Saturday, October 30, 2010

Family Costumes


Happy Halloween Weekend


This year Halloween seems like it has become a week-long festival, with plenty of extra work for Mom. Luckily, I LOVE holidays and am happy to dig in. And it helps keep the mood happy when I'm listening to the awesome holiday mix of the Halloween Party Station on!

Hypatia had a costume parade and mini-party in her preschool classroom, which meant taking her costume to school and showing up a bit early to participate in the party.

Carbon had a party and fundraiser at his school, which involved taking his costume, making treats to sell (see Caramel Apples), and setting up a pumpkin bowling game. He changed his costume at the last minute and was a Magician and used that silly bloody arm that has been showing up on my car so much - the "magic trick" was that his arm could be cut off and then he pulled that out and screamed "oh, no! The trick went horribly wrong!". He won an award for Silliest Costume, which he is very proud of.

Now we are preparing for the party the Middle School Youth at church decided to throw. I'm making some more treats to sell, then heading over there this afternoon to decorate and set up. I've got my costume ready to go for tonight, too, but my husband is still trying to decide what to be.

Tomorrow, I'm one of the worship leaders for our Day of the Dead service. I hope I can get through a telling of "Mustard Seed Medicine" from the Buddhist tradition without crying in front of everyone ... The church High School Youth Group is going out in costume to collect supplies outside a grocery store for homeless youth. I hope there are plenty of shoppers on Sunday afternoon. :)

Then my in-law's are coming over here for Sunday dinner and we'll take shifts taking the kids out for trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. I think I'm making pumpkin soup for dinner, but if I'm too tired by then it might turn into take-out ... :)

I hope your holiday weekend is simply fabulous, and that all the costumes and parties and fun come together for you!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Organic Intimates for Big Girls

Ahem. I will now talk about my underwear, please pardon such an unladylike topic.

But, seriously - this area is a huge problem in the organic/reused clothing department. I'm NOT buying used undergarments of any kind at the thrift store, even if they carried such things. And these garments don't last as long as other, heavier, garments do. At some point, they end up in the trash.

I know I could sew my own undergarments and knit my own socks, but I'm not going to do it. I even once bought a pattern for making a bra, but I just never got myself to the point of really doing it. It's not a realistic solution, in other words.

I also am not a small girl. Too many of the organic clothing companies seem to only make stuff for small women, and then things made for big girls too often are made out of nasty artificial fibers. Besides my ethical desire for eco-friendly, natural fibers, I also have a skin-distaste for the way artificial fibers feel on my skin. Someone, please make a bra meant for women who actually need to wear good support, out of a nice natural material! Really - I would be your most loyal customer! I cannot wear the excuses for a bra that are sold in organic cotton. :(

On the plus side, I just bought some of Maggie's lightweight tights in an XL and they actually fit. Thank you, Maggie's, for making a quality product for this big girl to wear!

Caramel Apples



I just delivered Carbon to school with a huge kit of stuff for the school Halloween party/fundraiser for the Lego and Fieldtrip Corporations. The idea of doing a fundraiser was the kids', following the child-led and democratic model of the school. I wasn't there, so I don't know how much this was Carbon's idea, but it is so classically him. He has always taken something he was excited about and then said "maybe I can sell this! I could make a lot of money!". I've been mostly resistant to the idea of him setting up a card table to sell his drawings or wire sculptures or whatever, but that hasn't dampened his enthusiasm.

So he had the idea to make "carrot jack o'lanterns" to sell at the school party. He wanted to carve faces into carrots. It was a really cool idea, but one that we had no idea how to actually DO. So I brainstormed with him a list of things that I thought we could actually accomplish, and he selected caramel apples.

Then I found this AMAZING product, the Caramel Apple Wrap. It was so easy to make them with the wraps that he was able to do it all by himself. And he got a great looking product to sell, that got ooohs and aaahs just coming into the school this morning. The kids were all prepping their costumes and their party stuff - it looked like they were going to have a great time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A bit of our Afterschooling - getting in a rhythm

how things work
pardon the picture quality - my poor little digital camera doesn't really like it after dark. :(

For the last three weeks, I have made it a new rule that we just sit down and do the afterschooling workbooks the minute we get in the house after school. We drag all our stuff in out of the car, I put the tea kettle on and grab a snack for the kids, and they sit down and do their daily work.

The beauty is that after the initial period of being angry about doing it and wanting a "break first!", they are now in a rhythm and it has become a habit. It's so much of a habit that they even expect to do it on weekends, and we'll have to say "no, it's Sunday - no afterschooling today!".

I'm not asking them to do that much - if I start cooking dinner while they are working they are always done before dinner is - Carbon does one page of Math U See and 2 pages of Explode the Code, while Hypatia has an alphabet and a numbers workbook, and she does as many pages as she can before we convince her to stop. It's the right amount of work for the amount of time we have, and it doesn't overwhelm anyone.

And then Carbon has been adding some things, getting us to do them with him because they are "afterschooling". He has a science kit, and has us sit down and do an experiment with him. Or, as pictured above, he gets out some props and has us read to him out of How Things Work while he models the processes with blocks. He still enjoys for me to read to him out of The Story of the World, and he also likes to get us to play board games with him that have educational value (don't they all?), such as Flip Four or Sum Swamp. So he's adding to his own afterschooling, voluntarily.

This rhythm sure feels good. It fits into our lives, without being too much. This extra, family-style, education is just part of our lifestyle, not a burden or a horrible chore.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Made From Scratch

I'm slowly working my way through some of the books that have been on my TBR list for far too long. The interesting thing about going back deep into the list is that I find reminders of things I already "know", and new voices adding harmony to the intellectual song already going in my brain.

Made From Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life is only two years old, published in 2008, but it feels refreshingly naive. There are no dire warnings of peak oil, global warming, or any of the many other reasons we should all simplify and plant corn in our front lawns. Instead of starting from a negative, Woginrich starts from a positive urge, to simply feel like more of her life was "real" and to experience the pleasures of small scale farming and the handmade life.

If you've read a few of these books, there is nothing new in Made From Scratch, but Woginrich's voice is charming and humorous and her writing makes this worth a read.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms

It's that time of year ...



And we only have two weeks until the clocks roll back! It's enough to make a girl want to just wrap up in a warm blanket and hibernate for the season ... Or maybe fly south?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Give me a hand?


Thanks to the sense of humor shared by my husband and son, I keep finding this bloody hand sticking out of my car. I drove all over town the other day, not knowing it was sticking out of my trunk - I just thought people were being weird honking at me.

Thanks, guys. How embarrassing!

Simplicity Parenting and Schedules

The third area for simplifying, using Simplicity Parenting as a guideline, would be our schedules. It is so easy to get over-scheduled as a family, with all the opportunities out there.

For instance, we were looking at Halloween weekend, and we have a Saturday night party at church organized by the middle school group, and I have to take the family to that one because that's my job. But then there is a YMCA Halloween party Friday night, and a party at the Children's Museum Saturday afternoon. The kids would enjoy both, no doubt - but did we really need three holiday parties in one weekend? That's not mentioning the trick-or-treating on Sunday night, of course. We had a family meeting to vote between the YMCA and the Children's Museum parties, and then later decided to even skip them both.

It's not unusual for us to be very busy on weekends, and for there to be a fun community event that we have to decide whether or not to squeeze in. Sometimes you just can't say YES to everything.

But the thing that ends up choking up most kids' schedules are all the classes and extracurriculars out there. There are so many opportunities, and so many things on my Goals List for the kids to learn. Swimming, horse riding, martial arts, sports, foreign languages, arts, music, dance, etc, etc - trying to squeeze it all in so the kids don't miss anything.

Here is where they use the metaphor of Crop Rotation in Simplicity Parenting, to explain that you don't have to grow every crop in the field all the time, and that every field needs to lie fallow for a season every few years. In our lives, we follow this pattern when our kids only do team sports in the Spring, when we take short-term courses rather than sticking with things for a whole year, and when I keep reminding the kids and myself that there is next year - it's never too late to start learning something new.

Officially, we have a limit of two activities per kid. This Fall that has looked like this:

The girl has swim lessons two mornings a week, and ballet one afternoon a week.
The boy had a science workshop once a week for 4 weeks, and a dance class that ran 6 weeks.

Now that he is done with science and dance for the fall, I've found a spanish language class that he will take on the afternoon freed by dance being over. He also wants to learn some pottery in order to make Christmas gifts for people, so I am going to ask my cousin to give him some private lessons.

Keeping the schedule is a balancing act. Saying Yes to enough, and No to enough to create a pace to life that allows you to enjoy what you are doing instead of just rushing from activity to activity and feeling burned out by it all is an art form. But the effort is absolutely worth it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ten More Ideas for Family Rhythm and Ritual

A sense of predictability, stability, and security are all positive effects for children of a family life that is rich in rhythm and ritual. And a good ritual will also promote family closeness and bring you all closer together. It's something that the kids will remember and maybe even carry on into their own parenting someday.

We are trying to return to a norm of eating dinner together most weeknights. But what other rhythms and rituals can we make sure are part of our family life? Here are ten ideas we are either currently doing or I would like to do.

1. Bedtime stories read aloud. This is a beloved part of our family life and I can't imagine not doing this anymore.

2. Discussing the "plan for the day" the night before as we tuck the kids into bed. "Tomorrow we will have pancakes, then go to the pumpkin patch" or whatever. It's a great way of letting the kids plan ahead and have time to prepare themselves.

3. Having a regular Family Game Night once a week. We don't - but it would be cool.

4. Have a regular meal once a week - Pizza night or pancakes on Saturday morning or really anything that everyone enjoys. We don't do this either - but it's still a good idea.

5. Sunday night dinner. We have dinner almost every Sunday night at my in-law's, and my sister-in-law comes over too. It's a sit down dinner with candles and the whole thing, and the regularity of it is a great way to stay close as an extended family.

6. Get together as a family for a holiday activity each year. Since we had kids, we haven't missed a year with my in-law's for getting together to carve pumpkins for Halloween. We go out to the pumpkin patch and everyone picks out a pumpkin, and then they all come over to my house to carve. We get a group picture with all our carved pumpkins lit up in a row. You could pick any holiday and any activity - egg dying for Easter, cookie baking for Christmas, whatever.
7. Gather for a mini-family reunion once a year. All convene at a campground or a bed and breakfast, perhaps. I know people who gather with their extended families at the same beach each year, and it sounds wonderful.

8. Pick a holiday or occasion and host an annual bash - something that friends and family can count on. My in-law's have hosted an annual white elephant holiday party for the last 22 years running. I have decided to make St. Patrick's Day into my "thing", and I had my first annual party last year.

9. Have a special restaurant or food that you go to when anyone needs a pick-me-up. Mark the down-turns of life with a root beer float or a bowl of hot and sour soup.

10. Have a birthday ritual where the birthday boy or girl gets to pick a special menu plan or wear a special crown for the meal - make a birthday banner that can come out for all the birthdays.

What special rituals and rhythms do you have in your family? What ideas would you like to try?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things I Love About Carbon's School

1. He loves to go there. He would hate to miss a day of school.

2. The only time I've ever been called to school during the day, it was because Carbon had waded into a muddy duck pond with a friend to collect water samples to view under a microscope and he needed clean clothing. The whole thing was the kids' idea, not an adult project.

3. When the kids there got interested in Pokemon, they drew their own cards up in the art room and proceeded to play and trade them. It was hugely creative, and I loved how they didn't instantly buy into needing to "buy".

4. There are real consequences for breaking rules, consequences that feel natural and that he responds well to.

5. There are real opportunities for a young child to take leadership - like when he came back from LegoLand and wanted to start a Lego Corporation at school.

6. The mixed-age setting. I just love the mixed age setting.

7. He can bring anything he wants to school, so if he is in the middle of a great book or a game on his nintendo, he can take that with him. He can take his passions and interests to school, and stay engaged in what interests him.

8. When I arrive to pick him up, he is frequently doing his school chore, cleaning and working responsibly without resenting it - it's part of the school community.

9. I might arrive and find him doing percussion for a jam session in the music room, with staff and students playing music and just having fun.

10. If there is something else he wants to do during a school day, he just has to make a proposal and get it approved by the school meeting, and he could go off for music lessons or an internship, or anything that was deemed "educational".

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Family Rhythm


The next stage of our family tune-up, using the book Simplicity Parenting, is to look at our family rhythms. And here is a perfect time to build new family rhythms, because my husband just started a new job this week! And it's a job in town! No more two-four hour daily commutes! This opens up time to have family dinners again, something that we had to give up when he first took the job with the commute two years ago.

Now we have to remember how to do this. Here are a couple books to remind me, as well as one of my new favorite blogs: Dinner, A Love Story

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Simplicity Parenting

I am currently reading, and very much enjoying, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. This is not a voluntary simplicity book that actually tells you that you need to start pureeing your own baby food from organic produce you grew yourself (nothing wrong with that if you do it - more power to you) - no this is a book that sticks to advising you to build a simple family life for your children.

The author, Kim John Payne, draws from experience as a Waldorf teacher and a family counselor, and lays out a simplicity program with four layers: the environment, rhythms, children's schedules, and filtering out the adult world.

It's not that our home life is that out of whack - the kids are happy and content and we already live intentional lives. But it never hurts to have a family tune-up. :)

So I'm walking us through the steps in the book, examining what areas of our lives are most stressful and simplifying them. We started with the environment, and with reducing the number of toys in the kids' rooms. The girl's room isn't too bad, partly because she really isn't too attached to stuff, but the boy is another story. So we started with his room.


All those empty shelves are because he got rid of toys. We went through and pulled out anything broken. Then we pulled out the stuff he's outgrown - dress up clothing and wooden train sets. He's not ready to donate the trains, so we agreed to put them up in the attic and let him keep them - who knows, he might want to pass them on to his own children or something. I kept a handful of beloved toys like that, and my children now play with them.

We pulled some other stuff out that he doesn't play with that often. Really, all he needs these days are his legos, bakugan, bionicles, boardgames, and a handful of other stuff. He even went through his stuffed animals and chose just the real favorites to keep.

Next step - our family rhythm.

a "go to" activity with kids: lift the flap pictures

Here is one of my favorite activities to do every now and then with little ones - make lift the flap pictures! It's incredibly easy, all you have to do is cut a flap in a piece of card-stock weight paper and then glue that to a piece of backing paper. Then they can draw whatever they want over and under the flap.

Yesterday I pulled this one out of the bag for my parent support group kids, to go with the books There's a Nightmare in my Closet, There's a Nightmare in My Attic, and There's an Alligator Under My Bed. We had flaps for a closet door, flaps for a bed, and flaps for attic windows. What they put behind the flaps included butterflies and "fudge ball monsters". It was lots of fun all around.

"there's a nightmare in my attic"

under the flap

lift the flap picture

Monday, October 18, 2010

Heaven - what the hell is heaven?

I'm really liking this song, so I just thought I'd share.

The worth of cherry blossoms

The story I told in church yesterday was about Rengetsu, and closed with this poem:

Through their
kindness in refusing
me lodging,
I found myself
beneath the
Beautiful blossoms
On the night of the
Misty moon.
Sometimes a "wrong turn" or an unlucky event will bring you the gift of the unexpected, and of beauty. May it be so.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reading with the Kids

We are still enjoying some good children's literature around here!

In the car we've listened to the audio recording of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. I've read some of Erdrich's adult fiction, and I like her work. I had no idea what this book was about when I saw it on the shelf at the library, but I'm very happy I picked it up. Much like Little House in the Big Woods, Erdrich spins a simple story of a year in the life of a family, centered around a somewhat spunky but intrinsically good young girl main character. Omakayas is every bit as lovable as Laura, and I would recommend that everyone read this book to give balance and the perspective of the Native Americans. There are sequels, and we will be listening to them too.

For Hypatia's bedtime story we reread Ivy and Bean: Doomed to Dance. We have read this from the library AND listened to it on audio, but she loved it so much that when I saw it at the local used bookstore I bought it. We read it again, and she still loves it. Ivy and Bean appeal to her very much, with their blend of naughty and dreamy and funny.

For Carbon's bedtime story we've read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was initially avoiding this book because it is about middle schoolers, and so I assumed it was best suited to be read by middle schoolers. But a friend's son said he loved it, so I got it from the library to see. In reality, this book is perfect for boys in the elementary ages. There is some talk about girls and being "macho", but it is very light and passes by practically unnoticed. Carbon loved the cartoons and Jeffrey's mishaps, and once again, we are going to be getting the sequels.

And I just got both kids library cards, so now we have a stack of picture and nonfiction books here to read. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Come Play a Game with Me


Last Sunday I led the children (and many of their parents) in our monthly Children's Chapel - a short 15 minute worship service for the kids. We were singing the hymn "Come Sing a Song With Me" and I asked for ideas for more verses. Because the Chapel was focused on Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, kids thought of "Come Plant a Tree With Me". But then, at both services, kids thought of "Come Play a Game With Me".

It is so important to them that we - adults - play with them. Actually, game playing in general is something that humans naturally love, but that we seem to think is a "waste of time" in our adult busy lives. Sometimes it's hard for me to play the games they want to play, but it's always good if I can.

A bit of what we're playing around here, sorted by who plays what:

Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii (the kids pretty much just hop around until they lose, but they like it)
Links Crossbow Trainer on the Wii (everyone else plays this one too)
Fruit Ninja on the iPod (everyone else plays this one too, but I have the High Score!)
Plants vs. Zombies on the iPod (plus Dad, and sometimes Hypatia)
Lego Battles on the nintendo ds (plus Dad, plus friends)
solitaire chess (plus Mom)
Zeus on the Loose (plus Mom and Hypatia and Dad)
Loot (another whole family)
Chomp (plus Hypatia)
some kind of Final Fantasy thing on his nintendo ds
SuperWhy on the iPod
Zeus on the Loose
Don't Break the Ice

What are you playing?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Connecting with each of my children


Here is a scenario most parents should be familiar with:

Mom says "how was your day/what did you do today in class/yo dude- wazzup?"

Child says "nothin/ I don't know/ I don't remember."

Mom says "well - how did that presentation/test/field trip go?"

Child replies "it was OK."

It's enough to make a parent wring their child's neck or resort to "enhanced interrogation".

It takes a lot of time before kids open up and tell you what is really on their minds. And the setting has to be just right - few distractions, one-on-one time, something else to look at or do while they talk - it's a tricky blend to get in the hustle and bustle of life with multiple children.

And so I am very thankful for an unexpected benefit of my divided schedule with the kids in two different schools this year. Sure, it means I'm having to run all over town everyday, but I get one-on-one, relaxed time with each of my children almost everyday.

After we drop Carbon off at school each morning, Hypatia and I head over to my office at church. She hangs out with me all morning, and then if we haven't packed a lunch we have a lunch date together. These lunch dates at restaurants have given me time to have many deep discussions with her, and hear about her hopes and dreams and about her frustrations and worries. We've had some great conversations.

Then I take her to preschool and go back to work for a couple hours by myself, or have some unencumbered time to run an errand or have a quick pastoral care or otherwise sensitive meeting I shouldn't have my kid along for. Then it's back to pick Carbon up from school, and once again I have one-on-one time with a child. With him, I head over to the Children's Museum and we will frequently buy an ice cream and sit together for the half-hour before Hypatia's class gets out. It gives me a chance to hear how his day was at school, as he slowing and gradually opens up and mentions things. And sometimes we play in the museum together, or sometimes I just read a book while he plays videogames next to me - no matter how we fill that half-hour it still gives him a chance to share what's going on with him while I'm there for him and not distracted by his sister or something else.

This structure to our days is actually very valuable and lovely. Sure, it's a pain to have to make extra trips across town. And my carbon-footprint isn't looking as good as it could. But it is showing me the value of the one-on-one time, the value of time "wasted" while you just wait for one or another activity to end. Somehow, I want to hold onto this kind of time next year when both kids are in the same school.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Halloween is coming


And yesterday we were thrilled to receive a box of fun stuff from our swap partner, from the Halloween Swap hosted at Mind Games.




Then today Hypatia's preschool class had a field trip to a pumpkin patch. All the kids got to feed animals, explore a haystack maze, play on a giant slide, ride a wagon out to the field, and pick a small pumpkin. And the best part was that the weather was warm and sunny!

I really need to get going sewing Hypatia's costume - I let her pick out her own fabric at the fabric store and this is going to be interesting. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Keeping the Sabbath

I don't get to keep the Sabbath, because I work for a church. Sunday is my main day of work, the day when everything comes to a head and I'm rushing about trying to do 6 things at once and respond to 200 people as though I have time to truly see and hear them. It is intense, and not a day of rest for me.

You would think that I could just pick another day of the week to be my day off, but going into my third year of this, I can tell you that is far easier said than done. Whatever day I have picked has been eroded by slow encroachments. A meeting that could find no other time that worked for everyone, or a church related phone call made to my cell phone, an "emergency" email, or even just my own interest in a work project would serve to suck me into work on my day of "rest".

And then I have other work that takes over my day off - I usually still have to drive the kids to and from school and other activities, and I have to cook for the family, and a day off is the only good time to deep clean the house or do a home and garden project. When I attack my days off like that, actually just going to work at my office at church feels like a vacation from the "hard work" of being at home.

But, despite my demonstrated inability to actually do it, I do believe that there is a spiritual value to keeping the sabbath. Thinking about this problem, I have just read The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel. Although I am not Jewish and have never been particularly moved before by this theology, I found this book beautiful in every sense. It is beautifully written, with layers of metaphor and meaning and lovely prose, but it is also beautifully envisioned to begin with. Heschel argues that Judaism finds meaning not in space, and the material things that make up space, but in time and the eternity and spirit that imbues it. Time is its own phenomenon, separate from space and the events that occur in space in that time - time is eternal and holy.

"To Rabbi Shimeon eternity was not attained by those who bartered time for space but by those who knew how to fill their time with spirit. To him the great problem was time rather than space; the task was how to convert time into eternity rather than how to fill space with buildings, bridges, and roads; and the solution to the problem lay in study and prayer rather than in geometry and engineering."

I still don't know how I would keep a Sabbath day - it seems more practical to me to start out small with even a Sabbath evening or just a Sabbath Hour - but I have some new thoughts as to why I would want to. Time filled with spirit, rather than bartered for space or the material things is a moving goal.

Monday, October 11, 2010

a sweet big brother

As I was picking him up from school today, Carbon and I found ourselves talking about some of the younger students at his school and how they are doing. I asked him if he thought his sister would be OK there next year, when I hope to send her there for 3 days a week.

He replied that she'd be just fine, and said that she would be "tough enough to stand up to _____", referring to a student whom Carbon thinks is a bit of a bully. He then went on to talk about all the things he thinks she will enjoy doing, and which of the younger students he thinks will be her friends.

I asked him if he thought she'd be able to follow all the rules and deal with the JC (judicial committee). And here is where he was super sweet.

"She'll be fine" he says. "I can go into JC - you're allowed to go in as an observer if you want, and I can sit close to her and we can make up signs for things like 'be quiet now'."

Now, serving on JC and going to JC is one of the things he likes the least about school. And here he is telling me he would stop playing with his friends and go in to support his little sister if she had to go to JC.

I don't necessarily believe it would happen that way - but I think he is so sweet to believe that that is how it will be.

snack bags


After work yesterday, we had a very chill and quiet Sunday afternoon and evening - something unusual for us because we normally have Sunday dinner every week at my in-law's. They are out of town, so instead we just had banana bread and bacon and baked apples for our dinner, and sat around our house being very lazy and playing video games and reading.

I also managed to do this very small sewing project, and make the kids some fabric snack bags. These can replace ziplock bags in the lunch boxes, holding chips or crackers or really anything dry. And after lunch they can just be thrown in the washing machine. I had this Halloween fabric in my stash from some long-ago year when I couldn't pass up the post-holiday sale rack. It finally got a good use. :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

On the nightstand


A bit of what I'm reading right now (this doesn't show the book in the bathroom and the one in my purse).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A movie party



Last night we hosted a "party" for the kids at church during a congregational meeting, so kids could come to the party and their parents could attend the meeting. We were hoping this would get higher attendance from the younger families at the congregational meeting. Not sure we met that goal this first time out, but we did have a simple and fun movie night.

We rented a helium tank and had tons of balloons. The balloons tied to the dollhouse greeted kids as they arrived. The Family Ministry Team at church all came together to make this work - getting the balloons, getting snack food, watching the kids. Thank you all! I work with wonderful people.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Menu planning after the market

I go to the Farmer's Market on Fridays, so I never make my weekly menu plans until after that trip. But today, I'm a bit stumped!

Here's what I've got to work with:

  • fresh unshelled cranberry beans
  • a hot daikon radish
  • a big bunch of green kale
  • lemon cucumbers
  • parsnips
  • tomatoes
  • tomatillos
  • a big rump roast
  • bacon
already in the house:

  • potatoes
  • onions
  • carrots
  • apples
  • 2 "patty pan" squash
  • 2 acorn squash
  • 2 super ripe avocado (is the plural of avocado just avocado? do you add an "e" and an "s"?)
  • gruyere cheese
  • "mexi mix" pre-grated cheese
  • staples, such as beans and rice, etc.
What on earth do I make with this stuff? I see a chili coming with the tomatillos and tomatoes, and I can sprinkle the grated cheese on that - maybe serve the ripe avocado with it too. But what about that daikon radish? The kale and the parsnip might go nicely together in a soup. I see the roast going in the slow cooker and having potatoes on the side with it. Maybe the radish could go in the roast pot, just to add a touch of exotic flavor to the roast? The cranberry beans could make an interesting dish with the acorn squash, bacon, and apples. I think I would roast the squash and apples and drizzle them with brown sugar and cook the beans lightly and mix them in, then cook bacon bits and stir those in too.

Typing this out has helped, already. I've got a few meals:

  • Chili
  • Kale and parsnip soup
  • Roast and potatoes
  • squash scramble

And I'm probably set with that, as there will be leftovers and it uses up most of the perishables. If you stuck with me through that ramble, thank you for your attention!

Help that I can get

My last post was the complaining part, here is the solution part. Many folks, both here and on facebook suggested that I hire a cleaning service. That has been something I've been thinking about for a couple years now - basically ever since I started working full-time outside the home. But we still aren't quite ready to commit to spending that money.

And the good news is that my husband just got a new job! He'll be working here in town for the next six months, and this job actually has to pay overtime if he goes over 40 hours a week, so that should be the end of the 60-70 hour work weeks with 2-4 hours of commuting a day. What a relief that is going to be! He might actually be able to help a bit more around here.

But I have a few more labor saving solutions:

1. Ask more of Carbon. It turns out he's old enough to do a lot around here: scrubbing the kitchen floor (although he did say that was "the worst chore I've ever done"), doing some pet care, folding laundry, vacuuming. He can also assist: holding boards in place as I hammer to repair the fence, gathering up the branches that I trim off the bushes, etc.

2. Calling and scheduling a time for my Dad to come down and finish installing this dishwasher in my kitchen. I have a hand-me-down dishwasher - it's just sitting in my garage and not hooked up to anything. To install it will require redoing the cabinets - it's major but once it's done it should really help me keep up with cleaning the kitchen.

3. Getting the outdoor dog run finally fixed enough that the dog doesn't escape during the day. Then I don't have to leave her in the garage while I go to work anymore, and I shouldn't come home from work to quite so many unwelcome "gifts" and "surprises". My husband is planning on fixing the dog yard tonight when he gets done with work.

4. Redoing the front flower garden areas so that they are lower maintenance. Instead of trying to use ground cover plants anymore to go between flowers, I'm just going to get bark mulch and go with more big bushes instead of so many little flowers. I just don't have time to weed the flower bed enough to keep it from looking like crap anyway. My husband is also going to help me put in more of a barrier between my flower bed and the neighbors lawn, too, so I don't have to mow her grass anymore in order to keep my flowers from being eaten alive.

My husband and the kids all want this to get better - the stress on me is starting to trickle down and worry them too. So I do have some willing helpers around here, and I just have to figure out how to best use that help. And it's the same at work - I do have willing helpers, I just have to get to the point where I'm planning far enough in advance to know what can be delegated.

It's all going to work out. Our lives are good, and I am blessed with so much.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A post that can only be titled "arrgh!"

Ready for a bit of complaining?

I am super stressed out right now. Not only has the pace at work picked up, with TONS of activities going on and record high attendance numbers (81 participants in religious education last Sunday!), but the family arrangements this year with two kids in two different schools is also really hectic.

I'm like a duck - I'm trying to look all serene on the top while I'm paddling like hell under the surface.

Not sure how serene I'm managing to look, anyway. :)

It's amazing to me how my home is becoming less a "how do I want to live and how do I want it to look in here" issue and more of a "is there clean laundry and food to eat?" issue. Any time I have at home that I'm not sleeping, I am working hard to keep up with dirty dishes, laundry, and food preparation. The toilet is still getting scrubbed once a week, and the floor vacuumed about as often, but I just don't have time to really clean. And yardwork has to be squeezed in as well, so I'm out there mowing and weeding and repairing fences in the little windows of time I can find.

I just got a book from the library about bathroom remodeling and "fix-ups" written for women. I should be excited to become empowered to go ahead and fix my bathrooms myself, but it also raises a feeling of bitterness in me. Yes, I'm going to wear the pants in this family, as the saying goes, but darn it - I still have to wash those pants! And iron them if they need it, and mend them and shop for them in the first place.

I can do it all. But to be honest, I don't want to. I would welcome old-fashioned divisions of labor if that actually took some of the stuff off my To Do List.

This is only half about my particular partner in life and his particular ability and eagerness to do housework. So many people, like my husband, have jobs that don't allow for them to be any help at home at all. Maybe in the past that situation would mean that we would hire Help. I can't hire Help, but man, do I NEED some Help.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

20 Things I'm Loving Right Now

Inspired by Salt and Chocolate, I've been keeping a list in my personal diary of things I'm loving right now.
Here is the first 20 from that list:
1. Take-out or dining at a place that knows your regular order.
2. local food from the Farmer's Market
3. My Reisenthel basket and cart. They make shopping at the market easy.
4. The quiet of the new prius
5. My Queen Bee purse and wallet, so durable and easy to use.
6. Marinated artichoke hearts in jumbo jars from Costco
7. String cheese
8. super crisp fall apples
9. photo postcards from snapfish and how much fun they are to send to grandparents
10. coffee flavor syrup, and my own coffee from home in a travel cup
11. the local library
12. Netflix Instant Watch
13. my children's schools
14. my yoga practice
16. John Stewart and Stephen Colbert
17. brie with rice crackers
18. my community
19. great, guilt-free clothing bought from thrift stores, consignment shops, or ebay
20. Having a washing machine again
Food is a big part of what makes me happy, as you can see. What is making you happy right now? What do you love?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Recent notes from my urban homestead


  • We just ate the last jar of the applesauce I made in 2008. It was still good, and very tasty warmed up and served with french toast.
  • Since we had to kill the one chicken, now the other chickens are all doing well and laying lots of eggs. We have plenty of eggs to eat.
  • In related issues, it turned out that a 6 year old laying hen really was NOT good eating. But we had a memorial dinner to her anyway, when I made Hungarian paprikash. And then I made broth, which was incredibly rich and flavored two soups.
  • I bought 20 pounds of apples at the market, which I plan to just store in the garage and eat. When they start to go soft, I can bake them or make some more sauce.
  • Our garden hasn't done well at all this year, but we are still getting small harvests, such as this week's pictured here.
  • We've had a series of sick days for my husband and myself in the last few weeks, leading to way too much carry out food and styrofoam containers and wasted veggies that just went bad in our frige, uncooked. We're drinking lots of tea and taking our Vitamin C and echinecea, but there's still some nasty bugs knocking us down.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Celebrate the Seasons



The part of paganism that I love is the connection to the turnings of the seasons and to nature. It used to drive me crazy that I couldn't celebrate the sabbats the "right" way, because of not having time off work or because whatever special thing was called for wasn't actually, well, in season here.

That is paganism from a book - and a dogmatic and I think silly approach. Now, my eclectic spiritual tapestry holds a different thread - a sincere and hands on appreciation of nature and the seasons. Rather than worry about celebrating pagan sabbats, I instead try to live my life seasonally.

When the apples come in, we should celebrate the apples.

Blessed Be.

I Love My Community

pictured: some of my church community making apple cider together at a member's home - an event they sold at the church auction to raise funds for the church.

I love my community: my church community and the larger community that I live in. I enjoy seeing people I know everywhere I go, stopping to chat, knowing folks and being a small part of their lives. But most of all, I enjoy participating in the life of the community - in events, in work, and in all the other things that are part of our shared lives together.

For the most part, I find that being part of the community in this way requires that we actually leave our own little homes and go out and show up for stuff. That's about it. I've read several book recently that seemed to suggest that in this day and age you will have to build your community from scratch. Naw - you might feel moved to add another option to those already out there but really, community is already available to you.

  • If you have kids in a school, volunteer there. Show up for things.
  • Join a church, and then do more than just attend Sunday mornings. Jump right in with both feet!
  • Join your neighborhood association. Go to association meetings. Especially volunteer to help with block parties of any kind.
  • Become a "regular". Go to the same restaurant over and over again. Be like clockwork with your errands so that the librarian is expecting you on Friday morning.
  • Join the YMCA, and attend the exercise classes and get your kids involved in sports. Volunteer to coach!
  • Support community theater and the arts and buy tickets to lots of shows.
  • Attend as many community festivals and events as you can fit in your calendar. Better yet, join in - be in the parade or volunteer to help with the watershed festival.
  • Find another organization to volunteer for: meals on wheels, big brothers/big sisters, etc.
  • Even if you don't have kids in school, volunteer there. Be a lunch buddy or a reading buddy.
Sure, all this takes time. You don't have to do it all. And don't expect to make best friends everywhere you go. Good friends are different from community - something that took me a long time to realize. You need a few good friends. You need a lot of community.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Owl Pellets and Rebels


What wonderful timing, just as we are reading the Ga'Hoole series, that Carbon's science workshop series should include a workshop on Owls and he got to dissect a pellet. It was "just like in the pelletorium!" Carbon got very lucky with the pellet he was given, and it contained the remains of two small birds and a small mouse, with 2 intact (ish) skulls. He sorted it down to the level where he found catepillar larva as well, possibly what the birds or mouse had eaten - the stomach contents of the meal!

These workshops are offered through the local Children's Museum (the same place the girl goes to preschool) and are intended for homeschoolers. They do one series of four in the fall and another in the spring. I'm pulling him out of school early on Fridays so he can attend, because they are super fun and cool! Mostly, this is fine with Carbon's school, although this time we didn't quite follow proper procedure so I did get a very mild request from the attendance clerk that "next time" Carbon make a formal proposal to school meeting and get his excused absence approved by a vote of the meeting.

We have one more (unapproved!) absence next week for a workshop on chemistry and color. I'm feeling a bit like an educational rebel, not fitting in any boxes and taking a very unconventional "I want it all for my kids" approach. It's very much like Grace Llewellyn's book Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School. Love that book.