Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don't Apologize

One of the side consequences of always having our phones in our pockets is the inevitable apology when a call is missed. And, while it may be a trivial thing, it truly drives me a little nuts.

"Sorry I missed your call - I was helping my child _____ (learn to read, wash their hair, or ???)" 

Please don't apologize to me! You have called me back. You have voice mail. I am not more important that the job you are doing, the walk you are taking, the child you are parenting... And I wouldn't want to be. Instead, tell me how your day has been and what you have been up to. If I called you and you are my friend, I love you and your life and want to hear about how when I called you had just managed to sit down for the first time all day, with a good book, and nothing was getting you up... and I want to know how the book is. Or that your child was trying to swallow your house key. Or other details of your day and life...

But don't apologize for having a full, rich life that doesn't always get to the phone.

Do you apologize? Am I way off base here?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Behavior Tree

Brother-Bug has many of the behavior issues of his age-set - the boundary pushing, power playing, individuality experimenting that delights all parents. He's bright and sensitive and deeply feeling. What Papa-Bug and I want most for him is that he learns how to have these big feelings within the context of kind behavior. We don't want to have to get him in trouble as much as we want him to think about his actions and make good decisions for himself. 

Ages ago, somewhere, I read about "Table Manner Tree", designed to help children learn their table manners. While I don't remember the specifics, I re-created the general idea for our household and expanded it to include the general beahvior stuff that we want Brother-Bug to be working on.

Our tree - day one. Fifty-seven leaves and flowers in place.
The tree is simple. Brown construction paper for the trunk and branches and colored post-its for the leaves and flowers. On the left there is a calendar for the month. On the right is a list of the specific tasks that Brother-Bug is working on with the tree.

The List:
There are about a dozen behavior tasks on the list. They range in scope from not picking his nose, to being patient with his sister, to using his utensils and napkin. Easier behaviors are green. More difficult behaviors are yellow. There is one pink task - accepting a consequence without fussing. The colors correspond to leaves and flowers. If you are making your own tree, obviously you would craft the list to your child's specific needs and challenges. I tried to keep the list in the positive, using "Yes" language. "Keeping fingers out of the nose" instead of "Not picking the nose".

How The List and Leaves Work:
When Brother-Bug ignores or forgets a rule of good behavior from the list, a leaf (or flower, depending on the color) falls to the ground. When he remembers to use his good behavior he can get the leaves and flowers back on the tree. Very simple. I made lots of leaves, so that even on a very bad day the tree is still beautiful and rewarding to look at. The pink flowers, as I mentioned, are about calmly accepting consequences - whether the consequence is the falling leaf or something more drastic like losing dessert...

The Calendar:
The calendar has each day divided into two sections. At the end of each day we count how many leaves are down and how many are on the tree. We write the "up" number and "down" number in the two spaces. We wanted someway to help Brother-Bug think about the fits he throws, but couldn't think of a good and specific way to write it on The List, since fits can be all-encompassing and apply to many behaviors. We added the concept of the gold star to the calendar component. If Brother-Bug has no temper fits, he gets a gold star on that day.

How I Think This Works:
Our tree (and garden) today!
The stars and leaves and flowers give Brother-Bug (and his parents) a neutral place to look objectively at his behavior. There is no loss or shame in a leaf falling, it simply does so. Several times I have shown Brother-Bug that a lot of leaves have fallen of a day, and been delighted to see him (usually) turn his behavior around and try to get the leaves back up. He can look at the calendar and see his good days and bad days. He can control how many leaves are on the tree. He can make choices.

Sister-Bug is really into it. So much so that Papa-Bug made her a small "Garden" with five flowers in it. Each flower is a post-it. When she is good and sweet and doesn't shriek, her flowers bloom in her garden. When she is shrieking and whining, her flowers fall "just like brother". Her's is more arbitrary, or course, but I am happy to see that she is interested, and often responsive, to the idea of behavior moderation and self-control in these ways.

All-in-all, I am very pleased at how well this is working so far. And if you want to give it a try, let me know how it works for you! I imagine you could make any thing that you could "take" from - an aquarium with fish, a larger garden, a cake with candles, a pizza with toppings...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Catching Up

Life is so full! With cooking, writing here and other places, creating, sewing, parenting, and everything else I do... I have lots of draft posts started and few finished.

We are enjoying the winter and learning a lot right now.

Brother-Bug went with me to see The Nutcracker in December and has been dancing variations ever since. Sometimes he is Clara, sometimes the Mouse King, sometimes Fritz... He is taking official ballet lessons now, to everyone's delight. They are a little bit hard, as he is not experienced in a class atmosphere, but his teacher is great and he dreams of being a Baby Mouse in Nutcracker next year. And the little boy in his ballet shoes is so very cute.

Anticipating his first class...
Another wrinkle in our days has been the removal of sugar from Brother-Bug's (and therefore all of our) diet. He was continuing to have some focus and behavior issues that just didn't feel right to me and the Papa-Bug. We don't expect our kids to behave like angels, or look like magazine cut-outs, or even keep their clothes on for more than ten minutes. But there was something way off about Brother-Bug's (often complete) lack of emotional control. A friend suggested taking sugar and dyes out of his diet for an experiment... and that did it! He still has his moments, but we noticed a change within a couple of days. Asking him to get his glasses is no longer a potential nuclear disaster area. We can get out the door with our pants on correctly and he politely asks if his shoes are on the right feet. This might sound trivial to some folks, but for Brother-Bug and us it is huge.

Learning how to cook, bake, and incorporate sweet into our lives without sugar has been a fun cooking challenge. One of those a-yet-unpublished drafts is about the various dessert options I have discovered and created. It's amazing, and not a little scary, to me that almost every damn food in the grocery store has sugar in the ingredient list. I am thankful that we cook so much from scratch because I don't have to read the label on the wheat, oats, or beans.

Sister-Bug has no news to report. She is sweet, weird, and anticipating her birthday - which isn't for another 2 months.

My 52 Prayers project is going well, so I will leave this post with the card I drew for this week. I can hear Sister-Bug waking up.

Watercolors and ink on book page.

Daily Haiku: January 21st & 23rd

Seek through these dark days
the speck of light that reminds;
Spring is nearly here.


Dreams curl like new leaves
around my heart, waiting for
Sun and Circumstance.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adventures With Purple Barley

Last night I put 2 cups of Lonesome Whistle's Purple Barley and about 6-7 cups of water in my slow cooker. I've been meaning to try this since my success with the Scottish Oats in the slow cooker. Right before I went to bed I set it on low for 8 hours. This morning - warm and tasty barley cereal ready to go! We added butter, milk, and sweetener as we served. Some of us had it with honey, some with molasses, and some with brown sugar. Everyone enjoyed it - even Sister-Bug who often refuses to eat things that don't have Gorgonzola in them. This is one of my new favorite ways to deal with breakfast and my hungry little bugs who often can't even wait for eggs to scramble! How perfect to have breakfast ready to go, the moment they are up and clamoring for food.

A red bowl of slow-cooked purple barley.

My other success with the purple barley was the following recipe - made up largely because my mom gave me a container of Mascarpone and I didn't have any immediate inspirations of what to do with it. Leafing through old cookbooks I found a recipe for risotto with Mascarpone and Pancetta. The idea struck my fancy, and this recipe was the result. It seemed to be kind of a risotto/pilaf hybrid and I'm just not sure what to call it. It is amazingly rich and warming. Papa-Bug, in particular couldn't have enjoyed it more. 

Decadent Barley with Mascarpone

1/2 onion
5 tbl. butter
2 cups purple barley
1/2 pound ham cubed (I used a nitrite-free ham slice from Deck Family Farm...soooo good)
5-6 cups chicken broth
8 oz Mascarpone cheese
4 tbl. Fresh parsley
5-7 Green onions

Heat the butter in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan. Chop the onion and saute until clear. Add the barley and continue to saute for another 5-7 minutes (in making risotto you wait for the rice to look 'clear', which didn't happen with the barley).  Add the ham and toss to combine. Add the chicken broth and cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook until the barley is done through - this took about an hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15-30 minutes (this is essential, as it keeps the Mascarpone from separating too much). Just before serving, mix in the minced parsley and green onions and the Mascarpone.

My thanks go out to my mom for putting the Mascarpone in my fridge, causing the creation of this pleasing recipe!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Adding To The Pasta Sauce

This is not my kid... I just love this picture.
Frequently spaghetti and sauce graces our table - as I'm sure it does on many other tables. It's fast, a reliable kid-pleaser, and fairly hearty. However, serving spaghetti, tomato sauce, and a salad does not include that essential G for Growing - protein. Not in any amount substantial enough to satiate a nursing mom anyway.

I was making pasta sauce the other night and hit upon the idea of using some cooked beans leftover from a previous dinner. The whole sauce was based around what I had that needed to be used - eggplant and what not. On the whole, it worked out really well. I could have added zucchini, spinach, or any other veggies if I had them. The beans and cream gave the sauce a richness and a velvety texture not usually found in a veggie sauce. Added benefit - the kids liked this sauce way more than they like plain red sauce!

Vegetable-Bean Pasta Sauce

In olive oil sauté
1 onion - chopped
3 garlic cloves - chopped
2 sm. eggplant - cubed
(other veggies would go here)

15-20 oz. canned tomatoes
1 c white wine
1 c water

Cook until the vegetables are soft through.

Puree in a food processor with
1 1/2 cups cooked red or white beans (one can of beans would be fine too)
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
Until everything is blended together. Adjust the thickness of the sauce with water reserved from cooking the pasta.

Pass with asiago.

Added possibility - adding extra beans and a half cup of asiago will make a thick Italian style bean dip! Tasty on bruschetta...

Daily Haiku: January 19th

By this candle light
I pray big dreams and visions
That fly free on breeze.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Warm Mug

After a run in our paltry half inch of snow (pretty for sure, but disappointing for Brorher-Bug) we came inside and a hot drink was in order. Often we go for cocoa on snowy days, but today Papa-Bug made his favorite from childhood.

POOH DRINK (Makes 4 Mugs)

4 cups Milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup Honey (to taste)
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Nutmeg
2 Eggs

Beat eggs thoroughly, set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it simmers. Add honey and half the nutmeg. Stir.

Slowly add 1 cup of the hot milk to the eggs, stirring as you add it. Then add the eggs with the milk back into the saucepan and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly.

Pour into mugs and garnish with the remaining nutmeg. For kids, put the mugs in the freezer to cool for 5-10 minutes, until drinkably cool.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

52 Artful Thoughts

Starting out - the card for week one.
One of my projects for 2012 is more Art. I am a better person and a better mom when I take a little time to create. I also am more likely to create if I have some structure around that creation. So I made up a project for the year - a weekly piece of art.

Stove hood with card in place.
But not just a piece of art. I will be illustrating a prayer/quote/inspirational sentiment each week, something that I would like to meditate on. I'm doing this as an Artist Trading Card (3.5"x2.5") and I took a plastic card holder, added a magnet, and can hang my card up weekly on the stove hood. I will see it as I clean and cook - both excellent times to let my mind wander to meditations.

I think, busy though I am, that I can commit to doing at least one small piece of art each week. I started two weeks ago so that I could hang the first thought on New Year's Day.

I am getting a lot of my quotes from Gretchen Rubin's wonderful Happiness Quote of the Day (the subscription option is at the bottom of the post). I also am on the look out for other inspirations and prayers, that I assume will come when I need them.

Card for week two.
Some weeks I will probably do two cards, so that I have one made for weeks we are traveling, or should other adventures overtake us. I hope to end the year with a box of 52 artful thoughts and meditations.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Birthday Banner

Adding a festive birthday note to our space!
For Brother-Bug's first birthday I dug deep into the scrap bin and made The Birthday Banner. This banner has been hung at all our family birthdays since then, and will continue to be hung as we all grow and change. When Sister-Bug was born, one of Brother-Bug's jobs was to hang the banner with help from one of his birth attendants.

A quick Google search reveals that similar banners are between $10-$90. However, if you have basic sewing skills, a banner is very easy to make.

The middle three flags - so scrappy!
Our banner has white felt for the flags. I cut triangles about 6 inches wide and 9 inches tall.

Each flag is bound in bias tape - I used the scraps from my bias tape box. You will need about 9 yards of bias tape.

I added another stripe of ribbon, tic-rack, or other trim to each flag, following the line of the bias tape. Again, I used scraps I had in my trim box - another 8-9 yards total.

There are 16 flags on our banner. Three have star appliqués, one to start, one between the two words, and one to finish. The other thirteen have the letters of happy birthday zig-zagged on. Here is where the scrap bin is particularly important. The scraps that form the letters are our scraps. Here is Brother-Bug's baby sun hat... There is Papa-Bug's favorite Hawaiian shirt that tore... This used to be a skirt of Mama's... And so on. I cut the letters freehand and used some fixative so they wouldn't wiggle as I zig-zagged them on.

Close up of the binding construction.
I found some gold star buttons in the button box and sewed them on various flags, putting the big one in the middle.

Finally, I took a wide ribbon (2-3 inches) that was about 5 yards long and carefully bound it over the tops of the flags and getting all the flags in a row. Now the banner is basically complete. I sewed long lengths of 1/8 inch ribbon on each end to tie it up.

Our banner is now into its 5th year, and 15th birthday (or somewhere around that). It's still lovely. The kids adore it. Papa-Bug and I like to sneak the night before a birthday and put it up so the birthday person sees it first thing at breakfast.

It's one of those little things that makes a birthday extra special in our house.

Daily Haiku: January 6th

Our few sunny days
temper the cold winter rains.
We absorb the sun.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taking Time to Enjoy

Yesterday it was sunny and warm in the afternoon - warm like fifty degrees! I thought we could go play in the yard a little and soak up some potential vitamin D. I had a lot to get done yesterday, with Brother-Bugs school work, household tasks, the work that I do...

And then I thought. "NO! LET'S GO TO THE PARK!"

After all, that's why we home school, right? That's why I don't seek employment. So that we can grab the nice days and the snow days and the sick days and live them to their fullest. Sunny? School can happen in the park - at the very least it's PE! Snowy - same deal. Let's get out and play! Rainy and cold is a great time to cuddle up and read or do projects. Sick days are actually opportunities to snuggle together and read "Where The Sidewalk Ends" cover-to-cover in a day.

Because we can.

So often I find myself caught in the trap of "Do, Do, Do" that I forget what my good friend Mark says.

"We are human beings, not human doings."

Swing!! Contrary to her face, it's actually a favorite...

There's a lot to do with kids and curriculum and house and personal interests and volunteering and so on. It's a huge challenge for me to put off the work of the day for the fun that could happen if I let my vision shift a little bit. Because it will likely be rainy tomorrow and the school work will still be there. The dishes will (sigh) still be dirty. The volunteer manual will still need to be edited.

But we didn't miss the sun. We made a new friend. We ran and played and went swinging and sliding. And that, my friends, is worth a lot. Even worth extra crusty dishes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sister-Bug and Elimination Communication

*Elimination Communication is about helping our little ones use the potty from infancy, because we believe that they can, given the opportunity, communicate these needs with their care givers. 

We started out her infancy without (with few) diapers, potty at the ready. I believed, really believed we could make the Elimination Communication thing work. And once we were into the stride of parenting two kids, it seemed to be going fine. We got used to changing our pants and hers.

There was something so magical about communicating that closely with such a tiny creature. As she learned to sit up, and could hold herself on her own potty, I looked forward to putting away the diapers. At six months, at least 70% of her daytime pees, and all her poops made it into the potty/toilet/sink/grass. She started to have dry nights - squirming to wake me once or twice to pee in our sleep. I would haul the potty up onto the bed, she would pee, we'd go back to sleep. I'm pretty sure I completely slept through that process many times.

Reading on the potty at 8 months... right before the Strike.
Then, around nine months, she went on a strike. I laughed and wiped up the pee. Several weeks later I sighed and wiped up the poop. Dry nights stopped. Potty wiggles stopped. Communication on her end ceased. I did some checking around and found that it is normal and that most kids sort it out around ten months. No problem there.

She was still striking at eleven months. Not only was she refusing to pee in the potty, but... When I would sense she needed to pee I would pop her onto the potty or over a convenient receptacle. We'd sing and laugh and relax, enjoy ourselves, and Not Pee. So I would take her off the potty, she would look at me, and pee. Smart little twerp, right?

Added to that, we were moving during those couple of months. Into diapers she went.

My personal theory was that I should approach EC as a game and if I didn't want to play the game, I shouldn't. I was sick of the obviously intentional pee-on-Mama wrinkle she was experimenting with. I stopped playing.

If we hadn't been moving, I probably would have played somewhat differently. It's hard to say. But regardless, she went into full time diapers. And there she stayed until the summer. As it warmed up and we took our layers off, I made the potty available. I gave her gummy bears if she peed or pooped in the potty. She started to show interest - more in using the potty than in the treat which was encouraging.

It's been up and down since them. She loves her underwear. She switched to wearing diapers about half her waking hours through the fall. When she was in undies, about half her pee and poop were making it into the potty. Sometimes she would remember that I owe her a gummy bear. Often I would sigh and clean up the floor, pants, sheets...

She chooses each morning if we are doing diapers or undies. Yesterday undies (but only the frog ones) and today a diaper. We often switch mid day. And I let her know, when we have to get out a diaper, that it is usually because my mind isn't able to keep up with her. I encourage her to check for dry pants.

And she pees her dolls in her little potty, holding them over it and making her cue noise. It's adorable.

In the last two weeks, even with the Holiday Mayhem, I think she has been in three diapers during the day. She has peed on the floor maybe twice. She has been catching her own pee and poop, letting me know when she needs to go, and getting to the potty.

Last week she stopped using the little Bjorn potty and will only "pee big girl potty". Also, she likes privacy and has taken on pulling her own pants up. It's all her. I was here to support her toward this independence and I think that the early EC work we did with her has made a big difference in her ability to comfortably navigate the needs of her body.

So that is my experience with EC. I'll try it with the next kid too (when it shows up eventually), though not a rigorously as I did with Sister-Bug. I'm learning more relaxation around my expectations of myself as a parent. Some of that learning I got from EC.

I still see it as a game, and I love that my 21 month old is ready, on her own steam, to put her diapers away.

Daily Haiku: January 3rd

Turning and changing
we find new adventures where
before there was naught.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Two Soups for You

Though I haven't been doing much writing here, I have still been cooking, and cooking a lot! Partly holiday feasts and partly the exciting beans and grains, and mostly that we get hungry and must eat good food.

Among other things, I put together these two soup recipes and since both use ingredients from Lonesome Whistle, I wanted to share... And I really love to share the recipes I create. Recipe creation feel like such an art form, and one that benefits most when the recipes go out into the world.


Sunshine Soup

I made this with Brother-Bug and his best friend when we gathered to call back the light at the (close to the) Winter Solstice. We chose ingredients that were red, yellow, and orange to help us see the return of the sun. It was a good match with an Irish Soda Bread and some broccoli. We shaped the bread like a sun, and the broccoli represented the coming summer trees. It was a tasty and magic meal!

Soda Bread Sunshine!

1/2 Butternut squash
3 carrots
5 c water
2 T veggie bouillon

Cook squash, carrots, water and billion till the carrots are soft. Blend or mash till smooth.

Add to the soup purée:

1 1/2 cups Vermont Cranberry beans, precooked
1c frozen corn
About a teaspoon each of powdered ginger & mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat through till the corn and beans are warm and the spice flavors have mingled a bit.

Serve and enjoy. Sing "Here Comes the Sun".


Ham & Barley Winter Stew

Close up of Purple Barley - gorgeous, right?

1 ham hock
1 cup purple barley
2 sweet potatoes, cubed
1 white potato, cubed
2-3 tablespoons smoked paprika
Water to cover
Bay leaf
Salt & Pepper

I made this in my slow-cooker - any excuse to use the Christmas present, right? I put all the ingredients in, covered them with water, and cooked it on high for about 5 hours. Before serving, pull out the hock and strip any clinging meat into the stew. Adjust the seasoning.

Serve with crusty bread.


I'm thinking of grinding some of the Dakota Black Popcorn in my grain mill, and seeing how it comes out as cornbread....

Daily Haiku: January 2nd

Holding new baby,
I wonder how my babies
are so quickly grown.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Happened With...A New Year's Day Post

...a lot of my November writings? I posted about NaNoWriMo I usually post about homeschooling, and all kinds of things. Here's where that all went.

A sunrise at our house. A new day dawning. Happy, Merry, & Bright.
- Daily Haiku. With the holidays and the sleep cycle that Sister-Bug is in, I haven't gotten my customary writing time I'm the morning. So the Haiku have recently been more erratic that I like them to be. Hopefully with the return of a schedule I can get back on my writing track.

-National Novel Writing Month? I made good progress on a series of picture books I am writing for pagan kids. I've been tinkering with the ideas for year's, but finally began to organize the series into manageable goals, and I have two (very) rough drafts of two different books. It was a lot less than I had hoped for, but ultimately more than I had previously accomplished. So that feel good and I plan to move forward with the series in the coming year.

- November Kindergarten Review? We did emergencies, and because of the way it worked out we continued into December. And then my brain was eaten for the holiday craziness. I never got around to it. I will. And we will have a video as well! Brother-Bug and I are on it.

- Simple Saturdays? I had so many good posts, bouncing around in my head, about simplifying holidays. And it was too complicated a time to write them down. Maybe next year. Maybe I'll spread them out throughout the year - because one of the ways I simplify the holidays is by doing small preparations all year long.


So that's what happened. We went to Seattle for Thanksgiving and I have barely come up for air since.

If I were to make a New Year's Resolution, it would involve writing more consistently. But for now I am basking in the cuddles of my sleeping children who were up late into the might. And that's enough for now - they will be grown and leaving me with more time for consistent writing all too soon. I'll resolve to focus on the now, the precious moments with my little ones, take each adventure as I find it, and write as much, or when, I can.

It's a New Year. Happiness and Blessings to you for the duration.

Daily Haiku: January 1st

The calendar spins 'round,
reminding us of circles,
flowing and twisting.