Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teacher's Perspective: When You Have Nothing Left To Give

With the homeschool post still lingering in my head over the last week, I started wondering what teaching is like for "real" teachers.  I struggle with insecurities with my own child and am luckily only accountable for her, but teachers have a different set of expectations and pressures on them.  They have to answer to parents- some rational, some not so rational- a principal, and a set of test scores.

So I reached out to my friend Laura, a middle school math teacher now living in the great state of Texas.  We met in Bible study where almost on a weekly basis I would hear this very tall and beautiful young lady voice her struggles and heart for the kids in her classroom.  She would ask for us to pray for her and her kids, and we would.  I saw her stress about whether or not she would face the same roadblocks in a new school year, whether or not she was prepared to face the politics of the system yet again.  I saw her heart break when she couldn't do more for bright kids struggling at home.  This chick loves her kids.

I asked her to write on anything about teaching.  Below are her thoughts.  Enjoy.

When You Have Nothing Left To Give

I still don't know how teachers do it. Writing detailed lesson plans at 3am, managing small groups without anyone making and throwing paper airplanes, dealing with girl drama, dealing with boy drama, keeping your advanced kids challenged, keeping your low kids from crying out of frustration, teaching good character and integrity, embracing the differences of every child while keeping your routines similar. 

It is hard. 

I don't listen to anyone that says different. There are always times that I very much question if I am indeed the best person for this job. I'm not a great teacher. I'm average at best. My student's test scores are below proficient. I have kids that walk out of my room. It takes me longer than 30 seconds to get students quiet. I am not always consistent, and if I'm honest, I don't see all my reading groups every day. I sometimes forget to probe for higher level thinking and I misspell words my students copy down. It can all be overwhelming. Most of the time it feels like I am failing my kids.

However, I keep coming back. Every day I wake up and come into my classroom convinced that the day is going to be different; that this would be the day my kids actually will learn something. I revise my lessons and prevent off task behavior. I continue to have high expectations of my students and it's only grace that keeps me coming back. I very much believe in my students and work hard for them.

 Their behavior and/or academics is no excuse for me to be a bad teacher. It pushes me to be an even better teacher. And when this year is done and I look back, I hope that it will be evident that they have learned something. 

As a teacher, you will have unbelievably bad circumstances. Teachers absolutely have a hard job, but there’s no excuse. We have our nation's future in our hands. We should not take that lightly. Therefore, even when I feel like there's is nothing left to give, thankfully God steps in and takes over. It's then when I see amazing things come from my students.  I see students who have never picked up a book begin to read in such a way that they can't put the book down.  I overhear students debating how to solve a difficult math problem.  I watch a boy who was so angry begin to show compassion to a younger student.  That is God.  I take no credit.  I am only the means by which God can step in and reach these kids.  So when you think you have nothing left to give, remember that God is the one working through you.  It depends on Him, not you. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Facebook Detox

I love social media.  I love getting my social, sport, political and world news all in once place on Twitter.  I love Pinterest. And I really, really enjoy Instagram, especially during Fall and Spring Fashion Week.

Facebook can be a complete and utter waste of time and brain cells for me, though.  It's totally distracting.  Then there is the issue of talking to a friend and not having anything new to say because I have posted every meaningless thought and song lyric as a status update, and linked my Instagram uploads to my newsfeed. Want to know what I had for lunch yesterday?  Check my Facebook timeline. 

Okay, I'm not that bad, but you know the people who are that bad?  I can teeter on that line. 

Is it a lack of adult human interaction or just a desperate attempt at exercising the voices in my head?  I'm not yet sure.

There is also something to be said about leaving some mystery to your life.  It's sort of like dressing.  If you flaunt all your goodies, you lose all your mystery and expose obvious insecurities.  Likewise, if I'm constantly telling everyone about everything I'm doing, is it some twisted way of gaining attention?  Or worse, do I think I'm that important that everyone must be graced with my inner thoughts and wisdom?

So, when I feel myself getting too Facebook happy I put myself on detox. I deactivate my account for a few months and enjoy life sans obsessive compulsive status update checking, because most of the time I end up checking status updates without even realizing what I'm doing.  My fingers swipe my phone to open and check mail, then the next thing you know I'm reading people's thoughts and frustrations and getting bombarded with very tempting sales and products from the companies I "like".  Dangerous ground.  I only have so much willpower.  

Now for a few months I will live blissfully unaware of what friends, some of who I barely even see anyway, are doing. I won't know what fabulous new products Athleta has debuted for Spring.  Alright that one was a lie because the catalog is on my desk with flagged pages of what I want need this year.  Yes, need.  But at least I won't be reminded of it so often. 

Since I will be largely unaware of what friends are up to, I am forced to now reach out to them properly, either by phone, e-mail or traditional mail.  And I do enjoy writing letters.  Pretty stationary and pretty stamps.  It is so romantic.  Of course this also encourages more personal writing and reflection because I have to actually form complete thoughts, something I should probably practice more anyway since I suffer from lack of mouth filter.  Yes, I should probably think before I speak more often.  (Note: This paragraph is meant to be read in a British accent, as that is the voice in which it was written in my head.)

A comprehensive research tool for homemakers, educators, designers and party planners alike, Pinterest will never be a victim of social media detox on my watch.  I am actually pretty productive when consumed with it, and there is never the risk of saying or commenting on something I haven't quite thought through yet.  I am ever so grateful for the memes, such as the one above, that voice inner thoughts for me.  The only guilt I have to deal with is the one associated with agreeing or laughing hysterically at all the inappropriate memes pinned.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's (ZZzzzZzz) Day!

This is the first Valentine's Day in recent memory that has been chock-full of hearts, candy and activities commemorating the day.  And, I am exhausted despite the lovely weather.  It feels like Spring and Fall had a baby.  Spall?

The day is bright and wonderfully sunny.  The weather is a cool 49 degrees, and just breezy enough to have you keep on a cardigan when you walk in the shade. 

It's always hard for me to get it together for any holiday, even my birthday (which is why for my 30th I just flew to Vegas, where the party never starts because it never ends).  But sweet Isabella loves Valentine's Day and so, since this is the first year she has spent it out of school, she demanded we make cards, decorated and celebrated.  "Best day ever!" she says.

I'm patting myself on the back because I managed to research, choose and execute a craft and holiday treat.  Yesterday after we completed our school work we got busy and made Conversation Hearts and Rice Krispie Valentine's Day pops I found on Pinterest.  It was very chaotic and very messy. 

As I briefed my husband on the day's crafts and baking he offered his sweet perfectionist wife a word of caution.

"Now, Honey, you do know that it's okay if the girls don't do the crafts and baking perfectly and it doesn't turn out the way it looks on Pinterest, right?" James asked semi-rhetorically, but still with great caution.

"I know," I said.  "I've actually gotten a lot better at not freaking out that things don't look pretty when we craft or bake,"  I continued, my face beaming with pride.

I still struggle with letting go of my control freak tendencies, but I have gotten a lot better.

Apart from the kitchen being a disaster and the "MOM!  Paloma won't let me stir!" and the "MAMA! That's MY stool!"  And "I WANTED TO PUT THE FOOD COLORING IN!"  And then the, "It's MY turn to cut the heart shape!" And the Rice Krispie all over the kitchen counter and floor, which was later joined by the pink, white and red sprinkles, it was successful.

We ate insane amounts of pink Rice Krispie treat scraps and sprinkles.  All the processed sugar I consumed brought about a huge headache.  And since after my run earlier in the morning I went from coffee to sugar, to more sugar, I was also largely dehydrated.  

But at the end of the day I still managed to throw chicken on the grill, steam some corn and call it dinner.  The evening ended with some spy programming on TV and a bottle of mandarin flavored seltzer water.

Today even though I woke up very late and missed my morning run, and my walk with Hannah, I got out that pancake batter, heart cookie cutters, bacon and eggs, and got busy in the kitchen.  It was a mess all over again, but I knew the girl's joy over something simple like heart shaped pancakes would trump the stress of a messy (again) kitchen.  And it did.

I only wish I had bought the Valentine's Day inspired dishes at Target I dismissed as totally unnecessary when I was there two days ago.  Paper plates just didn't do for me as presentation.  Note to self.

As I finished my sixth cup of coffee James called and asked if we would meet him for lunch.  So still full of bacon, eggs, coffee and pancakes, I agreed.  He greeted us with an arm full of tulips, one bouquet for each of his girls.

Then we enjoyed a frozen sangria and margarita with lunch, not because it is 5 o'clock somewhere, but because holidays are hard work.  I also managed to eat a bowl of queso dip even though I wasn't even hungry.  Adding pico de gallo to your queso dip makes it totally healthy, and chips are corn- veggies!

Happy Valentine's Day!  

Next:  Thinking ahead to St. Patrick's Day.  As soon as Target switches decor Izzy will be on me about shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows, green, and pots o'gold.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why We Decided to Homeschool

Since moving back home, I get asked quite often why we decided to homeschool.  I didn't get asked when we lived in Florida for a year, but then again, I feel like the further north you travel, especially if you live in a metropolitan area with "good" school districts, homeschooling becomes more of a rarity, so for the two months we homeschooled in Florida I never really had to think about why we homeschooled.  I had expressed interest in it before, but almost immediately dismissed it because my brain is so disorganized (which later, in my research for homeschooling, learned is not a weakness but just a strength that becomes a weakness in formal school/learning settings).

Truth be told, we got cornered into homeschooling in Florida.  We moved there a month into the 2012 school year, were in a horrible school district, the private school options would have depleted any hopes of savings, and transferring her to a different district or magnet school was not an option in our county because we had missed the application window.  We weren't going to send her to a bad school and we weren't going to deplete our savings.  So, we homeschooled, until a miraculous opening in an amazing charter school became available.  

Once James' job was over and we knew we would be moving back to the DC area, I knew I wasn't going to put her back in the school system.  The reasons are many, so instead of writing a long piece on all my reasons, I figured it may be easier to break it into parts.

Reason No. 1:  Logistics

  • I hated having to wait until almost the end of June (when school let out) to start our summer.  
  • I hated having to miss Boomsday, which happens every Labor Day weekend in Knoxville, because her first day of school was always the Tuesday after Labor Day.
  • I hated not being able to take weekend road trips to Knoxville for football games because we  had to be back for school Monday. 
  • I hated having to wait for school breaks to take road trips to Georgia to visit my in-laws.
  • I hated having to wake up Paloma from naps because the bus was about to drop Izzy off.  
  • I hated that the bus LOST Isabella twice.  
  • I hated that if I was on an outing with Paloma and picking Isabella up would be easier, I had to still trudge to the bus stop because that's where I had to pick her up if I hadn't given notice.  
  • I hated that the bus stop wasn't walking distance and that transportation wouldn't give me a closer stop.  
  • I hated how early school started, Isabella bleary-eyed from waking up so early.  It also meant that if I wanted time to read and run before the kids were up, I would have to wake up at like, 4am.
  • I hated rushing every morning no matter how early or on time Isabella had woken up.
  • I hated that if I didn't have dinner planned and/or ready by the time we got home, the evenings were a mess.
  • I hated that I had to load an infant in and out of a car seat when Izzy stopped taking the bus and I was picking her up from school.
  • I know all of the above are total First World problems.
In essence, school was getting in my way of living everyday life.

Reason No. 2:  Izzy Started Hating School

 My curious, smart, fun-loving, school-loving little girl started faking sick to avoid going to school.  This did not happen in Florida, because her teacher was amazeballs, pardon the expression, but she was.  However Izzy would still celebrate when there was no school or when there was half day.

Reason No. 3:  Mean Girls

Drama, drama and more drama!!!!

"Mom, Suzie (made up name) said she wasn't playing with me because I invited Mary (another made up name) to play with us, but I only invited her because she was all alone.  And then I told Kristy (made up) I wanted a break from playing with her today and she started saying mean things about me and said she wouldn't be my friend unless I played with her."


Then, I heard Isabella employ one of said tactics on a friend and it was all I could do to not ring her neck.  I will not and do not tolerate emotional manipulation.  I have been down that road, am guilty of it myself and know how destructive and powerful it is.

Reason No. 4:  Because We Can

Some countries do not allow you to homeschool your child.  You have no option but to enroll your child in either the public school system or pay to send them to a private school.  There are so many liberties we take for granted in the good 'ole U. S of A!

 Reason No. 5:  I Couldn't Ever Keep Up

  • This post is a really good window into how our year functioned.
  • Planning dinner and lunch and trips to the grocery store were always a nightmare for me, and as soon as I did get a good routine going, a vacation or slip in schedule would set me back weeks.  It was constant stress.
  • Homework wasn't ever long or dubious, but when you already struggle with keeping routine and schedules and planning meals, making time to spend with your child while he or she does homework is just another obstacle in the evening.  Sometimes we'd spend 30 to 40 minutes on homework.  At home, we can be done with an entire day's worth of school in two hours, maximum.
  • Field trip forms, school auctions, family nights, money collections for the homeless, due dates for projects, I couldn't ever keep up with it all.  Sunday night or early Monday mornings you could find me furiously thumbing through Izzy's Friday folder just to make sure I wasn't sending her unprepared for the day.  When I did miss deadlines, or homework, or projects, I felt like I was in school again making excuses for myself.
  • Cleaning the house?  Ha!  

Reason No. 6:  I'm a Snob

Or am I?  When the emotional drama with Isabella started in school, I didn't know what the heck to do or how to handle it.  I had never gone through it when I was in elementary school, at least not the extent it got with her.  There were mean kids, but nothing like what Isabella experienced.  Then again, when there were really troublesome kids at my school, they would get kicked out if their behavior didn't change.  That's one of the pivotal differences between private and public schools.

In public schools, teachers and kids have to deal with troublesome kids.  When we raised the issue of bullies at Izzy's school with her teacher and principal, they brought in behavioral therapists to meet with the children in question.  That was not good enough for me.  The discipline, or lack thereof, was infuriating.  Shortly after her troubles began, Isabella started faking illnesses and lying to her teacher.  It was a mess. 

I also didn't know my boundaries.  I didn't want to be that mom, so I was constantly talking myself out of standing up more.  I was ill-prepared to handle the situation.  Since it was my first time dealing with a public school system, I didn't know how big of a fit I could throw to get things fixed, and I was scared to throw a fit.  

James most always thought I was being over-dramatic.  He said kids would be kids and they learn how to handle it, but that was not good enough for me.  I was watching my little girl fall apart and it killed me inside.  All I could think of was, is this it?  I have to go through this with her until she's in college?   I also found myself wanting to strangle 4 and 5-year-olds.  It was not good. 

So, snob or not, I wanted more for Izzy.

Reason No. 7:  Kids Looked Bored

Before we moved to Florida I would help out in the classroom some days, and the kids looked bored and uninterested.  I couldn't blame them.  Spanish bingo is only fun for so long.  The work and activities seemed monotonous and pointless.

Reason No. 8:  Politics

State and federal standards, No Child Left Behind, teachers unions, blah, blah, blah.  School administrators and teachers face huge obstacles.  I have friends who are teachers that have really tried to mentor their kids because they really care, only to have some political nonsense stop their efforts.  It's insane.

Reason No. 9:  Religion

We want to be Deuteronomy 6 parents: 
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. -New International version
Emphasis in italic and red are mine.  When in the world was I ever going to have or find the time to talk about all the hard lessons and wonderful stories told in the Bible when I "sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up"?   I would never have time to sit at home and walk along the road.  Shoot, half the time I was falling asleep with the girls when I read books at night.    And when I got up, I was taking care of myself so I could prepare to take care of the day.  In fact, I'm still taking care of myself first thing in the morning, but at least now we have the whole day to sit and chat if the need arises.  And trust that Isabella has plenty of tough questions concerning God and the Bible.

And it isn't that you can't be Deuteronomy 6 parents if your child is in school, Christian or not, it just takes a concerted amount of effort and dedication to instill Biblical principles in your children if you're already a spaz case in the brain, like me, juggling everything I've already mentioned that seemed to set me up for total and utter failure in this area. 

Reason No. 10:  I Kind of Like My Kids

The crazier our days got during the school year, the grumpier I was.  And homeschooling has not been easy our first year, but I have been able to really enjoy the girls.
  • I catch Isabella and Paloma snuggling on the couch watching Mickey Mouse while I tie up loose ends in the kitchen.
  • I see Izzy pushing Paloma around in an empty cardboard box pretending she's taking off in a rocket ship into space.
Some moms need the time while kids are in school to gather themselves, have time to get the day ready, work from home, etc.  Being with the girls all day does affect my mommy social life, but we have been able to meet other families like us, so it all works out.

Reason No. 11:  I Know What's Going On

Izzy isn't coming to me with worksheets that require I reference the week's synopsis to know what's going on and what they're covering.  I know what we're doing, her weaknesses in math, and able to mold a curriculum that better caters to her learning style.

If anyone ever told me I would homeschool my children I would have told them they were crazy.  It is not for everyone, but anyone can do it.  There are some amazing teachers and schools out there.  Our experience in the school system was not bad overall, I just wanted more for our family; more flexibility, fun and time together.  That was hard for me to accomplish with Isabella in traditional school.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Fighting the Blahs

It has been a serious struggle to pull myself out of a horrible mood the past 10 or so days.  Thankfully the storm cloud overhead is starting to clear, but sometimes it's all I can do to get myself out of the house on those days. 

But never fear!  This post is not doom and gloom.  Looking back over the last several days, I'm able to pinpoint some triggers that I've found usually lead to storm clouds taking over my precious little head.  
  1. Overdoing it on the beverages.  Two weekends ago James and I had a date night that resulted in this lady consuming an unhealthy amount of adult beverages.  It took me two full (miserable) days to recover.  On the up side, the not drinking at home thing has worked out really well. 
  2. Consequences of overdoing it on date night.  Because of said recovery, I didn't wake up early the next day to go to church, run, walk Hannah, or read my devotional.  I hate missing church, especially when it's because I'm being, for lack of a better word, stupid, because I really love our church and our worship leader, quite literally, rocks!
  3. Giving up.  Since I was recovering, I was behind on water, and because I was behind on water, I kept not waking up to run.  Since I wasn't waking up to run, I didn't wake up early to read.  Since I wasn't waking up early to read, I wasn't walking Hannah.  So I quit.  
At times like this I find I am living Romans 7:5-20:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So frustrating!  This last week I tried to pull myself out of the blues, fighting hard to get myself outside and look at the bright side of things (however all I could think of that made me happy were red velvet cupcakes and chocolate donuts with red wine).  Since I knew I had to make a serious effort to get back on track, I decided to take some action that would force me into happiness, if not gratefulness.
  1. Thank you cards and notes to friends.  Izzy and I sat down while Paloma napped and wrote some friends notes.  Isabella had some cards to finish and I had been putting off several "thinking of you" notes to friends and thank yous to people who really impacted my life without even being aware of it.  I felt so much better.  I especially enjoyed placing my pretty stamps on the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Nature.  Thankfully we were blessed with some random Spring-like days and the girls and I took a trip to the Library of Congress and played around outside afterward.  It was glorious!
  3. I took my Adderall and cleaned the apartment.  Okay so I did that because we had company over, but I was still very happy to clean, do laundry, finally organize the DVDs. 
So with more perseverance, this week will be better than last, and definitely better than the one before that.  That, is something to look forward to! It never fails.  Winter blues almost always hit me in February.  The shortest month of the year is my longest month of the year.  I am so ready to get back into my morning ritual.

What do you do to fight the winter blues? 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Just Let Go and Go

Maybe I was a regular at all the token Smithsonian museums because my parents hosted a lot of visiting family from Mexico.  I can recall countless trips downtown with a car full of cousins all jabbering in Spanish, cameras in hand and my mom ready with the gigantic video recorder so familiar to us 80s babies.  I remember my excitement (and eventual boredom) touring the National Gallery of Art, Air and Space, American and Natural History museums over and over.  A new wave of cousins, a new visit to the museums.  Cousins visited again, and we would go again.  The cherry blossoms and paddle boating at the Tidal Basin, home to the Jefferson Memorial, and kite festivals in the Spring were all a part of life.  My favorite, Fourth of July, was always spent picnicking a hop, skip and a jump away from the Vietnam Memorial.  Back then, alcohol was allowed, and if it wasn't, people sure brought it anyway.

And one thing that I have noticed as I've gotten older is that a lot of kids I grew up with didn't frequent downtown a whole lot, if at all.  I'm not really sure why.  We were only about 20 minutes away, and there was the Metro line if you didn't want to deal with parking.  Even in high school when I would mention hanging out in Georgetown, faces would wrinkle, and I remember a lot of kids not wanting to drive into "the city".  Suburban Maryland isn't exactly sparsely populated.  I never got it.

Granted, my family did have businesses downtown so I spent a lot of time hanging out there with them, "helping" in the kitchen and serving tables as best as a 5-year-old can.  I would sit down with customers, chat them up and help myself to their tortilla chips.  I was a big hit.  So even though I have never lived in the District proper, it's always felt like home to me.

A conversation with my friend Cheryl, a homeschooling mom of seven(!!!), prompted my trip down memory lane over the weekend.  She just returned to Florida from a road trip to DC with her family.  They went everywhere and loved it.   I remember going everywhere and loving, and still do, but something about "homeschooling" has had me in a box, thinking that if we do go to a museum, I'll need worksheets to supplement Isabella's experience.   And when we get home, she should be required to draw or write something about our trip, right?

Cheryl's answer:  Oh no!  Don't take the fun out of it for her!

Sounds ridiculous, but I was shocked at her answer.  And relieved.  Very relieved.  She explained that part of helping Isabella develop a love for learning was to not make it a chore for her.

"Just go," Cheryl said.  "Isabella is eight?  I'd say you can go twice a week.  Have her just wander and enjoy them.  Don't suck the fun out of it for her.  Get to where they feel like home to her."

Oops.  Did I mention that time I took her to the Natural History museum and made her sit and draw a picture of the nomads?  It was indeed miserable.  

Fast-forward to Saturday, after my very helpful talk with Cheryl, when we had to be out early to drop James off downtown so he could join a friend and other church members play basketball with children in a juvenile correction facility.  It was too early to visit the American History Museum, so I had the best idea ever!  We went instead to the Newseum, the museum of news (catchy, huh?) and it was awesome!  There was no pressure I was putting on myself to have Isabella learn something about everything, or even something about something.  We just enjoyed strolling through.  It is by far one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had with the girls at a museum.

I was so proud of myself, I didn't even start sobbing uncontrollably when I saw the remnants of the Twin Tower's broadcast signal and all the September 12 headlines plastered on the wall.  I was such a big girl!  And it was so nice to see Izzy just strolling through.  She wasn't as interested or fascinated by Gutenberg's printing press, which was a bummer, but I didn't talk her ear off about how it was one of the most important inventions ever!  I only went on ever so slightly about how expensive books were because it was so laborious to copy them before the printing press was invented, which is why only the really rich people had fancy libraries in their homes.  That was it.  Then I shut up.

This week we have the International Spy Museum and Library of Congress planned.  Not our first time visiting either, but this time it'll be with a whole new set of eyes.  While planning all the places we'll visit the remainder of the year, Isabella gave me a huge hug and said, "You're the best mom EVER!"

I'm starting to think so, too.  

Broadcast signal from one of the Twin Towers.

September 12, 2011 headlines.

Posing on the 6th floor terrace.  Amazing views!

Checking out a printing press.

Reading about September 11.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Little Shortcut

Plum Organics and Ella's Kitchen baby food packets.
Even though Paloma has passed the packaged baby food stage, I started buying these again because I realized they are a great way to add a variety of organic fruits and vegetables to my diet.  Any mom with a child under the age of 6 will immediately recognize the popular organic snack purees pictured above.  And while I like the variety Plum Organics offers, Ella's Kitchen is by far my favorite for two reasons.  First, they have "100% organic" stamped right on the front.  Second, they don't add water.  (Third, they're British and I love the Brits, especially the cast of Downton Abbey and anything Agatha Christie or Masterpiece Theater.  But I digress.)  They are available in most grocery store's baby aisle.

They are all gluten free (at least all the one's I've inspected,) and super convenient to throw in my oatmeal or in my purse as a snack.  Though they aren't a very filling snack, when coupled with a handful of almonds and walnuts they hold me over until I can have a proper meal.  I mean, how or when else could I work organic purple carrots into my diet?

Two days ago I emptied one into the blender when prepping the girl's smoothies (while they weren't looking of course, and I've been able to sneak ground flaxseed in them on a regular basis as well) without any complaints or suspicion. *insert evil laugh here*  Ella's Kitchen has recipes available on their site as well.

I wish I had thought to pack these babies in my bag during college.  What a great snack!  Way better than the energy bars that are loaded with sugar and contain milk protein.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Library Tuesday

We don't really have "library Tuesdays".  I'm not that organized, but I sure wish I was.  We try to make it there once a week.  A perk: it's only a little over a mile away on foot!

Yesterday after Paloma took a very decent nap (three hours!!!) we decided to walk over for some fresh air and books.  One of my favorite parts of living where we do is the trail behind our complex.  We just cross the street and embark on a child-friendly walk, run, bicycle ride, etc.  I don't have to worry about cars whizzing by, just the cyclists (and believe me, they can be dangerous, especially coming around those hairpin turns!).

Isabella rollerbladed and Paloma tried to keep up.

 Paloma photobombed Izzy's picture.
We decided we needed a cupcake after the walk.

Isabella enjoyed a chocolate vanilla with heart sprinkles, and Paloma chose a vanilla on vanilla with sprinkles.

Then Paloma noticed the camera.  Cheese!

Then Paloma got cold and continued to eat just the sprinkles around the edge.

By the time the girls finished looking over books and checked them out, the sun had set.  We hurried home and popped a pizza in the oven.  Isabella was over-tired from the Monday hike and broke into nonsensical hysterics at 8pm.  My very sweet husband put the girls to bed.  Some CSI Miami and it was lights out by 10pm.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Small Victories

Though it sounds totally backwards, we have almost totally abandoned a homeschooling curriculum for a few months so I can gain some perspective, pace myself and learn more about Isabella.

This homeschooling venture has not been easy, but in ways I didn't expect. I did the research and knew from everything I read that this year would be the most difficult.  Most parents who quit do so after two to four months, but at least our homeschool challenges would be ones I felt were worth pushing through, not ones like, how can I get Izzy to get ready faster in the mornings so we're not running to a bus stop every day. I knew I couldn't look at other homeschool families and compare our progress or approach because one of the major advantages to this is that you can mold it to whichever way works best for you, your child and family.   These have been my major challenges over the last few months:

  • I didn't realize how little time I need to spend actually "schooling" her  before moving on to something else. In short, we have a lot of free time and it has been a struggle navigating what portions of that free time I am responsible for keeping her entertained; she should be reading; playing outside or socializing with other little people, all while trying to keep Paloma on schedule with naps and myself with errands, laundry, eating, etc.

  • Homeschooling has shown me what a control freak I am when driven by fear of failure. (Isabella, you will sit down and enjoy this book because it is a classic and you have to know the classics because if you don't you'll be uneducated and never succeed in life and I will have totally failed as your educator, so sit down and quit wiggling and listen! Very enjoyable for her, indeed.)

  • It has been very difficult for us to break our brains from seeing and approaching school from the traditional classroom method (e.g., sit down, open a book, lecture, do a workbook exercise, rinse, lather, repeat.)

  • Learning how to adapt teaching to the way Isabella learns. She is very wiggly. I went to Catholic schools all my pre-college life, where wiggling was not appreciated. Structure, structure, structure, sit still, don't ask questions about the Bible I can't answer.

  • Learning that it is my job to expose her to different disciplines right now. Mastery of a subject comes later. Right now I have to help her develop a love of learning. In doing that, there is no way she will not learn along the way.
All the above require patience, perseverance and most of all, pacing. Lightbulb moments don't happen every day. Copy work is copy work. Maybe it's because life has always been so go-go-go for me that it is very strange to just live life with the girls. It's hard for me to look at the bigger picture confident that copying sentences from classics will train her brain to recognize proper grammar. It's just baby steps and keeping a steady pace. I have 10 years to equip her with the tools she needs to succeed in life, not just in a box room, in a box building, learning from a boxed curriculum. And please understand, I am not knocking traditional schools. We decided to homeschool for so, so many different reasons. This is just what works for our family. 

When we started school at home I realized Izzy was mostly guessing in math, but her grades at school had never reflected it, so we had to start the year with a first grade curriculum to ensure she had a proper foundation.   Since we have been taking a breather from "school", I've had Izzy count her allowance (we pay her $5 a week if she completes all her weekly chores) to keep her math skills sharp.  Yesterday I mixed up the way I payed her so she could practice her skip counting.  When she finished counting, she looked up at me wide-eyed and said, "I did it!! This is the first time I've counted money like that!!"

It wasn't anything extraordinary like, wow I memorized all my times tables today!  But it was a big step for her that happened on a regular, nothing special Monday morning.  There was no worksheet or test she aced.  Later she dictated thank you notes to me she would copy and mail to those who sent her Christmas gifts.  After Paloma napped we went on a hike.  The air was crisp, the sun was out and Paloma wasn't too whiny.  It was a plain old day with one small victory.  I will take it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

In 2013, I'm Back

What better way to start the new year than blogging at midnight because J came home late from an after-work dinner and woke me from slumber (though he probably did me a small favor since I fell asleep on my side trying to put Paloma to bed, again, because I wanted to make sure she saw me "sleeping" so she would then fall asleep, and my fake sleep turned into real sleep and I never readjusted my position and now my neck hurts).  Now, after moving to our bed, tossing, turning, reading British tabloids, raiding Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook status updates, I quit trying to talk myself into sleep, got up and raided the pantry for the chocolate and brownies I hid from Paloma and am currently stuffing face.

Thank you, Pinterest .
I love blogging and have been discouraged every time I think about being more consistent because I'm so good at being inconsistent.  That said, it's finally starting to sink into this wee brain of mine that life is a process.  Life is life.  Everyday isn't full of a great revelation or huge stride.  I won't be totally organized or find the perfect routine for Izzy's schooling all at once, but God knows our hearts and intentions, and every baby step, every effort counts toward the bigger goal.

Also, I love having a corner of the interwebs to write, read it back to myself and think, I'm hilarious (crazy, sane, fabulous, totally weird, etcetera).  It's sort of my sanity.  I do journal, or used to, but it hurts my hand to write so much since there's always so much going in my brain once I sit still enough to think, and also my Macbook is fried and in it is the expensive (to me) journaling software I now can't access because my operating system is now so outdated that I can't even sync it to my iPad app when I do get my computer to temporarily funtion.

Speaking of, I don't know when I fell so behind on technology, but when I went into the Mac store last week to look into buying a desktop for our home and heard the nice lady talking about the Cloud and Snow Leopard and lions in mountains, and all this other stuff I thought, I am sooooo stuck in 2008. When we get our desktop, I may have to register for one of those classes intended for Baby Boomers new to the touch screen world.  We're just to a point where we can't even sync our i-technologies to this computer because it's now too outdated as well, but at least it works!

Okay, wow that went on a little longer than expected, so back to the new year.  We finally chose a Bible verse for the year, before the new year!  Hooray!
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. -1Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV
The New King James Version reads "glorify God with your bodies", which I like more.  The point is, this year we're going to treat our bodies better, feed our bodies better, and ultimately (hopefully,) glorify God better.  So our key word is "glorify".  Does what we do, how we spend our money, treat others, treat ourselves, glorify God?  That's our family verse for the year.  I'm excited.

Next, I set a few personal goals for myself. In no particular order they are:
  1. Quit shopping online so darn much.  I found it's a coping mechanism for me, to avoid dealing with immediate issues at hand.  I also want to travel and this is a serious barrier to that dream.
  2. Quit all alcohol consumption at home.  It does me no good.  For starters, I begin my day behind on water.  Second, its turned into another coping mechanism.  Raising kids is hard work, but I chose it and I need to deal with it and live life more responsibly.  Relying on an Italian red and not Christ when I'm overwhelmed is toxic.  I look forward to adult beverages while on a date and/or out with friends! 
  3. Get stronger.  Develop muscle and stamina.  It's not about being skinny, it's about being strong.
  4. Pace myself more.  In everything.
  5. Get to know my daughters more.  Life moves at a blindingly fast pace, and even though I homeschool, it's easy to lose perspective and remember what life is about.  I want our daughters to remember the fun and the memories, not a stressed out mom who was always barking out orders.
  6. Surrender more.  It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that God is interested in and cares about the mundane details of our lives, but He does.  He wants us to ackowledge it and give it to him so we can move forward.  A lot of times I get all control freak, bossy and moody because I don't feel like I'm in control of something, be it a situation, an emotion, you name it.  Fear dresses up in many ways and  I get ugly when I'm subconsciously driven by it, especially a fear of failure.   
Well so much for starting small, right?  Even writing that down was a little scary, but you have to start somewhere.  I can't not start because I'm afraid I'll fail, again.  And I probably will, but that is okay, because I am totally conquering No. 4 this year!

Happy New Year :)