Friday, December 31, 2010

Reverse Bucket List

Bucket lists are kind of depressing.  I mean, yes, it’s good to have goals and dream big.  But a list that year after year has no more items crossed out is depressing.  It’s also pretty common if you have small children.  My lovely little baby who is the apple of my eye is also the one I often refer to as “my little anchor”.  She just makes it so difficult to do things!  Almost as if I had an anchor chained to my ankle.  Try unpacking a van full of boxes with a baby.  Or with an anchor.  Very similar.  Now imagine trying to backpack around Asia or join the Peace Corps or get your PhD with a baby.  Ummmm… yeah.  Anchor.  Add three more kids on top of the baby.  Here’s my cartoon of what that might look like:

Now mind you, I’m not complaining.  I love my kids and my baby and I‘m content with my life.  But the thought of a bucket list gets me down a bit. 

I recently I heard about the “reverse bucket list”.  That’s a list of what you HAVE done in your life.  Now that’s my kind of list.  No pressure, no expectations.  Just reflecting and enjoying what life has brought you and what you have made of life.  Because some of the most “buckety” experiences in life are ones that you never would have thought to put on a list.  Here’s my reverse bucket list, and I’d love to read some of yours in the comments.  What makes your life exciting, unique, spicy, special, triumphant, and fabulous?

My Reverse Bucket List:

  • Rocked the Air Force Basic Training in Texas for four weeks plus a week in medical hold
  • Gave birth to four children, one of them fabulously all-natural, with no complications
  • Graduated from Coon Rapids High School with highest honors
  • Provided free cloth diapers to a crap-load of local families through Teeny Greenies
  • Was a National Language Arts Olympiad
  • Joined Mensa
  • Was baptized Mormon (I know, I know, you’re thinking “wha-wha-wha-whaaaaaat?”, it was great though, I’ll tell you about it sometime)
  • Taken three of my children camping before they were a year old
  • Nurtured a culture of appreciation for nature, athletics, and the arts in our home
  • Have never turned down a request to let someone live on my couch (or extra bedroom or basement)
  • Won a National Merit Scholarship
  • Attended college through the ninth month of two pregnancies
  • Hosted painting parties
  • Got my tongue pierced
  • Became a Red Cross certified Lifeguard
  • Bladed the Northshore Inline Marathon for four years,  improving each year except the year I did it pregnant and had to take it slow
  • Breastfed three (gonna be four) of my kids for over a year
  • Went caving with Mitch
  • Let my kids play hooky.  Often.

I’m sure there are more of course, but those are the ones that sprung to mind first and make me feel all warm and happy and proud inside when I list them.

My New Year’s Resolution?  Add more things to my reverse bucket list in 2011, whatever they may be.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mr. Independent

I am very proud of Mitchell today.  He wanted cookies today and you know what he did?  He made them himself.  At first he wanted us to make them together, but I was in the middle of a math activity with Henry and Violet and said I wasn't in the mood to make cookies.  I told him if he wanted cookies he could make them himself though.  So he did.

He threw a bit of a fit at first because he wanted help reading the box and I wouldn't come in the kitchen, but eventually he brought me the box, I gave him a few pointers, and away he went.  That all by itself was an accomplishment.  Often, when he tries to do a big project, as soon as he comes across a bump of some sort, he gets derailed and moves on to something else.  I didn't think he'd actually make the cookies all by himself without me at least directing.

Imagine my surprise when not only did he make cookies, but he was also very benevolent in involving Henry and Violet in helping him AND they cleaned up all the mess when they were done!  He almost got distracted after the first batch went in the oven - 8 minutes is a looooong time for a kids with ADHD (or any kids!) to wait - but he managed to make it through and when they came out he was there to smell and taste and prepare another pan to go in.  After they were done, there was great feasting and I was the proudest mama in town.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Think of a Wonderful Thought...

Any merry little thought...

Think of Christmas, think of snow

Think of sleigh bells, off you go!

Like reindeer in the sky

You can fly!

You can fly!

You can fly! 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Day In Pictures... Minus the Pictures

I REALLY gotta find my camera.  Or my mom REALLY needs to find the charger for her good camera.  Aye me, the pitfalls of moving.  Instead you get to use your imagination.

:::As a pink and orange dawn approaches over the dark, bare trees, three tousled blonde heads are just barely visible poking out of a pile of blankets.  They may have been punching each other the night before, but when night falls and the boogeyman calls, the day's arguments are put aside and three little towheads snuggle together on the extra twin mattress in Mama and Papa's room.:::

:::Ivy smiles and drools from under a surgeon's hat that droops low over her eyes.  The kids are including her in their game of pretend (you may call her Dr. Baby) and she is so pleased that she doesn't even try to take the hat off even when she can't see anymore.:::

:::Henry's shaggy blonde head is bent over the multiplication board as he puzzles his way through the twos table.  His brow is furrowed in concentration as he carefully counts out unit cubes to check his work.:::

:::The frosty sky lights up the carpet in front of the bay window in the livingroom and frames a chubby cheeked little girl playing with Grandma's special dolls.  Moments later a smiling little boy joins her game and together they saddle the rocking horse.:::

:::Clouds of breath rise from two bundled, red faced boys as they cross the back deck, engaged in some kind of adventure and impervious to the cold.:::

:::The whole family packs into the small study like a litter of puppies in a cardboard box; some rolling on the floor in play, some working together to play Timez Attack on the computer, and Mama sitting on the chair, surveying it all and blogging.:::

:::Mama reaches high on the wall to tape up a piece of brown grosgrain ribbon that has now been dubbed "The Timeline".  It doesn't exactly match the decor, but everyone's excited to have it up and add things to it.  It's a little heavy on the ancient history since Mitch decided it should go from 10,000 BC to 2,500 AD, but that's okay since everyone loves ancient history.:::

:::A snowy and jolly Papa comes home from work bearing gifts like a hardhatted Santa.  Three bright faces peer into a cardboard box to find... our encyclopedia!  Cheers erupt.:::

:::Four children and a Mama and a Papa eat chicken and rice and animatedly discuss possibly learning a foreign language as a family.  Everyone chuckles at the thought of busting out into Russian while having guests over for dinner.:::

:::The stove timer beeps, announcing that the late-night adult-only cookies are done, as a tired and whiny jammied little boy stands on the stair landing with his Spiderman pillow and blankie, grousing about noisy siblings.:::

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't Push Me!

This last week or so I've been learning a lot more about homeschooling.  As you may have noticed, we've been struggling lately.  I have tried everything I can think of to make homeschooling a positive, inspiring experience for Mitch, and I keep coming up short.  I tried some different curriculums, a stricter schedule, a more relaxed schedule, focusing on the basics and letting the rest go, trying to be more well-rounded in our learning, doing hands on things, doing more bookwork, you name it.

I was feeling pretty frustrated and incompetent.  And I'll go ahead and say it, I was considering that maybe Mitch's special needs were more than I could handle.  Maybe teaching him was just always going to be a battle and by positioning myself as the teacher, I was inviting many more arguments and meltdowns into our home and our relationship than need be.

But then I had a conversation with a certain wise farm mama and I realized that maybe I was being too pushy.  I had tried everything I could think of to make him learn, but I hadn't tried NOT making him learn.  At least not since this summer, when we weren't "technically" homeschooling yet.  Over the summer our "cave lessons" were a big hit with all the kids.  We were just exploring something intriguing and not doing English or Math per se.  But lately I've been more panicky and worrying about what will happen next year if we get him back into his Montessori school and he's fallen behind.  I'm forgetting to just live a day at a time.  So with that in mind, instead of trying to make Mitch learn, I tried to make myself see the learning in what he was already doing.  I tried to get back to my Montessori roots and "follow the child".

So where did I find his "school"?

He and Henry have spent plenty of time learning about physics by building and knocking over towers made out of various materials...

Lots of great storytelling going on, even if none of it makes it to paper just yet.  Dress-up is a game the whole family can agree on.

He loves videography and was receptive to my requests that he storyboard his scenes instead of just screwing around with Grandma's camera (though that's fun too).

He discovered the computer game "Timez Attack" (a great free multiplication game) and I had to kick him off of it eventually for fear his eyeballs would melt from staring at the screen for so long.  He got discouraged at level 3 because it was getting too tough for him and so he decided to delete his profile and start all over at level 1 so he could get more practice.  Cue the angels singing "Gloria"...

And tonight he fell asleep rereading "Diary of a Wimpy Kid".  I think I can live with this.

It also seems like if I set out things that I'd like him to work on, enticingly displayed on the shelf, he gets around to asking about them or taking them down eventually, in his own time.  I'm usually just not that patient.  I need to work on that.  So, going all Montessori on y'all again, I need to work more on preparing his environment and putting all kinds of 3rd graderish work close at hand and work less on "teaching" him anything.

Everyone did like our themed lessons over the summer though so I asked Mitch if he'd like to do some more of those again and he said yes.  So at Mitch's suggestion I'm working on getting some car and truck lessons going. 

I'm also praying more.  Dear God, I'm at a loss with this boy, show me what to do with him (or not do with him as the case may be).  And I feel like He's answering.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blood in the Water

It's tough to feel like you can't be honest.  Like you can't reach out for help when you need it.  But that's how I feel to a certain extent about homeschooling.  While I do have people I can go to for support, there is also a large group of people who I feel like I need to put on the "happy face" for.  People who pooh-pooh homeschooling and think it's ridiculous.  People who are convinced we could never pull it off.  When they ask me how it's going it's frustrating that I can't be honest.  Whenever I AM honest and say how tough it is, it's like dumping a gallon of blood into shark infested waters.  They attack.  Mostly in a very passive aggressive way, but still.  When I'm feeling bad about how homeschooling is going, the last thing I need is someone rubbing my face in the fact that they "told me so" and asking me if I'm going to send Mitch to public school now. 

And our personal experience aside, the last thing I want to do is give these people more ammunition for their "Homeschooling is Bunk" mindset.  Even if homeschooling doesn't work out for us in the long run, it doesn't mean that it's a bad idea in general.  Regardless of how my kids end up being taught next year or the year after or the year after that, I will always think that homeschooling is a very valuable educational option for families.  So I sometimes feel like, besides preserving my own dignity, I also have a responsibility to preserve the "face of homeschooling".  And so I hide how I'm really feeling and how things are going.

I am usually a very up front, honest, and open individual.  So this is a new thing for me, this hiding, and I don't really like it at all.  But the alternative, getting torn down for our choices, is something I like even less.  So for now, I'll smile and nod and say "Everything's great!" and give examples of what our best days look like.

Homeschooling families - have you dealt with this scenario in the past?  How have you approached it or come to terms with it?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sleeping With Bread: What is Your Manna?

"And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat."

What is your manna?
Gluten-free bread aside, what fills you up and sates your hunger?

Last night, manna fell from heaven for me.  

There are two things that I always feel hungry for.  I mean, not your regular hunger, but starving-child-in-Africa type hunger.  The first is peace.  I was just thinking the other day about what I pray for alot.  What themes are pretty much a constant?  One thing that is usually first on my prayer requests is peace in my home.  Our house is NOT a peaceful home.  It is alot of other things - fun, joyous, interesting, curious, unique, energetic - but peaceful is rarely, if ever, on that list.  About the only time it is peaceful is when we've stuffed the kids in front of a movie so they are effectively sedated.  It occurred to me the other day, that probably not all mothers pray so fervently for peace.  That there other mothers probably have different problems, quieter problems.  Some days I pray for quieter problems.  If the kids aren't fighting with each other and brawling, they are giggling as they stomp and pound and run and screech their way through the house.  So peace is something I always dream about.

The other thing I hunger for is some kind of hint that I'm doing a good job with my children's hearts.  As a mother, I think that is an area I struggle with alot.  I am pretty good, I think, at feeding and molding young minds.  The kids seem to be progressing quite well academically and are pretty creative and good at critical thinking.  They seem to like books and have a healthy curiosity about the world.  I'm fairly satisfied with our efforts in that area.  I also think I'm doing well with their bodies.  We may not take baths or brush teeth as often as is probably called for, but they are healthy.  They eat pretty healthy and physical activity is part of our family culture.  We are a hiking, camping, rock climbing, football playing, rollerblading kind of a group.  Family vacations are almost always planned around some kind of physical activity.  I always get a big thumbs up from the pediatrician, so I think I'm doing pretty well with these little bodies.

Their hearts, on the other hand, always concern me.  I'm not sure if I'm doing a very good job teaching them kindness and compassion for other people.  I certainly make an effort, but I don't seem to be excelling in this area.  And their spiritual growth is not at all what I imagine it ought to be either.  My kids are the kids at mass who are hitting each other and laying on the floor whining and not paying attention AT ALL and often getting dragged out the back door because they are completely disturbing everyone around us.  The Family Formation home lessons that everyone at our church loves so much (it's like Sunday School but lucky me, they have me teach it at home to my own tribe) are a constant battlefield and often don't get done because I don't have the strength to fight that fight.  And the suggestion to read scripture daily with your children?  Ha!  They can't hear me because they are too busy tantruming and beating on each other and screaming they hate the Bible.  So fine, maybe traditional Catholic spiritual formation is not our path to follow, but then what is?  My religious upbringing was pretty sparse so I don't have a rich background to draw ideas from and riff off of.  So I often feel lost as to how to help my children learn about God and follow his path for them.  So this is another thing that I find myself praying for alot.

A peaceful home and seeing my children with spirit-filled hearts are two things that I am always hungry for, starving for.  Last night God sent me some manna and sated my hunger, at least for one night.  The day was not so stellar, a Family Formation lesson started out well but soon dissolved into tears and throwing things.  We didn't make it to mass in the morning.  It was the first Sunday in Advent and in the move I somewhere lost my Advent wreath and my nativity stable.  I've had better days.  But then I remembered that Epiphany had a 5:30 p.m. mass for those of us who are not at our best in the a.m.  So I started out hoping to take all the kids to mass, but after tears and tantrums I decided I wasn't up to it.  So I said whoever wants to can stay home.  Violet and Mitchell both jumped ship, but Henry wanted to come with still.  So Henry and I went to mass and it was lovely.  It was so peaceful and just plain wonderful.  We marveled at God's beautiful creation as we drove into the sunset and talked about plans to take a train trip together someday.  I had an idea that we should put on a family Christmas pageant and Henry thought it was a great idea.  Mass was very youth-oriented (I think the Sunday night one usually is) and so we both got alot out of it I think.  On the way home we sipped fancy coffee with whipped cream and sang Christmas carols in the dark.  

Once we got home, the table was set with a tablecloth and candles, and dinner was ready.  The presence of a tablecloth or maybe the late hour seemed to calm the children and our meal had a decidedly normal flavor to it instead of being more akin to a medieval tavern as it usually is.  Soft music played while we ate and when I suggested my pageant idea to the rest of the family, everyone was very excited.  The children dashed off to start rehearsing and working on the special effects.  They worked together joyfully and in harmony as they decided where the stage should be and recruited stuffed animals for the stable scene.  The night ended, after a few bedtime shenanigans, with my hubby and I playing a board game at the table.  It was a beautiful night, and as I went to sleep I felt very full in every way.  Thank you Lord for manna.

What is your manna?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Perfect Child

Here she is!

Now, anyone who knows her will know that she's far from perfect, but I just had the "good mama moment" of the year here so bear with me.

Last night we had Violet's first preschool conferences.  I've done preschool conferences before many times.  Twice a year for Henry and Mitchell, two years of preschool each so that's... uh... do I add or multiply?  Mmmm... I think i've done eight.  Yeah, eight.  Plus kindergarten, first, and second grade conferences, so i'm definitely in the double digits in my conference experience.  So far the conferences have followed a definite theme.  That theme being, "He's very bright and we love him and he has lots of friends BUT we have some serious behavior issues to work on."  Over and over again the same things from each teacher for each boy.

Violet has a lot of similar traits as the boys, but is also much more compliant and cheerful by comparison.  So I was hoping her conference might go a bit better, but I was also prepared for a list of things we need to "work on".

You could have knocked me over with a feather as I walked out of that conference.  I was stunned.  They did nothing but rave about Violet and tell me how impressed they were and how well-rounded she was.  They used words like friendly, social, independent, self-directed, and well-behaved.  She uses all the materials, she makes friends, she sings the songs, she counts, she gets a teacher when she needs help or has a disagreement with another child.  She is handling all the academic work just fine (which isn't much - counting and identifying colors and such - but still).  They couldn't think of a single thing she needed to work-on.  On the part of the conference form where you write down goals for the rest of the year they could only put "Keep up the good work!"

It just made me a little bummed that she was going to the public preschool instead of the Montessori school that the boys attended.  They both had the same teacher (poor woman!) so she got five years straight of dealing with my boys.  I was really hoping that she might have gotten to see that I'm not an awful parent.  I really CAN raise obedient and pleasant children.

Though in their defense, while obedient and pleasant is a refreshing change for our household, it is somewhat overrated.  There is definitely something to be said for wild and ornery little boys who have an incredible zest for life and a curiosity that can't be beat.  They are so much fun.  I feel very lucky to get to raise some of each kind of child.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We're Heeeere!

I've been missing in action for quite a while now, but the move is DONE!  Well, in the sense that we are living fairly comfortably in the new house anyways.  Our old house is still full of miscellaneous stuff that we still need to move either into the trash, the Goodwill pile, or boxes to bring over, but the heavy lifting is done.  Besides the physical move, we've also been having quite the homeschool journey as well.  More and more of my ideas about what to teach and how to teach just keep flying out the window.

Mitchell just keeps rebelling against any attempts on my part to TEACH him.  Though now that I think about it, he's been that way for the last eight years.  Even as a toddler and preschooler, if you tried to show him something, like say how to hold a baseball bat properly, he would always say either "I already KNOW how to do that" or "I don't want to".  He always wants to do things his way.  Partially out of orneryness I guess, but also because he has so darn many ideas about the world and how it works and how it SHOULD work that he doesn't have time for anyone else's ideas.  And I suppose he's been "spoiled" by his last five years of Montessori schooling (in a good way).

I was having a really hard time finding anything that would let him have the level of independence he was used to.  There were some computer based curriculums, but those were pretty spendy and I don't think he would have allowed himself to be chained to a computer either.  But God watches over us and a book that I put on my PaperbackSwap Trade Books for Free - PaperBack Swap. wishlist a long time ago arrived in the mail.  It was Elizabeth G. Hainstock's book "Teaching Montessori in the Home: The School Years".  It has been a lifesaver!  Not only does it tell me how to introduce the different activities, it also gives me tips on how to make or buy the Montessori materials I need cheap or free.

So far for Mitchell i've just gotten together the materials for the multiplication board and the multiplication summary sheets, but my plan is to try to make at least one new material a week for Mitchell and also for the rest of the kids. Watching Mitch work on math happily and excitedly (and independently!) inspired me to start introducing Montessori works to my other children as well.

We've already been doing a pretty good job with our Montessori baby I think.  She uses the potty, has toys of all different materials, eats the kitchen utensils, and doesn't wear restrictive clothing so she can move and groove on the floor with the best of them.  Last week I started introducing some cursive to Henry and he's just eating it up.  My goal is to slowly but surely increase my collection of Montessori preschool and elementary materials so by the time Ivy is ready for them, i'm ready for her too.

That's the bummer about being the oldest I think - you are always the guinea pig.  But you also get to be the teacher too.  Mitchell has taught me sooo much about what it means to teach, what it means to be a mom.  He took all the ideas I had about kids when I was a high school babysitter, how I was going to parent someday, and just ripped them to shreds.  Sad kind of, but i'm older and MUCH wiser now thanks in no small part to him.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Getting Started "For Real"

The move to our new house is looming over us - just two weeks away.  I was hoping to wait until after we moved to really start homeschooling in earnest, but when school started for Henry and preschool for Violet, it seemed like it was time to dig in a little with Mitchell too.  Our old school ended in May so it had already been a long summer.

I felt prepared though.  I had chosen a math curriculum and an English curriculum and decided to do more unschooling and child-led learning for the other subjects, so we got started.  It seems to me like things have been going well this last week, but there has been a certain theme that has carried through our week and continues on as we start this week.  And the theme is "That's not how my other teacher did it".  It seems like everything I try to do with Mitchell, he's comparing me to his Montessori teacher.  And let me tell you, those are quite big shoes to fill.  I feel really bad that he's had such a good educational experience and now I'm not living up to that.  I thought I would be a good teacher, and I do feel that I'm doing a decent job, but it really hurts that I can't offer him the kind of teaching he is wanting right now.  I'm doing my best, but I'm just not Montessori trained, and while I have a pretty good grasp of what goes on in a primary classroom, I'm not as familiar at all with what they do and how they do it in an elementary classroom.  He wants me to give him fewer, shorter lessons and then let him work independently, but I just don't have things set up that way here now.  Frankly, I don't have anything "set-up", we're working out of a box as everything gets packed for the move.  But even worse, I have no idea how to set up a framework for homeschool where he can be hands-on AND independent like he was at his Montessori school.  It seems like for the most part, the hands-on type of things require more parent involvement, and the independent curriculum are all on the computer or are heavy on the workbooks.

Henry too is not having a stellar start to the school year.  Already I'm communicating frequently with his teacher about his behavior.  Typical Henry stuff, nothing too dramatic, but still.  I am also not very impressed with the coursework.  They are starting out the year with their letters and numbers and shapes and friendship skills.  Henry covered all that in kindergarten (though you can never practice friendship skills too much).  It seems like they will be getting to some topics that will be new to him soon, but he too is lamenting the loss of his old school.  He misses the practical life activities and thinks it is ridiculous that they don't get to bake in kindergarten.  He vacillates between saying school is awesome and saying it is boring and he doesn't want to go.  As long as I keep getting the "awesome" answer regularly, we'll stick with it, but I'm predicting I may be homeschooling both boys much sooner than I had originally planned.

I'll keep searching for the right fit for us, educationally, whether it be finding the right curriculum or finding a way to get the kids back into their old school, but right now I'm feeling pretty discouraged.  It has not been our best "back-to-school".

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I think we just might be okay...

Last night I got one of those rare glimpses of how siblinghood SHOULD be.  One of those moments parents dream about but rarely happen in real life.

I did a fairly adequate job of putting everyone to bed last night.  They got a bedtime snack, a story, AND got to pick where they wanted to sleep.  Henry picked Ivy's bed in the basement (Ivy picked the cosleeper in our room), Mitchell picked the couch, and Violet picked the floor in her room.  I find that when I have the guts to go ahead and let them sleep wherever they want, they usually fall asleep pretty fast.  It's annoying when they pick to be in our room or the livingroom because that kind of puts a damper on mine and hubby's nighttime "adult" activities (no, no, not THOSE adult activities, I mean like eating Kempswiches and swilling Dr. Pepper while playing cribbage).  I am pretty sure though that Mitch picks the livingroom for exactly those reasons.  He likes to eavesdrop on us and beg for some of our snacks.  Henry hasn't realized what kind of things his parents do at night so he picks the basement so he can be closer to us when we go to bed.

Anyways, everyone got tucked in bed and Mitchell informed me that he was really going to sleep in Violet's bed (since she wasn't using it anyways) but that he wanted to stay up and read on the couch until she fell asleep because she's annoying and loud (a fair evaluation).  So Henry toddled downstairs and fell asleep the minute his head hit the pillow, and Mitch started looking for a book.  I had already packed up a few boxes of books so the picking was slim. 

He turned to me, pointed to a faux-leather bound volume and asked "Is this a book of poetry?". 

I looked at the title, shocked, "No buddy, that's not poetry, that's Edgar Allen Poe.  Actually I think there are a few poems in that one, but mostly it's short stories."  This was like a dream come true.  I LOVE literature and poetry and all things related to the English language, but so far it seemed like Mitch was only interested in stuff like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (which I am fairly certain may have been written by the devil?  I hate those books, but hey, at this point i'll go for anything that gets him to do some independent reading.)  I looked through what was left on my shelves and found a large volume of American poetry and handed it to him.

"I like poetry", he said.  "When I read the words it makes music in my head like a song."

"Well," I said, "Songs are just poetry with music added to them, so you're right on there."  I pointed to a couple of poems in the book that were also songs - The Star Spangled Banner and America The Beautiful.

We sat down on the couch and he perused the poetry book while I sat next to him and worked on my knitting.  He then decided to write his own poetry and invited me to help him (I enthusiastically agreed).  Here's what we came up with together...

A possum, A blossom
A piece of cherry pie
A seashell on the shore
Just like a star up in the sky
Bright as a firefly

I was so proud I could burst.  When I was a teenager and imagining what my kids would be like, what motherhood would be like, THIS is what I imagined, not all the other stuff.

After he got bored of writing poetry he asked me when we were going to start homeschooling and I said "Whenever you want."  He decided he wanted to start right then.  He made himself a math folder to keep his work-in-progress in, then asked if he could work on teaching Violet to read.  Violet certainly wasn't asleep (she kept poking her head out of the door and looking at us) so I said "Sure, go ahead".  He asked her if she wanted a lesson and she was bouncing up and down and grinning as she said "Yeah!".  They went into the kitchen and Mitchell helped her spell some simple words like mom and dad with the magnetic letters.  Then they called me in to see and I watched Violet put m-o-m on the fridge.  It was adorable.  After they tired of that, the hubby tucked Violet back into bed and we taught Mitchell how to play Pente.  He did pretty well on my team (we battled Daddy) but then I played Daddy on my own a few rounds to show Mitch how to kick someone's butt at Pente.  After a bit we tucked him into bed on the couch and went outside in the garage to have a beer in private, but it was really a great night.  The kind of night that renews my faith in my kids and in my ability to mother them.  Maybe I haven't completely screwed them up yet.  Maybe there's still hope for our family :-)

Friday, August 20, 2010

I Could Never...

I hear this quite a bit when chatting with other moms about some of our "lifestyle choices".   Like "I could never do cloth diapers", "I could never do a GFCF diet", etc.  Yeah, it can be overwhelming to think about switching to things like that, but i've found that the day-to-day practice of it is no where near as tough as what you imagine.  For example here is what we've been eating today...

Breakfast: Nothing much - I was feeling overwhelmed and crabby so I told the kids to get their own breakfast so they had (I think) brownie Clif Z-bars and apples.

Lunch:  Tortilla chips topped with leftover taco meat, chopped tomatos, and chopped cabbage (I was out of lettuce, they never knew the difference) and then blueberries on the side.

Dinner:  We have chicken breasts defrosted so we may throw them on the grill with some potatoes and green beans in the microwave.  If I can muster the ambition we all really love chicken fried rice (just chicken, rice, scrambled eggs, chopped onions, minced garlic, and soy sauce brawling in the wok) but I haven't been feeling very chefy lately...

So really, not hard and not a bunch of weird foods (though we have been eating more weird stuff lately).  They usually have water to drink or juice.  I usually wait until they are done and have left the kitchen and then chug Cherry Dr. Pepper and eat a spoonful of Skippy peanut butter and their leftovers but that's a whole other story.  I know for me, hearing about the day to day routines helps me more than just "how-to's", so maybe it would be helpful to some if I regularly posted about what we were eating?  We'll try that for a while.  That makes it easier on me too because then I have more fodder for posts.  It's a win-win :-)

The View From Here

People often ask me, "How on earth do you find time to blog with four kids, including a baby?"  Okay, that's not exactly true - no one has ever asked me that, but I have found myself wondering that about other mommy blogs quite a bit.  How the HECK do they keep up on a blog?  Well, now I know.  Ivy is quite the "snugglebug" and doesn't really like to lay on the floor or sit in baby seats or anything like that - she mostly wants to be held.  So this is how we blog - the view from here is pretty cute today...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

For Love or Money

So, while I have NEVER done anything worthwhile that I have gotten paid for (wait, the one exception is the summer I was a camp counselor, but that's it)  I HAVE done lots of cool stuff for free.  In my latest brush with fame I was interviewed by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal about what parents think about grade retention.  I was a little ticked that they got my story wrong and misrepresented ADHD drugs as the wonder cure, but hey, at least I was in the national media.  Up until now i've just done local stuff like this and this and this and this and this.  The Pork Wars one was actually listed as one of the most memorable stories of 2008.

One thing I just did that I did get paid for though, was write a 350 word article about rice.  I got paid 5 bucks through Amazon Mechanical Turk.  It's a nifty little deal through where you do different tasks (mostly online) and get paid.  Lots of tasks pay less than a dollar, but there are a few that pay a bit more.  Some skilled (like translating) and some unskilled.  It won't make me famous, or rich, but hey, it's five bucks and I didn't have to deliver a pizza to get it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sleeping With Bread

 When did I feel most connected this last week? Least connected?

Lately, in an effort to kickstart my half-hearted attempts at elimination communication, Ivy and I have been having some "naked baby time" in the mornings.  As soon as Ivy wakes up I hold her over the laundry tub to see if she'll pee for me (mostly she doesn't but occasionally she does) then I settle back into bed with her and nurse her without her clothes on so I can see if she does anything (yes, she's laying on a waterproof pad to protect the mattress).  During those times, nursing her and after she finishes eating, I think I feel more connected to her than I ever have to any other human being... ever. 

I can tell what she needs - if she's hungry my breast is right there, if she needs to pee I will see/feel it so I can change her right away, I have my hand on her soft back and I can feel if she's chilly or warm enough.  I am staring at her face and I can see if she is happy, content, sleepy, or upset.  If she wants interaction, I can smile and provide it.  I am meeting all of her needs, and for a few brief moments, she is meeting all of mine. It's almost like I can read her mind.  Granted, there isn't a ton going on inside that baby mind (which is the beauty of being a baby), but that just makes us more connected because she doesn't have all that extra junk that grown-ups have floating around in there and getting between us.  Babies can't lie or put on a happy face if they're not feeling it.

Then of course other kids come see what we're up to and that's the end of that.  But this week, those morning moments have been the times i've felt the most connected.

When have I felt the least connected?  Lately it's been when i've been thinking too much about the new house.  Like I previously posted, this whole house thing seems a bit unreal.  Since the mortgage will be in my mom's name, i've been a bit disconnected from the acquiring-the-house bits.  She keeps me very updated of course, but even so.  I feel like we're just playing make believe and we'll never actually move into the house.  I start to think all kinds of deep and ridiculous thoughts about what the purpose of life is, what the purpose of my life is.  Where am I going, why, and does it matter?  I contemplate the fact that it's been over 10 years since i've been on an airplane, and i've never been out of the country or across an ocean.  It makes me doubt the certainty of the existence of other continents (not really, but just a tiny bit).  I start to feel really disconnected from the whole world and my life.  Like i'm floating around in space and tethered to the space ship by a thin cord - not exactly hurtling wildly through the cosmos, but certainly I don't have both feet on solid ground either.  Is this how people start to go insane?  And then one day that cord snaps for good?  I hope not.  Maybe I just need more naked baby time.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Greetings from Limbo

I really hate the place we are right now.  It seems like we are stuck between two different lives and every day I feel like I have no idea what to do.  Our old life seems to be dissolving before my eyes - our little house, old friends, the kids' private school, my husband's job - but the new life hasn't really arrived yet.

With my mom, we put an offer in on a new house - 5 bedrooms, 40 acres, plenty of lovely room for our big family plus grandma (plus three dogs and at least one cat).  But we're at that stage in house-buying where you do the inspections, appraisals, and whatnot.  While they have accepted our offer, we don't even have a closing date yet.  It's not OURS yet.

We've decided to take a new path with schooling as well.  We will be trying to homeschool Mitchell unmedicated this year.  Henry will attend a public kindergarten (yikes!).  Violet and Ivy will come along on Mitchell's journey with us.  And while I feel pretty ready for it, we've decided that we will still have the summer off and will start homeschooling after Labor Day, so we haven't begun that either.

My hubby's job is running low on work, but they don't want to fire anyone, so he has had a week off here and there lately.  As you can probably imagine, that wreaks havoc on our already chaotic finances.  And the worst part is that we usually don't know until each Friday whether he is going to work the next week or not.

Old friends seem to be moving on to new chapters in their lives, why does mine have to be STUCK?  I take comfort in the knowledge that our new life is right around the corner, but that still makes this time suck just a little.  And please don't pontificate about "Life's a journey, not a destination".  I'm well aware that I should be enjoying every day and not just looking longingly to the future.  But right now I feel like i'm stuck in "The Truman Show".  Like I can try to leave, try to make a change, but the universe won't let me and it will never happen.  I'll drive through a wall of fire and a radiation leak trying to escape and wake up back in my old house and my old life.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Into The Earth

This summer we have been considering homeschooling for the fall and so have kind of been dabbling in it a bit this summer.  The topic we have more or less been pursuing is caves.  I must say, we've had alot of fun with it and I feel it still has even more to give us.  Mitchell doesn't tend to sustain interest in things very well, but he has been pretty interested in all our cave related activities so far and we've had some great discussions that he was a full and willing participant in.  In case anyone else is interested in learning more about caves, I'll put up the links and resources we've used at the bottom of the post.

As part of our "cave lessons" Mitchell and I visited Mystery Cave.  Last summer we toured Crystal Cave as a family and that was good.  It was an interesting tour, but Crystal Cave is very much a show cave.  Mystery Cave on the other hand, has a wilder side.  It has a 1 hour tour which is for all ages and is handicap accessible.  I think it's great that they make things so that people in wheelchairs can participate too, but frankly for me handicap-accessible=boring most of the time.  And if you can bring babies, you know it's not going to be all that fun.  But Mystery Cave also has a 2 hour "rustic" tour which is not handicap accessible and not suitable for children under 5.  Now that right there makes it sound more tantalizing.

We were not disappointed.  The 2 hour Mystery Cave tour goes into a part of the cave that has no lights and natural cave floors (as opposed to the leveled and smoothed floors in the more tame section of the cave).  There are parts where you have to duck your head, walk stooped over, and tread carefully so you don't slide down muddy slopes.  And the only light comes from your flashlight.  It was great!

The entrance is this little concrete shed in the middle of the woods.  If you didn't know it was the cave entrance, you might wonder WHAT in the heck was going on when you saw 20 people squeeze into this little shed and not come out for 2 hours.  We saw stalactites, stalagmites, trogloxenes (bats), helictites, flowstone, an underground lake, and enough breakdown to make the whole thing feel just a little bit dangerous.  I came out of that one definitely feeling a bit of awe at the geologic processes that make up our world and I think Mitchell did too.

Try these resources for some cave exploration of your own!

  • Cave vocab worksheet (3rd grade)                                                                                          
  • Caves in the bible : (Joshua 10:15-19 RSV) (John 11:38-40 RSV)

  • Netflix has an interesting Nova documentary available to watch instantly on the computer, Extreme Cave Diving
  • Dissolve sugar in water to watch things dissolve firsthand, like the rock does when caves are created.  We looked at the sugar first with a magnifying glass and talked about its properties - hard, grainy, squarish crystals - then add lemon juice to make lemonade!
  • Some things that are less related to caves but are still directions that this exploration has taken us: echolocation in other animals than bats, volcanos, 1920's gangsters (courtesy of the Wabasha Street caves), mines and other man-made tunnels

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chocolate Nut Balls

I tried and tweaked a new recipe today.  Vegan chocolate nut balls.  I know, it needs a new name (got any ideas?).  As usual, Violet loved it and the boys were so-so about it.  Violet is really taking to all these new foods and flavors much better than the boys.  Probably because she is so young.  I thought they were pretty tasty too so here they are for you...

Mama's Vegan Chocolate Nut Balls

Cookie dough:
  • 1 3/4 cups ground raw cashews
  • 3/4 cup ground oats
  • 1/4 cup Agave Nectar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • Flake coconut
Chocolate chips:
  • 2 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 Tablespoon agave nectar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla

Dough: Grind up raw cashews and raw oats in a food processor or blender. I did mine in my coffee grinder, which worked but probably wasn't good for the grinder.  Place all wet cookie dough ingredients into a large bowl and mix well. Add dry ingredients except coconut and mix more.  Refrigerate dough.

Chips: Mix all chocolate chip ingredients together in a medium sized bowl except cocoa powder. Add the cocoa powder and mix well.  Roll the dough out onto parchment paper and place in the freezer for about 30 minutes.
When the chocolate is frozen, cut into chips. I used a pizza cutter but you can use whatever.  Mix chips into dough.  Roll dough into balls of whatever size you'd like (I like mine bite-sized but then you have to roll a ton of them).  Roll the balls in coconut.

Place in fridge to harden.

Mitch said he mostly didn't like the chocolate chips (they have a dark chocolate flavor) because they were too bitter for him.  He wanted me to make some without the chips.  I'll try that for him, and i'll also try making the chips sweeter for him too or maybe just using our store-bought GFCF chocolate chips that I know he likes.  Or maybe I should just chalk this up as another failed food experiment.  I figure if Mitch won't eat it, what's the point?  He's the reason we're doing this whole thing in the first place! Grrrrrrr...

The View From Here: Ivy

I have a nice little corner set up for Ivy and bought her a great little toy arch to hang things on for her.  Guess what?  She hates it.  She doesn't mind a little floor time in the corner now and then, but she has absolutely no interest in that toy arch.  I've tried to hang different things on it to catch her eye, but to no avail.  I made some really neat high contrast thingies out of cardboard for her that I hung on there - she wouldn't even look at them.

I'm still not sure why things on the arch don't interest her, but I did notice something when I was changing her yesterday.  It seemed that she likes looking at the grate on the little metal wipes shelf over her changing table.  So I said to myself, "Self, if the baby won't go to the cute developmental thingies, bring the cute developmental thingies to the baby."

I hug my black and white and red masterpieces from her wipes shelf and bazinga!  She DEFINITELY noticed them at the next diaper change.  Her eyes were open wide and she held very still and just stared.  She was mesmerized.  Here is the view from Ivy's changing table...
Now as you can probably see, she was already getting some interesting patterns and contrast from the stuff that I had placed on the shelf.  But mamas like to feel useful once in a while so i'm going to leave the hanging things up there anyway since she seems to like them even better.  It's hard to tell from the picture, but i've also hung the three objects at three different heights, so there is some depth perception work going on there too.

If you'd like to make something out of these nice high contrast infant patterns, you can print them from here.  Then make them into whatever you want.  I glued them onto cardboard and hung them with curling ribbon (what I had on hand).  You could just tape them up on a wall or car seatback or wherever your baby might want something interesting to look at.  Make a little book out of them for you and baby to sit together and look at?  Be creative!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Oh My Goodness, There's A Baby In There!

When Violet was a baby I got introduced to the whole attachment parenting idea.  I didn't immediately fall in love with all of the principles, but I dabbled a bit.  One of the principles recommends babywearing as a way to connect more with your baby.  We wore Mitchell in a backpack out in the Boundary Waters when he was six months old, but it wasn't a day-to-day kind of a thing.  Over the last three kids we have owned a Baby Bjorn and a woven Ellaroo wrap, besides the big hiking backpack.  I used them occasionally, but it always just seemed easier to have whichever baby it was in their baby bucket seat or to hold them.

When I found out with Violet that it was supposed to be pretty beneficial to them to be worn, I tried to wear her more, but she was pretty content just sitting in a highchair or bouncy seat so it didn't become a very high priority.  Besides, the Ellaroo was a pain to get on and off and the Bjorn hurt my back, so it was more of a chore to wear her, than a benefit to me.  I even bought one of those death bags that were supposed to be so great to see if that would work better, but that one hurt my shoulder and it seemed like Violet couldn't breathe very well in there so I quit using it.  I figured babywearing just wasn't for us.

But as Violet grew we started hanging out at a local mecca for urban hippies called The Parenting Oasis.  It seemed like everyone was wearing their baby, and it was so EASY for them!  The babies looked happy and comfortable (and breathing just fine) and the mamas were able to pop them in and out of their carriers with ease and no apparent back pain.  I became determined to figure out their secret.

After some research and impromptu surveys I figured out that my problem was bad products.  This time around I tried a Moby wrap and lo and behold, it worked!  It was kind of a pain to get on and off, but the beauty was that since it was stretchy, I could easily get Ivy in and out without taking the whole darn thing off.  The super wide shoulders not only made it very comfortable to wear, but a hidden benefit was that when she was out of it, it looked kind of like a funky shirt instead of an empty carrier, so I could just leave it on.  Another hidden benefit - it was so cozy that it was like a magical sleeping wrap.  As soon as I popped Ivy in it she would fall asleep within about five minutes and would sleep until I took her out.  This made trips to the grocery store with four kids a little less scary than it sounds.  Ivy would sleep the entire time in the wrap so it was like I was only taking three kids (which is still a daunting task in and of itself).

The Moby served us well in May and June, but July it was just too darn hot to be wrapping all that fabric around me every day.  I went looking for other options and found the adjustable Hotslings sling.  Another great find.  We use this one pretty much every single day lately.

Something that we did to try and encourage ourselves to wear her more was to outlaw the baby bucket.  We have been using the convertible Britax Marathon right from birth and skipping the infant seat altogether.  So when we get to our destination, we have to either carry Ivy in our arms or wear her, there's no temptation to just carry her around in the bucket instead.  Part of this was a conscious decision to try to offer her more stimulation, interaction, and bonding on a daily basis, and part of this was just the fact that for the life of me I can't find the base to the infant seat.  It is lost somewhere in the depths of my storage room (I think... but maybe I got rid of it?  But why would I do that?  I don't know...).  Another one of "the hidden benefits of disorder" (read it!).

All this babywearing has yielded some pretty interesting effects.  It seems like every where I go, there are twice as many people cooing and smiling at Ivy than ever interacted with my other children as infants.  Every store or place of business we go into, customers and staff are always saying "Oh my goodness - there's a baby in there!  Awwww, doesn't she look snug and cozy right there next to her mama."  I thought maybe Ivy was just exceptionally cute (but what mama doesn't think that?) but then the receptionist at the pediatrician's office said something that made me think.  She said "Oh how sweet!  What a cutie!  We never really get to see the babies because they are usually in their seat on the floor."

Wow - I was stunned.  They are receptionists at a PEDIATRICIAN'S OFFICE and they never really get to see babies?  But it makes sense.  You aren't supposed to put those buckets up on the counter, for safety, so people set them down on the floor.  All the babies get is a good view of everyone's ankles.  Ivy, on the other hand, up in her sling, gets to see everyone's faces, watch what i'm doing (she loves to watch me wash dishes from the sling - lots of clanking and splashing and movement), and interact with both me and whoever else may be around.

These days, when I see a baby at a store in a bucket it makes me sad.  I mean, mom probably puts the baby in the bucket at home, puts the bucket into the stroller or shopping cart when they get to their destination, maybe does the same at another store, then goes home and maybe even leaves the baby in the seat even longer if they are asleep.  The baby spends the whole morning getting little to no human touch or interaction unless they cry for it.  As I was walking into Chipotle yesterday with Ivy in the sling, I found myself kissing her head and patting her butt.  If she had been in a bucket, she certainly wouldn't have been getting that kind of interaction as I walked in the door.  It's little things like that that add up and I think are really great for her.

Don't get me wrong, i'm not judging the moms carry babies around in those buckets.  That was totally me three years ago.  I've done that hundreds of times without batting an eye.  But I feel like my eyes are open now and I would never go back.

P.S.  The Hotslings instructions says their product is also good for pets so OF COURSE I had to try it out on my furbaby lol - she likes it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Little Knit-Wit

Last year at school Mitchell decided he wanted to take the knitting classes they were offering (alot of boys in his class were in it).  He tried it, he made half a scarf, and then decided he doesn't like knitting.  Now I crochet, but I don't knit, so when he was coming to me for help, I had none to give.  I looked up some knitting videos on youtube though and was able to help him muddle through well enough.  But anyways, knitting wasn't for him.  We had borrowed some knitting needles from a friend and she called looking to get them back (her boys had renewed interest in knitting).  I looked up a binding off video on youtube and finished off that short scarf of Mitch's so I could give the needles back.  While I was doing that though, Henry was watching me pretty intently.

"Mama, would you teach ME to knit?", he asked.

I told him he was too young, he protested, so I said FINE and showed him a basic stitch.  Much to my surprise, he was actually pretty good at it!  And he liked it!  He makes alot of mistakes, but he makes alot of progress too.  We've had some pretty nice moments this week sitting on the couch while I read and nurse the baby and he knits next to me in case he needs help (that's my book behind his head in the picture - "A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder" by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman - an excellent read).

My 15 minutes of fame

It seems like i've been getting my 15 minutes of fame in about 3 minute increments. I was interviewed for about 10 whole seconds of on-air footage on the local news when my step-dad passed out behind the wheel and drove through someone's house in his truck. I've done a few different segments for Minnesota Public Radio. The Star Tribune interviewed me for a story on cloth diapers. But this is the first time i've contributed to something national.

A reporter from the Wall Street Journal called me for a phone interview on retaining kids a grade. It was very exciting to thing that my thoughts will be going out to WSJ readers all across the country and maybe the world! The reporter found me through, where an interesting debate has been going on about whether holding kids back is good or bad. For those of you who may not know, we decided to hold Mitchell back for a second try at first grade, so weighing the pros and cons was something we spent alot of time researching and thinking and praying about.

My take on it? It is a very individual decision. Sometimes it can be just what a kid needs to get a firmer grasp on the basics, gain confidence, and mature a bit. On the other hand, it can also make a bad situation worse. So I think that only each parent can decide for their own kid whether holding them back will be good or bad.

What do you think about holding kids back in school?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ivy's Space

I can't title this "Ivy's Room", because she doesn't have a room.  But really, does an infant need a whole room?  I think not.  A while back I told you all about my plans for the "baby nook" so today I thought I would update with pictures.  You won't see Ivy in any of them because she is sleeping in my bed with Mitchell right now, but I had a quiet moment so thought I would let you see what we've done.

After using the space a bit I decided that Ivy needed a play space up in the livingroom, so I took some of the elements I had prepared for her nook (like the mirror) and created a corner for her upstairs also.  She also has a crib mattress in her room instead of the futon we bought for her because for the first five weeks my husband slept upstairs on the futon instead of with us while he waited for Ivy to get her days and nights straightened out.  We just haven't switched things back around yet and really, since she's no where near rolling yet, I don't think there is a pressing need.
The corner upstairs turned out really nicely.  And since her area is flanked on three sides by a bookshelf, a wall, and an armchair, she is able to be on the floor pretty safely and not really in constant peril of being stepped on.

Now, don't think that my whole house is this clean and the "maelstrom" in the title is a bit of exaggeration.  Rest assured that directly around and behind me where I am taking this picture is plenty of insanity.  Pretty much my entire mothering life, the cleanest spots in the house are the baby's area.  They are too little to mess it up.  Once it becomes a toddler area instead of a baby area though, look out!

Workboxes, eh?

I have been doing alot of research on homeschooling lately because when the financial aid information came back from the kids' school, it was not so favorable this year as it has been in past years.  I am definitely going to homeschool Mitchell this year because besides the money factor, he has so far been pretty unsuccessful at handling a classroom full of kids without medication.  I haven't been very happy with the side effects of his medication so if I am able to homeschool him meds-free, I think that would be the best for him.  So we'll give it a try.  As for the other two, we are still in negotiations with the school, so only time will tell how that will turn out.

So as I was doing this homeschooling research, I stumbled across the concept of workboxes.  It is a way to encourage independent work by setting out 12 boxes with 12 different activities for them to do.  It is also a way to get organized and gather your supplies and whatnot ahead of time, so that would be GREAT for me.  I found a lot of detailed information about workboxes here.

I think this would be great for me because it would force me to be prepared and organized instead of constantly digging for supplies at the last minute.  And I think it would be great for Mitchell because the visual of all those full boxes becoming empty boxes would help him gauge how much he has done and what he has left to do.  And when I get distracted by the baby (as babies often do) he can keep working without me because he will know what needs to be done.

So i'm adding plastic boxes to my back-to-school supply list - i'll let you know how it goes!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Diet Problems...

So we've been trying an elimination diet with Mitchell and it was seeming to help, but i'm not sure if this is going to work.  Every time i'm not around, well meaning people are constantly giving him all kinds of things on his no-no list, often without realizing it.  For example someone told Grandpa it was okay to give Mitchell beef jerky, but since he didn't actually read the label, he picked out a brand that had wheat in it (you wouldn't believe all the places they stick wheat).  Even my husband (whose idea this whole diet was) is guilty of not reading labels all the time and accidentally giving Mitch stuff he shouldn't have.  So lately his behavior has been worse and i'm not sure if it is because it was just a fluke and the diet isn't really helping him after all, or if its because people have gotten more lax lately and there have been lots of food accidents.

To complicate matters, he just got back from camp, where for three days he ate all kinds of no-no foods.  His counselors said he did great and his behavior wasn't a problem.  So that says to me that the diet isn't a big factor.  But then again, it was the perfect environment at camp too.  He was with all kids his own age or older, hanging out with a group of boys and teenage boy counselors, doing fun outdoor physical activities.  That's the least likely time for him to act up anyways.

So i'm just really confused.  I liked what was happening for a couple weeks there but we seem to have lost it.  This week we are starting a renewed commitment to Mitch's diet, but we are not going to try to cut out gluten anymore and see how that goes.  We are thinking that should be an easier diet to follow, and part of the battle is having a diet that you can live with day after day and stick to.  Neither the Feingold diet or Dr. Jay Gordon's ADHD diets eliminate wheat so I think doing a diet that includes gluten still has a shot at working.  We'll just work on eliminating dairy, added sugar, HFCS, MSG, dyes, preservatives, and pretty much anything artificial that we can.  Whole and homemade foods will be the order of the day (and pretty much have been anyways lately).

The hard part about these elimination diets is not so much the follow through as it is the uncertainty.  I mean, if I could have a doctor tell me 100% that such and such foods are bad for Mitch and that eliminating them would help him, it would be much easier to enforce the diet.  But when I'm always second guessing myself and I'm not sure what the problem is exactly, it makes it tough.  It's hard to stand your ground when you're not sure if it can even hold your weight.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Culture of Milk

I pretty much have all this breastfeeding stuff down cold. I can nurse with no hands, nurse two at once, nurse anytime and anyplace with or without a blanket. Or so I thought. I recently read an article about breastfeeding as a part of family culture.  As I was reading it, it occurred to me that often, when I am breastfeeding around family, I leave the room or move to a less occupied corner of the room.  No one has ever said anything negative about my nursing or given any indication that I should leave the vicinity to do it, I just kind of figure I should.  But the funny thing is, I don't do it for my own comfort.  I am very comfortable nursing in front of people.  I have no problem nursing in front of my mom or my friends or strangers at the park.  But I guess I just figure the rest of my family would probably rather not see it even though they've never indicated that.

So I was thinking, in these days of small families where mom may be done nursing the last one before the first is even out of diapers, many children and teens and young adults just aren't seeing much breastfeeding going on around them.  So, why would they see it as a totally natural and great thing when they've never really SEEN it much at all?

This will not be an issue plaguing my kids.  Mitchell is 8 and he is already very supportive of breastfeeding.  He brings me the baby if he thinks she's hungry, and he has no qualms about coming up and hugging and kissing Ivy while she is latched on.  To him breastfeeding is as normal as changing a diaper.  And many of our friends are pretty public nursers so all the kids witness breastfeeding on a pretty regular basis even when i'm not currently nursing anyone.

It never occurred to me that by nursing in another room, perhaps I am doing my younger extended family members a disservice. Far be it from me to be one who keeps breastfeeding in the shadows.  I want my female family members to feel comfortable nursing around me - I would never want them to have to go in another room (unless of course they really wanted to). I am the oldest child in my family, one of the oldest cousins too.  And many of the younger family members are just starting to get to the age of having babies of their own.  What better way to show them that it's okay to nurse with us than leading by example?  So if this next generation is going to have a strong family culture of breastfeeding, let it begin with me.

Cloth Diapers for Newborns: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Over the nine months before Ivy was born I did a lot of research and accumulated quite a little collection of diapers.  I had never cloth diapered a newborn before, only older babies, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  I got a little bit of several different things that had been recommended to me as well as some extra stuff I picked up for super cheap.  Alot of it wasn't great, but some of it was really amazing.  Here are my top 5 best and worst cloth diapering items for newborns... 


1. Green Mountain Diapers prefolds - I found that I really like prefolds for the newborn stage.  They are cheap, soft, and it is very easy to tell if they are wet or not.  I especially enjoyed the prefolds from Green Mountain Diapers because they are made to be shorter in the rise and wider in the hips so they are easier to Snappi and fit for a long time.  The orange edged prefolds would be excellent for regular sized newborn.  The fit fine on my 10lb 2oz newborn, but only for about three or four weeks.  Once she hit 11lb or so, they were getting too Snappi.  Green Mountain Diapers has prefolds in five sizes that are are approximately NB, S, M, L, and XL but they color code them instead of naming a size.  You don't have to buy every size either.  Since prefolds are so versatile, you could easily get by only buying the yellow (S) and brown (L) edged prefolds and just folding down any extra material.

2. Snappi - Many people just trifold the prefold diaper and lay it in a cover successfully, but I am guessing alot of those people either had a million covers or were formula feeding their children because when I tried this I got poop on my cover every time so I wasn't able to wipe and reuse it.  So I prefer to use a Snappi diaper closure to keep the prefold actually on Ivy.  It keeps poo off the cover very well so that I can get by with less covers and any time you can keep poo off of the inside of the cover, you know you aren't going to have any poo explosions either.

3. Thirsties sized covers - There are tons of good cover options out there.  One problem that many of them have though, is that they are cut a little too trim either through the crotch or at the hips, so they only work with fitted diapers or lay in inserts/trifolded prefolds.  I think a really great cover should be able to cover ANY diaper you choose to put on your baby.  Thirsties sized covers (not the 2-size Duo) were up to the challenge.  The generous cut and cross over velcro tabs also have made them very versatile size-wise.  My other newborn covers stopped fitting a couple of weeks ago, but I was able to use Thirsties XS covers the day she was born and still today at six weeks.

4. Thirsties Fab Fitted diapers - As I said before, some covers won't be up to the challenge of easily covering a Snappied prefold.  So if you have some covers you love that can't handle prefolds, I would definitely recommend trying a Thirsties Fab Fitted.  They are very soft and supple, hold plenty of liquid, and the leg elastic provides a great barrier to poo explosions.  The stay-dry inner layer also helps babies feel dry so that you can get a little extra sleep at night.

5. GroBaby (or GroVia) hybrid system - There are alot of one-size diaper items out there, and they are a great idea and make diapering much more affordable.  That being said, many don't work well for newborns.  I was pretty happy with the fit of the GroBaby diaper though.  The soft, supple, infinite crossover tabs make getting a good fit around the waist very easy no matter what your baby's size.  The system is meant to be used by removing inserts and snapping a new one into the shell (cover), but with a newborn that is pooping ten times a day, that just doesn't happen.  I found I could usually only use the shells once.  Now that we are at the six week mark though, and pooping has slowed a bit, I am starting to be able to reuse the shells and I am thrilled that I will be able to continue using this system as she grows, unlike most of her other newborn items.


 1. Pocket diapers - I have liked and successfully used pocket diapers in the past, but only on older babies.  With an exclusively breastfed baby, the poo is very slippery and tricky and it will find its way out of ANYTHING.  So a pocket diaper, with only a single layer of elastic between you and the poo, is not the best bet for a newborn.  The leaks that I did get occasionally were all from pocket diapers, both sized and one-size.  I have yet to get a leak from the double elastic protection of a fitted and cover.  One pocket that did work pretty well though was the Rump-a-rooz one-size.  It was able to get small enough to fit my newborn and the internal elastic channel kept all that poo right where it belonged.  But in general, your basic pocket diaper is not going to be your best bet for newborn diapering.

2. One-size fitteds - These types of diapers just have SO much fabric that they are extremely bulk and unwieldy on a newborn.  They still work of course, but you will need a much larger cover to put all of that fabric into.  When prefolds are so cheap it just makes sense to save the bigger stuff for later on.

3. Motherease Airflow covers - Functionally, there is nothing wrong with these covers.  They keep the wetness in.  But they are not a cover I would recommend at all.  The waistband and leg bands are not very comfortable at all and the cut is extremely poofy.  It reminds me of a pair of Gerber plastic pull-on pants that someone has added snaps to the sides of (though made of a slightly better material than Gerber pants).  For a similar fit (if you like the roominess) but much more comfortable leg and waistbands, try the Stacinator So-Simple cover.  This one has soft fleece leg and waistbands but the same cut as a Motherease cover - poofy.

4. Bumkins covers -  I like the idea of the air vent in the back of these, so I bought one, but unfortunately it just didn't cut the mustard for my newborn.  They are not very stretchy at all around the waist and legs so it is tough to get a good fit that is tight enough to keep that pesky EBF poo in yet still loose enough to be comfortable.

5. Bumkins All-In-Ones - These diapers not only had the same trouble as the Bumkins covers, but it was compounded by the fact that, like the pocket diapers, there was only one layer of elastic between you and death-by-poopy.  For a better All-In-One try the Thirsties AIO.  It is cut so that there is more room in the crotch area, almost like a poo reservoir, so the EBF poo doesn't immediately go shooting out the sides.


One diaper cover that I was very disappointed in was the Thirsties Duo cover.  It seemed like a great idea, the prints were super cute, it works great, but I just can't see my way clear to buying any more of these.  The problem is the cut.  They are cut to fit perfectly over the Fab Fitteds, which is fine - I like Fab Fitteds - but they are a little too trim for a Snappied prefold.  I can make them work, but it takes some tucking and arranging.  I don't want to have to do that at diapering time.  I just want to put something on and go.  Something that can cover ANY diaper I have in my stash.  The Blueberry One-Size Coverall is a much more versatile product in my opinion.  It got small enough to fit Ivy right from the start and unlike a one-size fitted, one-size covers don't have the issue with too much extra material getting bulky.  And the cut is generous enough to fit over whatever I might want to put on her, even bulky one-size fitteds.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Another GFCF hit! Rhubarb Crumb Cake

So - to assist us on our journey of GFCF living, we've bought a share from a local CSA this year.  Actually we're splitting a half-share with my mother since I wasn't sure if we would be able to be very successful using all those new fruits, veggies, and herbs.  We got our first box of produce last Monday, the second round is coming today, and we've had a great week of new recipes.  We tried quinoa for the first time this week.  Grandma made 2 different quinoa recipes, one of which was just so-so but the other was delicious.  Unfortunately the kids were not loving the quinoa.  It was really tasty though, so i'll post it later for you anyways after I get it from Grandma.

We've got lots of lettuce from the CSA, with more to come this week, but unfortunately our old standby dressings (ranch and western) are no longer options for us.  So I bought three different GFCF organic dressings from the store and we sampled them.  I liked the Annies Lemon and Chive, nobody liked the raspberry vinaigrette I bought, but we struck a chord with the third dressing - Annies Poppy and Papaya.  It had a very similar sweet taste to western (but better!) and it was orange like western (important when convincing kids).  Henry and Violet both ate it up but we were 0 for 3 Mitch.  We'll try some more dressings next time I go to the store.  Mitch loves salad so we need to find something he can slather on his greens.

Another thing they liked was the rhubarb crumb cake I made this morning.  It wasn't especially healthy (2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup shortening!) but did have some positive ingredients (multi-grain drink, rhubarb, nuts, coconut) so it's a treat I can feel good about giving them.  Again though, Mitch didn't like it, while the other two scarfed it up.  Oh well, we'll keep trying, and that's fine with me because all these new recipes are fun!

GFCF Rhubarb Cake (I'd like to ditch the shortening - any good substitutions you know of?)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose gluten free flour 
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole grain drink (would also work with rice or soy drink)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • In a bowl, cream shortening and 1-1/2 cups brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl;  In another separate bowl combine multigrain drink and lemon juice; add to creamed mixture alternately with flour mixture. Fold in rhubarb.
  • Spread into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. For topping, combine brown sugar and cinnamon; stir in coconut and chopped pecans. Sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes. 
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