Saturday, November 14, 2015

Recipe: Pumpkin Pancakes

This recipe is for my sister-in-law. We had a family brunch today and she enjoyed these pancakes I made very much, especially considering that she doesn't normally enjoy pancakes. I managed to snap this shot of the last 3 pancakes just in time...they have since disappeared altogether. I will note that I used a gluten free flour mix which does not include xanthan gum, my pumpkin puree was home cooked, and I skipped the baking powder and replaced most of the milk with plain dairy kefir. But I've made the recipe just as it is written below, so anyone should feel confident in making it without those particular changes for their own delicious breakfast.
Pumpkin Pancakes
1 3/4 cup flour (gluten free or not)
2 Tbl brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or your favorite mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, citrus zest)
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbl melted butter
chocolate chips, optional
Preheat griddle. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, pumpkin, egg and butter; mix well. Combine wet and dry ingredients.
As you pour each pancake on the griddle, sprinkle with a few chocolate chips if desired.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Heritage: I want to go to work!

8 year old Maria likes to write notes to me rather than asking her questions directly. Mostly the notes are requesting to be excused from a chore or tattling on her sister or begging for a treat. Recently while she was supposed to be unloading the dishwasher she handed me this note:
Dear Mama,
Why do we have to do dishes? We can always just leave them in the dishwasher and pull out the dishes when we need them
your loveing dauter
I pointed out that then there would be nowhere to put the dirty dishes and sent her back to finish her chore.
2 year old Princess seems to understand remarkably well that there is in fact a baby growing in my tummy. She LOVES babies so...she asked me what she should eat to get a baby growing in her tummy also. She points to her mouth every time we talk about the baby, wishing I would explain to her how to eat a baby so she can "own" one of her very own.
Both she and Ant are jealous of my husband and sister (who lives with us), who get to go to "work" nearly every day. It must be a fun place since they keep going back again and again. So Princess has told me more than once now that "I want to go to work!" I assured her that when she's a teenager then I will certainly allow her to go to work also. She seems content with that answer for now.
I might have figured out where my kids get their antics from. At a retreat recently I had to apologize to the other women I shared a cabin with. My disclaimers: 1) I was just beginning to recover from a bout of the flu and 2) I wasn't really awake. Of course, neither were the other ladies, until I changed that for them. Anyway, about 3 hours before breakfast I suddenly woke up (well, obviously I didn't truly wake up...) to the sound of someone coughing. I immediately thought that 1) the person coughing was my sister who 2) was thoroughly exposed to the flu I and my kids had fallen victim to 3) was coughing because she was getting sick (normal warning from my kids) yet 4) wasn't awake herself and therefore 5) NEEDED me to wake her up and rush her to the bathroom (as if she weren't adult enough to do that herself: remember, none of my kids would be able to if they suddenly succumbed to the flu in the middle of the night. I therefore jumped out of bed and rushed over to her bunk to wake her up. Unfortunately, the woman who groggily woke up wasn't my sister; I'd gotten the bunks mixed up. A second lady heard the commotion and asked me what was wrong, then directed me to the correct bunk. The third woman I woke up was in fact my sister, who had not been coughing, was not sick and did not need my help. By then the lady who was actually coughing (recovering from a cold, nothing serious at all) was also awake. Thoroughly embarrassed, I returned to my own bed and prepared my apologies for everyone whose sleep I had disturbed.
The tradition goes back at least one more generation, but I'll let my mom decide who to share her story with from that same retreat weekend. ;-)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Beginning with a schedule

My plans and expectations were so disrupted recently that I couldn't even remember what normal was supposed to look like. For about a month we had children waking up for a couple hours each night, children coming down with the flu, with strep throat, with whoknowsexactlywhat virus, and children sharing their sickness with me. :( I didn't get up at my normal hour, I was kept busy caring for sick children and their laundry, I didn't have the same alertness I would have after a normal, restive night of sleep. The kids watched tv, we skipped schoolwork, our meals were simple and less healthy and less substantial than normal...when we gathered together for a meal at all. As appetites returned and normalcy became a possibility again, I needed to pick up the broken bits of our schedule and put them back in the correct order. But what belongs in our schedule? Time to watch tv? Personal quiet prayers? Exercise? And when is each supposed to happen anyway?
There is a fine balance between cheerfully letting the Lord rearrange my plans and "planning to fail by failing to plan". I need to have a baseline to work with even though I need to have a good attitude when my plan falls down around me. So, I printed a basic weekly schedule, wrote in first the items which are most consistent (meal times, mostly), then filled in the remaining hours from the most common to the most vague (four hours each day to "clean/cook/laundry" can mean a lot of different things). I kept it as realistic as possible rather than as efficient as I might dream it could become. There's not much time left for some very important pieces, which is why I was struggling to make them happen. Hmm... Well, that didn't surprise me! Yet, just filling in the schedule form gave me inspiration for tweaking some areas, including some more reading time for the kids, to their great excitement.
I can see that some small steps need to be attached to big areas but I need to make sure they aren't taking over the big areas altogether. For instance, during my time to shower and dress, if I spend a couple minutes cleaning up the bathroom but I make sure that I do not add any other little chores to that time slot than I will have a cleaner bathroom without spending 15 minutes later in my day to come back and clean it. I'm there already; the supplies are there already; no toddlers are there yet to interrupt; but I really don't have time to spruce up the bathroom and the bedroom and the closet and put away that load of folded laundry. Those little chores are not visible on my schedule. Nor are the little interruptions such as bumped knees and baby cuddles. I could look at this outline and become depressed at how little I am actually doing or I can realize how general it truly is and accept that I could never fit all the little items on one sheet, no matter how tiny I wrote my letters. I try to give myself credit for the many things I do which will never be visible on a piece of paper especially on the days which end with a messier house and a frustrating review of an uncompleted to-do list.
I cannot foresee which days will be turned off-kilter with no private time left for quiet prayer but I can make choices which allow me to spend time with the Lord despite a disrupted schedule. Redundancy helps: a habit of listening to the Bible in audio form while I am getting dressed, a semi-regular pattern of memorizing verses as a family at mealtimes, family devotional read every morning at breakfast, Bibles on my phone and my Kindle and my desktop, and subscriptions to motivating Christian podcasts and blogs help me keep God's Word in my life even when I don't read it right after waking up or find my reading thoroughly interrupted by my children. Consciously choosing for the Lord also helps: I don't know when I'm wakened in the middle of the night whether that interruption will be a one-time event or whether it will end up keeping me up for 3 hours and derailing my morning plans. But I do know that if I choose during that first time to read Scripture and/or a good devotional then I can reduce the damage done to my relationship with the Lord even if I sleep in the next morning. I have a choice; I can choose to spend that time with God rather than with the tempting novel or facebook or other media distraction. The result might not produce the same type of prayer life as I would have if I were a cloistered nun. But then again, God didn't call me to be a cloistered nun, He called me to this life, complete with all its interruptions. He must therefore want me to seek out ways to maintain and build my relationship with Him while embracing the interruptions.
My schedule will never be perfect. It will never go entirely according to plan. But ocassionally reviewing what it's "supposed to" look like helps me realign my priorities despite the disruptions.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Frequently changing plans

The Lord seems to delight in changing my plans. He knows me thoroughly and He seems to find it essential for my well-being to upset my schedule and my expectations frequently.
I am a person who appreciates a well-organized schedule. I like a little variety in my routine yet I like having a routine for that variety to fit into. I would even be inclined to schedule my meal plan for an entire month at a time ... and save the meal plan to reuse the following year.
Instead I hardly plan our family meals at all, simply keeping the supplies on hand for a small number of meals and planning in advance only about 1 meal in 30. There is a certain level of ordered routine to my day which is ignored more often than it's followed. I don't even take time each summer to plan my kids' school year, a practice so common among homeschoolers that it's practically required. I just find that my plans are disrupted so often that it's not worth putting much time into making them in the first place.
I don't know all the reasons why God has me in this position where planning ahead is mostly a frustrating waste of time. I do know that it pushes me beyond my comfort zone, it forces me to rely more completely on God, it prepares my attitude to more willingly accept interruptions which are disguised opportunities to serve others, and it enables me to say yes to new plans without the disgruntled attitude which I might be naturally inclined to have otherwise. I can't see the big picture from my perspective but I can glimpse enough of it to realize that the frequent disruptions to my plans are well within God's plan for me, for my good.
I wouldn't want to give the mistaken impression that I've given up on planning nor that my life is completely unstructured. I am a strong supporter of routine, I do keep a schedule, and I think that in general faithful Christians will have structure in their days and in their prayer lives. But as God is not limited by a calendar, we shouldn't be either. There are opportunities in front of us which were not anticipated and planned for last week. Opportunities to love, to serve, and to welcome others into our hearts.
Right now my schedule says that I sleep until 6:10, I pray before the kids wake up, and they pray before doing their schoolwork or playing. As important as prayer is, even this part of my routine is frequently interrupted. Sometimes it is more important to cuddle a child in the middle of the night than to wake up and pray before my children get up. Sometimes my personal, just me-and-God time is less important than the person asking for some love. Sometimes my kids need to experience God's love for them, shown through me, more than they need to practice their personal prayer time. Sometimes that means they miss their Scripture reading altogether for the day, replaced with a walk through the neighborhood or a "family visit" to a doctor or another family outing (fun or not). The only real question is, did I use the disruption to my routine to honor God and love another person or did I use it to distract me from the Lord?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Homeschool in Our Home Part 2

Sometimes I've been asked at what age I begin my children's education...uh, when they're born? My goals during "kindergarten", as I told my friend recently, are 1) learn how to read, which can take up to three years (barring unexpected circumstances such as trying to teach them when they're not ready to learn or a condition such as dyslexia which would cause the process to take longer), 2) familiarity with numbers and basic addition, and 3) learning to love learning. Everything else is meant to help you accomplish those 3 goals. But really, I set them up for these three achievements from the time they're born by counting snaps on their onesies, singing the alphabet while washing their hands, reading books aloud, reading more books aloud, engaging their curiosity, and so much more.
My friend and I were chatting about what resources I used when my older daughters were officially beginning to homeschool. Many of these sites are ones I still use; others I will want to remember in a couple years when my third daughter is ready to begin officially schooling. Since I typed up the list anyway, I figured I would record it here as well, for my future reference and for anyone else who might find it useful. I also sent her links for some local resources that our family has used or that I have thought of using but haven't actually taken advantage of yet: mainly local homeschool groups, a local homeschool conference, and our local YMCA, where my daughters have taken a "swim and gym" class several times now.
. (This was my main resource for our alphabet books. I printed off maybe 5-10 different coloring page/tracing page/activity sheets and when the girls finished them I punched holes in the pages and in two pieces of construction paper. The construction paper provided the cover for their books, I helped them sew through the holes with yarn and a plastic tapestry needle to bind the book together, and then they and/or I wrote a title and their name on the front cover. They had the option of decorating the cover with a picture and I wrote the date in a corner.) (This site has a lot of complementary activities: coloring pages, Christmas cards and tags, preschool puzzle pages, etc. I've used them sometimes to help fill out the alphabet books that we made and to make Christmas cards/tags/thank yous printed on cardstock and colored for relatives.) (This is honestly my favorite homeschool website right now. Her biweekly podcasts have so much good in them and usually include interviews with high profile homeschool experts I had previously not heard of but immediately discover I need to learn more about.) (Not directly homeschooling, but rather Catholic family culture, the "mother" Leila homeschooled all her own children and has a lot of advice, whether you want it or not, about teaching, reading, family prayers, reading lists, etiquette, home management, raising boys to be men, and anything else you let her give her opinion on. Three of her grown daughters, with young children of their own now, share the blog with her.) (The Holy Hero kids share most weeks a short video illustrating the Sunday Gospel reading, a coloring page, and a short quiz. Most helpful of all, though, is their Advent Adventure with daily videos, coloring pages, activity pages, audio rosary decades, and audio saint stories. My kids LOVE these. I put together a Jesse Tree with coloring pages before I knew about Holy Heroes, but now we do a combo of the two since everything is assembled for the Holy Heroes but they don't have any women in their ornaments. They also have a Lenten Adventure similar to the Advent Adventure. Both adventures include a variety of ideas for Catholic seasonal activities, most of which we don't do, but we get a lot out of them without the extra activities.) (Although I don't use their curriculum, I try to plant their book suggestions on our shelves, or in my daughter's Kindle, or through audio books resources. I review their lists regularly so my kids are exposed to those appropriate to their grade level. I find many more books on many more book lists, but the ones on this list are a solid beginning and after all, if the particular book is free on Kindle or available through our library, why not? If we study it together later on, then they'll already be more prepared by having read it first by themselves. If we don't, their literary knowledge will be more complete for having read it by themselves than if they had never seen it before in their lives.)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Homeschool in Our Home Part 1

I've had so many ideas for posting on this blog but no time to actually type them out and publish them. I've wanted to. But with 4 kids, two of them under the age of 2.5, a fifth child on the way, homeschool, personal prayer, interaction with real people in person, personal needs and realities of life, nothing has happened here. Still, the thoughts rattle around in my brain and typing them out helps me organize them. So maybe I'll be able to visit more often, if only as an organizational tool for myself and my poor brain.
A couple friends of mine asked me about how I homeschool as they were canvassing several of their friends for new ideas. I typed up a schedule of our typical day for them, and then I typed a list of several resources I have used or currently use. Since the lists are already typed, I might as well publish them for anyone else who might find them useful. ;-)
My kids are Maria-8 (3rd grade), Reese-7 (2nd grade), Princess-2 (likes to imitate her older sisters in everything they do) and Ant-16 months (our first boy, and he doesn't do anything school related). The particular friends who asked for my input have children 7 and under in one family (already homeschools but was needing to make some changes), and 5 and under (just beginning to homeschool and really asking around all the moms she knows for the different perspectives to figure out what works best for her).
This is a "typical" "full day" at our house, distinguished from a "half day", when I require reading, math, and Spanish, but the rest of their checklists are not required because we are busy with other activities (field trip, art projects, trip preparations, trip clean-up, etc.) The morning family routine is mostly similar, so they are still doing memorization, personal prayer, and family prayer on "half days".
1. Around 7am-8:15. Wake up, dress, before breakfast chores
2. Around 8:15-8:45. Family breakfast. My husband and I model narration for them during the breakfast conversation by recounting something we read that morning during our personal Bible studies. Sometimes he will ask the older girls to tell about their Bible studies from the day before. We read a short devotional, review our Scripture memorization verses, then pray aloud for each family member. The older girls are expected to pray for one of their siblings and an extended family member, giving them practice in praying aloud in a small group.
3. After breakfast chores, finish dressing (hair, teeth). If our schedule allows for it, we have family prayer time, which means my husband plays a couple songs on the guitar, everyone sings, those who choose to may play a child instrument (tambourine, egg shaker, ukulele, maraca). In between songs we encourage charismatic prayer (1-2 minutes) and close the prayer time with the Our Father, usually in Spanish.
4. Personal Prayer Times. For the prayer, I began by making a chart for each girl and we would pray through it together, sometimes 1 parent-1 child, sometimes both girls with 1 parent. Probably in another year (i.e. 3yrs old) Princess will begin doing this with me and it won't take long after that before Ant starts to join us. Now, the older girls (8.5 and 7yrs old) do their PPT and Bible studies individually, but I don't think they do much prayer; I think they mostly focus on the easier Bible study. That's ok; we'll return to the PPT instructions in another couple years. They currently own their own Bibles and read a section each day. We've put out incentives to them for finishing 1 Gospel, all 4 Gospels, the NT, the OT, the whole Bible, the whole Bible in 1 year...They have both finished Matthew (ice cream!), Maria has finished all 4 (bigger ice cream!) and Maria is now working through Romans, motivated to earn a new doll when she finishes the NT. Reese has a basic notebook for her prayer journal, in which she writes the date and the title of what she read, then a picture of what she read. In May Maria graduated to a pretty diary journal and writes in it rather than drawing. Her description is still very basic (even more so because she is reading Romans) and she independently includes other details of her life. I do not look at her prayer journal, but I do ask both girls about what they read and usually review Reese's, sometimes helping her decide what she will draw, helping her work through what she read and what it means.
5. Checklist: Math, Reading, Handwriting, Spanish, Music, Phys Ed. I add or change it around when needed.
Math is a lesson with Mom and a worksheet, followed by about 7 days' worth of worksheets. They bring their worksheets to me to correct before they can consider their math "done" for the day. They have the option of working through more than one worksheet in a day or skipping sheets if they know the material well, but they don't often take advantage of either option. It's easier to work through problems that are already well understood and thereby extend the lesson than to jump forward to the next lesson which includes new, more challenging concepts. They usually take the easy road. ;-)
Reading is their choice of a number of non-fiction books supplied by me via the library and book sales. I choose these books based on their current interests. I would like to give more structure than I do now to the subjects, eventually. After reading the book or the chapter (if it's a long book), they write/draw a book report and give me an oral narration of what they learned. Sometimes instead of the report they will complete a project (found by me or invented by them), interacting in another way with the material (e.g. creating their own solar system map, researching and writing about Eastern Cottontail Rabbits, making a recipe from the book, writing out a timeline found in the book's appendix).
Handwriting right now is cursive. They trace on a white board I found at a garage sale or they trace and copy on a worksheet I print off. They are not expected on this assignment to think, only to form their letters.
I require them to work on a Rosetta Stone lesson at least a couple times a week. They can work on it every day or they can alternate with some youtube videos I found and bookmarked for them of stories being read in Spanish. On days when the computer isn't available they complete this assignment by memorizing 5 words from an Usborne picture dictionary. My goal is that they creep as slowly as they choose toward mastering a second language, enough that someday they can call themselves bilingual and can test out of any foreign language requirements in college. Hopefully they will even be able to communicate in Spanish and may even choose a 3rd language to learn before they graduate high school.
Music has expanded to two instruments, ukulele and piano. We bought our daughters ukuleles to help them learn how to hold a stringed instrument, how to strum, how to form chords. When they know enough about music and are big enough to hold a guitar, we hope that this introduction will make it much easier for them to learn how to play the guitar, which is really the instrument we most want them to learn. We just got a piano and our goal with that is for them to learn music theory and reading music. My husband was going to teach them the ukulele but his schedule hasn't allowed for it, so we have found the internet and youtube helpful for that instrument, since our standards for it are very low. Like Spanish, I find lessons and bookmark them, and the girls play through one video until they have "mastered" (our standards are low...) the song. We will be paying for them to have weekly piano lessons, though in the meantime I give them mini lessons most days and they play around on the piano with the books that we have for the required 20 minutes (required because they would rather spend 60 and I limit them to 20).
Phys Ed is my most recent addition. My daughters would like to spend more than half the day reading but their attitudes are more positive when they get some intentional physical movement in their day. Phys Ed can be completed with a family walk, with swimming lessons, with backyard (or team sport) basketball practice, with biking or running around outside, with racing up and down our basement stairs, with a modified Pilates or dance party.
6. Ideally, lunch (noonish) is made by one of the older girls, rotated weekly, by herself or with me. I am working with Maria especially on thinking ahead (first step in menu planning). She can make a few simple things on her own, including fried eggs, quesadillas, microwaved white or sweet potatoes, and boiled eggs. With my help she can follow a basic recipe and make meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Realistically, this of course doesn't happen every week. I eat lunch after the kids so I can read aloud to them during their lunch. I am trying to read one picture book after each chapter book, before beginning the next. These read-alouds are classic children's fiction, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House books, the Wheel on the School, etc.
7. Quiet time, around 12-2pm. The babies nap, I eat and introvert, the older girls read quietly whatever they want or play with something quiet such as drawing, writing, paper dolls, other dolls, Legos.
8. Snack time, followed by any schoolwork they didn't finish during the morning. They are quite capable of completing their checklists before lunch and often do, but sometime attitudes and procrastinations get in the way.
Not in our daily schedule: We listen to books on cd in the van, books that the kids enjoy but my husband doesn't when we're in town (American Girl, Phantom Tollbooth, The Wizard of Oz) and books we all enjoy on roadtrips (history, Chronicles of Narnia, James Herriot). Besides planting books on the shelf filled with history and science, we do science projects together a couple times a month. Movies that we watch together as a family are often nature related, and the kids learn a lot from them. I also find myself showing them a video or article more days than not, either because they ask a question ("What does a baby bee look like?") or because it comes up in my newsfeed (A woolly mammoth skeleton found in our state this week) or something in one of the blogs I follow for this very purpose sounds like it will interest them (Squirting cucumbers??)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Happy Heritage: Pork Shoulder Butt

Stuck. It didn't stop his explorations though.
Over the next couple days he got stuck again
underneath the end table's shelf, on the
shelf, and on the top of the table.
My older daughters watched me prepare a pork shoulder butt for our dinner. "That's not pork, that's a lamb leg!" No, I explained, it was pork, it just was nearly the same shape as the lamb we had eaten recently. I pointed out the label "proving" my point. "Pork Butt!!" Actually, it's from the shoulder. I don't know why it's called the butt. "Phew! Who'd ever want to eat a pig's butt??" I then explained where ham is taken from. Surprised, my daughters immediately declared their willingness to eat a pig's rear end any day, at any opportunity.
Maria declared that she wishes we had a summer house in Europe. Or a winter house. Or any house. So I asked where in Europe. First she chose France, then London, England. Reese's eyes lit up and she eagerly asked where the candy shops are located in Europe. "Switzerland." I told her. So that's where she wants her extra house to be located.
I've learned the best way to teach children how to spell: 1. Bring a toddler into the home. 2. Since the toddler will quickly learn to understand the word "candy", tell the older children that they will not be allowed a sweet treat after meals if they use said word too early. They will therefore have to spell it out, "C-A-N-D-Y" when requesting their after-dinner treat. 3. Wait up to a month (depending on the age of the toddler) for the younger child to realize that those letters mean the same things as "candy". 4. Tell children they will have to spell "D-E-S-S-E-R-T" so the toddler will not stop her meal as soon as she hears them spell out the earlier, easier word. 4. Repeat steps 3 and 4, increasing the difficult of the words spelled. Suggestions for those more challenging words: confectionery, sweet treat,
I was recently nominated the castle gardener. "Because queens don't weed strawberry patches and we are princesses, so..." Grade school logic: They are princesses and princesses live in castles, and the gardens of those castles are cared for by official gardeners. If I am tending the garden, then I am obviously not eligible to be their mother, the queen; I must be the gardener.
My slider phone spontaneously decided to stop working. I can receive calls but the keypads don't work properly so I cannot make any phone calls, read any text messages, look up any phone numbers, or shut off my morning alarm. Neither my husband nor I was surprised at my phone's death, though it was sudden. We knew it was coming. We had already decided that when it occurred, we would upgrade me to a "smart" phone, but would continue using the slider until it truly died. The biggest advantage I am hoping for from my new phone is the ability to take pictures with it. The last two years I have been at a clear disadvantage, not having my camera always handy and finding it inconvenient to physically attach the camera to a computer in order to do anything with the pictures I take. Hopefully the change will be a positive one for our family's annual photo album and for this blog, since it should be easier to take more photos and to upload them more quickly when and where I choose to.