Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Party Time Multiplied

My world for a short time revolved around a bottle of Coca Cola, back in the days when high fructose corn syrup could still be given as a reward to young children in public schools.  That glass bottle, dripping with condensation, cold to the touch, is my first memory of multiplication.

I’m pretty sure there were flashcards and I must have taken the time to learn all of the answers through 12 times 12.  But none of those pictures flash into my mind when thinking about 3rd grade.  All I see is a clock made from construction paper hanging over a wooden desk, my desk.  I see the numbers disappearing under stickers, and when the sticker finds its way over the 12, I see the Coke. 

It’s not as if I lived in a restrictive household where sodas were banned.  I drank them every day.  But this Coke was special, given only after accomplishing the task of memorizing the multiplication tables and consumed in front of the rest of the class to both encourage and shame them.  I was the first to drink the Coke in my class, a teacher’s kid, early over achiever.  It was the peak of my mathematics career and I do not remember anything we learned in math after that until I almost failed 10th grade geometry. 

But I do remember that Coke vividly, earning it and savoring it, sure I must have done something right and taking a moment just to sit back and enjoy it. 

That’s why the multiplication party came to be.  The same woman who can still reminisce and remember almost everything revolving around her one person math celebration when she was eight became a mom who doesn’t over do the frill.  This mom also gave birth to a daughter who can live on frill, inhale it 24/7 and never get enough.  So when this daughter started working on her multiplication facts, well, the mom knew the teacher should probably do something nice for that daughter when she finished. 

The problem is, I’m the teacher.  And the no-frills mom.  And Wren somehow emerged from my womb expecting to be bathed daily in glitter and rhinestones. 

As far as homeschool, my kids have a very chill life full of free time and random experiments that one time involved my entire kitchen table being covered in mud from the back yard.  But they also work hard; they accomplish a lot.  The no-frills side of me recognizes this, comments on it, but in a very low key way. 

So my memories of the Coke experience seemed extra important, flashing into my mind as I handed over flashcards to Wren.  That effective bribe started looking like what it really was: a prize for hard work, something to look forward to when the task was done.  We had to learn to multiply anyway.  My teacher paved the path to make the learning an uphill battle to something.  Yes, of course, there’s the knowledge-on-the-other-side reward.  But the Coke help sweetened the deal, so to speak. 

High fructose corn syrup is not actually a reward in our house due to food allergies, so I started thinking of a way to celebrate the milestone once accomplished, to break out of my mode of always being low key and really take a minute to recognize an accomplishment thoroughly.  Since Wren has been planning for her birthday party since February (her birthday is in December), I thought a party might work.

It did.  Wren would have learned her multiplication anyway but she loved planning for the party.  My favorite exchange associated with the party planning was the following:

Wren:  Mom, Sammy has really been helping me with my flashcards and he is so good with food, so I’m going to let him be the menu planner for the party.
Me:  Great!  What are we having, Sam?
Sammy:  Hot dogs.
Wren, screaming hysterically:  See what I mean!  He’s a genius!

So there were hot dogs and a pumpkin roll, two different kinds of chips and hummus.  Grandma and Aunt Sherry came over.  Balloons entertained the masses for hours.  It was a hit. 

And it was a reminder to praise the accomplishments of my kids.  I’m not talking about giving them a prize every time they turn around.  I don’t go for that.  But to remember there are things in their lives that are big to them, just like the Coke was big to me.  Don’t skip those.  Take the time to enjoy.  Capture the memories.  As the mom, frills or not, that’s part of the job, and part of the pleasure.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Let’s Talk About Fall Reading

Last fall I went through a reread period.  I spent the months of September through November rereading the following:

All seven Harry Potters
Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls, The Dissident, and The Newlyweds
Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro
William Trevor’s work, specifically the short stories
Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

There was a very specific deliberation connected to when the books were read.  Harry Potter books came first because of the school year starting in September and the arrival of Harry at Hogwarts.  For The Historian, I pined for that book, though I had already read it twice before, but didn’t let myself touch it until November when it was cold enough, dark enough, to emerge into a land of vampires written so well that they seem to haunt the reader throughout the day.

Up until fall I tend to swallow books in single gulps, sometimes consuming six a month.  It’s a process I enjoy because there are just so many amazing books I want and need to read!  However, in fall I start to relax into the reading.  I’m still never without a book in my hand and five more waiting on the book shelf with 20 or 30 on my library holds list, but I’m not quite as frenetic about it.  For example, I picked up October’s Book Page at the library today, a magazine that is best described as free porn for book for nerds.  As opposed to coming home and marking it up, circling my book desires, adding to the holds list, I left it in my bag and let it wait while I moved through the delicious book I’m currently into. 

There are tons of books.  I’ll never read them all.  In fall, I’m a bit more into the process than just the finishing, and that’s beautiful in its own way. 

This year I'm not rereading anything as of yet, just simply reading some new books in a slow, deliberate manner, appreciating the language and the stories.  I just finished The Opposite of Loneliness by the late Marina Keegan.  I can’t describe it, the excitement of finding a new writer with such a valid and beautiful voice, then the sadness of realizing this is her first and last book since her life ended early at 22.  Reading the book caused my emotions to run the spectrum.  I went around hugging it to my chest for half a day after I finished it.

On the docket for this month, or this fall, or however long it takes me to finish these lovelies are:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt 
I read The Goldfinch by her last month.  To stick to an almost  800 page book, it has to be a good story, but I felt a bit unsettled about the ending, so I’m trying The Secret History to see what I think.

Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Age of Ice by J.M. Sodorova
The Kept by James Scott

I'm still reading Anna Karenina and loving it.  Karenina is a book to fall into and not rush.  I'm reading little bits of it daily but not rushing to finish.  Russian literature has always managed to make me slow down a bit.

Reading and cooking, the slow down activities of fall.  Now all I need is for it not to be 88 degrees.  I guess it's unfair to ask for everything at once.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the Next Cool Day

So, did anybody else know Celiac Awareness Day was Sunday, September 13th?  I was shocked.  We get the whole month of May and now a day in September?  Gluten-free haters, look out.  We may be taking over the world!

By pure coincidence, I made an awesome gluten-free pumpkin roll that day, and I recommend when there is a chill in the air again, you do the same thing.  Actually, I made one Saturday and Sunday.  The weather was nice, I like to bake.  Okay, enough excuses, it was delicious and we ate the first one way too fast.

I used this recipe, but I made some modifications.  I needed this roll to be 100% gluten AND dairy-free, plus I didn't feel like purchasing three different kinds of flours, so I substituted one reliable GF baking flour.

Reference the delicious directions at Meaningful Eats for this recipe.  For my personal modifications, see below.

Instead of all those flours, I used 3/4 cups of this:

I used coconut sugar because it is a lower glycemic sugar.  I still used powdered sugar in the icing, so it's not like this one change makes me a saint.  However, the coconut sugar didn't give it a too sweet taste, something people in our house can all be sensitive to from time to time.  Also, remember to add the sugar.  That important step is skipped in the directions.

I used the GF/DF cream cheese brand the blogger recommended.  It tasted fine, but I would probably make the trek to Whole Foods to find the Daiya brand next time.  The Tofutti brand was chocked full of soy, which we don't usually eat.

Instead of butter, just use coconut oil.

I took pictures of the process.  You know how people cook food and make it look so appetizing in pictures?  Well, I can't do that, but I had never made a pumpkin roll, and I would have benefited from how-to pictures.  So here you go, in case it helps.  This was my best attempt.  I promise it was amazing.

  I don't have a special roll pan.
I just used a cookie sheet and it was fine.
Other than that, follow the directions
exactly for preparing

the pan.

Rolling out the batter onto parchment

Cooked and on the towel, ready to be rolled up
and left to cool.

Don't tell anyone you are
making the icing.  That way,
you can lick the bowl without

Spreading icing. Obviously, cover
the whole thing.  This was a
half-way done picture.

Final product
A blurry side view

If anyone attempts this with an egg substitute, let me know how that turns out.  I'd like to know in case we have to eliminate eggs in January after blood work.

Happy Eating!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Not Quite Newbies Anymore

We began our official homeschool journey on September 8th of last year.  It's taken about a year for me to fall into this role, to be comfortable without feeling like that means I'm being lazy.  Here are some things that I've learned on the way, information I wish I could have given myself a year ago.  By the way, my kids are all under the age of 7, so there's a good chance I don't know what I'm talking about.  Homeschool moms of olders, I will be reaching out for your hands in the future.  Be prepared to hold me!

Don't interrupt playtime.
Playing is learning, for kids or adults.  Don't mess with it too much.  There are times during the day where I tell them to finish an assignment, but if they are in the middle of creative play, I usually just let that happen.  So much learning comes from that.

Let Dad help.
There are days when D gets home and we have not finished our homeschool work for the day, usually because of playdates or because the twins cried foul on everything we attempted by peeing in the floor or demanding roasted chick peas by making incoherent grunting sounds.  If it's been one of those day, then D takes Ash and Eo and I spend 15-20 minute with the older two wrapping up.  D also takes on some of the teaching when he is off, and the kids love it.  We school on weekends sometimes, and D jumps in and takes them on learning adventures I would never even think to explore.

Use the Bible. 
During our reading of Genesis 2, we discussed the creation of humans, where babies live in a woman's body (Wren: since the baby is in your stomach, does it just float around with all your food?  Me:  you have a uterus.  Let's discuss.) and how ladies get pregnant, why men can't.  I believe that covered the science of reproduction and the digestive system, as well as a birds and bees talk that ended with us telling Sammy, "Don't worry.  You don't have a uterus so you can't carry a baby, but you can get your wife pregnant someday."  Sam was like, "Solid."

Don't assume it's all about the curriculum.
The first question most fellow homeschoolers ask when they find out you're a kindred spirit is, "What curriculum are you using?"  Don't be intimidated by this question.  Know that at this point in the game there are more curricula on the market than you could ever fully research.  Do some homework then choose.  Or wing it for a while, like us.  We don't use a curriculum at all right now, at least not one we pay for.  I base what we study loosely off of this.  There are also free resources like Khan's Academy and Easy Peasy Homeschool.  We might actually purchase the Mystery of History curriculum this semester, but it's all I'm planning on investing in right now besides flashcards and some Spectrum math guides from the book store.  We've also been gifted with tons of workbooks by the teachers in my family.  Basically, we read, we write, we study math, we live at the library, and that's what I tell people when they ask.  Kids are natural learners; there's no need to interfere with that much, especially when they're little.

Build community.
I have found the homeschool community in this area insanely supportive and transparent, just like good community should be.  We aren't going to a co-op at this point, but we are a part of some homeschool groups, and the friendships and advice I've received are priceless.  After agonizing about trying to get all four kids to co-op while the twins were still young and having issues with separation, one of the moms from our group gave me some great advice:  Forget it.  She wisely reasoned that until my little ones are at least in preschool, what I would have to deal with trying to get all four of them out the door and acclimated so one can learn at co-op while the other three are basically baby sat is ridiculous.  This same thought had run through my head many times, but being given permission to feel this way by another person helped me drop the guilt about the situation and move on.  That's good community.

Let your kids see you do hard stuff, and fail.
This is true whether you are homeschooling or not.  For years we teach our kids to challenge themselves, set goals, practice what's hard until it's mastered.  As adults, we don't always model this.  We either get in a rut where we are afraid to try something new or we embark on a journey without including our kids in the process.  And it's all about the process.  Once I saw Wren have her 6000th breakdown over not doing something perfectly, I started talking to her about my attempts to learn Spanish.  I let her know it was hard, I got frustrated, but I also let her see me talk my way through it, grab other resources for help, keep going.  When she was having trouble memorizing multiplication facts, she said, "But I'll keep trying like you keep trying Spanish, because it's hard, but we're both working our brain muscles, so that's good."  Showing is better than telling.

Make your kids the teachers.
Asher and Eowyn have served as students since Wren and Sam started homeschool.  Wren reads books to them; Sammy shows them how to color and organize numbers.  We have built a "tent" out of chairs with a comforter hanging over it and had story times led by the older two that can last forever before finally devolving into pillow fights.  This keeps the twins involved in a process that could make them feel left out.  It helps Sam and Wren solidify what they've learned by teaching it to others.  Win-win.

We're still winging it, but I'm comfortable with that.  Each of us is learning more about how we learn and how we teach every day.  It's a blessed little adventure.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's Okay to Love Your Cellulite

When I receive a magazine sent to residents of our fine city every month, I read it because I read everything.  However, the ads infuriate me and always have.  For some reason a slew of quotes and experiences converged on my mind this week, so when that magazine came in the mail with an ad that said something to the effect of "hey, your kids are back in school, come get your boobs lifted and your fat slurped away because you have kids, but you really don't need to look like you do cause that's just awful for the rest of us,"  I felt myself snap, a snap that finally allowed me to accept a truth I'm proud to claim:

I like my body.

I've learned that people who say negative things about others' bodies are saying more about themselves than they are about the people they are attempting to shame.  I'm resolving now to stop letting the body hate that pops up now and then be an inside job, an attack on me by me.

And I think it's time we all start this practice because it is the only way I see putting the people who assault my consciousness with these ads out of business.  And they NEED TO GO!

Jamie Lee Curtis said in an article back in 2012 (and I'm paraphrasing, no one sue me, the article is at my Nanny's where magazines from 2005 still live, and maybe a few from 1992.) that we celebrate kids changing, their bodies growing, them moving to the next phase.  But for adults, and I would say especially for women, those celebrations stop at some point.  It all just becomes everyone screaming "Reverse, reverse!  Back out of the cellulite and the stretch marks!  Pull back until my skin is smooth again!"  There's no celebration.  We're so superficial.  Our milestones aren't deemed pretty enough anymore, so we just pull away from the progress.

And we do it to ourselves.  I saw a sign at my eye doctor's office the other day.  One of the receptionists had posted it so she had to look at it all day.  It was the quote from Kate Moss that says, "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels."  Um, love you Kate, but I'm not taking advice from someone who lived on heroin through the better part of the nineties.  Plus, have these people never tasted food?  Never face planted into a pan of gluten-free brownies that didn't taste like cardboard after looking for those angels for two years?  Do people who believe this even eat?  Cause we are all about healthful living around here, and if you switched the word skinny with healthy I could get a little more on board with that quote.  But there are about 10 million ways to be skinny without being healthy (ask Ms. Moss), so why are we setting the bar so low?  Look pretty; die on the inside.  No thanks.

So why don't we embrace the changes we've been through, the signs of life, and move on?  Even when we want to, I think there's a hesitation because of how we've been programmed.  Someone compliments our appearance:  act coy, brush them off.  Someone expresses a criticism about our appearance: believe them, talk about how we're trying to fix it, let our good feelings about how we look go.  I'm guilty of all of it.  Mindy Kaling said, "Some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don't hate themselves.  So that's why you need to be a little bit brave."  This is true, so let's just make people uncomfortable and be brave.  Let's just start being brave, about everything, but let's be brave about this.

It's not about not acknowledging flaws; it's about knowing they make us unique.  It's not about being gluttons; it's about being healthy for the right reasons.  It's about not trying to be the prettiest girl in the room so we can aspire to be so much more.  It's about lifting people up for their beauty, inside and out, and getting past the idea that our very narrow view of what beauty is means others are ugly because we say so.  And for those of us who are okay with our bodies but still occasionally hear comments when the scale goes one way or the other, who are given a hard time for being a less than A-cup, let's nicely and with the love of Jesus put people in their place.  I'm thinking, smile, say "I love my body", hope the person is smart enough to shut up.

As for the ads, I'm thinking of writing a letter and sending a picture of my beautifully stretched belly that has served as home for four children, my tree trunk thighs that have carried me through dance classes and down the aisle to Dennis.  I'd let these people know I'm not interested in erasing evidence; my job is to collect every experience I'm given and wear it proudly, privileged to participate in the process of aging.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Invisible Dog

Wren, reading a Fancy Nancy book where Nancy gets a dog:  "Mom, I really wish I could get a dog."

"I know, but Sammy and your dad have asthma.  Plus, dogs are expensive."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you have to buy them food, take them to the vet, pay to have them stay somewhere when you go out of town.  We only have so much money, and I don't think you would want to give up other things so we could spend it on a dog."

"What about when I have my own money?"

"Your brother and dad still have asthma.  Maybe when you move out you can get a dog."

I look over at Wren a few seconds later to see her eyes wide, a horrified expression on her face.

"Move out?  Why do I have to move out?"

"Wren, when you go to college.  Not now."

"I don't think I want to go to college if it means I have to move out."

"Okay, well, you will probably change your mind about college and moving out and...why are you crying?"

"Moving out!  I don't ever want to leave you!  I want to see you everyday and be your kid forever."

"You will always be my kid!  Okay, don't cry.  You're six.  This conversation was premature."

"I'm six, but I'm growing up fast!"  Wren curls into a ball in the recliner and starts ragged breathing.

"You can see me everyday.  Just buy a house down the street!"

"You don't see your parents everyday.  They live in another town!  Is that what happens?"

"Not always, but it's okay if it does.  We see each other a lot.  We talk on the phone!  Please stop gasping!"

After cuddling and more reassurance, we avoid an all out breathe-into-a-bag fest, and Wren decides to rest on the couch and read some more.  She picks up the Fancy Nancy book and not two minutes later I hear, "Mom, I really want a dog."

Dear invisible dog,  I blame you for everything.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Lack of Shock in a World of Tinder

To be fair, I had read tweets and posts about the Vanity Fair article before I actually read the article myself.  I had no idea what Tinder was, but the responses I was reading were all to the effect of, “Now I’m going to lock my kid in a basement without internet access for the rest of their lives.”

Being a parent, I took the bait and read the article about the hook-up culture made so much easier by apps and sites that now cater to no-strings sex, in essence killing dating.  My response was different:  I wasn’t the least bit shocked by any of it.

Having spent the past few weeks trying to find words so I wouldn’t be one of those sitting silently watching it all happen, I was still stuck in a place where nothing in my brain worked quite right and there wasn't much that could shock me more than what had already been burned into my brain. The  7th Planned Parenthood video, the one with the child who is said to have a heartbeat and is showing signs of movement before having their face cut open to dissect their brain, slaughtered me in a whole new way.  Many times I tried to type something, but what is there left to say?  If that does not horrify the masses, what will? 

My mind and heart weeks later, begging simultaneously for numbness and apathy-shattering compassion, started making connections that offered clarity to the question, how does this all happen?  Abortion, Tinder, Ashely Madison, immigrants drowning, and rape culture in my mind have come to connect at one basic point:  when you don’t really know God, it’s impossible to know each other.

The standard we’re called to in Matthew 5:28 that tells us to even lust is to commit adultery requires we not look at each other as objects.  Babies in the womb can’t simply be inconvenient fetal tissue (inconvenient for the mother and father but profitable for Planned Parenthood, it seems).  Men and women can’t be viewed as tools for sexual gratification.  Other people who are not us cannot be deemed unworthy of living in a safe place.  We’re made in the image of God.  Our lineage alone, our connection to the Creator, should alert us that what is going on around us right now is wrong, be it rape, sex trafficking, or the murder of children.    

But unfortunately, the constant corrosion of humanity makes the objectification of human beings seem pretty logical.  A group of people who don’t view babies inside or outside of the womb as treasures, as valuable, as people, aren’t magically going to grow into adults who view another person at any stage in life as valuable, as God’s creation made of His glory, worthy of love and respect.  Also true is the fact that caring for only certain people outside of the womb, those who are like us and don’t inconvenience us in any way, is a sure sign we are not viewing others through God’s eyes. 

Even things like Ashley Madison and Tinder, on the surface problems related to easy access to filth, are so much more than internet issues.  Sure, the internet has made a lot of things easier, including accessing places we shouldn’t be.  But things like Tinder or Ashley Madison are just symptoms of the bigger problem:  not viewing each other as God-created lives, we’ve made the golden rule irrelevant.  I’ve never met anyone who wants to be murdered before their first birthday, used for sex but then deemed not the kind of person anyone wants to have a relationship with, or raped while unconscious.  I feel it’s fairly safe no one wants to be treated that way.  But instead of treating others the way we want to be treated, acknowledging them as humans, it’s all about treating ourselves, the individual we actually care about, the way we want.  In this drifting culture, babies are inconvenient and relationships are messy.  Best to make our way of life exclude the unnecessary messiness so we can focus on what matters: immediate pleasure, no consequences, our own wants.

The good news, that the God of the universe wants us and seeks us, that we are loved, and so is every person around us, apparently hasn’t been absorbed.  How else can we explain believing the lie that it is a privilege to have the right to kill our own children, equally loved, especially made by Him?  How can we explain precious, valued people responding to text messages with disgusting suggestions from strangers with the affirmative, yes, I’m only a vessel for sexual pleasures, use me?  And how can I personally explain my apathy in the face of such tragedy, indifference born from seeing so much of this that I go mentally numb, the faces of the refugees, the victims, the children, blurring into a fuzzy image in the back of my mind?

I can’t explain it.  I can repent of it.  I can bathe these issues in prayer.  I can treat people the way God wants them to be treated.  I can mourn for what has already been lost in this world, and I do.  I can get involved in the way God has called me to help stop these atrocities.  But I can’t be shocked easily anymore, and that saddens me more than I imagined it would.   I never wanted to be the kind of person who felt like I had seen it all, but at this point in my life, I’m afraid I’ve seen more than I ever wanted to.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The One-on-One

We crammed in a ton of activities this summer.  I finally transferred pictures from my phone so I could put them on the blog to remember.

Vacation Bible School

Asher and Eowyn's Birthday Celebration

Hawaiian Falls

Outside Movie Night

Swim Lessons


Completed Summer Reading Program


Library Time

Discovered new ways to make tarts

Learned to cook

Dates with Legos, though I don't know why this picture is red.

Playdates.  There were about 30 kids standing
behind me, but this is where my introverts, Eowyn and
Sammy, chose to be.  

Lost teeth

Between all of this there were trips to the pool and fun times with family in East Texas.  

What I think I learned the most from was the one-on-one dates we had with the older kids.  It's easy to forget in the midst of a big family how important it is to pull away and have time with each person, to carve out a place for focused attention.  The one-on-ones are relaxed, leisurely, perfect for conversations to bloom organically and blossom into words that might have gone unsaid in a different environment.  It was during a one-on-one date between D and me that the idea of me quitting my part-time job came up for the first time, something we had never discussed before, apparently due to lack of time and the conversation just not going that way.  Big things can happen during one-on-one time.  During one-on-ones with our kids, we learn a little more about who they are and what they think about, how they feel.  Our new goal is to schedule in date times for Asher and Eowyn separately.  I know they are ready since when they saw Wren putting on her bathing suit to go swimming with D they both grabbed their shoes and waited at the door, crushed when they were left behind.  It's unbelievable that they are almost at the age Sam was when they were born.  

Here's to a fall full of slow life where what dominates the schedule is real time with real people, face-to-face.