Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Intentions, 2016

Well, well, well... somehow, 2015 has slipped right by, and a New Year is upon us! 2015 was a pretty great year for us! I can't wait to see what's in store for 2016.

Like many others, this is the time of year when I take a look at how my life is going, and take stock of things I'm struggling with, goals I want to accomplish, successes, failures, etc. I sit down each year and make a list of "Intentions" for the New Year. These are different than Resolutions, which seem a bit too "all or nothing" for me. You can see my past posts on Intentions by following the links here: New Years Intentions

In looking back at last year's list, I found I made GREAT progress on a couple of things, but zero progress on a couple more. That's life, I guess. But overall, my life definitely moved forward in wonderful, positive ways in 2015, so that is something I feel pretty good about. My health is much improved this year. I've been trying hard to work on patience and gratitude. And most notable: I've tried lots of things I've always wanted to do (like maple sugaring, beekeeping and soap making!) I'm hoping to continue moving forward, growing, improving, and enjoying life in 2016!

So... on to this year's list:

1. More Art. This was on last year's list, and... it really never happened. Life is busy, there was a lot going on, and once again, Art fell by the wayside. So... I'm going to try again this year! More Art!

2. Continue my journey toward good health. While I've made good progress on this one, I still have lots of room for improvement. So, I will continue to try to make caring for my body with good nutrition and exercise a priority in 2016.

3. Stick to a budget, and start saving something each month. This is ALWAYS a tough one, and I know we're not alone in this. I'm hoping that we'll be able to stick to our budget at least mostly, make it possible to start contributing to saving for the future, which is something we've not been so good at in the past.

4. Daily Journaling. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while, but just haven't been able to motivate myself. I was recently given the gift of one of those cool "daily prompt"-type journals from a good friend, which is just the kick I needed to get started. I'm going to start that book tomorrow, and plan to work on a "Gratitude Journal" as well.

5. Spend more time being a Fun Mom. I always wanted to be a Fun Mom, and when my kids were little, I think I was, at least most of the time. We were always off on adventures, doing fun things together. As they got older, life got in the way, and I feel like I got too wrapped up in daily survival to focus on having fun. This has gotten better since I quit my job in 2014, but now that they're (almost) all teenagers, I realize I've missed out on a lot. My youngest recently reminded me that we never play games anymore. He's right. We don't. That needs to change. Our oldest boy will be leaving the nest this summer, and my middle boy will be giving up homeschooling to attend High School next school year, so I really want to make the most of the rest of the time I have with them this year.

So that's it for my list of New Year's Intentions for this year. Now I'm going to go spend this New Year's Eve with my family... eating pizza, watching The Hudsucker Proxy and playing games until 2015 comes to a close.

May you all have a peaceful, joyous, love-filled, and very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holiday Wrap Up, 2015!

Winter Solstice window

After much merriment over the last few weeks, the Holiday Season is finally winding down. It's been a good one for us! I hope it was for you, too. Since last post, we've enjoyed a Solstice Feast, Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day!

Our Solstice celebration was last Tuesday... we were joined by my sister and her fiance, and we all enjoyed a lovely candle-lit evening, filled with good food, and good company.

We roasted chestnuts over an open fire... 

Traditional Solstice ice lanterns.. though, with
temps in the 50's, they didn't last very long! 

The table is set... ready for the feast... 

Christmas Eve and Christmas were also spent here at home. Christmas is a quiet, casual affair for us. We enjoyed having a couple of visitors, Skyped with my parents in Florida, and were very grateful for some quiet family time. We wrapped up Christmas Day as we always do, with take-out Chinese and a Christmas movie (this year, Elf!) 

As of now, We're currently in Christmas Recovery Mode. I'm clearing up the Christmas Clutter, and getting our home back to "normal." I am also savoring the remains of Winter Break before the kids' classes and activities start up again next week. It's nice to have some time to catch up on things here at home, and to have a little "downtime." 

Next post, I'll be talking about New Year's Intentions, as well as some fun new stuff I'm planning for the New Year!  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Savoring the Season...

There's a lot to love about the month of December. We've spent the first half of this month winding down from Autumn and gearing up for the coming Winter. We've been "Decking the Halls" and making our home cozy for the long, dark nights. We've been enjoying some of our favorite traditions, such as trimming our tree, making decorations and special gifts, going to parties, attending our town's "Holiday Stroll" event... and there have been holiday concerts, and we saw a wonderful production of A Christmas Carol! There are always so many great things happening this time of year. We always make it a point to cut back on regular Homeschool stuff in December, to give us more time to focus on these special activities and traditions.
Our living room, decked out for the season. 

This year's handmade wreath... one of my favorite traditions.

So we've been keeping ourselves happily busy with all of these fun December activities. But we've also devoted a good deal of our time this month to doing our daily "good deed" picked from our
 "Acts of Kindness" Tree. The kids and I have been enjoying giving back in small ways (like donating to our local food bank, buying poinsettias for the nursing home, baking cookies for our librarians, paying for someone's coffee) and in bigger ways, like organizing a coat and blanket drive for the homeless in our area. It makes me crazy proud as a Mama when I see my kids getting excited and enthusiastic about giving and helping others. For me, it's personal in a different way... I've been on the receiving end of SO much kindness and assistance during the years when things were really rough for us, so it's really important for me to Pay it Forward now that I'm able to. 

The next few days will be spent preparing for our Solstice Feast! We've got lots to do! Making ice lanterns, finishing up the menu planning, decorating, baking, etc. This is my favorite celebration of the season! I love embracing and celebrating the Earth's cycles. I'm one of those people who really lives by the seasons. Our routines, the way we eat and the activities we engage in all change and flow with the seasons. I find immense amounts of comfort in this. It makes me feel connected to something greater than myself. The Winter Solstice is particularly meaningful to me. I love marking the time when the days begin to get longer again, minute by minute, each day. I love thinking about how our ancestors have celebrated the Return of the Light for thousands of years. This dark, cozy time of year is a time of reflection, appreciation and togetherness.  

“Winter is the time for comfort,

for good food and warmth, 

for the touch of a friendly hand 

and for a talk beside the fire:

 it is the time for home.”

                                                          ~Edith Sitwell

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Finding Gratitude in Unexpected Places

I'm taking a tea break, in the midst of this busy morning, and reflecting on the importance of Gratitude. Sometimes when we're rushing around, tending to all the STUFF life throws at us every single day, trying to stay on top of everything we're responsible for, it can be hard to take a moment to stop, take a breath, and remember how Blessed and lucky we are. The chaos happening in the world right now really has me thinking about this even more than usual. I'm sitting here, going over my "to do" list for today, and while I grumble to myself about having to do this stuff, I'm realizing that each of the tasks before me is a Blessing in disguise.

1. Driving my kids to classes and activities, helping with schoolwork, etc... I'm so lucky to have a beautiful family, and so grateful that we've been able to arrange our lives so that I can be with them full time, homeschooling them, caring for them, providing them with what they need. I don't always do it well, but I'm thankful that I'm given the chance to try again, everyday, to do my best for them.

2. Housework... I have a warm, comfortable home, filled with busy, active children. I complain a lot about how much work it is to maintain my home and care for the people in it... but really, I'm SO lucky to have a nice house in a safe neighborhood. So many in the world do not. Again, I am Grateful.

3. Food Prep... Every parent knows the struggle of getting dinner on the table every night, as well as other meals, but... I'm Thankful that I'm able to provide healthy, wholesome meals for my family every day.

4. Community Service... There have been periods of time where we have really struggled, financially, and have not had much extra to share. Those have been hard times. Today, we'll be participating in a project to provide Care Packages to troops overseas, who are not with their families during the holiday season. I'm Grateful that I currently have enough resources that I can share a little bit with others.

5. Doctor appointment... I have an appointment today, because I am Blessed with good medical coverage, so that I can stay healthy, and get the care I need when I'm not.

6. Laundry... It's never-ending with a family this size, but yes, I'm even Grateful for laundry. It means that my family has plenty of warm clothing to keep them comfortable as the weather is getting colder.

Several studies have shown that people who regularly express Gratitude are happier than those who do not. This really makes a lot of sense to me! When I stop and take time to remind myself of all the good things I have in my life, and to share gratitude with the ones I love, I feel happier. This is something that I would like to make a daily habit, especially when those "poor me" feelings we all get from time to time come creeping in. I'm giving myself a Gratitude Challenge... each day I plan to write down some things I'm thankful for, and to express my Gratitude to my loved ones each day for the good they bring into my life. Will you join me in this challenge?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Journey Toward Health and Wellness

Once upon a time, I had been under the impression that if I was eating a whole food vegan diet, I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and be healthy. I exercised, though quite sporadically, and while I knew that I should be moving more, I figured I was still probably pretty healthy based on my diet alone.

I was wrong. 

One year ago, I went in for my annual physical, and found that in spite of my whole food vegan diet, I was the heaviest I'd ever been in my life. I spent a pretty good portion of my adult life in the underweight to low average range, but as I approached middle age, my weight started creeping up. Also, my cholesterol up to 206 and my triglycerides to 231! As a vegan! I couldn't imagine how this could be, with my relatively healthy lifestyle, but apparently genetics play a big role in this stuff, and genetics were not working in my favor. 

I had been promising myself for years that I would start working out more regularly and lose some weight. But, when it became more about my health than vanity, I finally began to make some real changes. I started making exercise a priority in my life. That has been a real challenge at times, as there always seems to be something "more important" that needs to be done. But a good friend of mine gave me some advice... she said to view exercise the same way you view brushing your teeth. It's not optional. It's something you must do as basic care for yourself. I began with walking more, and eventually stepped up my routine by adding weight training. I made the commitment to work out at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, no matter what else is going on. 

I also started paying more attention to the calories I was consuming, and boy, was that a shock. Although everything I was eating was "healthy" I was eating a lot of really calorie-dense foods (nuts, seeds, avocados, etc) which were making my daily caloric intake higher than it needed to be. I began to practice some conscientious portion control, and experimented with Intermittent Fasting. There is a lot of information out there about IF, and lots of different ways to approach it. IF proponents say fasting for a part of each day or each week gives your digestive system a break, and can help with insulin resistance and inflammation. I wasn't sure this method would work for me, as I am someone who doesn't fast well... so I did a very modified approach, which involved not eating after 6 pm (which I almost never do anyway) and then just delaying my morning meal. This works out to 16-18 hours of fasting (a good chunk of which is sleep time) and 6-8 hours of eating normally.  During the waking fasting hours, I do drink lots of water with lemon, herbal tea and I do have my morning coffee. And, if I feel really hungry, I do eat something. The best thing about IF for me is that it's given me an increased awareness of my body's hunger cues. I no longer eat because it's time to eat, but instead when I feel genuinely hungry. This awareness has been life-changing for me. 

When I went back for my physical this year, I finally saw the results of all this effort. My weight is down nearly 15 pounds, I've lost 3 inches off my waist, my cholesterol has dropped from 206 to 155, and my triglycerides have gone from 231 to 88! I feel strong and healthy. Life is good.

The biggest lesson I've learned through all this is that there are no "quick fixes." The Internet is full of promises of "Get great abs in two weeks!" "Lose weight fast!"and the like, but in real life, getting healthy and fit is a process. It won't happen overnight. But in this world of instant gratification, it's easy to get discouraged when we don't see results right away. In my case, it took several months before I started to see any real changes. But the results over the course of nearly a year have been dramatic, and well worth the effort. I'm grateful for this wake-up call, and grateful that I've had the chance to turn my health around. I still have lots of room for improvement, but it's good to be on the right track. I'm excited to continue on this journey of health and wellness, and look forward to what the future holds.

BEFORE: 2014
146 lbs
Waist: 32 in
Cholesterol: 206
Triglycerides: 231

(not "after" because I'm still working!)
131 lbs
Waist: 29 in
Cholesterol: 155
Triglycerides: 88

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Vegan Pumpkin Macaroni and "Cheese"

Back when we all still ate dairy, one of my favorite recipes for Autumn was a pumpkin mac-n-cheese. There were so many things to love about that recipe... it was warm, hearty and creamy, but also a bit healthier than straight up mac-n-cheese, due to the generous amount of squash in the sauce. When I started moving from vegetarian to vegan a few years ago, I began working on ways to adapt my favorite recipes to suit my new vegan ways. This fall, I finally got around to revamping this one, and I have to say, it's still every bit as delicious as the original recipe, but without the animal products.

Instead of the cheddar and cream called for in the original recipe, this adaptation uses my favorite cashew cheese spread as a base, along with some unsweetened nut milk. The cashew cheese can be made up ahead of time, and kept in the fridge until you need it. I usually make a batch each week to have available for spreading on sandwiches, using as a veggie dip, or making creamy sauces like this one. It will keep up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.

As for the pumpkin, I like to use fresh roasted pumpkin, but you can use canned if you prefer. If you do use canned, you'll probably need to add a bit more nut milk, as it will be thicker than fresh. To roast your own, cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, then place it face down on a greased baking pan and bake at 350 until soft enough to stick a fork in easily. This will take about 45 minutes for an average size pumpkin... adjust accordingly if your pumpkin is larger or smaller. After you bake it, let it cool and scoop the pumpkin out of the skin.

And now for the recipe...

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz box of macaroni (you can use a gluten-free pasta, if you prefer)
1/2 cup cashew cheese
1-1/2 cup of cooked pumpkin
3/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (I use almond, but you could use soy, hemp, whatever)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

While the pasta is cooking, add all the remaining ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend until creamy, adding more milk if necessary to make a nice, creamy sauce. Transfer to a sauce pan, and heat through.When the pasta is done, drain it and add the sauce, stirring to coat. You can eat it just as is, or you can transfer to a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

served up with sauteed kale

If you have leftover cooked pumpkin after you make this, check out these ideas to use up what's left:

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal (vegan)
Creamy Pumpkin Soup (vegan)
Pumpkin Bread (vegan)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

Homemade Vinegar in Progress...
As I mentioned in my recent post about Autumn, we acquired a ridiculous amount of apples this season. In addition to the apples we picked on our apple-picking adventures, we also bought several bags of "seconds" from one of our favorite farms. These are the "less than perfect" apples, which are sold in big half-bushel bags for between $13-$16, depending on the variety. They are just fine for applesauce, apple butter and baking. In the end, between what we picked and what we bought, we ended up with 2.5 bushels of apples, which we turned into apple butter, apple sauce, dried apples, apple compote, apple crisp and some apple pies. We've had plenty left for eating raw, as well. It turns out that 2.5 bushels is A LOT of apples!

Since I'm the type who can't stand to waste anything, I've always wondered if there was something useful to do with all the peels and cores leftover when I make pies and compote. I usually just toss them in the compost, but I read recently that they can be used to make homemade apple cider vinegar... thanks, Internet!

As I was doing my research, I found that there are several recipes out there. Some use sugar or some pre-made vinegar to get things started, but the most basic recipe is to just stuff all your cores and scraps into jars, and cover with purified water, and let it sit. Since I'd just used up the last of my sugar making some apple compote, I decided to try making my first batch without sugar. I started with all the scraps leftover from my compote, and water that I had boiled and let cool. I did add a splash of raw cider vinegar to mine, just to get things rolling. It is really important to make sure your apple stuff is completely submerged, so it won't get moldy. Next, put coffee filters over the top of the jar and secure with the metal band (leave the cap part off) Place your jars someplace out of direct sunlight, and let them sit for a week or so. During the week you should see some little bubbles going on in there, which indicates that fermentation is happening!

Almost vinegar
After your jars have sat for a week or so, it's time to strain out the liquid into a clean jar. Discard the solids, and then cover the liquid with another coffee filter. Now your almost-vinegar needs to sit in a warm dark place for another 6 weeks, to finish fermenting. I've read a few different things about this... some recipes say to just leave it be, while others say it's really important to stir it everyday. Since I'm brand new to this, I'm really not sure which is best. I just strained mine today, and I'm planning to stir it, though I'm guessing I won't remember to do it daily. At some point, there should be a cloudy mass in the jar... the "mother" of vinegar, which will indicate that everything is fermenting as it should.

I'm really exciting to see how this project turns out! I will most definitely post an update as our vinegar progresses.

Next post, I'll be sharing a deeeelish vegan recipe that is perfect for a chilly Autumn day...  :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Speaking Out Against Hate and Discrimination

I don't usually write controversial posts here, but due to some trouble I got myself into on Facebook recently (long story... and this post will be long enough) I ended up engaged in some dialogue that left me with some stuff on my mind.

In one part of the conversation that ensued (via email) I stated that I have no tolerance for mistreatment of those who are marginalized (in reference to the LGBT community in this case, though that sentiment goes for those who are marginalized for other reasons as well), and that statement was twisted around to say that I have no tolerance for "anyone who does not agree with (my) position on LGBT issues." Hmm. I thought long and hard about these two sentences, and what they really mean.

Here is the thing. I am tolerant of alternative viewpoints. You have your beliefs, I have mine. We can debate all day about who should be president, or whether or not there should be standardized testing, vegan vs paleo, or whether we should or shouldn't go to war with another country. There are thousands of issues to which I might have a very different opinion than you, and we can disagree and the world will keep on turning.

But where I draw the line is when someone's beliefs or viewpoints are harmful or discriminatory to other humans. If someone is going to insist that being gay/lesbian/trans or otherwise non-binary is a "sin" (more on that in a moment) and they do things to deny this segment of the population their basic human rights and liberties, then I will not be tolerant of that. I will not stand by and be silent as they tell other humans that they are bad, they are less, they are "disgusting" or that they are not worthy of the same rights as the rest of us. That is not simply "having a different opinion." That is hatespeak, and that is harmful to us all. If you spread this kind of hateful rhetoric, you are propagating hate, plain and simple.

Intolerance of discrimination is not a slam against or an infringement upon anyone's religion. We are ALL entitled to pray to whatever God we want, to practice whatever religious rituals we want, to celebrate whatever holidays we want, or even to not participate in any religion at all, for that matter. But human decency goes beyond religious doctrine. Treating fellow humans the way we would want to be treated is the most important principle in all faiths. 

Let's talk for a minute about this whole "being gay is a sin" concept that so many people use as an excuse to discriminate. It's important to remember that the bible was written a really, really long time ago, long before the time when science determined that humans are BORN gay... it's a biological variation. Research has shown that homosexual brains look visibly different in brain scans. Being gay is not a choice any more than having autism or epilepsy or blue eyes or brown skin or flat feet is a choice. It's how you're born, it's how God made you... how can that possibly be a sin? However, mistreating those who are born different IS a choice. And THAT most definitely goes against the teachings of the bible... "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."

Here's another thing about LGBT discrimination, particularly for perceived religious reasons. I know several people who grew up gay/trans/non-binary in religious homes, where homosexuality was considered a sin. They were taught their whole lives that being gay is this terrible thing, which is really traumatic to someone who knows in their heart that they are gay. These people grew up hearing from their parents, their families and their church that THEY were bad, that THEY were sinful, and all suffered deep scars as a result. How is this not child abuse? Since being gay is about biology and not sin, an anti-gay religious family is just as likely to give birth to a gay child as any other family. But the child in the anti-gay home is far more likely to commit suicide or engage in self-harm than the child who comes from a loving, accepting family. And what of the children from these households who are not gay themselves? They are being taught to view other humans as less, to perpetuate discrimination, and that is tragic.

I grew up in a world where being gay was no big thing. There were gay people in our lives, but we never really even talked about the fact they they were gay... they just were, and it was just the way it was. I didn't know that some people thought it was a bad thing until late elementary/middle school, when kids would throw around hateful words like "fag." I'm guessing these bullies learned this stuff from their parents. Horrible.

I'm really proud that I've raised my own kids to be more accepting. By the time my daughter turned five, she had been to three weddings. The first was for my two uncles, the second was for friends... two beautiful brides, and the third was for other friends, a man and a woman. I remember  a few years later having to explain to my kids about how some people thought people of the same gender shouldn't be married. The response? "Well, that's stupid. People should marry whoever they want." From the mouths of babes.

But it's not enough to teach our kids to accept others... it's also important to teach them to stand up against bullies and haters... to protect the rights of those who are marginalized. And that doesn't just apply to homophobia. Decent people stand up for those who need help, whether the bullying is about homophobia, racism, sexism, or any other -ism. Silence is acceptance. I will never be silent. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Autumn in New England

It is currently Autumn here in New England, and I must say, this is pretty much the best place to be this time of year. We're well into our routines of the homeschool year, which keeps us pretty busy, but we're still managing to find time to enjoy ourselves with all the wonderful things that fall has to offer. Here's a little glimpse into what we've been up to...

We've been visiting several farms, and acquiring pumpkins, mums and many, many apples... 

We've been doing lots and lots of preserving Autumn's bounty of apples...
applesauce, apple butter, dried apples. And of course, we've baked some pies!

We've been doing some fall gardening... clearing
out the vegetable beds, cutting back the
 perennials, and planting fall bulbs.

We've been "Falling Up" our home, with mums and pumpkins 

We're "Falling Up" the inside of our home too... 

...and doing some Fall crafts...
 like these beeswax-dipped leaves.

We've got lots more fun Fall things planned for the coming weeks... day trips, adventures, crafts, and more. Have I mentioned how much I love Fall in New England? ;)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The "Wonder Why" Board

About four or five years ago, I read a wonderful book called The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons by Amanda Blake Soule. I absolutely adored everything about this book, and flipped through it quite often through the years. It's chock full of reflections, ideas and activities for each season of the year.

One of the ideas in this book was to create a "Wonder Why" board... a place to post all those questions kids pose throughout the day, that we don't always know the answer to immediately. By putting those questions up on the board, you don't forget about them before they get answered properly, as often happens when kids are asking questions while you're trying to get dinner on the table or pay bills. It's a nice message to send to kids, that their questions are important even if you can't help them answer a question right now. After the a question gets posted, someone else in the family can answer it if they know the answer already... otherwise, you can look up the answer together when you have a moment.
Our original "Wonder Why" Board
 circa 2011

We created one of these boards about four years ago, when the youngest kid was about 6. We had it hanging up in our homeschool area of our kitchen, where everyone in the family could see it. We all posted questions and answered them for each other, and it was great fun. We kept it going for a couple of years, but then slowly the kids lost interest and then we renovated our kitchen and Wonder Why Board was no more.

A question from our new Wonder Why Board
But then... the other day, out of the blue, my youngest (the biggest question-asker in the family) suddenly remembered The Wonder Why board, and asked if we could bring it back. Since I get absolutely giddy when my kids show curiosity and initiative, I immediately dropped what I was doing to dig out the old magnet board and some index cards. We hung the board up in the playroom, with a basket of index cards and pens next to it, and it's been in good use this week. I hadn't realized just how much I'd missed the Wonder Why board! I'm very happy to have it back in our home.

The Wonder Why Board is back! 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Not-Back-to-School, 2015!

A week and a half ago we started our 2015-2016 homeschool year! It's all been a bit of a blur, and we're still figuring out our groove, but so far, so good!

The table, all set for our Not-Back-to-School Breakfast
We started our year as we always do, with a special "Not-Back-to-School" Breakfast. I really enjoy this ritual. I make something a special for breakfast (this year was waffles with apple compote!) and I give each child a small gift. As homeschoolers, we are technically always learning, but after a summer of looser schedules and fewer activities, it's nice to have a an official "start date" to get us back into a more structured frame of mind. Now that the kids are mostly teens, there is far more structure to our school year than when they were little, but that's OK, and to be expected.

We do a lot more in the way of outside classes and activities than we they were littler, and as such there is a lot less "home" in our homeschooling. This is where things get tricky for me, as I am the keeper of the schedule, and the person in charge of making sure everyone gets where they need to go when they need to get there. To make this easier on myself, I have FINALLY embraced the technology of using the calendar on my phone. Yes, I know. It took me long enough. I STILL use my big wall calendar, but the phone calendar has definitely been so helpful in managing everything. I love the alerts! (Yes, I know... most of you have been doing this for years... I'm a bit slow on tech!) Because we've had sort of a rolling start to our activities, it's given me a chance to slowly acclimate to our new routines, which has been nice. Some classes and such started the first week of September, some the second week, and now a few more things are starting up this week. It's been nice to kind of ease our way into the busy-ness of the year. By the first week of October, we'll be in full swing. I hope I'm able to keep up!

I've been working on lots of ways to try to keep things running smoothly and peacefully this schoolyear... meal planning and prep stuff, organizational things, etc.  I'm hoping to share some of those things here, in the next week or so... so come back soon! ;)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Reorganizing the Homeschool Area

The last couple of weeks there have been lots of school-year preparations going on! I've been making plans, ordering supplies and books, figuring out schedules and getting our homeschool cabinet all cleaned up and reorganized for a new year of learning.

With another homeschooler on board this year, we're doing a lot of shifting things around. To organize the cabinet and make everything we need to have in there fit, we needed to pretty much do a complete revamp. I pulled everything out of the cabinet, eliminated things we no longer needed, then put back all the things we still need, along with our new supplies for this year. It feels good to have a fresh, clean start!

Here's what our homeschool cabinet looks like this year:

Our Homeschool Cabinet, in the corner of our kitchen.
The cabinets themselves are from Ikea's "Billy" bookcase collection.
To the left of this is our Command Center Wall, which is
also a pretty important part of our homeschool area.  

The top two shelves in the far left cabinet are for my "teaching"
supplies... books, my binder, paper clips, tacks, stickers, sharpies,
highlighter, etc. And a little crocheted rag doll my darling daughter
 made for me, which I love. The next shelf has pens, pencils, rulers,
protractors, erasers and a pencil sharpener. The closed storage beneath
holds science stuff: books, microscope, various lab stuff. 

The next section... we have a 3D cricket puzzle, a box of math
manipulatives and a bunch of assorted math books tucked into
magazine files. Below the math stuff, we have our Nature Shelf.

A closer look at our nature shelf, still filled with Summer Treasures... black-eyed
susans and mint from the garden, a chunk of wasp nest, a cool stick, a hawk feather,
some beach rocks and some sea shells from our visits to the beach. Soon we'll be
replacing the summer stuff with things we find out and about on our fall adventures.

The cabinet beneath the Nature Shelf contains the kids'
laptop and computer accessories, and space for each child's
individual books, notebooks and daily work. The two younger
boys have their daily work in tote bags... the two older kids
mostly do outside classes, so they just have their stuff on the shelf,
and take whatever they need with them for their classes. 

The tower in the corner has assorted reference books, and
some boxes containing word games and maps. In the jars, we
have some writing prompts, in case anyone needs inspiration.

In the next cabinet, we have back-up supplies (extra paper, notebooks, pens, etc)
 in the boxes on the top shelf, and other small supplies in the baskets below.
Under that we have a map and a globe, and assorted paper. 

I'm planning to put cute little tags on the baskets to label them, but at the
moment they are labeled with post-its stuck to the back of the shelf. My youngest
says he actually likes them labeled this way, so maybe it will stay like this.
In the closed storage below, we have Noodle's extensive collection of car magazines
(which aren't really school-related, but it's the only place in the
house where I can keep them tidied up, out of sight!)

So that's it! Our homeschool corner for the 2015-2016 school year! Our official "first day of (not)school" is this coming Wednesday! We're looking forward to another year of living and learning together, and sharing many grand adventures. 

PS... If you're interested in seeing previous posts about our homeschool area, you can find them below:

2013 homeschool area post
2014 homeschool area post

Monday, August 24, 2015

Trouble in the Hive...

It's been quite a while since I've posted about my beehive... since we've had a lot of action happening in there of late, it seems a good time for an update!

The beehive was strong and healthy and growing at a very rapid pace for the first several months. We added as second brood box, and the bees were quickly filling it up with eggs, brood, pollen, and a pretty good amount of capped honey! Then one day in the beginning of August, as I inspected my hive, I noticed there was some capped brood, but no new eggs or larvae.This is a very bad sign... it means that the queen bee is dead, or otherwise no longer viable. Oddly, the bees had been quite agitated the previous week when I had inspected... so agitated, that one of my normally docile bees stung me. My guess is that our queen (whom we had called "Alice") was in trouble then, hence their unrest.

Once I determined that Alice was definitely gone and our hive was definitely queenless, we needed to go about trying to requeen the hive. This is sometimes tricky business, as the hive sometimes rejects a new queen. So, we ordered a new queen from an apiary in Georgia, and upon her arrival, we placed her in the hive, and waited patiently to see if she'd be accepted. After a week, I inspected the hive again. I inspected all ten frames in the top brood box, but found nothing... no queen, no eggs, no larvae. Onto the bottom box... one frame after another... same story: no queen, no eggs, no larvae. About seven frames in, the bees started getting angry. They were buzzing quite loudly, and giving me plenty of warning bumps. One stung me on the wrist. I hoped this meant I was near the queen, and sure enough... on the 19th of 20 frames, I found my new queen (dubbed "Elizabeth" by my cousin, in hopes that she would have a longer reign than Alice!) Along with the queen I found some eggs and brood... hooray! The 20th frame was also full of eggs and brood, so it appears that our hive may be back on track.

In other news... oh my gosh, you guys... it's almost time for the homeschool year to start! We have SO much happening this coming school year. I've been very busy getting our supplies ordered, cleaning out the homeschool cabinet, and getting everything ready! Next post, I'll be sharing some of our preparations, and give you a little peak at our homeschool space.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Old House Blues...

There is a lot to love about living in an older home... the quirky architectural features, the charming details, the sense of history... but along with the cool things there are also quite a few headaches to deal with. Our antique home is always full of surprises, and most of them are both unpleasant and expensive to remedy! Our home was built in 1895, and since I bought it in 2007, I have dealt with things like crumbling walls, rotted studs and subfloors, outdated/unsafe electrical and plumbing, and much, much more. The good news is, we've replaced and repaired so much, that our house has increased in value quite a bit! The bad new is, there is ALWAYS something else going wrong that needs to be fixed, and small repairs often end up turning into much bigger projects (like the time we tried to replace a light fixture in our living room, and found tons of old illegal knob-and-tube wiring which needed to be replaced to the tune of $5000!)

Small part of the
hallway in progress
Currently, we're in the midst of several projects all at once. We didn't really mean for it to be that way, it just sort of happens sometimes with these old houses. First, we were in the process of insulating and replacing windows in our basement TV room, because we've had major problems with frozen and bursting pipes the last couple of winters. We're hoping that better insulation will prevent it from happening again this winter. We have a friend/handyman helping us with that project, as well as fixing the shower down there, which has been on the "to be fixed" list for several years. Meanwhile, we decided to start fixing up the hallways and stairwell, which have suffered some water damage and general wear-and-tear to the old horsehair plaster. That project is still in progress, as it turns out things were in worse shape than anticipated, and our summer has been waaay busier than expected, so we just haven't been able to get it done.

While all this was happening, we ended up with an unexpected plumbing issue, which resulted in this:

Our plumber had to break open the wall to replace some old pipes and such. Since the wall is already torn apart, we're thinking it's probably finally time to get rid of the tile walls we hate, and finally renovate this bathroom. More on that, as it happens! Additionally, we need to have a bit more electrical work done in the basement. And so on, and so on...

In midst of all these home repairs, we've also had to start thinking about the start of the school year! Can you believe that it's mere weeks until Labor Day?? I've already started reorganizing our homeschool corner, ordering supplies and planning out what we'll be doing come September. It's going to be quite an interesting year for me as a homeschool mom... this year I'll be homeschooling two high schoolers, a middle schooler and a fifth grader, and I'll be working part-time. I'm hoping I can handle it all.

Next post... I'll be talking about the latest goings on in my beehive!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Summer Love

We have had a pretty busy summer so far, with lots of kids activities, appointments and such. We've been doing our best to squeeze in small bits of Summer Fun in the midst of it all, but as of the end of this week, theater camp and summer dance will be over, The Man will be taking a couple of days off from work, and we'll finally have some time to really enjoy summer's simple pleasures for a few weeks before we have to start getting ready for the school year. I'm really looking forward to having some unstructured time to relax with my people. Because really, isn't that what summer is really about?

Here are some of my favorites things about summer...

1. Sitting by the fire pit on warm summer nights, watching the fireflies blink.
2. Watching the kids splashing in the pool (and splashing in the pool, myself!)
3. Beach days!
4. Dinner picnics on the beach, staying until the sun sets.
5. Summer flowers, everywhere.
6. Fresh veggies, right from the garden.
7. Summer fruits... strawberries, blueberries, peaches... YUM.
8. Long, warm days.
9. Camping!
10. No shoes, ever.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Healing My Family

Life can be messy, and sometimes the messiness of life leaves us with wounds that need careful handling to properly heal. My family has not been immune to life's challenges. We have experienced our share of messiness and injured hearts and souls... and we found that while in the midst of the messiness, it's hard to do what we need to do to take care of each other. Sometimes we are just struggling to survive, day to day. 

A couple of years ago I got to the point where I realized that my family was floundering... really floundering... and I knew we needed to make some serious changes if we were all going to be OK. My children had just lost their father to cancer, and it was a huge wake-up call. There were so many things going on... old wounds, stress, trauma... things we weren't really dealing with, because every day was just about survival. I knew I had to find a way to focus my energies 100% on healing myself and my family. I knew it would be a lot of work and it might be uncomfortable, but I also knew it would be worth it. 

In the early spring of 2013, I began preparing to quit my job so that I could spend the following school year trying to heal my family. I refinanced my mortgage, paid off some debts, and worked out a realistic budget. The Man of the House started looking for a new job. I sold off some of our stuff on eBay and Craigslist. We worked on getting our ducks in a row for this next chapter of our lives. 

In September of 2014, for the first time since my marriage ended in 2008, we began our homeschool year with me as a full-time, stay-at-home Mom. Finally, there were no other distractions coming between me and my home and family life. It was so valuable to able to be fully present for my family in a way I was never able to be during the years when I was juggling a demanding full-time job along with trying to be a homeschooling Mom. I was able to give all of my attention to repairing, recovering and nurturing my relationships with my children and with my partner. 

Taking this school year off to be fully present with my family has been the very best decision I have made in many years. As a family, we are finally finding our way, healing from the past and living the life we want to live. Friends and family members have commented on how much my children have blossomed this year. Another great side effect of quitting my job is that we have had the time to become much more involved in our homeschool group, which has allowed us to feel much closer to this community of friends that means so much to us. This "village" of supportive friends, as well as some great therapists, have been a really important part of our journey. 

We are still learning, still growing, and probably always will be... but we have come such a long way. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gardening for Everyone

Today I want to talk about ways that anyone can garden, even if you don't have a ton of yard space. But first, I want to tell you about what I'm growing in my own garden this year:

Winter Squash
Green beans
Wax beans
Tomatoes (8 different types, mostly heirloom)
Straight-neck squash
Swiss Chard

Blueberries (we hope! We have two small bushes, which thus far have been fruitless... still hoping they'll produce something!)

Annual herbs:

Perennial herbs:
Lemon balm

My Garden Plan for this year. 
When people find out I have a garden, they often ask me what I grow. When I start listing everything, many will say something like, "WOW! You must have a really big piece of property! How many acres?"  But the surprising thing is how relatively small my garden area really is. Our entire piece of property is around 1/3 of an acre (a pretty big yard for our area, though not huge) and the garden area takes up a really small part of that... less than 400 square feet. While this is admittedly more space than a lot of people have, we really do grow A LOT of stuff in that area. We maximize our growing area with raised beds and pots. Currently, I have seven 6 x 8 foot raised beds, a small berry patch and borders of perennial herbs and flowers. I have have some pots for herbs and peppers. This is about double what I started with... I've added a bit more here and there over the years.

My last house didn't have a real yard, as such, but I did have enough room for some container gardening on the patio. I grew tomatoes, cucumbers, pepper and herbs, all in pots. Containers and small raised beds are a really great way to plant a lot of stuff in small spaces, so you don't have to let a small yard get in the way of your gardening dreams. You can keep containers on a patio or sunny porch, and even really tiny yards can fit in a small raised bed or two. I've seen beds as small as 2x2 feet, that can produce a surprising amount of veggies. If space is really at a premium, consider high-yield plants like tomatoes,  green beans, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash that will give you the most bang per square foot. Raised beds are really easy to build, and if you make your own, you can build the beds to suit your space. A Google search for "raised bed plans" will give you literally thousands of options and possibilities.

If you happen to be an apartment dweller with absolutely no outdoor space, you can still feed your garden dreams a little bit. For the first 8 years of my adult life, I lived in apartments with no outdoor space at all, so I settled for growing some herbs in pots on my kitchen windowsills. Where there's a will, there's a way!

Before I sign off... I also want to share this neat little garden project I did with my youngest child... we made plant markers for the garden using rocks from around the yard. First we looked around for smooth-ish rocks, then we washed the dirt off of them, and painted them with acrylic paints. Noodle decided it would be cool to match the paint color to the color of the veggie (orange for carrots and pumpkins, purple for beets, yellow for squash, etc etc) After the paint dried, we wrote the names of the veggies in black Sharpie. This was a really fun easy project, and they look super cute in the garden!