homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

What books are good for

When the weather is yucky and everyone is sick, sometimes it's nice to hit the bookshelves and...
construct a "train track".




Woo woo!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Welcome snow!

First we had flurries that didn't stick. But we caught flakes on our tongues and had fun anyway.

Then it snowed for real.

And we remembered why we bought such hilly property!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gifts for geeks

Signals rocks! They have witty stuff! I want it!

Of course they also kinda suck because I can't grab their images to post here for your viewing pleasure. So you'll either have to take my word for it, or actually visit their site. Sneaky.

My favorite items:
Chemistry shirt
Pi plate
and finally,
English Major shirt
because, well...I was. And hubby majored in math. Could that be more perfect? :p

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Place for Smiles

'Tis the season for heartstring-yanking commercials. Some of them are classics that air year after year. You know the ones: the coffee commercial with the college-aged son home early to surprise the family, Ronald McDonald ice skating on a pond with a bunch of kids... Especially for people of my generation, these ads can evoke as much nostalgia as the actual Christmas specials.

Or eye-rolling dread. Frankly, I'm sick of the coffee kid. But whatever.

For those of us in the Pittsburgh region, it just isn't Christmas until this little classic airs. For those of you from Places Beyond, this commercial for a local restaurant chain has been airing for a gazillion years and damn it, I still get teary-eyed the first time I see it every season.



Happy Holiday season, everyone!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We don't need no fancy learnin' toys!

Two recent "hey Mom, look!" moments...

Counting berries on the neighbor's deck steps

Making shapes with lunch

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Applying language

Cayden has a small, but growing, vocabulary. And he's starting to apply it in the theoretical. That is, instead of just pointing/grunting at unfamiliar objects, he is starting to use existing known words to represent new things. What a neat phase in language development this is; I'd forgotten just how much I love it.

Right now the word he's testing out is "nest". With all of the leaves gone from the trees and many of the birds departed for southern climates, we are finding a lot of nests on our walks. I've been showing them to the boys--up close, in a few cases. We found a robin's nest with two "dud" eggs still inside, and tore down a bluejay nest from the neighbor's porch overhang (oh, and for the record: dang--bluejays are sloppy nest makers!).

Anyway.

He's making connections. My sister-in-law has a grapevine wreath with a raffia bow hanging in her front hallway. It's a nest. One of his picture books has a photo of a goat eating some grass. Nest. Hay bale at the farm? You guessed it.

I am getting such a kick out of this. It's a huge cognitive shift, from learning labels to assigning them on his own. This is the time when you look at your kid anew and say, "Man, you're really clever!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Keep on rollin'

Okay, here's another wacky idea from my mental complaint list. Feel free to claim it as your own if you have the energy to apply for the patent. I won't mind.

Maybe in other parts of the country, this might sound insane. But here in Pennsylvania, the world is decidedly NOT flat. Even the most over-landscaped of flat parking lots are not flat. We can't help it. It's hilly country.

It's also a pain in the butt to juggle two kids and unload an entire shopping cart full of groceries, usually with one hand (see: kids), while the cart is slowly (or rapidly, even more fun!) rolling AWAY from your car. So you try to stick your foot under one wheel to kind of jam it in place, but you know--you don't have a wide range of movement with your foot stuck under the cart. So, what to do? Hold the cart and throw the groceries?

It just isn't graceful.

You know, strollers have had those nice wheel-brakes on them for what? Millennia, now? You know what I'm talking about...you stomp on the little foot lever thingy and the stroller doesn't scoot out from under you as you're trying to un/load your kid.

So come on, why not carts? They have small wheels, too, and it's not a complicated design. And man, would it come in handy.

Someone make this for me, please?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Reason Number Eleventy Billion Why I Love This Kid

Optimism.

Oh sure, to some extent all kids have a more optimistic outlook than most adults. But I was pretty easily frustrated even as a kid. My eldest stepson is the same way. If we don't excel on the first try, well, it was a stupid idea to start with and we hate everyone.

A few days ago we were at a playground, kicking around a soccer ball. My four-year announced that he was going to kick it a certain distance. (No, not "X feet"...more like, "to that tree") He got a nice running start and kicked it with all of his tiny little might.

It fell significantly short.

While I took a breath to give him the ol' "nice try", he chased the ball and kicked it again. And shouted with great joy, "See! I did it! It only took me TWO KICKS and I thought it would take THREE!"

Now there's a kid who knows how to break a difficult task into achievable steps.

Or maybe he just isn't holding himself to some rigid (even self-imposed, which I can tell you is sometimes far worse!) standard.

Yay Theo. I love you, buddy!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween photos

I know you've been waiting! :p

Here's a very unhappy Buzz Lightyear. What can I say? The child hates too many accessories.

Here's a much happier, stripped-down version, in action.

We also had a "bat" man in our candy-seeking entourage.

After a few years of me making complicated costumes that didn't get worn, I was a little gunshy about putting our 18-month-old in anything more unusual than sweats, so this worked well. However, I probably needn't have worried. Here he is, playing with last year's Costume That Wasn't.

I'm so thrilled that someone liked it! Maybe next year?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

No mere mortal can resist

Holidays are a time for reminiscing. On Thanksgiving, you might recall Great-Aunt Whoever's famous cranberry relish. Easter might perhaps find you telling stories of The Year We Found The Nest of Baby Rabbits*, or maybe at Christmas time you get all misty-eyed thinking of the magic of your childhood.

Or, if you're a child of my generation, maybe at Halloween you log on to YouTube and force your 11 year old stepson to watch the full version of Michael Jackson's Thriller with you. And then he gives you that lovely blank "what planet is she from, this is the most boring piece of crap I've ever seen" look.

Sigh.

I still think it's a classic. And I still think that these people are cool. Brian and Sandy Lundmark became international Internet stars by dancing to Thriller at their wedding reception. Heck, all we did was crack ourselves up trying to dance to ABBA's "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do".

But I digress.

Come on...line-dancing zombies and an homage to mid-20th-century horror films. How can you not love that?


*Oh, and just for the record, it was actually The Year The Cat Found The Nest of Baby Rabbits and Slowly Ate Them on The Front Sidewalk and Totally Grossed Us Out...but that's another story.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hide and Seek

Theo's been having fun with I Spy books for a few months. I have, too. It's a game that really isn't age-specific, and it can be a fun way to pass the time, especially on a rainy day like today.

Last week we received a promotional copy of a HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN magazine, and Theo fell in love with the Hidden Pictures. Since I am both cheap frugal and all about instant gratification, I Googled and sure enough, found more fun for free! Not only can you print hidden-picture pages, but they have a large selection of interactive ones as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Time for a little self-love

No, not that kind.

October 18 is 2007's "Love Your Body" day. If real change happens when people act locally, acting on a personal level is a great place to start. We can sit around and complain about media assaults on body image and self-esteem, or we can look a little closer at our own actions, feelings, and attitudes.

How often do you bond with girlfriends by bitching about your weight, or make embarrassed excuses at parties for taking second helpings, or think to yourself If I could just lose X pounds, he'll love me/I'll be more popular/life will be grand? Have you not forgiven yourself for not looking the same as, or better than, you did before the baby? Is your self-worth tied to the size tag on your jeans?

Honey, it's not worth it! Not only does negative thinking make you feel and come across as unpleasant and a bit depressing, but life is to be lived. Now. Not five, or fifteen, or fifty pounds from now.

Here are some great resources, and food for thought.

Shape of a Mother - a website for sharing, and demystifying, the post-pregnancy changes to women's bodies.

Jessica Weiner - a self-described "actionist" whose message includes the admonition to stop talking the Language of Fat.

The Good Body - a book of frank, personal, and often poignant essays dealing with self image as it relates to physical appearance.

Also, to celebrate the day and the beautiful variety of shapes and sizes and weights of women, a quote I just love:
"...confidence...is very sexy. I believe it's better to be with a woman who has a big butt but thinks it's a small butt than a woman with a small butt who thinks it's big."
Tom Arnold, "How I Lost 5 Pounds in 6 Years"

Speaking of body image, I saw a T-shirt in the infant and toddler department recently. Lovely little pink thing with sparkly letters, which spelled out: "Does this diaper make my butt look big?" It was funny, but then...it wasn't.

Go look in a mirror. And if you can't bring yourself to smile, at least try not to frown. It's a step.

Friday, October 12, 2007

He won! He won!

Yup, Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Here's the email that was sent to supporters:

I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis--a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.

My wife, Tipper, and I will donate 100 percent of the proceeds of the award to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis.

Thank you,

Al Gore

I'm off to read the articles...

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Why this will not become a knitting blog

I enjoy knitting--from the first calling of the yarn to the meditative process to the final bind-off. I'm fascinated by what others can do. I love watching a project come together.

But, I often get frustrated and shelve projects. Sometimes indefinitely. It's difficult for me to knit at all with two very busy little guys, especially when the youngest has the kitten-like notion that I'm dangling all of that yummy yarn just for his amusement and that I want him to grab it and pull/run/etc.

Also, I tend to download, photocopy, or otherwise obtain patterns and neglect to write down the source. I've noticed that it's good knitblog etiquette to reveal your source: after all, readers may think, "I must knit this! Where can I find the pattern?"

So, um, I'm a lazy knitter. So what. I enjoy it. And after a long and sometimes hair-pulling time, I have finally finished my first sweater...a gift for my babygirl niece. Yay me!


Nope, sorry. I have no idea who designed it. It came from a library book...best I can do.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Learning everywhere

"Look, Mom! I made a T!!"


Attaboy!

Now, um...let's eat this before it gets stomped into the carpet, shall we?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Paint!

Painting has always been one of Theo's favorite pastimes. I picked up some new paints this week as a treat for him...and we took the easel outside to enjoy the weather.

It all started well. Two sides, two boys, plenty of supplies. Wonderful activity.


Cayden showed some impressive initiative and resourcefulness. He was having trouble reaching high enough, so he found something to stand on. (Yes, he did this himself. Smart boy!)


Of course, paper only holds limited interest for true artists. It wasn't long before we were painting the equipment...


...and ourselves.


Ah well. It was water-washable. Thank you, Crayola! I'll save those fancy art-store paints for another day. Like 20 years or so from now.

And, as a follow-up to an earlier post, may I present one of the day's masterpieces.


This was done completely without prompting...and, as you'll note from the letter order, completely without help. I'm incredibly proud of those two facts. (And, obviously, these two boys!)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Speaking of putting pen to paper...

Theo has made "T"s forever. Once I showed him how and explained that "T is for Theo", he really grasped on to it. Well, kinda. He draws the letter and identifies it everywhere, but would also say, "This T is for Daddy"...so I think he kind of figured "for" in the sense of ownership and not in the sense of "symbol representing a phoneme". (Ugh, speaking of phonemes, I haven't even begun to explain TH to him!) He also knew how to draw and identify "O", but the interest and understanding were about the same.

Over the past few weeks, however, he has shown a growing interest in letters--especially where names are concerned. When I wrote his name in sidewalk chalk recently, he asked about the other letters and I helped him learn to make them.

A week ago, we made a craft project at the library and without prompting, he wrote his name on it. The letters don't appear in a left-to-right sequence...more like a floating conglomeration, but they are all there and they are all identifiable.

This week, he is asking about other letters. He is making letters using popcorn, string, sand...whatever he has at hand. He started playing with a cool Fisher Price gizmo for building words (using examples to copy and match). And today he attempted to sing the alphabet song for the first time.

As with most things he's done, this is almost entirely child-led. And I am so excited! It's one thing to sit a kid down and say, "Okay, I'm going to teach this to you now." It's another thing entirely to watch the interest light up their eyes and be there to help them discover things that they want to explore.

Cool.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Milestone!

Theo's not much for drawing. Most of the time, his idea of fun is to hand a crayon to someone else and dictate what we are to draw for him.

Smart kid. Knows how to delegate.

About three weeks ago, he suddenly started producing his first drawings of people. It was a simple formula: giant circle, eyes and mouth, and two long legs...inside the circle. Interesting, and consistent over many, many samples.

This past week, he handed me a picture he'd drawn of me. Little round head with facial features, long legs (outside the head, now), long arms, fingers and toes, and hair.

It tickles me to no end just how quickly he progressed.

Alas, no pictures to truly illustrate this story, as the scanner is on the fritz. (Actually, it's on the floor, awaiting repair and serving in the meantime as a chair/stepstool for Small People Who Don't Understand "keep off of that!!")

Saturday, September 29, 2007

FO: Dogs

I sewed a dog for nephew Charlie's birthday.


Charlie is 5 weeks or so older than Theo, and spent the entire day stressing how he is FOUR but Theo is ONLY THREE. Poor Theo!

When I was shopping for the fabric to make Charlie's dog, Theo pulled a bolt from the rack and said, "Will you make me a dog too, Mom? You could make it with this! I think that's a great idea!!" I tried to steer him toward something a little more neutral, but he wouldn't be budged. So may I present to you...THE PUMPKIN DOG!!


Eh, he loves it. That's all that's important, right? image

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Along those same lines...

How about this satirical article from The Onion?

Like yesterday's link, it speaks to the disillusioned part of me. Me, who loved school, who loves learning, who enjoyed my Fine Arts major...but then discovered that I'd been graduated with little in the way of real-world skills. After spending a lifetime being fed (and believing) the notion that a college degree was necessary for career success, I still sometimes feel a bit cheated.

Don't get me wrong; I don't regret my education, or my degree. I appreciate and celebrate the notion of the Renaissance Man. But if what a student seeks is marketable job skills, why are we still requiring the well-rounded schedule of core classes that are common to all majors? Doesn't a more exclusively focused curriculum make more sense? (Oh my--the technical schools got it right, after all!!)

Sigh.

I love the notion expressed in this lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, where he suggests that most of education's structure seems best suited to producing college professors.

Given that that was exactly my original goal, I should admit that perhaps my own path was not so far off the mark. So there is that. Hm.

Regardless, please do watch the lecture. It's really more about how the educational system more often than not stifles creative thought and expression. Yeah, yeah, it's been said before...but it's always worth listening to new voices.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yeah, that!

Go read this blog entry, for a little common sense I need not paraphrase. :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Field trips

It's been a busy few weeks! First, I took the little boys to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium with my sister, her hubby, and their two daughters. Big fun was had by all; although the trip really underscored for me the vast differences in parenting styles. Nearly everyone there was practically dragging their kids from one exhibit to the next because they wanted to see everything or were on a tight schedule. Me? I let my kids just park themselves in front of the orangutans and stare...and stare....and stare...

This past week, my eldest stepson had a birthday. I called Grandma in for babysitting duty for the little guys and kept both older boys home from school for a day of "educational field trip". The three of us went to the Carnegie Science Center. We toured the submarine USS Requin, and then went nuts playing with everything at the science center.

We ended the day at UPMC SportsWorks, where we climbed rock walls and played virtual volleyball and did all sorts of science and physics demonstrations that made us all yell, "Cool!" :)


But for all of the planned excursions, I have learned yet again that the best moments are the spontaneous ones. Best field trip of the week? Shopping with Mom and taking a half-hour detour to watch the machines at a construction site.


See? That's what this site's title and philosophy is all about. Those little moments that are so big. Nothing planned, nothing extravagant. Just the wonder all around you. Isn't the world a terrific place sometimes?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

School daze, part 2

Okay, so I say we're going to be eclectic in our approach to learning, with a strong leaning toward unstructured. But, as mentioned in the previous post, I'm also the sort of person who thrives on at least a general sense of structure.

Here comes my confession:

I loved school.

I know! Aren't I such a hypocrite?! This mere notion is going to be the inspiration for countless future posts and journal entries. Knowing that, I won't bother going into too much justification or reasoning right now. I will, however, use it as a springboard to say that regardless of whether any, all, or none of the children in this house are attending school, I will continue to see September as a time of beginning. Like spring, it is the natural time for me to consider making resolutions. Like Christmas, my eyes light up at the prospect of store displays full of crisp new notebooks and collections of multicolored pencils and pens.

The cynic in me might suggest brainwashing, but I know it's just an emotional connection. So whether you school, school-at-home, or consider school a dirty word...go treat yourself to some new office or craft supplies and start something. It just feels right to me.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

School daze, part 1

This is the time of year that I get to feel a little sheepish. I'm certain that I don't want my little ones in school. But, oh wait--they aren't the only kids in the house. They have two older half-brothers, who have just completed their first week of school.

So I get to feel all conflicted and guilty and defensive and stuff. Why treat them differently? Oh, there are many reasons...the others are already acclimated to school. One of them is even doing well. They have friends and activities. Blah, blah, blah. But mostly...they are my stepsons. And despite the fact that they are with me more than both of their biological parents, the fact remains that, well, I'm not their biological parent. There's more resistance there...a bit more mistrust...a bit more hesitation on my part...and of course, a truckload of relatives who have much stronger ideas about the whole thing than I do.

And frankly, I don't know if I *could* homeschool the older ones. Nor am I sure that I would want to. Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite, but at least I am an honest one.

But hey--I just found a new Yahoo! group for parents who don't homeschool all members of their brood. So it's been done, and the respective gods of public school and unschooling won't be smiting me. Or at least not only me.

There's another other interesting thing that has left me feeling conflicted this week. I'm glad that the big kids are back in school. Not because I don't want them around (although it is often easier to run errands with two rather than four, but I digress). No, it's more a matter of me feeling more grounded in a day with at least a loose schedule. I know...how can I be so attracted to unstructured time and unschooling learning and say such a thing? (I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm a Virgo.) I like having the freedom to choose what we'll do and when...but I like the framework of "so-and-so leaves at this time, so-and-so gets home at this other time, and dinner will be at X o'clock" to kind of keep some sense of order. I should probably go do a personal journaling thingy on this theme...it's kind of a commentary on my personality, and I'm all about introspection.

Anyway.

I apologize for the dearth of new posts recently. The little guys are keeping me extremely busy. The baby in particular has not wanted to sleep much, and Murphy's Law of mothers and computers seems to dictate that any time Mom finds a few minutes to try to frantically key in a few thoughts, someone (or for extra fun, two or more someones) will have an immediate and desperate need for attention. Sigh. Repeat...they will only be little once. They will only be little once...

Things we've learned lately? Cayden has a few new "words", he's picked up the open-palm "I don't know" shrug (which is SO damn cute, I loved it with Theo too), and he's learned to use the push-bike. Theo has learned to use a pedal-bike, he's rediscovered an interest in drawing and is starting his first attempts at people, and has acquired his first pet (a goldfish). I am learning that I hate the thought of documenting everything...or even trying to (see previous paragraph), and am therefore dreading the eventual necessity of dealing with all of PA's reporting regulations. Bah. I've been spending a lot of time online reading up, lurking on message boards, and asking questions. Which is also stressing me out. Let's face it, I won't have to deal with this for quite a few more years yet...but I'm a pre-emptive worrier (family trait, thanks Mom) and overplanner. Of course, the irony is that I'm all full of resentment about the eventual paperwork sucking the fun out of my kids' learning journey...and here I am letting my concerns about future hassles do exactly that, right now.

Repeat, again. They will only be little once. They will only be little once...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

We'll eat a lot of broccoli

Hey, kids! It's my birthday! I'm 34! I got kitchen stuff...both physical (new mixing bowls and cookie sheets) and service-related (the big kids made breakfast and cake). I'm going to go enjoy myself and save the longwinded posts for another day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Thoughts on learning

Who doesn't like a good quote about homeschooling? Or unschooling? Or, really, just learning--need we label it? From time to time, I come across little bits o' wisdom that resonate with my journey and developing philosophy. Whether or not these folks actually share the same views as me, I cannot claim. All I can say is that I found it worth noting.

Today's quote is from the recently much-lauded Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It touches on the question: what should we learn?

[agricultural] knowledge has vanished from our culture. We have also largely convinced ourselves it wasn't too important. Consider how Americans might respond to a proposal that agriculture was to become a mandatory subject in all schools, alongside reading and mathematics. A fair number of parents would get hot under the collar to see their kids' attention being pulled away from the essentials of grammar, the all-important trigonometry, to make room for down-on-the-farm stuff. The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving *away* from manual labor, and dirt--two undeniable ingredients of farming. It's good enough for us that somebody, somewhere, knows food production well enough to serve the rest of us with all we need to eat, each day of our lives.

If that is true, why isn't it good enough for someone else to know multiplication and the contents of the Bill of Rights? Is the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies? Couldn't one make a case for the relevance of a subject that informs choices we make *daily*--as in, "What's for dinner?
This speaks to me for several reasons.

First, one of my reasons for choosing alternative education is that, although I learned a lot academically during my schooling, I was very shocked to reach my adult years and realize that I didn't really know how to take care of myself. All of those years that I sat in my Advanced Placement ivory tower and scoffed at the "dumb" kids taking classes in home ec. and consumer math...and here I was with a degree and a good salary and I couldn't make myself dinner or balance my checkbook. In many ways, I was unprepared for life. What a slap in the face that was, after all of the conventional wisdom and propaganda. I did was I was supposed to...I focused on academics. And at the end of the day, sometimes I wish I had skipped that double-period of physics lab and read up on gardening instead.

Also, I want to provide my kids with that golden prize: context. Knowledge in a vacuum is just facts. I want my kids to have experience, context, and understanding...especially regarding the natural world. I hate that I have to really think to figure out whether the crescent moon is waxing or waning. I hate that I can only identify a few birdsongs out of the cacophony of voices in my backyard every morning. I hate that I only recently figured out why my broccoli never does well (I'm planting it WAY too late for our region).

I'd like for my kids to have a more familiar understanding of the world around them. I think it's especially important for them to know the origins (and destinations) of the things that they consume. Ignorance of these things makes for selfish consumers, and my dearest wish for them (besides happiness and health, naturally) is that they live ethically and responsibly...not because of any unquestioned law or social or religious guideline, but because they understand and respect their environment.




On an unrelated side note: check out my new widgety thingy, courtesy of LibraryThing! I've kept lists of the books I've read for years. Now I can show off publicly. (Or perhaps meet up with others who are reading the same titles and actually get to discuss them?!) Anyhoo, I started with the month of August and will build from there. Neat. You'll see that I read a pretty wide range of stuff, although from time to time some themes will emerge.

Heh. I remember a while back when everyone was all up in arms, worried about Big Brother tracking their library activity. My local librarians always know what I'm up to, because I'll check out a glut of knitting books or pattern drafting books or--gasp!--prenatal books. I'll never forget the day I picked up a half-dozen pregnancy books and the librarian stammered, "Um, forgive me for prying, but..." LOL. Yeah, I'm an open book.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Support your local farmers

Well, what a co-in-kee-dink. Right on the heels of my big disjoined food rambling, I was surfing and found out that it is National Famer's Market Week!

Despite the fact that--ahem--the USDA's site doesn't list ANY farmer's markets in my area, they do exist. There's a small weekly event about 4 miles from my house, and I stop by when I can to support the local economy. And, frankly, to buy goodies that my garden just isn't producing! In addition to some enormous ripe tomatoes (ours are all either stubbornly green or grape-sized) and the world's best peaches (our tree is not yet mature enough to produce more than a handful), I also recently snagged some early butternut squash for a soup I've been dying to try, and these cuties:

which are Pattypan squash. I have no idea what to do with them, but I couldn't resist. The vendor suggested slicing them, dipping them in batter, and frying them "like zucchini", but I have a feeling I can find something better.

A few other sites I've been browsing that are appropriate to the theme/week/cause/season:
http://www.eatlocalchallenge.com/
http://www.locavores.com/

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The long-overdue Food Post

Is it just me? Do you ever just get so daggone busy living your life that you don't have time to sit down and reflect on it, let alone record any passing thoughts? I feel like I spend all week mentally composing journal entries and essays and letters and blog posts and baby book entries, but if I can manage to find a pen and paper and jot down a grocery list, that's saying something. Golly, I have so much to share and I just can't seem to keep up.

This does not bode well for the bureaucratic aspect of my unschooling future. That is something that has also been weighing heavily on my mind, and will be vented in its own post...when I get around to it. (Or a round tuit. Which I do actually have, and hasn't helped thus far.)

Anyway, one of the things that has been taking up a lot of my thoughts lately is food. The general themes seem to be:
  • Eating more responsibly (locally, organically, with a view to preserving and maximizing the health of the environment, food, and consumers).
  • New experiences in cooking/eating.
  • Enjoying our family garden. Which kind of falls under both previous points, come to think of it.
So I'm going to quit planning on getting around to making a series of posts on any of these, and just jam a bunch of stuff into one big post and get it over with.

First, the short version of Eating More Responsibly. Two of my recent reads were The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If you haven't read these yet, I highly recommend both...and in that order. Each book touches on many of the same themes, but while Pollan's book reads like a scientific inquiry into the problem of industrially-produced food, Kingsolver's reads more like poetry, describing how one family set about seeking a solution. (Yes, I do know and respect that she is also a scientist...but damn it, the woman just writes beautifully.) Both books will lead you to think very differently about your food choices. We've been moving down the friendly/sustainable road for a while, with readings about the Slow Food movement, a long-standing policy of reading labels, and a fun foray into beginner gardening. These books have strengthened my resolve. Pick these up when you're ready to move beyond the gross-out stories of Fast Food Nation or SuperSize Me. It's not just convenience food that should be concerning us. And it's not as difficult as you might think to make changes.

We're foodies. I credit my husband with my love of cooking. I really didn't do much other than bake when I met him. But he was comfortable in the kitchen, and happy there, too. Our first "date" was homemade pizza at his place, and I fell in love both with him and his creations. His enthusiasm for cooking was contagious. I started experimenting and learning and enjoying myself. I started trying new ingredients. I developed a major crush on Alton Brown. (Good food and scientific explanations so I can actually understand the principles behind what makes a recipe work, or not? Genius!)

On the other hand, I am a mother raising four kids. Who are sometimes insatiable, sometimes finicky, and never predictable. I often feel like I spend all day preparing or cleaning up from meals. We have challenges both in budget and in ingredients: the oldest has digestive allergies and sensitivities and has spent the past three years on restricted diets. Oh, I learned how to cook gluten/dairy/egg/nut-free. But after a while, the excitement of "challenge" wears off and it just becomes "hassle". I often get tired of slogging through the few, repeated meals that meet all requirements (allergen-free, appealing to all family members, easy to prepare, and inexpensive). It's really easy to get burned out.

So I've been making an effort lately to try new recipes. It's something I used to do when I had that lovely commodity: time. It's hard to do when you're in the trenches of parenthood, but I'm finding that the occasional experiment is restoring my joy for being in the kitchen. Initially, I planned to commit to one new recipe per week, and blog it. I may still reach that goal...but for now, I'm so far behind that I might as well just present a few Greatest Hits. Many of these feature food grown in our own garden, which is an extra bonus for environmentalism and domestic bragging.

I love beets, but had no idea that the greens were edible. Here are some sauteed with fresh garlic. Yum!


My bare-bones version of Chicken Giardino.

Fresh tomatoes, sugar peas, zucchini, and again--garlic. OMG, garlic is so easy to grow. Chuck some sprouted cloves into the ground in October; harvest in July.

And of course, like any good gardeners, we are overrun with zucchini. So I've been continuing my canning education and learned to make a childhood favorite: bread-and-butter pickles.



I've also overcome my fear of yeast and ditched the bread machine in favor of doing bread the old-fashioned way. (Although I do enjoy doing it completely by hand, I admit that I often let the KitchenAid do the kneading if life is hectic. Alas.) Most of the time I make basic white loaves, but sometimes I get brave and try something fancier. Somewhere around here I have a recipe for a fabulous caraway bread. I'm also proud to announce that I tried my first souffle, and it was a terrific success. Yay me!

Bon appetit!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Click" moments

Oh, the baby sat still for a book!

This is huge. Theo loves books. We read together as much as we can. Sadly, this is not as much as we would like. Not only is my attention divided, but Cayden has no patience for books. While Theo would happily look at books even at a very young age, Cayden seems to only find pleasure in throwing them. Or, if Theo is the target audience, sitting on them.

Tonight I had some one-on-one time with Cayden and I pulled out an old favorite: I Am A Mouse, by Ole Risom. This is the worn-and-torn copy that was my bedtime book at their age, and the first book that I read. The illustrations (by John Miller) still enchant me. I'm so glad that my mother held on to this so I could share it with my children.

Anyway, this time I didn't bother trying to read to him. Instead, I played a simple game that Theo and I had enjoyed when he was around the same age. I let him flip the pages at will, and each time I'd ask him to point out the mouse. It took him mere seconds to understand the game, and wouldn't you know...we got nearly a half-hour's enjoyment from--yes--a book.



I'm so thrilled. I do want to encourage my kids to be readers--heck, I pretty much have to if I expect them to be autodidacts--and making books appealing is the first step.

As for Theo, this week he has been doing experiments with water...taking delight in seeing whether things sink or float. He was tickled to learn that certain items (ice cubes in his dinner drink, empty shampoo bottle in the tub) could be made to do both: that is, if dropped, they would immediately plunge under the surface, but then quickly pop to the top again.

As for me, I learned that learning happens even when it isn't convenient for Mom. (sigh) It only took a few go-rounds of Theo dropping that darn bottle and yelling, "Look, Mom! Look!" and me huffing, "Theodore if you don't stop splashing right this instant..."

Oh.

I see.

Note to self: sometimes making yourself open to wonder means dropping your own frustration and--ahem--paying attention.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Priorities

After several days of the little ones running me ragged--complete with interrupted sleep and touched-out days--they fell asleep early tonight. I finally had a little "me" time to get my Stuff done at a reasonable hour. "Stuff" being cleaning the kitchen, doing/folding laundry, sewing...

Instead, I plopped down here and spent an hour and a half making a new page logo. Which doesn't even look that good for reasons I still can't figure out but will blame on PaintShop.

Well, that was fun.

We have maggots!

This is Good News!

Unlike the mice and deer, the maggots were invited. And anticipated with hope and optimism.

What am we, crazy? Gross?

No, just a composting, gardening family. And let me tell you, that bin fills up quickly with a household of 6, and that stuff doesn't break down on its own. We've even had to take a few weeks off here and there, because there was no room in the bin. It was really hard shifting back to throwing food scraps into the *gasp!* garbage.

But now we have a bin full of happy little worms, feasting on melon rinds and coffee grounds. And all is right with the world.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Well...(s)crap.

I have managed to resist the scrapbooking craze thus far. Frankly, I just don't "get" anyone who has that much time on their hands and spends it doing something that requires that much effort, fussiness, and supplies/equipment.

Then again, if I had that much free time and no one actively climbing me, I'd be sewing...so who am I to talk.

Anyway. It looks like I'll be joining the ranks after all. Because as I do my homeschooling preparation (reading, reading, and more reading), lap books are looking really good to me.

And they really are just tiny, subject-focused...scrapbooks.

I guess I'll have to drop the snark. And start shopping for colorful paper with the rest of the masses.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

In the interest of fairness...

...and just to show that I am not universally a Hater of Wildlife, here is a list of animals in our yard to whom I do not bear any ill will.

  • Bats
  • Songbirds
  • Hawks
  • Crows
  • Groundhogs
  • Squirrels
  • Field mice that do not entertain fantasies about becoming Kitchen Drawer mice
  • Rabbits - even when they do get into the garden, they are selective munchers and not wanton destroyers like the deer
  • Ants - some friends may remember my battle with the neighbor over pesticides?
  • Turkeys - yes, there is a large wild flock that comes through every few days to eat bugs in the tall grass

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Deer oh deer

I live in Allegheny County. Pretty much anything that isn't Pittsburgh proper is a really close suburb. We are lucky enough to have a full acre of land and lots of trees on our property, but we're only one street away from the bus line, so to my country-girl heart, this is NOT in any way a rural area.

However, there are scattered patches of woodsy areas all around here. Like South Park. Places where deer are protected, and free to reproduce like mad. Which they do. And then they need to roam to feed. Except there's nowhere to roam except into people's yards. (Hm, maybe someone should make a CGI movie about that...)

And, with the exception of the occasional borough-sponsored "bring in hunters from surrounding counties" event, they are not hunted. Which means that they have practically no fear of people. I have pulled in my driveway to encounter deer munching on my landscaping and they did't scatter...they didn't even stop eating. They just looked up with an expression of annoyance.

Excuse me! We're trying to eat here...

(Okay, okay...a blank expression. Forgive me a little projecting!)

We have learned not to bother with ornamental flowering plants, because the deer have been bold enough to graze directly out of pots on our front stoop. I had a gorgeous cover of vareigated hostas next to the house,

but as you can see, they were apparently equally appealing as Deer Salad Bar.

This year they even trimmed off the blooms. I hope the poor plants survive!!

Our yard looks like a bizarre prison camp for plant life. Any tree or shrub that we want to survive must be protected by deer fencing, wire mesh, or chicken wire.

Solitary confinement

In our back yard, you can see two very large areas surrounded by similar net fencing.


These are the garden and a small "orchard" of a half-dozen fruit trees. The protective barriers around each of these areas are 8 feet high...yet we lost an apple tree last year because the deer learned how to lean against the netting to get it to sag...then they'd leap over and graze at will. Our first garden barrier was only 6 feet high and we awoke one morning to find a doe trapped in there, trampling and destroying everything in her frantic escape attempts.

When I was a child, I lived in Washington County and every male I knew over the age of 11 considered it their mission to bag as many deer as humanly possible. I have photo albums full of me as a toddler, posing with dressed carcasses on the back of dad's flatbed pickup. Even so, I think it's safe to say that I see more live deer in my suburban back yard in certain weeks than I saw in my entire childhood in the woods. Now I live in an area where people are too PC to dream of hunting...and every time I find another plant decimated, I want blood.

Of course, you know my history with the mice. There will be no actual violence, because as much as I piss and moan, I'd never have it in me to actually harm them. I just wish that these creatures and I didn't have so much unfortunate territorial overlap...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Public reading

It's meme time! I literally have only minutes left in the month, but I couldn't resist this one when I stumbled across it. From Shelly's Book Shelf, the questions for June 2007:

1. Do you read while on public transport or when on long journeys by train/tram/bus etc? And if so what is your preferred reading material for these trips?
Well, not anymore. But back in my single-girl days when I had a career and a commute, I got from the suburbs to downtown on the trolley. It took me a while to be able to read on the rails...I got terrible motion sickness. I soon learned to read while seated facing forward, though, and eventually I could even do it if seated facing backward. I got a lot of reading done on the T!! I'm terribly out of practice now, though. The only opportunity I have to read while traveling these days is on long car trips with the family, when my husband drives. And I get nauseated trying to look at maps. I guess I've lost my "sea legs", so to speak.

2. You see someone reading a book on the tram/train/bus and are impressed/want to get to know that person, what is the book? Name three possibilities. Bonus: Have you ever gotten a book to read because you've seen someone else reading it on public transportation?
Oh, I don't need hypotheticals...I did this all the time. I met a good friend on the trolley the day he started reading over my shoulder and struck up a conversation. It's a long and kind of funny story, but the upshot is that he became a very close confidant for a time (we've lost touch, alas, as our lives have taken us in different directions) and he also introduced me to several other people who became very important players in my life. So, yay Dave! And the book that got him talking to me was The Fifth Sacred Thing, by Starhawk.

Another time I was reading on the trolley and was in those final pages where your concentration just cannot be broken and you devour the pages with ferocious intensity until you finally finish. (Or is that just me??) I guess my seatmate got a kick out of that, because when I closed the book and put it in my lap with that satiated sigh, he asked if the book was good. In retrospect, I wonder if he was doing a little good-natured mocking or maybe even some clumsy but well-intentioned flirting. Of course, I was still in the world of my book and just took his comment at face value. I gave him a brief summary and then gave him the book. I never saw him again. I think I freaked him out. That book was Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Hm, come to think of it, it was Dave (from the above story) who recommended that book. Neat.

I've also scribbled down titles for my "to read" list based on seeing other people reading them, although I can't recall any right now.

3. If you were wanting to catch someone's eye, what book would you be reading? Name three possibilities.
Hm. It depends on the person, and why I wanted to catch their eye. Maybe something controversial, to spark conversation. Especially political books--if it supports their views, great. But perhaps something counter to their views would work to get conversation started as well. (I know that would work with my husband...he cannot resist debating people!) In my college days, it was usually something obtuse and philosophical like the writings of Kant, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Okay, I did like to try to chew on stuff like that--still do--but mostly I wanted people to think I was really deep and intelligent. I once impressed the hell out of an interview panel when they asked an icebreaker question about what I was currently reading for fun and it honestly turned out to be a book about quantum physics (The Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch). That's...just what I was interested in at the time!

Of course, all of these answers are looking back at about five years ago. Now I mostly read chick lit and books about early childhood development. :p

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007

When?

When you decide that your children will not attend a public institution for their primary education, you begin a long ordeal of explanation and justification. Which, frankly, you shouldn't have to. "This is what works in our family" should be enough, but people are always eager to challenge anything outside of the norm. Problem is...they judge it *based* on the norm.

Example. I found myself lurking over at MDC again the other day, and quickly remembered why I don't hang out there more. A woman had made an incidental comment in a post about homeschooling her kids, who are ages 4 and 2, and another member attacked her--more than once--for daring to call the kids' learning process "homeschooling". The attacker's premise was that since the kids are younger than typical school age, the mother is not "homeschooling" them, but merely "parenting", as any (supposedly) normal parent would do preparational instruction (basic reading skills, etc.) before their kids enter kindergarten.

I think the attacker is missing the point.

Oh, I'm sure she's coming from a position of self-righteous authority as someone whose vision of homeschool is institutional-style learning, done in the home. She may indeed keep her kids out of a classroom, but her ideas (as she expressed them; I haven't actually opened a dialogue with her to find out) still very much fit our society's paradigm. Learning = School. And it begins at X age, once you have filed the appropriate affidavits, contracted with an evaluator, and ordered your prepackaged curriculum. If you're not doing worksheets and earning grades, it apparently doesn't count.

For folks who embrace a more learner-led educational experience, the concept of defining a starting point for learning is absurd. Although I will provide skill instruction, for the most part my children will be "unschooled". We will not rely on prepackaged study guides and will not lose sleep over standardized tests. These are some of what I wish to *avoid* by keeping them out of the world of public school. Every day has natural opportunities for learning. My one-year-old is learning new things constantly. As am I. A concrete timetable works to define the limits of when a person attends an institution. But to suggest that learning starts and stops according to that timetable is to assume that learning only happens in that setting.

And that's just preposterous.

I also spent some time recently browsing homeschooling families' blogs. One mother said,
Our friends who know we will be homeschooling have begun asking me when we’ll “start” and I simply answer that we’ll just continue what we’re already doing
Brava.

I need to enforce a little paradigm shift of my own. So what if my kids are 3 and 1. We won't "be" homeschooling. We "are" homeschooling.

And for what it's worth, I'm a student, too. But that's fodder for a separate entry (mental note to self).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

This post feels familiar

Perhaps that's because my friend Muse recently posted something verrrrrrrrry similar. But hey, my kids are cute too and the experience is worth sharing.

The short version of our story, for those who haven't been keeping up with the drama, is that after a longstanding policy of catch-and-release and a short-lived experiment in kill-and-dispose, we decided to temporarily keep the mice we caught, to ensure that we weren't re-infesting our house with the same individuals over and over.

After two weeks of empty traps and clean silverware drawers, we decided that it was time to let our two (yes, only two!) prisoners free. Of course, I am still not keen on the idea of releasing them on our property in case they remember the way back into the house (and they do...I assure you, they do...) so despite warnings to the contrary, I chose a local municipal park as the site for relocation. Yeah, just call me Civil Disobedience Mom.

We went on the nature trail and Theo searched very carefully for a place he thought the mice would like.

Releasing mousie #1...

And #2.

Let's hope that we have to refer to these pictures to see mice from here on out!!

In other news, we found a wide variety of pretty mushrooms along the trail. This was the only picture that turned out decent, as I had a 14-month old flailing in the backpack carrier, trying to see just what the heck I was looking at.

I wish I knew more about the wild goodies in our region. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and an old Amish cookbook I picked up at a used book sale (you can eat poke? Well...some say you shouldn't, so I may not risk that one...) I've become interested in foraging and am eagerly awaiting my turn to read "Wildman" Brill's book. Apparently I'm not the only one with a recent curiosity, as there are 3 other folks on the "hold" list ahead of me. (Have I mentioned that I luuuuuuuuuuurve our regional library system? Seriously, it rocks.)

My budding mycologist.

See? Even if I wasn't interested in my own right, I'd still have to read up on this so I could feed his interest. That's what homeschoolers do! Heck, that's what parents do, isn't it??

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Learning is messy

I thought it was a good idea at the time. Okay, well if not exactly a good idea, then at least a fun one. I'm all for kids learning with hands-on exploration. Even if it's messy. Heck, especially if it's messy. I am the kind of mom who lets even the youngest toddlers help with baking. I encourage puddle-splashing. Getting dirty is part of playing, of learning, and of living.

So okay. We had some vanilla pudding. Theo declared that he hates vanilla pudding. Cayden wanted to touch the vanilla pudding. So I came up with the brilliant idea that vanilla pudding could-- and yes, should--become a medium for Artistic Expression.



The results of this little game were not as fun as you might have imagined. Cayden was content to just quietly eat the pudding from the brushes,

and despite my cheerful coaching, Theo put forth only a halfhearted effort and declared the whole experience to be "yucky".

Then again, he still has a strong aversion to even the idea of finger paints, so should I be surprised?

Oh well. I guess even for kids, not all messes are created equal.

And yes, I realize that this comes close on the heels of a post showing a mess that they created without Mom's approval and supervision. But you should note that I did grab the camera before the cleaning supplies.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The battle of the sexes meets the pantry

Maybe it's just me. But if a box does not fit on a shelf, I typically either turn it on its side or put it on a different shelf: one with higher clearance.

Not so my husband. Observe.

I'm telling you, testosterone is responsible. Damn it, if it doesn't fit...force it!

Of course, if I am to be fair in the gender-bashing, I could admit that only someone surging with estrogen would be more interested in bitching about it rather than just saying "thanks for helping with the groceries"...