Friday, December 27, 2013

Results of Electricity Fast

As you've probably already heard, we decided to try something new this year and spent December 22nd-24th with limited electricity. No lights, tv, computers, phones, electronic games, etc for 3 days (we did use the heater, stove, and oven). Here's how it went.

The night of the 21st we put the tv in the living room away, partly to prepare for the fast but also because we planned to put the tree where the tv was. Bug (2y) had a total breakdown. "Where are you taking Justin?!?" (his favorite show is Justin Time). It was ugly. I realized that although we'd been talking about this for a month, we hadn't explicitly let him know what was about to happen. 

We set candles and lighters up in each room, and just before bed Papa and I locked our phones away in a toy safe Josh (9y) has so we would all hear the loud beeping if anyone tried to sneak a peak. I didn't think it would be hard to do that, but it was! I suddenly got really nervous about the whole idea.

The morning of the 22nd Papa got up before everyone else, as usual, and didn't know what to do with himself at first. Our normal routine is to check emails and newsfeeds before the kids get up. He ended up reading a book. When I first woke up I accidentally turned on the light in the bathroom, and Josh was there, instantaneously knocking to remind me to turn it off. That earned him the title of "Old Timey Holiday Sheriff".

At dinner we realized you can't cook or clean very well by candlelight. No wonder there were sanitation issues back in the day. Dinner the next two nights would need to be earlier. We occupied our day making snowflakes, playing board games, making up games, and having conversations. The realization that we couldn't look up recipes online hit us, so we read through some recipe books. By 8pm (2.5 hours of darkness) Papa and I were tired and ready for bed. The boys' sleep habits were not at all affected, and they charged on playing with their toys until 10:30pm or so. Bug had a hard time getting to sleep that night. 

The 23rd we jumped into cookie making mode to try and finish before dark. We made three kinds of cookies, barely finishing before dusk, and delivered a set to each of our neighbors. I found it strangely satisfying to cream butter and sugar by hand instead of using a mixer. We also acted out movies, sang songs, chased each other around the house, pretended the chairs were cars and drove on dates, and played more games. I also read Ender's Game aloud, and we got through 1/3 of the book in one day.

The 24th my in-laws came over to visit, so we spent the morning making treats and cleaning up the house a bit. We threw our yule log in the fire place and had a fun time visiting. They got the boys puppies for Christmas, so things were lively. They stayed over until almost 11pm, and by the time we got the kids to bed it was midnight. Papa and I excitedly got our phones to see what we had missed. Nothing. It was really quite a let down. We checked all our emails, notifications, feeds, etc for the past 3 days and it hardly took 15 minutes. 

Some things we realized- We commit less to memory when we know we can look things up anytime. I ate less, though I'm not sure if that was due to not using electronics, lower stress levels, or something else entirely. We were surprised none of us slept better. I've seen tons of studies about melatonin productions disrupted by artificial lights, but we all stayed up and slept as long as usual. I enjoyed the rhythm of working hard and rushing during daylight, then relaxing in the dim light all evening. We all connected and strengthened our bonds, which was the goal, and that was awesome. The kids were largely unaffected. Josh said he missed playing his Wii once the first day. Bug asked once to watch Justin Time the first day as well. After that they didn't seem to miss or even notice the lack of screen time.

After dinner the 25th Papa and I wanted to watch a movie, so we pulled the tv back out. It ended up being really stressful. The boys didn't want to watch with us and kept playing between us and the tv. The puppies needed to go out. Bug needed to potty. Josh wanted to show us something. We were putting way too much effort into trying to sit and watch the movie, and it caused way too much stress for everyone, so we decided to get rid of it for good. We are now a tv free home, and we love it so far.

Overall it was a wonderful experience. We learned a lot about ourselves, I think we made some positive changes, and most importantly we had three fun filled days focused on family. I look forward to doing it again next year.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bedtime with Bug

You've all heard me talk about the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Great book full of practical advice. I'm still a little taken back when it works with Bug (2y), because the conventional wisdom I'm working to unlearn says young kids don't understand us as well as they actually do.

Last night bedtime was rough. I asked Bug if he needed to potty and he said no. Not listening (shame on me), I picked him up and told him to try anyway. He rightly became very upset with me, crying and yelling and all that for a few minutes. After several failed attempts to calm him down I finally got my head straight and said, "Are you upset with me because I picked you up when you didn't want to go to the potty?"

He instantly stopped crying and looked me right in the eye.

"You're right to be angry with me. I should not have done that. I should have had your permission. I'm sorry.

He took a deep breath, clearly relieved.

"Can you forgive me?"

He shook his head 'no'.


Then he hopped down from my lap and happily crawled into bed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmases Past

Papa and I have been watching the non-violent communication videos. In them Marshall Rosenberg speaks of natural giving. I know he's not referring to the giving of holiday gifts, but nevertheless this next story reminds me of it.

Last night Papa I were sharing stories of our childhood Christmases, and Papa told of a year he and his brothers got cans in their stockings.

Me- cans like canned food?

Papa- no, empty cans.

Me- decorated or made into toys?

Papa- nope.

Me- so, trash then.

Papa- pretty much. We didn't have any money that year. They said they'd make it up to us.

Me- that's messed up. Christmas doesn't creep up on people. They could have saved ahead of time or gotten creative and made things.

Papa- yeah, well, you know my parents...

Me- I'm so sorry you had a Christmas like that. Remember the year josh was 5 and we didn't have anything? We still made it special for him.

Josh- how did you get me things if you didn't have any money?

Papa- mama and I did without. We didn't get anything for ourselves and used money we were gifted to get things for you.

Josh- aww, so you guys didn't get anything? I should have gotten you gifts.

Me- no honey, parents are supposed to make sacrifices for their kids, not the kids for their parents.

Josh- but still, I want to get you gifts.

Me- that's nice of you. You've still got time. Let me know if you need me to take you to the store or anything.

Josh- alright.

He's currently crafting away on something for us. It's so special to see him choosing to make and give a gift on his own motivated by nothing but his own heart.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giving Josh Credit

Sometimes we still struggle with giving our kids the credit the deserve and thinking of them as the capable people they are.

Papa is cutting down a dead tree in the yard. The chain of the chainsaw keeps coming off and he is really frustrated about it. I suggested yesterday he let Josh (9y) look at it, but Papa was determined to do it himself.

This morning Papa's latest fix still didn't work. I suggested again he let Josh check it out, and this time he did. Not 5 minutes later Papa comes inside and says, "I'm a jerk. He fixed it. I need to give him more credit."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our Focus in Home Education

Getting started with home education can be overwhelming. There are mind-boggling amounts of opinions on what to teach, and even more resources to help you teach them. How do you choose?

When we started, after being overwhelmed at the opinions and options out there, we sat down and made a list. This list details what we feel are the skills most needed for our children to have happy, successful, fulfilling lives.

1. Critical thinking skills-skepticism, knowing how to ask questions and how to find answers for themselves.
2. Sound moral character- acting in accordance with their values, ability to communicate effectively, interpersonal skills, etc.
3. The ability to feed themselves- growing their own food, knowing where their food comes from, knowing how different foods affect their health, cooking skills.
4. The ability to read.
5. Basic math skills (algebra, geometry, finance), and the ability to use them in practical applications.

Our list gives us a clear goal and focus in our home education journey. Do you have a list like this? What is on it?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tough Conversations

I'm going to get a bit heavy here folks. I'm writing what I'm about to share more to heal my heart than anything else, but hopefully it can help heal someone else out there too.

Growing up, my father was emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusive toward me. I have had very heartfelt talks with my mother (they have long been divorced) and learned that he was also abusive to her. For years each of us didn't realize we were victims of abuse, because he is very good at making you feel as if YOU are the crazy one.

Three months ago my father was arrested for domestic violence against his current wife, with whom he has a 6 year old daughter. Somehow, again, he convinced all his friends and his wife that SHE had gone crazy and started "hurting herself". She reached out to me. She felt scared and alone. I kept telling her, That is not what love is. That is not what marriage is. She deserves respect. No one has the right to touch her, in any way, without permission. Should she continue to stay in such a situation, her daughter will grow up thinking this is what love looks like; this is what marriage looks like; this is what she should seek in a partner. Unfortunately at the time, she was not ready to hear what I was saying.

I am glad to say today she called me to let me know she is packing and leaving. She is getting assistance to find a job, find a home, and care for her daughter.

Of course, my father is quite upset with me that I would "take her side". My grandmother and great-grandmother are also quite upset with me. They invoke the term "family" as if my genetics are more important than my values. They say things like, "after all we've done for you."

On the subject of "family"- I have learned over the last few years that family has much less to do with your genealogy and much more to do with finding people with whom you share values, support, and love. There are people I've known for less than three years who are more family to me than some of my relatives ever have been. Furthermore, anything my father has ever done for me has been a fulfillment of his parental responsibility. I owe him nothing for that, nor does any child owe their parent anything. No child chooses to be born or to be raised by which family. Parents make the choice to be parents, and in so owe their children the very best they can give. In order for me to fulfill my parental responsibility of giving my children the best I can, I choose to stand by my values and not associate with people who clearly go against them.

And so there is the basis of the tough conversation I had to have, which I'd mentioned a few days go. It was hard. It was emotional. But it was also liberating and strengthening.

Bug Loves Me!

We never ask the kids to say "I love you". Never. We tell them we love them all the time. Bug (2y) almost never says anything back, and that's just fine. We don't ask "do you love me too?" or pout or put any other pressure on him to say it back.

And so this morning when I said, "I love you, Bug" and he said, "No, I love YOU!" it was extra special. You better believe my heart exploded.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Holiday Tradition

This year to celebrate the holidays we're trying out a new tradition (trying something we'd like to become a tradition I suppose) and I thought I'd share it with you. Maybe you'd like to try it too.

We will be putting out our holiday decorations on the 21st (solstice). Then for the next three days (22nd, 23rd, and 24th) we will be going on an electricity fast. No lights, no computers, no television, no smart phones. We will be making some exceptions- we will still use the stove to cook. Sadly we have an electric stove, but this wouldn't be a problem if we had gas. And we will answer our phones if family or friends CALL to wish us happy holidays.

The hope is that we will rid ourselves of all distractions and really REALLY experience what the holidays are supposed to be about- connection, family, love, joy, growth, and appreciation.

We've got a list of holiday crafts to make, foods to cook, games to play, books to read. We're stocked up on firewood and candles. We've made and tested out that tea light flower pot heater (link in comments) (although if it is too chilly I have no qualms about turning the heat up, which runs on gas). Then on the 25th we'll open gifts and host an extended family dinner party.

I'm excited about it. If you do something similar, please share your experiences!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bug Thinks Aloud

Bug (2y) isn't usually very talkative, but every now and then he gives us a peak into his inner workings.

Last night he was looking at the fan in the bedroom and started thinking aloud.

"Can it spin around? Can I make it spin? Maybe. I can try! I need the switch. I need to get on the table. I can get a chair." 

"Would you like me to help you reach the switch?"

"Yeah! If you wa-ant."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I See London...

It would seem my relaxed policy on nudity is paying off. The boys spent the evening with a dear friend while Papa and I went out. Josh joked with her, "I see London, I see France, I see Melissa's underpants."

Melissa said, "Eek, can you really?"

"No, I was just kidding." -J

"Okay, that would have been embarrassing." -M

"Maybe for you, but not for me. I see my mom's underwear all the time."- J

Friday, December 6, 2013

Telling the Truth

The hardest things about parenting, in my experience, are getting over my own childhood and being a living example of the characteristics I hope for my children to have.

Both of these things have decided to merge into the ultimate parenting showdown. My dad is coming to town from across the country and my grandmother wants us all together for Christmas. For several reasons I won't get into now, I don't want to spend time with my dad, nor do I want the kids around him. I also don't want to hurt my grandmother's feelings by telling her we won't be coming to her dream Christmas get together.

I've been talking about it with Papa, and the kids over hear our conversations. Josh (9y) said to me, "You should just tell them the truth". I found myself saying, "Yes I know, but sometimes it's really hard to tell the truth, especially when so many feelings are involved."

So here I am, preparing myself for a conversation I really don't want to have but I must have. I must. Because what kind of example do I set if I can't be honest when it's hard? How can I want or expect more from my children than I am willing to do myself? How else do I teach what real values are?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Learning How to Ask for Help

We've been unschooling and learning to live a NAP life with our kids for about 18 months now. Something to consider though is that while I stay home with the boys (ages 9 and 2) Papa is traveling for work 6 days a week. I have had considerably more practice at this than he has.

And so it came to pass that I learned something about myself this week in regard to how I ask for help. For whatever reason I let myself get to a point with the kids when I just can't be patient anymore, and I ask Papa to step in and "just get him to do xyz" or whatever it is I can't work through in the moment. I don't want to be the one to "make" the kids do anything, but subconsciously I want Papa to step in and be that person. That's a very conflicting message to send my partner in parenting.

The situation which opened my eyes occurred last weekend. Bug (2y) had a sit-and-push scooter in the house. Josh (9y) kept playing with it without permission. Meltdowns and arguments were happening often. I had talked with Josh, I had talked with Bug, they would work it out just to have it happen again. My patience was worn thin and I called out to Papa to come help me. He responded by taking the scooter outside. Logical enough, right? Now no one can fight over it. Problem solved.

I asked Papa, "So Josh can't take Bug's scooter without permission, but you can?" to which he said, "Well, no, but what did you want me to do?" and that's when it hit me. I've been putting him in a tough position, wanting him to parent respectfully and lovingly (something he did not experience in his childhood and is having to learn all new just as I am) while simultaneously wanting him to swoop in and just fix situations I can no longer handle.

Recognizing this is the first step to fixing it. Seriously, this is a never ending path of learning and improvement. I'm reminded almost daily. But totally worth it. I'm reminded daily of that as well. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Cosleeping

When Josh was born I was 19. A friend of my mother's, who was mother to 6 children at the time, gave me the book Babywise. Not knowing any better and having no support otherwise, I made Josh to sleep alone. It was awful. Hearing him cry broke my heart. I should have listened to my heart and coslept, but I kept thinking "THIS is the wisdom past generations have handed down to me."

I still get upset when I think about it. When did people start leaving infants alone at night? Who's idea was that? From an evolutionary perspective it makes no sense whatsoever for an infant or small child to be alone at night. To be alone would mean certain death- vulnerable to predators, exposed to the elements, without food or protection. Certainly babies would be biologically wired to cry For Their Lives if they found themselves alone.

So why isn't it more common to cosleep? Why do some parents cause others to doubt their choice to cosleep, telling them what a disservice they're doing their children? At the end of the day, take everyone's advice with a grain of salt (yes, even mine) and follow your heart. Only you and your baby know what is best for you and your baby.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Paleo Freezer Meals

I've written about food before. Eating healthy is important to us. We tried a Whole30 Challenge a while back and loved the way we felt. Our goal is to eat a Paleo diet, but there are some real challenges. One, the kids don't like eating what we would like to eat, so I'm faced with making separate meals, eating sandwiches myself as well, or having hangry children. Typically I end up eating sandwiches with the kids. Secondly, Papa travels for work which makes it difficult and expensive for him to eat well. We got him a mini-crock pot so he can pack freezer meals which works wonderfully. However, most freezer meal menu plans I've come across make large servings and take an entire day to prepare. I don't love anything enough to eat leftovers for a week and I don't have the time or energy to devote an entire day to cooking each month.

So I came up with my own system. This system makes 24 two-ish serving meals in about two hours (including breaks for attending the kids). This is the first time I've shared something like this, so bare with me. We can get through this together!

First, the meals. I have six beef recipes we have tried and loved. All are Paleo. Five can be Whole30 compliant. Each recipe will be split into four freezer meals. Each meal makes one large serving or, more often for me, a dinner serving with enough for lunch leftovers the next day. If Papa and I both happen to be home we can throw two meals into the crock pot instead of one to have plenty.

I'm going to walk you through my process. This might get jumbled, but it will help you if you'd like to use different recipes. I write each recipe on a sticky note to have handy while assembling meals. Do whatever is most convenient for you. I have six recipes because that makes plenty of food, and I don't want to commit more than a couple of hours to the food assembly process. I tediously make a grocery list of everything which will be needed for all six recipes. If you choose to make the same recipes I have, it's your lucky day because here is the grocery list!

5 lbs beef roast
7 lbs cubed stew meat
2 lbs ground beef
6 onions
18 cloves garlic
2 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
2 limes
2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup green beans
1 cup spinach
1 cup carrots
1 cup celery
1 cup mushrooms
1 cup parsley
1 cup cilantro
4- 8oz cans tomato sauce*
28 oz can crushed tomatos*
14 oz can diced tomatos*
1 chipotle pepper
22 oz beef broth*
1/4 cup red curry paste
2 cans coconut milk*
2 cups burgundy wine
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tsp and 1/4 cup coconut or olive oil
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 Tbsp applesauce
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
quart sized freezer bags

herbs and spices-
chili powder
onion powder
garlic powder
4 bay leaves

*obviously if you'd like to avoid canned products you can use fresh tomatoes, home canned tomatoes, home made broth, and home made coconut milk.

I come home and dump all this stuff on the kitchen table, then set up my work station on the counter. I start by labeling four quart sized freezer bags for each recipe. You could get fancy here with labels. Fancy is not my MO, and scribbling "Curry" on the bag doesn't take too long.

Here is the first recipe I'll be assembling.

Red Curry Beef and Veggies-
3 tsp olive or coconut oil
2.5 lbs stew beef cubed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic minced
1 red bell pepper diced
1 large sweet potato diced
1/4 cp red curry paste
2 cans coconut milk
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 lime juiced
2 Tbsp honey (omit if you want to be Whole30 compliant)
1/2 cup cilantro minced

 I have all my things ready to go. I've put them on the cutting board here for you to see, but really everything is piled on the table to my right. 

 I open the freezer bags and start putting 1/4 of each ingredient listed into each bag.

I find that if I put the beef in first they stand up nicely. Having a handy bottle of something at the end is nice to hold them up too.

If dividing each ingredient by four is not something you want to deal with, just eye-ball it. Seriously, it's not rocket science. It's a crock-pot meal. Get the food in the bag. You can do it!  

Seal it up, press all the air out, lay flat, stack and put them in the freezer. Then move on to the next recipe.  I love this process because at any time I can stop without having committed to chopping all 6 onions at once and not yet assembled anything. One recipe at a time, one ingredient at a time. It really goes quickly.

Here's what your freezer will look like when you're done. Twenty four meals ready to go!

Here are the other five recipes. All cook times are 4-6 hours on low, 2-3 hours on high in the crock pot.

Beef Burgundy (not Whole30 compliant)
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
4 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 pounds cubed beef
1/4 cup olive or coconut oil
2 onions sliced
1 cup mushrooms sliced
1 cup parsley minced
4 bay leaves
2 cups burgundy wine
1 cup beef broth

2 lbs ground beef
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
1 cup carrots chopped
1 cup celery chopped
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
2- 8oz cans tomato sauce
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne

Beef Stir Fry
1/2 lb beef cubed
1 1/2 Tbsp applesauce
pinch cinnamon
pinch cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1/2 Tbsp ginger
1 large sweet potato diced
1 cup green beans
1 onion sliced
1 cup spinach
1 tsp coconut or olive oil
*season to taste after cooked. Papa likes to add coconut aminos for a soy sauce flavor.

Taco Roast
2.5 pounds chuck roast
14 oz beef broth
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
juice of 1 lime
*this will need some veggies to make it a full meal. Goes great over kale salad, in cauliflower tortillas, Romain leaf tacos, etc.

Beef Burritos
2 lb roast
1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp pepper
2- 8oz cans tomato sauce
1 chipotle pepper
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
*shred meat and mix with sauce once tender. Goes great over kale salad, in cauliflower tortillas, Romain leaf tacos, etc.

Cost analysis-

I bought everything on the grocery list at my local Super Target. All the beef was grass fed organic and all the produce was organic if available. I had some items and most of the spices already on hand. My grocery total ended up being $161.39. That makes each meal $6.72, and if we consider each meal to have 2 servings, that's $3.36 per serving. Not bad for using organic meat and produce, and no grains.

My goal in sharing this is to hopefully provide other parents some support in eating healthy on a budget and under time constraints. Best wishes to you all! Please let me know if this works out well for you or if I need to clarify anything.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Knock, Knock

Bug (2y)- I needa go in Joshy's room. (Opens door)

Josh (9y)- Bug, you need to knock first.

Bug- (closes door) Okay, I'll knock first. (Knock knock) 

Josh- Who is it?

Bug- It's you.

Josh- I'm me.

Bug- Oh. It's me. I'm Bug.

Josh- Come in.

Bug- Sanks Joshy!