Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The pros and cons of the homeschool lunch

This was today's lunch. Nutty Nut Butter & Jam sandwiches, some home-canned fruit and local fresh veggies.

Pro: I don't have to try to make a whole bunch of lunches the night before. The hurdle of trying to dream up and prepare a host of interesting and nutritious things has caused even the most health-conscious mom to abandon her principles and start buying little packages which are slyly oh-so-convenient to 'toss in a lunch'.

Con: I still have to try to dream up something interesting and nutritious for lunch everyday. (I'm not one of those cool moms who makes faces on her kids sandwiches with veggies, either.) I need to make it in a large quantity and have it ready fairly quickly to leave room for the other things we want to do.

I find it really challenging to come up with good ideas that are healthy, not too expensive, involve real food and can be made fairly quickly. I thought I would share with you a few ideas I serve that meet the above criteria, in hopes that it will entice you to share your ideas with me. :)

A mainstay in our homeschool, my number one lunch idea is 'snack lunch'. An ingenious phrase coined by my mom during my own childhood, it instantly becomes fun to be served a bunch of unconnected, though nutritious foods. If you are a really cool mom, you can serve this lunch in muffin/mini muffin tins with different things in the cups. (Unfortunately, again, I'm not this type of mom.) It drives me a bit crazy to chop up and prepare all these things, but several of our children love to do so. Ideas for snack lunch include:
  • chopped fresh fruit and veggies (avocado is great to serve with snack lunch)
  • (or just put out a bowl of apples)
  • cheese - cubed or sliced
  • crackers
  • summer sausage pieces
  • nuts
  • dried or canned fruit
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • my oldest daughter, our main snack-lunch maker, often makes us deviled eggs
  • pickles
  • a healthy milkshake or fruit smoothie will round things out if you don't have much food in the house
  • hummus
Next, I suggest leftovers from last-night's dinner. Having a big family, however, doesn't usually leave enough leftovers for everyone, so this is usually out, unless we have several days worth of leftovers and then I announce a free-for-all, which our children surprisingly enjoy.

We also have sandwiches a lot, particulary peanut butter and jam. They are healthy and inexpensive, though they can get a bit boring if you overdo it. If you are using natural peanut butter (just peanuts), you may find like I do that the sandwiches can be a bit 'dry'. I have discovered that buttering the bread before putting on the peanut butter makes a world of difference. While we are on the subject of natural peanut butter tips...when I open a new container of peanut butter, I scrape the entire thing into my mixer bowl, attach the 'cookie' paddle and mix it up on stir speed for a minute or so to get everything homogenized again. I find if I do this, it will not usually separate again before we use up the container. (Also, I never keep it in the fridge, as recommended, but we go through it pretty quickly.)

Today, I made some great sandwiches, if I do say so myself. A few summers ago, when camping near Ithaca, NY, we visited the Moosewood Restaurant and one of our children ordered (if you can believe it) nut butter, bread and fruit. The nut butter was fantastic. I can't remember exactly what it was, but I was inspired to jazz up our own peanut butter at home. So, I invented the 'recipe' below. I didn't actually use any specific quantities when I made it, so I'm guessing here for your sake.

Nutty Nut Butter
  • 1 c. natural peanut butter (just peanuts), well-combined
  • 1/4 c. almonds, chopped fairly small
  • 2 T. sunflower seeds
(You can substitute other seeds/nuts in this recipe -- whatever you have around. You can also switch out the peanut butter for almond or other nut butter or use a blend!)

Preheat oven to 350F. Put nuts and seeds into a cast-iron frying pan and cook until they are nicely toasted, stirring occasionally. You can also do this on the stove burner, if you trust yourself to watch them.

Stir nuts/seeds into peanut butter.

Your turn! What are your healthy lunch ideas?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Handknit socks -- they're yours!

Okay, so they are only for one of you. :)

Last night, I finished a pair of socks based on Cookie A's Monkey socks. This version is a no-purl, toe-up, free pattern found here.

Don't worry -- they aren' t baggy. My 7 year old is my model for this picture. :)

These socks fit my feet okay, but not really great, so instead of wearing them, I'm sharing them! I have been wanting to do a giveaway for awhile and I thought now would be a great time. These socks are 90/10 superwash wool/nylon so they have a little strength and are able to go in the washer. I think they will fit best on someone with a shoe size of about size 7-9, but that is just a loose estimate. (They don't seem well-sized for someone with a very high instep.)

Please leave a comment if you would like to win them telling us something you love about your husband or child or someone else in your family. Don't be shy, even if you haven't commented before. I'm completely okay with that. I will ship anywhere, so comment away. I knit lots of love into them and am excited to share. :)

I will be drawing a name on Thursday, April 2nd before I go to bed and I will post the winner on Friday morning. I'll give instructions for contacting me at that point. Good luck!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Makings of a Great Day

Photo courtesy of Kinderash

I love the days when I just know things are going to go well, that I will plunk into bed at night with a sense of accomplishment, good family memories and a peaceful heart. I wish I had a day like that every day. Yesterday, I knew it was going to be one of those days and I thought about what circumstances or decisions set up a day to be 'good'. These will be different for everyone, I know. For me, three things stood out.

  1. Being in a good mood. What makes me in a good mood? Of course, the number one thing is to make a choice to be in a good mood. God tells us to take every thought captive. When I choose not to complain and argue, it goes a long way to boosting my mood. I am also in a good mood when: I don't have to go anywhere that day, my home is relatively under control (we know where the homeschool stuff is, the kitchen is tidy, we have clean clothes, surfaces aren't full of clutter), and Steve and I are in our groove together.
  2. Beginning early. When I hang around in my pj's knitting and going on the internet until 9am or later I am not left feeling energized. I think both of these things can be reasonable uses of time, but spending a couple of hours of prime morning time pursuing them does not set me up for a 'good' day. The kids know exactly what is expected of them in the morning, but they won't get started on it with me setting a bad example.
  3. Having a clear plan. I am terrible at menu planning, (I really need to start working on this. I used to be great at it.) but when I do have at least that day's worth of meals all planned out in my mind, I am free to think of other things. I find when I don't know what we are going to eat that day, I am burdened all day long. As well, when my household tasks are planned and written down and the kids homeschooling assignments are well spelled-out, there is less to think about and we can just do.
Obviously, everything is not in our control, but in general, what sets up a day to be 'good' for you? Are there things you find that are under your control that help your day go well?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flowing Blessings

Photo courtesy of telachhe

I find it adorable when one of our babies tries to grab the stream of water I pour from a container into the bath water. His little face lights up with concentration as he tries several times to take hold of the sparkly, seemingly-solid object in front of him. Eventually, he will just learn to enjoy the feeling of the water flowing over his fat little hand, knowing it is not something to be grasped.

It occurred to me that God's blessings, particularly the gift of childhood, are just like this flowing water. They are beautiful. They are intriguing. And, they are flowing. Once we realize that, like the stream of water, they are not something we can catch and grab hold of, we know that our only option is to embrace the gift of each blessing flowing through our lives.

Our current baby is the worst sleeper we've ever had. I can count on one hand the number of times I have put baby guy to bed and he has not woken up 20-40 minutes later, needing to be put back to sleep. In his first 10 months or so, it was impossible to get him back to sleep most nights and he would end up awake, hanging out with me. I often reminded myself that I loved him, loved being with him and that it wouldn't last forever. A lot of times, though, I complained about not having any time to myself.

A couple of nights ago, I was upstairs snuggling beside baby guy as he drifted back off to sleep. I thought about how much I loved his adorable baby breath, his chubby face in the light peeking in through the blinds. My tears started pouring forth as I realized how very much I would miss this someday. I wanted to stop time and lie there forever, kissing his beautiful little cheeks. I determined to do my best to savour the blessings God pours into my life, particularly the ones that I am tempted to complain about because it is probably these little things I will miss the most.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Homeschool Afternoon

One of the things I appreciate most about homeschooling is the freedom. Homeschooling allows us to be free in so many ways, but from a purely practical point of view, we have freedom of choice in how we spend our time. We have always aimed to get the majority of our 'school' work done in the morning hours so that we are free to choose our favourite things to do in the afternoon. We usually eat lunch quite late (1-2pm), but the academic work has been finished for the most part.

Earlier this year, the kids and I sat down to brainstorm some ideas for how we could spend our afternoons. Sometimes we have outside-the-home-activities we need to go to, but we always relish the time that we are home and can just enjoy our time together. There are many of these activities we have done, some we will do at some point and some we will never get to.

Here is our list:
  • Tea with poetry reading
  • Hot chocolate
  • Finger painting
  • Visiting other branches of our library
  • Painting
  • Puzzles
  • Crafts
  • Read-alouds
  • Topic study
  • Colouring
  • Going to the park
  • Visiting a nearby river
  • Swimming
  • Watching Little House on the Prarie/Other old shows
  • Family sport time (basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, etc.)
  • Serving (picking up garbage, delivering gifts to neighbours, etc.)
  • Writing
  • Gardening
  • Selling stuff
  • Sewing
  • Card-making
  • Scrapbooking
  • Book-repair
  • Book-making
  • Cooking/baking
  • Visiting the Village Sweet Shop
  • Visiting Museums
  • Having guests over
  • Going for a hike
  • Preparing a special snack (ie. ice cream sundaes)
We had loads of fun coming up with this list. Sharing it with you is also very motivating for me to be sure to make some time in the near future to pencil in some of these activities.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One year ago...

...another little person arrived to share my heart. Amazingly, God not only provides exponential love for each child, so that none ends up with less love when a new little one is born, but He teaches us to value and cherish and respect and admire them more and more, too. I thought you might enjoy my birth story. I am basically copying it directly from a post I made a few days after our birth on a message board I used to participate in .

Our baby has FINALLY arrived!!
As per my usual pattern of each of 6 babies arriving later and later than the last one, I was 11 days past my edd on Friday, March 14th. I agreed to go on Friday morning for their stupid biophysical profile after declining the first one. Everything looked great and it was actually a very positive experience. Dh and I went for coffee and then went home for lunch and to get the kids ready for a March Break Lego program at our local library at 2pm. I felt a little 'birthy' while we were there, but I feel like that a lot.

After the library, we headed over to my parents for our weekly 'pizza night' where my mom and I make homemade pizza for our family. We made all our pizzas and I had noticed my 'Braxton Hicks' getting to be fairly frequent as the evening went along. However, they were not painful or regular or overly intense. Eventually, around 7:30 or so, I was thinking maybe it might be a good idea to finish up our evening and head home to get kids to bed in case the baby was born that night.

We got everyone to bed and it became evident that I was in labour. Again, contractions were not really regular or overly painful, so I didn't call the midwives at that point. Most of the time, I birth quickly, but with my last birth (#5) they were there for several hours before dd was born and I felt pressured to perform (though the midwives put absolutely NO pressure on me at all -- they are great and very patient -- it was just their presence I found a bit distracting). My friend is going through the doula certification process and asked me to call her nice and early because in order for my birth to 'count', she had to be here before I was in active labour. Around 8:45pm, I called her to say it was still early and the birth was not imminent, but she could feel free to come by.

Elisa arrived just after 9pm and my contractions seemed to be very manageable, short in duration and alternating between 4-6 mins apart. My plan was to call the midwives either when my water broke (which, in the past, has meant a birth is going to happen very soon) or when my contractions hit a solid 5 mins apart and were regular and more intense.

Steve and Elisa and I had a nice chat and I made everyone ice cream sundaes. Elisa read something, I think in Ina May Gaskin's latest book, that arm wrestling can help to move labour along, so she suggested an arm wrestle. We started, but I was afraid I would actually injure my arm if we kept it up, as we seemed quite well matched for strength. It was a draw and my contractions were still about the same -- I described several of them as 'just a mini', in fact. Elisa and I decided to go for a walk while Steve checked something on the internet. After I was several yards from my front door, I had a more intense contraction. At this point, I was shaking, but I wasn't cold. Elisa commented on my shaking and that I must be freezing, but that wasn't it at all. A couple of minutes later, I had a very intense contraction and I told Elisa we should go back. She suggested walking just to the end of the road (not far) and going back after. (Contractions were very intense, but short in duration.) I tried to walk a little further, but another contraction was close behind and I recognized it as transition. I told her we had to get back VERY fast. We were no more than 50 feet from my house at the farthest and I had another contraction on the way back, practically running by this point.

We got in the door and I grabbed the phone to call my midwife. Steve, oblivious to what had just happened, said, "Hey! I didn't even get to check what I wanted to check!" I whipped off a quick message to my midwife, basically saying, just start driving here fast. She hopped in her car and called back, saying she would be 20 mins. I started crying and said she wasn't going to make it and my legs started shaking. Steve said, "Oh, Christine...I don't want to deliver a baby." I said, "Too bad." and we rushed upstairs.

I whipped off my clothes and hopped in our birth tub, which we had filled up when we got home from my parents since the brochure said it would stay warm for hours. I could feel the baby crowning and there was no way I could stop pushing. My midwife called back to tell Steve her cell number in case he needed any instructions on what to do. No time. Our baby's head was out in one push, still in the amniotic sack! Elisa suggested hands and knees for the rest of the body. I was able to move and baby's body was born smoothly in the next push. A BABY BOY!!! (We knew all along!!) He looked nice and healthy and big. I didn't like the way he didn't cry, but he was breathing and moving a bit, though I thought he was too blue even after a few minutes. We rubbed him and tried to get him to cry, but he stayed pretty mellow. Fortunately, we knew the midwives would be there any minute with all their gear and we weren't worried that he was in true danger, just that he needed a bit of help. We forgot to look at the clock, but estimate it was 10pm when he was born.
I'm hoping this pic isn't too racy for you because I really wanted to share it.
It definitely captures the emotions I was feeling over giving birth 'unassisted' so suddenly!

Midwives arrived at 10:14pm. Baby looked great, but was breathing extremely quickly. I got out to deliver the placenta on the bed (and my sweet midwife got my oldest dd all gloved up and had her do the 'delivery'...pretty cool!) while we tried to help our little guy slow down his breathing (which was at times 118 breaths a minute). We tried lots of tricks, but couldn't get it to stay down, so my midwife said we would have to go to the hospital. I was so sad!!

Since it was urgent, but not an emergency, my midwife called ahead to the hosptial and we went by car. At the hospital, baby guy was diagnosed with Transient Tachypnea of the Newborn (TTN), which was caused by his fast birth. It is common in c-section babies and was caused by his not getting his lungs nicely squished out during his birth. The special care nursery nurses call babies like him 'Flyers'.

The worst part was not the I.V., but the fact that he was not allowed to nurse until his respirations were 60/min or less, as babies breathing that fast are at risk of aspirating anything they are given by mouth. My midwife said it would take at least 12 hours and sometimes 48 hours. I was just devastated. It ended up taking 36 hrs and it was all of a sudden completely gone. Our first nursing was one happy moment. In the meantime, I had asked for him to be fed my colostrum via gavage since he was seeming really hungry. The doctor readily agreed and this did seem to settle him nicely. We made sure to let him suck our finger a lot so that he would remember sucking well when he was finally allowed to nurse. It worked well since when we were given the go-ahead, he nursed like he hadn't missed a thing.

I have to say that I was shocked by the wonderful things I saw happening at the special care nursery while we were there. We are not very medically-oriented and I expected to have to fight for everything and listen to cranky nurses giving out bad bfing info and trying to bottle every baby that came through the door. What I witnessed was the absolute opposite. The nurses just LOVED the babies, almost treating them like they were their own. Most of them were lactation consultants and lactivists, even the ones in their 50's, and I overheard them give one mom after another encouragement and wonderful, accurate, up-to-date bfing info and help.

On Monday morning, we were discharged and dh and I and baby guy tucked ourselves into bed, Dh and I had a glass of red wine and a nice long nap, the three of us in a little stack. It was the best feeling in the whole world, being back in our little nest, just like it was supposed to be from the start. I actually decided to treat it like he was just born and I put on my pyjamas and stayed in our bedroom for two days. I just came downstairs this morning, which feels great, too.

My MIL brought the kids home a few hours later and we were altogether again. Sigh. It was bliss.

Baby guy is doing fantastic and has absolutely no signs of any traumatic beginning. We are ECing as always, nursing lots and we never put him down. Life is good.

Happy Birthday, my little baby man. I love you so much that some days I think my heart will burst.

(Baby Guy was glad to see the purse thieves weren't interested in Sophie la Giraffe!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Homeschool Organization

Photo Courtesy of odmayhea611

I have been feeling convicted lately to start keeping better records of what we have done in our homeschool, particularly for my oldest who is grade 9 age this year. I have always wondered how to go about this since we use a Charlotte Mason approach. Like many other styles of homeschooling, we do not assign grades or give our children tests. We also have only a few subjects for which we can say, "Completed lessons 1-18 of such and such curriculum". In preparing for speaking at an upcoming homeschool conference, I stumbled upon this organizer/scheduler. I dutifully watched all the intro videos. It seemed very compatible with the way we homeschool, so I am currently using the free 30-day trial. I love it, but it is seriously expensive - well, after the free trial, that is! One thing I really like is that it is very real-life friendly and guilt-free. If you don't finish something that day, it just moves it onto the next scheduled day. Woo hoo! I also like that it can generate 'reports' on what you've done for the last day, week, year, etc.

Someone also pointed me in the direction of a free program called, Homeschool Tracker. The way they make money is by offering a for-pay upgrade program with more features. I am going to have a look at it later today.

(I almost hesitated to post anything about either of these programs because I don't want this to ever be a 'product endorsement' blog. I'd love your opinions, though.)

How do you keep records/schedule your homeschool?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thank you for your prayers!!

I spent an hour, with my dad, scouring the woods/dumpsters/roadside for my purse today with no luck. We did run into several people at the park who immediately went back to their vehicles, took their purses out of the front seat and put them into their trunks. It seems I am not the only one deluded into thinking our small town is immune to crime.

After realizing it was very unlikely that my purse was coming back, I started to make phone calls. The bank recommended closing our account and opening a new one since our cheques had been stolen. I didn't go with this option right away. I called Steve and we commiserated awhile on what to do about the bank account, the locks on the house (since there was a house key in my purse), the fact that I had NO identification since I kept all of it in my purse, etc.

Once we were finished talking, I noticed there was a message on the phone. It was Sargent Gordon calling to say that a gentleman had returned a bunch of the contents of my purse!! Woohoo!! The stuff is all mixed in with another lady's stuff, so I need to go to the police station and separate everything. I am trapped here for now, as my oldest is out (no babysitter) and my car is at the repair shop. Anyway, they have at least my driver's license and birth certificate and I think they have my chequebook and house key. I am just praying for the kids birth certificates and our health cards. I am also really hoping the thieves didn't take the $100 gift certificate to the lingere store that Steve gave me for our anniversary. Ha ha!

We're also hoping for Sophie la Giraffe's safe return.

It must have been a pretty depressing theft...I can almost hear them now, "WHAT?!? One cent? A bunch of baby toys? Diapers? A gift certificate for a BRA store?! This sucks!!" They didn't take my iPod, which was in plain view -- if only they'd known they could have listened to hours of knitting podcasts!

The $1000 error

Yesterday, I was feeling pretty good about myself. We got all the school done, did our home blessing jobs, had a meal ready to go for a family from church and decided to go for a hike on a beautiful winter day at the conservation area near our home.

We took the van to the conservation area, even though it isn't too far, as I didn't want the little ones to wear out walking to the hiking place before we could even begin our hike. As we were getting out of the car, I looked at my purse between the van seats and thought, "I should move this. Naw. It looks like a diaper bag. Besides, nothing ever happens in our small town." We locked the doors, I tossed baby guy onto my back and we left for our hike. Less than an hour later, we finished our hike and walked back to the van. As we approached, I saw shattered glass everywhere. My first (naive) thought was, "Oh no! Someone has accidentally hit the van mirror with their car." Then, I saw it was the driver window. Then, I saw the big rock on the passenger seat. Then, I saw the empty spot where my purse was. My heart sank as I realized I had all of our birth certificates (why didn't I leave them in a file at home?), our health cards and a bazillion other things in there. UGH. This was going to be a long haul.

Cancelling and replacing the VISA is the least of my worries. VISA is so concerned about making sure you have a card to use, I was surprised they didn't say they'd drive right out to our house immediately and bring me a new one!! They were good enough to say they would just put a hold on the card for a few days, in case it was returned. I couldn't make purchases with it, but if I needed to make a payment, I shouldn't be concerned because I could still do that. :)

Today, I need to take the car to the mechanic who will replace my window. He says this is the second one he has done this week. :( I am also going to have a quick look through the woods across from where my purse was stolen to see if they dumped it there.

The frustrating part is that the police officer said that all they were after was cash. How much cash did I have in my wallet? I had - LITERALLY - one cent. I figure by the time I replace all the government issued things, the window on the car and account for the cheques in my wallet that I hadn't cashed and may not be able to get back and the gift certificates that the stores may not re-issue, this will probably cost us $1000 and a fair bit of heartache. I'm so sad. Why would someone be so selfish? Can you pray that I will find my purse?

At least I didn't toss in my sock knitting at the last minute, like I almost always do when I leave the house. :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

This week's food: CSA and Frozen Foods

Today was our bi-weekly CSA pick-up at Whole Circle Farm. (We pick up weekly in the summer when there are tons of veggies.)

In this pick up, we received:
  • 2 lbs carrots
  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 lbs rutabagas
  • 1 lb onions
  • 2 lbs parsnips
  • 4 c. dried black beans
  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 1 cabbage
  • 4 dried chili peppers
After the farm, I dropped by the frozen food place. I love the quality at this particular, independent store. I would say I go about once every 3 months, more often if we are in a real smoothie phase and not at all over the summer months, except for ice cream.

  • 2 - 2 kg bags of strawberries
  • 1 kg pineapple chunks
  • 1 kg mango chunks
  • 5 lb box of wild blueberries
  • 2 L of really good butterscotch ripple ice cream
And thus ends a week of food buying in our household. I don't normally make quite so many stops in one week, but we seemed to run out of so many things all at one time, so I thought it was a great time for blogging my adventures.

Monday, March 2, 2009

This week's food: The coconut outlet

I couldn't believe my luck when a couple of years ago, I googled sources for coconut oil and found that there was an outlet that supplied large quantities of very high-quality organic coconut oil within about 20 minutes of my home! I only go about twice a year, but it is very convenient.

Today was my bi-annual trip.

  • 1 gallon of Virgin Coco-Creme Coconut Oil (for times when it will be eaten raw)
  • 1 gallon of Fine Organic Coconut Oil (for cooking)
  • 1 kg of unsulfured organic dessicated coconut
Why do we eat coconut oil? Sometime I will do a blog post on the subject, but for now, you might enjoy visiting this website. If you click on 'Research on Coconut Oil', you will find several easy-to-understand articles.

Weekend Gift-Knitting for a Baby

WHY does she always make me do the hat modelling?!

A terrific guy that Steve works with just had his second child and is returning from paternity leave today. In my usual fashion, I didn't begin to make the baby's gift until Wednesday. Fortunately, I chose two quick-knit items.

First up, a little Norwegian Baby Hat. I just love this style of hat. It is very cozy warm because it fits snuggly, has ear flaps and, best of all, ties on so baby can't remove it (which is probably the number one reason it is cozy -- because it isn't on the ground, but on the baby's head!). This is a super easy and free pattern, but I add a caution. If you are making one, please watch the sizing. Many knitters have complained that, even though they get gauge, the hat turns out way too small. I actually cast on the smallest size (6 months) at first, but it was so small that I ripped it out and began again with the largest size (2 years). As you can see in the pictures, it just fits my 11 month old without much room to grow.

In keeping with my love for sock knitting, I also made a pair of baby socks in about a 12 month size. I used a fabulous pattern for the leg which is very simple. To do this pattern, you need a multiple of four stitches. (I used 32 stitches with a sport weight yarn and a gauge of about 7.5 sts/in). It is a four row repeat. On rows 1-3, you K2, P2. On row 4, simply K2tog without slipping them off the needle, then reinsert the needle into the first stitch, knit it and slip both of the needle, then P2. Easy peasy. I like this pattern, called "Baby Cable" because it is nice and stretchy.

I was able to knit both these items from a single skein of Louet Gems Sportweight 100% superwash wool, which I purchased from my local yarn shop. I still have enough leftover to make baby guy a pair of socks, too. (I used the 'Caribean Blue' colourway.)