Friday, September 23, 2011

Smashing Grapes

We finally smashed grapes with our feet like I posted as a plan back in August.  It was fun!  I wish I could afford to fill up the tub with them (as E  begged me to do!), but instead I just got a big box of them and divided them into two big mixing bowls and let the girls smoosh and stomp to their heart's content.  Then we strained out the juice and drank it.  I offered some to D and he looked at me like I'd just asked him to smell sweaty feet.  I told him I had washed the girls feet really well before they stomped the grapes, but he said "It's not that I doubt you washed them, but, um, no.  That's just gross."

I showed the girls the video of I Love Lucy where she stomps grapes in Italy, which is hilarious and if you have never seen I Love Lucy, you really should watch it.  I told them that their great grandma's parents came to America from Italy (well, technically Sicily which is a detail to me, but apparently very important to them) right before she was born.  We imagined that some of our ancestors might have stomped grapes at some point.

I tried to make raisins from the smashed up grapes, but they didn't turn out.  I didn't actually read how to do it, I just spread them on a pan and stuck them out in the sun. After a few days, I was afraid they had gone bad rather than dried out, so I threw them away.

All in all, it was a fun project!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What's Not Working

Social Activities: We have met a few other homeschoolers, but getting together has been hard. Most are in charter school, so they have their own charter school activities. Several live out of town and we don't have a car right now. Our main place for meeting people has been the library preschool story time, so most of those kids are between 18 months and 4 years old.. E is one of the oldest ones there and L is happy to be in the vicinity of people whether she actually interacts with anyone or not. We've made a few friends, several prospective friends and the girls get to socialize at the library, with neighborhood kids, at dance class and as we are out and about running errands. It's not so much a lack of socializing, as a lack of community.

My Tendency to be Verbose:
Sandra Dodd recently made a comment on Always Learning about excessive "cutie-poo mom noise." That cracked me up! She was referring to the constant barrage of high pitched, baby talking questions, suggestions, and exhortations made by well meaning, but insecure moms to their annoyed kids who just want them to shut up. I don't fall into that category exactly, but every time she talks about it I'm reminded of my own tendency towards not high pitched and not cutie-poo, but obnoxious and sometimes constant barrage of noise. I want to be understood and make sure I'm understanding and have apologies and clarifications and explanations all around with a plan laid out for how to handle future similar situations. I'd probably make a great mediator between warring countries or nasty divorces, but it's just not necessary when my 5 year old and 3 year old have a spat over a toy. Their eyes glaze over and they just want to give me the right answer so I'll STOP TALKING. And the last thing I want is for my kids to feel like they have to give me the "right answer," for them to feel like they can't communicate honestly with me, so naturally, I tell them that and continue talking rather than just SHUTTING UP.

Making Rules:
Yes, I've been making rules lately and I'm not liking it. When E was about 2-4 years old I focused a lot on trying to provide information rather than telling her what to do. I tried to focus on principles rather than rules. I got pretty good at it. But as L has gotten older and Z was born and we moved and have had a lot of changes and stressors, I've resorted more to rules. I'm a little torn on the issue. On the one hand, I don't have rules about so many things (food, tv, bedtimes, cleaning) and I do take into consideration what the kids want to do and try to find ways for everyone's needs and wants to be met. So part of me just doesn't feel one bit bad about saying things like "No water on the floor, I don't want to deal with the mess," when a year ago I would have allowed it. For the most part, the few rules I have are based on principles like safety and respect (like no using the shower curtain as a spiderman web and swinging from it). Also, for the most part, the kids don't balk at the rules too much, so I think "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I've also starting just telling them what to do more than I used to and I've told them if they don't like what I'm telling them they can ask me to work with them to find a solution and I will, otherwise just do it. On the other hand, I know I'm resorting to these things because they are easier, require less of my mental and emotional energy, and because I can just be "mom" without being their partner. The firm and kind mom isn't a bad thing. It's "good parenting" and it's a million times better than hitting and yelling. But I want something more in my relationship with my kids. I want to be their partner and confidant and mentor and I see the way I'm acting is moving me further away from that, not closer. Not that I'm giving up firm and kind, just that I need to put more emphasis on providing information and "working with," not "doing to." .

My Expectations of L:
In some ways it's so obvious that L is still just a baby when compared to E, but I still tend to think that she is capable of doing everything E is. I have to remember that she does not have the same impulse control, maturity, forethought or skills as E, because she is 2.5 years younger!

What's Working

As part of living a mindful life, I like to assess every now and then what's working and what's not working. I don't want to get stuck in a rut of doing something one way just because it's easy or comfortable if it's not working out well for all the members of my family. I'm delving into this in the more personal areas of my life privately, but here I'll share the unschooling/parenting aspects.

WORKING: Food, tv, no bedtimes, cleaning and all of those major issues that people balk at when learning about radical unschooling. The way I handle these things has become so easy and natural now that I hardly even think about them.
I still think about nutrition when I shop and cook, but I don't stress about what they are eating. The only thing I am constantly aware of is E's corn allergy, but she is also very aware of it and we work together. I'm in the habit now of checking labels for corn, and other than the occasional slip up I just don't buy it. She has asked that if her daddy buys something with corn for himself that he will hide it so she's not tempted. Sometimes if she shops with me or if we are at someone else's house she will make the choice to eat corn and deal with how her body feels. I do encourage her not to and try to find other alternatives, but it's her body so the choice is ultimately hers. Besides her corn allergy, I just have an awareness in the back of my mind of what they have been eating and that triggers an occasional suggestion ("You've had a lot of cheese today, how about something with some fiber now so you don't get constipated.") but there's no stress or control associated with it.

It's just a non-issue. When we lived in Oregon, I was very aware of making lots of other options readily available, so that they were watching tv if they really wanted to, but not just out of boredom. Now we can't afford cable, but we get movies from the library ever week, occasionally get redbox movies and they can watch things online. And they do, but here we have a yard for the first time and L is at an age now where they can really play well together. So they play together, often outside, most of the day if we are home. Then we put a movie on in the evenings before bed. Movies still spark lots of good conversations and interests.

No bedtimes:
We have an easy going routine that I lead and they follow of dinner, clean up time, brushing teeth and then a movie or books. They don't always fall asleep in the same place (couch or recliner or my bed or theirs) or in the same way (in front of a movie, after reading books I sing, or we all just lay down) or at the same time (I shoot for somewhere between 8 and 10 depending on whether or not D is home for me to spend time with him, how tired I am, how badly I want to be alone, whether or not L got a nap, how tired they are acting), but it works. Falling asleep is almost always a happy, relaxed time.

This is another I lead and they follow thing. I set the example and get the ball rolling and they pitch in. We do a clean up time every evening and they do their part 9 out of 10 times. Well, I should say, E does. L doesn't quite as often, but she is more likely to help me during the day with laundry or cleaning the bathroom. E often cleans their room by herself with only verbal guidance from me. The last couple of days she has started washing dishes completely out of the blue.

Academic Learning:
I'm putting this is the working category, because they are learning a lot. E's birthday misses the cut off for compulsory school age by one day, so we do not have to be official until next year, which makes her technically a kindergartener. I don't use the arbitrary school standards as the benchmark for whether or not my kids are learning, but by next year, for legal purposes, I will have to be aware of them. If I were sending E to school, she would fit right in academically with first graders this year. However, I have been struggling with finding inspiration for things to do since we moved here. This town is simply not the bustling center of culture, art, music, and homeschooling activity that Portland is. And that leads into NOT WORKING:

Sunday, September 11, 2011


E has a little porcelain duck named Teeny. Today she asked me how to spell Teeny's name and I told her the letters while I was working in the kitchen. I glanced over and realized that L was writing all of the letters too! She learned how to write E from watching E write her name, but every time I offer to show her how to write her own name or anything else she isn't interested until today when she suddenly just did it. She not only wrote all the letters easily and legibly, she did it by watching E write them on the other side of the table, so the ones she was copying were upside down to her, but she did them right side up on her paper. L doesn't require a lot of feedback or practice when she learns how to do things. She just observes, absorbs and suddenly does it. It's so fun watching their different learning styles!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hot Air Balloon Races

We went to the local hot air balloon races. They were nothing compared to the race next month 80 miles away which will have over 100 balloons, but this was fun for the girls as it was their first time ever seeing a balloon race.

My mom introduced them to the song Up Up and Away by Fifth Dimension.

Easy, Cheap and Fairly Healthy

I don't really like to cook. Baking is ok now and then, mostly because I want somewhat healthy baked sweets, not because I actually enjoy the act of baking. But cooking is usually too much effort for too little results. I do not make meals, I make dishes that serve as meals. Pasta, for example, is a one-dish meal. My family is lucky if I make a salad with it. I will never do a whole spread with meat, pasta, salad, bread, dessert unless company is over which is maybe once a year.

All of that being said, I have been hitting some homeruns in the cooking department lately. Homerun meaning at least 3 out of 4 of the solid food eating members of my household like it and it requires minimal work and preferably creates leftovers. My husband has been out of town for work, which means I have to actually attempt cooking (he usually does it), because my kids are not happy living off of oatmeal, fruit, granola bars, salad and cookies like I am (no really, they turn down cookies).

I discovered, where you can input the ingredients you have in your kitchen and it will spew out recipes that use those ingredients.

This is colcannon, which is an Irish version of mashed potatoes (come to think of it, they probably invented mashed potatoes in the first place). Anyway, in my quest to make as many things as possible vegan, I think next time I will use coconut oil instead of butter.

The girls have been asking for pancakes every single morning since I started using this recipe. They are vegan, whole wheat and fluffy, which sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true! It's the massive amount of baking powder that's the secret.

Egg salad with rice to make it stretch. (We were at my mom's for dinner and she said she was going to use rice to make the chicken grow. E looked out the window at grandma's garden and said "You grow chicken?!" Grandma explained that no, chicken is an animal, we are just using the rice to make it stretch.... No. Wait. We aren't really stretching chicken either. And we wonder why it's hard for people to learn English when they move here!) Anyway, the girls and I liked it in a flour tortilla with ranch and lettuce. (Yes, I'm a total hypocrite talking about trying to eat vegan and then chowing down on eggs and ranch dressing).

Latkes are potato pancakes and we had them for the first time at a Hanukkah party. Serving them with applesauce is key, they just aren't the same alone or with ketchup.

My oven broke, so I was looking for microwave cake recipes and found a few that I combined into my own. They turned out more like granola bars, but they are sweet enough for dessert.

Mix in a bowl:

1/2 cup oil
1 1/3 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar (next time I'll try honey and see how they turn out)
2 eggs (I skipped them one time I made this and just added a little water and they still turned out good)
1 t vanilla
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg

Then add:

1 cup chocolate chips


1/2 cup cranberries (this makes them really tangy and yummy

Microwave for 6 minutes or until firm. If you do it longer, they are more like crunchy granola bars. If you do it for less time they are a bit chewier.

One of my favorite dishes is pasta with alfredo sauce and I've missed it since I stopped eating dairy. I finally learned how to make a good, vegan white sauce and it's so easy. Just make roux with olive oil instead of butter and rice milk instead of cow's milk. Since I never know what seasonings to use, I made it with vegetable broth instead of rice milk. At that point it was no longer anything like alfredo, but with some chopped spinach and sundried tomatoes on top of egg noodles, it was delicious.

Homemade Paints

We made these paints last week and they were so cool! I didn't get pictures, but at least I can pass on the recipe. My grandmother passed away several years ago and we finally got to go through her things. She had a lot of cookbooks and one of them is a cookbook that was complied by parents of preschool children.

Homemade Finger Paints

3 T Sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 cups cold water
food coloring
pinch of detergent

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together and then add the water. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes thick. Divide the mixture into several portions and add a different food coloring to each, plus a pinch of detergent to facilitate cleanup. I used an icetray for the different colors.