Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dream of the Blue Poodles

Selina was pacing the kitchen floor when I walked in to get some tea.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Oh…just thinking,” she said.

“What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about what kind of dog I want to get.”

We can’t get a dog. Not in this condo, not at the kids’ ages, not while Cole is commuting to work. We got guinea pigs almost a year ago to give Selina a cuddly mammal to molest, but she still spends an inordinate amount of time planning for her someday dog.

“What kind of dog do you think you might like to get?” I ask her.

I try to give her as much fantasy dog as possible, considering how much I feel I’m failing her in the real dog department.

“I think…a poodle. Because it’s curly–like me!”

She changes dog types frequently, but I gently urge standard poodles when given the chance because they are less allergy-inducing. So I was happy to hear this.

“That sounds like a great idea,” I tell her.

She pauses.

“But…I don’t think poodles usually come in blue…

Selina’s Favorite “Green Soup”

This is easy-peasy, delicious and super healthful. Selina begs me to make it.

Green Soup

1 head of cauliflower

2 heads of brocolli

1 large onion

1 large potato

1 quart of broth (any kind–I’ve used chicken, veggie and mushroom–all are good)

4 or 5 tablespoons of butter

salt and pepper to taste

Put the broth on the stove to heat while chopping all the veggies. Toss them in the pot and cook until they’re all soft. Puree with a blender or food processor. Add the butter and stir until melted. (You can skip it if you’re vegan or something, but it really makes a difference.) Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve!

I Used a Pattern!

I have avoided sewing for years, because I just can’t wrap my head around the language of patterns. But once it occurred to me that I can see how a piece of clothing goes together, I decided to try a pattern and fill in what I didn’t understand with instinct/vision.
I found a pattern that required nothing but thread (no zippers, buttons, anything but seam-sewing required) and knocked it out in three days with the same muslin I made that last dress with. (I have enough of that muslin to make underwear for an army.)
I did pretty well, though I won’t be cutting the silk I am sitting on anytime soon.
With this dress, I dyed it in tea to a nice sepia tone. Next I’m going to take some photos of this really nifty urban scene down the corner from our street, photoshop them up a bit, print them in black and white onto iron-on fabric and put them all over my dress.
Meanwhile, I’m going to try yet another pattern or maybe the same one in different fabric before I do my silk dress.
What silk dress? You ask?
I have raw silk left over from a number of sources (one was my first wedding at age 23) in a number of close, but not matching shades. I am imagining a very simple, A-line dress with the different panels made of different colors of this silk so that it has a subtle color-block effect.
A dress like that should be lined though, and I think I mentioned I don’t line things.
So I will either end up making it badly or won’t be making until I’m out of practice muslin.

Faux-q au Vin

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large onion, (mine was yellow, but whatever) chopped
6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped a bit
1 stick of butter (or so)
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
1 cup of flour
1 cup of red wine
2-3 cups of mushroom broth
1 cup of frozen vegetables that includes carrots and peas (mine also had green beans and corn)
salt, pepper, thyme, a bay leaf

Melt the butter slowly in a large skillet. Sautee the onion, garlic and sundried tomato in the skillet while you cut the chicken breasts into a total of six equalish-sized pieces. Mix the flour up with some salt and pepper and cover the chicken pieces with it. Scoot the onions etc. out to the edges of the skillet to make room for the chicken pieces and lay them in the skillet carefully. Let the whole thing cook for a while until the chicken is browned on the bottom, then flip the chicken over and cook another 5 mintutes until the other side is brown.

Remove the chicken to a plate for a minute.

If you have any flour mixture left over, sprinkle a little into the skillet and stir to make a roux. (If you don’t, skip it.) Add the wine to deglaze the pan and turn up the heat to cook it down quickly. When about half the wine is cooked down, add the mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and bay leaf to the broth, sprinkle in the frozen veggies, put the chicken back in the pan, cover and turn down the heat so the whole thing is just simmering.

Cook for an hour.

Delish!

If you think that sounds too hard, read this recipe. See? Not so bad after all.

Health Versus Weight

As long as I have the scanner out, here’s a look at my latest attempt to improve my lousy winter immunity.  Last time I saw the doctor, she looked in my mouth, my ears and my eyes and said “you’ve been dieting.”

Now, mind you I have not “dieted” a day in my life.  I have often been accused of dieting, though, as well as of having an eating disorder.  The fact is, I have a genetic tendency towards being underweight.  It is one of the reasons the wind blows right through me in the winter and I get month-long plagues when others are having 3-day sniffles.

But something that occurred to me some years ago is that just because I don’t try to lose weight doesn’t mean I don’t have a body that looks and acts like a perpetually dieting body.  It also happens that I do have some irregular–though not intentionally so–eating habits.  I’m someone who forgets to eat breakfast and/or lunch, then wonders why I feel awful at 3 o’clock, remembers I haven’t eaten, grabs a fistful of cashews or a cheese stick and runs out the door again to pick up the kids from school.

It’s sort of ridiculous that I eat like this when I feed my kids so well.  Because I do.  I started them on organic formula that I had to order by the case because at the time our town had no retail source for it.  I proceeded to home-make their baby food out of locally grown organic arugula and other such healthy delights and I used to keep a checklist of their diets to make sure they got everything they needed daily.  I now have that checklist in my subconscious and can tell you at any given moment what they have had a lot of and what they could use now, in about 3-day nutrition cycles.  It’s not obsessive, it’s incorporated into my basic childcare rhythms now like a sense of when Selina last used the potty and ought to try to use it again is in the back of my potty-training mind.

But for myself, I have no such sense.  My body just screams “sugar!” or “protein” at me when I dip too low and I hit my head all Homer Simpson style and rush to the freezer for a defrostable snack.  So, realizing that while I am certainly not dieting, my doctor is nevertheless onto something, I made the chart above, ran off 6 months worth of it and have been trying to monitor my nutrition roughly by the food pyramid.

As you can see, it’s the fruits and vegetables that are a struggle.  I have a bizzaro allergy to raw vegetation and therefore can’t share an apple or banana with the kids without risking anaphylactic shock.  So while I keep a constant supply of whole fruits in the bottom of the fridge and dole them out to Nat and Selina a couple of times a day, I can’t do the same for myself.

I’ve been trying to drink more orange juice, grab a handful of raisins with my cashews now and then (“dried” = not raw), sprinkle frozen spinach (“frozen” = not raw) on my frozen pizza (the way I do for the kids–why not for myself???) and otherwise beef up my fruit/vegetable intake.  But I find that cheese is the easiest and most dominant item in my diet.  Not so good for a person with chronic sinus infection troubles.

Another thing I’ve noticed since doing this is just how awful empty calories are.  There are no records of the junk food I have eaten on that sheet up there, but if you see a day that’s entirely devoid of whole grain or any fruit and vegetables at all, it was probably the day I have donuts for breakfast, rather than multi-grain cereal with frozen blueberries.

This is all just to say that there is no danger of me ever becoming obese, and yet my health is awful.  I am probably ill for roughly 70% of the winter most years.  Sometimes, I’m in bed flat on my back for two weeks, but mostly I am walking around hacking and sniffling and feeling exhausted.  Guess what?  Skinny does not equal healthy. And I am weary of hearing how it does.  For more on this, see my latest post at BlogHer.

National Adoption Awareness Month: 10 Adoption Misconceptions

I promise I have a real post coming for you soon, but meanwhile, here’s my latest at BlogHer.

Is Anti-Bullying Curriculum a Foil for the Homosexual Agenda?

Find out at BlogHer.

Psst!

If you are my “friend” on FaceBook, you can see a brief video of my kids in the school costume parade.  If you are not my friend on FaceBook, feel free to go ask to be.  Just mention you’re a blog reader.

Nipping Bullying in the Bud by Teaching the Responsible Use of Power?

Mind you, in no way do I imagine my kids as potential bullies.  Who does, right?  And yet, I witnessed a distasteful exchange between Nat and a peer on the playground recently that moved me to proactively intervene in her social development.

Ever since Nat became a big sister, she has been learning that trickiest of skills–using her power responsibly.  She didn’t really have any “power” before Selina came along, but as Selina has grown old enough for the two of them to spend a lot of minimally supervised play time together, they have tussled over the fact that Nat could have her way in most situations if she chooses to force it to be so.  It’s just good-old-fashioned sibling rivalry, of course, but it’s all about power–the power to attract adult attention to yourself (good or bad), the power to take and keep the coveted toy, the power to make someone else throw a tantrum.

Among her friends at school, Nat has proven to be one of those kids who is a social hub.  I won’t say “popular” because the school is small enough not to break out in too many sub-cliques, and for the most part everyone plays together.  For the most part.  But the other parents often tell me that my girls–especially Nat–get a lot of air time when their kids talk about friends and school.  I usually love what I hear–that the little kids get help from Nat, that the boys play with her in such a way that occasionally parents misread her gender and think she’s another boy–things like that.

But earlier this week, I arrived at school with Selina half an hour early (Nat goes from 11:30-4:30 and Selina goes from 1:30-4:30.  From 2:00 to 4:30 they overlap classrooms.) and let her play on the playground.  Nat’s kindergarten group was already there playing and the sisters ran into each other’s arms as if they hadn’t seen each other in a week.  Nat took Selina’s hand and they both ran and ran and ran.  (“Chase” seems to be all Nat plays on the playground.)  Presently, they ran up to me and stopped for a minute.  I was smiling at my perfect cherubs when a little girl with long brown hair stepped over and said, “Nat, it made me sad when you told me I couldn’t play with you.”

It blew my mind, because I sort of think of Nat as the kid who plays with everyone rather indiscriminately.  And I am not above thinking “now where did she hear that and eying the less perfect children suspiciously.  But in the end, she did what she did and needs to be responsible.  This was a kid-to-kid moment and the teacher was a stone’s throw away, watching out of one eye, and I suspected she had advised the girl to talk to Nat about her feelings, so I didn’t want to interfere too much, but Nat had seen me see what was happening and looked at me expectantly.  So I said, “What do you need to say, Nat?”

“Sorry, A.” Nat said.

But A said, “okay, but can I play with you?”

At this point, I had taken Selina’s hand and moved away.  I wanted Nat to sort it out on her own, but I bookmarked it for later reference.

Later in the car on the way home from school, we were decompressing and after the kids had given me highlights of their days, I raised the playground issue.

“Nat,” I said.  “It seems you hurt A’s feelings on the playground today.  What happened?”

Nat told me how the girl had asked Nat if she could play with her, Nat had said no and the girl had been sad.

I said, “You know, in our family, we have the rule that ‘Everybody Can Play.'”  And I talked to her a bit about that and how everyone in our family shares this philosophy and that when we hurt someone’s feelings, it’s very important to try and make it right so they will feel better.

Over supper I re-enacted this conversation in a slightly different form.

The next day, while driving Nat to school, I asked her what she would do when someone asked to play.  We role-played the “sure, ‘Everybody Can Play!'” response and also the “I’m so sorry I made you sad,” response.

Then I stepped it up a notch.

“What should you do if you see another person hurting someone’s feelings or hear someone say something mean?”

“You should tell them not to be mean, and that Everybody Can Play!” Nat said enthusiastically.

I dropped her off, crossed my fingers and hoped that something would sink in.

At dinner that night, Nat volunteered that not only had she let everybody play, but she had approached A. and invited her to play.  I reinforced that with much cheering and reiterated the “in our family” rule.  I have to imagine that other kids are not always going to play by that rule, so I use the “in our family” phrase to clarify for Nat that whatever other people choose to do, it’s veritably part of her identity to be kind and generous via family identity.

We also spent some time on examples of how different members of our family treat others with kindness and generosity.

I have no delusions that this is a silver bullet.  But I think the overt spelling out of the values and behavior we want from our children–even role-playing it–at an early age are the best bet against future cruelty.

What do you all think?  What do you do when these things come up?  It’s a bit new for our family, so I’m eager to hear others’ experience.

Home. School.

I’ve been thinking for a while about our would-be homeschooling and how it has turned to rah-rah Our School and why and how and telling you all about it.

First off, I didn’t see the light that I was misguided to homeschool.  I still tell people that we considered it seriously and might yet do it some year or two if need be, and they STILL say “oh but you can’t protect them from everything!” and “they have to be socialized!” Which STILL drives me nuts because protecting them from “real life” (as if SCHOOL were real life?) was never a reason we were planning homeschooling and as for socialization, I say again, school is hardly a realistic slice of society–especially as it is most commonly done, with 30+ same-aged children and one or two adults sitting in desks for hours on end.

So. I still staunchly defend homeschooling as a great option and one we might need in the future.  As for now, though, We LOVE our school.

One reason it’s easy to love our school is that it doesn’t have many of the elements I dislike about traditional school.  It’s Montessori, which means there is an evenly distributed three-year span of ages in each classroom.  Nat, for example, really enjoys playing with the younger kids (3 and 4 year-olds), although she reads like a 10-year old.  Because the class size is small and the curriculum is 100% individualized, she can play with whom she likes and read as well as she can without being singled out in any way as having some strange difference that requires special handling.  This was one reason I had planned to homeschool, but she gets it at this school.

Nat and Selina are in the same class this year, Selina in the first and Nat in the last of the three years (though Nat will only get two of them, because she started a year later than her classmates).  The school frowns on siblings in the same room but I insisted for scheduling reasons and it’s going really well, I think.  They are independent of each other, but also enjoy having each other there.

The other reason it’s easy to love the school is because the girls love it.  They love it so much they could marry it.  They are overjoyed to go and dance and sing about it when I tell them it’s a school day again, after a long weekend.  They would rather go to school than any other place on earth, I think.  They are both very social–extroverts to be sure, though Nat is shaping up to be a shy extrovert it appears–and while school is not the site of socialization, it is a nice tank full of acceptable peers for them to befriend without their shy, introverted mother having to dig around for a good homeschool group and socialize myself with a lot of other parents.  I know I’d get it eventually, but it’s an aspect of homeschooling I had not considered–how much effort it would take on my homebody part to get out of the house to the homeschool groups and activities until we found our niche.  The school is an automatic niche and I MUST leave the house, like it or not, to get them there during the proper hours.  This is bittersweet, because I dislike being on someone else’s hours.  But it’s not that bad in the big picture.

And here’s the other thing.  We homeschool anyway.  We do most of the things I had planned to do for homeschooling–since we had planned to mostly follow an unschool approach.  We still do lots of reading, lots of stopping on walks to discuss the weather, the plants, the birds, the cars, the people, the street signs, etc. etc. etc. We do a lot of “theme” days or weeks in which a concept which arose in normal daily life gets repeated in a variety of contexts until the kids are bored.  For example, last week was all about the difference between solids and liquids.  We would call out something, then identify it as solid or liquid and then talk about why we could identify it that way–or why it was tricky to identify one way or the other, then talk about what might make it change to the opposite.  Last winter, Nat and I discussed the water cycle quite a bit in casual conversations while driving past the lake in various states of freezing and thus we could now discuss how solids and liquids (and gasses!) sometimes change under certain conditions, chiefly temperature.

That’s just one example, but we have similar stuff going on all the time regarding history, geography, culture and religion and all kinds of other areas that just pop up.  So I guess that while we do indeed love school, I have no worries that we could leave school next week and keep learning and growing.

Which is another nice thing about the school.  The older the kids get, the smaller the classes.  I suspect parents jump the progressive schooling ship for a place more focused on test scores and grading as kids get older.  So when ours are 10-14 they will have tiny classes with loads of individual attention.  If we had an opportunity to leave the country for a semester or a year, the kids would come back to school and be considered family returned from an adventure and their year abroad might well get incorporated into the curriculum of their classmates.  They wouldn’t be “a year behind,” but a year richer in interesting experience.

The school goes through 8th grade (about 14 years old) and the kids in the 7th and 8th grade class are only a dozen or so.  The school partners with other Montessori middle schools in the area on a regular basis for special activities and field trips to give the older kids a broader base of friends.  The middle school kids are also responsible for leading certain community activities with younger kids in the school.  The whole thing is organized in a very multi-age, multi-generational way that is much more “real world” than the traditional school.  The teachers go by first names.  The kids are encouraged to leave the classroom at will and find the resources they need for their work and to cooperate together in mixed-age groups to solve problems.

The older of the two elementary groups (4th, 5th, 6th grade) have a kitchen in the “shared resource center” between their two rooms and every day they cook their meal and share it with school administrators, hand wash and put away the dishes.  Why isn’t EVERY public school in the country doing that in the 4th, 5th and 6th grade?

Which brings me to another thing.  Paying for this private school is not easy on us–especially since we have two households to run, what with Cole working out of town.  And as with all private schools, they are squeaking by, paying the teachers much less than the public system etc.  But I don’t think the difference is all that great between what we pay and what the public system spends per child.  It kills me that every kid in the country doesn’t get the same kind of school our kids are getting.  There’s no excuse.  As a nation, we more than have the resources.  So I will add that our school inspires me to fight the harder for better neighborhood public schools.

I am not a big joiner of any kind, but as progressive education movements go, I do like well-done Montessori.  Here’s a slide show and lecture from a guy who visited our school last year to talk about Montessori and brain development.  Watch this and tell me why every public K-3 school in the country isn’t following Montessori method:

http://player.vimeo.com/video/3845446?portrait=0

“Good at Doing Things” from Steve Hughes on Vimeo.