, obviously, even my blogging has been nonexistent as I often lack the energy/time/ideas to write. So I am excited that I feel driven to write again and I hope the feeling stays with me.
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