Wednesday, March 4, 2015

tradition!

My daughter had a birthday and now, at least for the next four months, our entire family is odd. Odd ages, that is. We are: 9, 11, 13, 15, 39, and 41. Woot!


Birthday Girl's breakfast was an blessed break from the standard (gross) tradition of sugar cereal: Russian pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream.


My play rehearsal threw a wrench in normal mealtime plans, so “lunch” was green smoothies at 11 am, followed by “dinner” at 3:30 when I returned home:

*chef salad (an awesome choice for a February birthday, I must say)
*takis chips (nod to Guatemala)
*Rosa de Jamaica Tea  (another nod to Guatemala) and 
*flavorless juice boxes

Dessert was red velvet cake (a bit on the dry side) with luscious cream cheese frosting.


As evidenced above, our birthdays revolve mostly around food: planning it, making it, and eating it. I'm always relieved when the festivities are over. Then I can go back to winging our meals and making what I want.

This same time, years previous: girl party, doctors galore, sky-high biscuits, and fire-safe.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

kids and money: how we're doing it

There's a lot of talk flying around the web in the wake of this Slate article about allowances. I only briefly skimmed the article, so I can't speak to it directly, but it got me to thinking about how we do kids and money, and why. So, I thought I'd share. (What a surprise!)

To be clear! Regarding all things finances, we do not have the upper hand. We bungle around. We make mistakes. We change tactics (sometimes wildly) when things aren't working. Teaching kids about money is a process, as much for the adults as for the kids.

***

Ages 0-7 
No money except for the odd monetary gift from a grandparent or the Tooth Fairy. Or from picking potato bugs (a penny a bug).

Ages 8-11 
An allowance of 10 dollars per month. We don't put any parameters on the money (such as requiring division into categories for saving, giving, and spending), except for a general guideline that no more than a dollar or two can be spent on junk food and money should not be frittered. There are no noble reasons behind our laxity. Simply, I don't want one more thing to keep track of. 

We don't ever pay for household chores. Our general philosophy is a) we all live in this house so everyone has to pitch in, b) not a single one of us is a prince or princess, and c) hands are to be gotten dirty.

We strongly (and repeatedly) encourage the children to deposit their money into their savings accounts. If they want to make a big purchase—say, order a box of Legos from Amazon for 20 bucks—they have to think on it for a week or two. At the end of the prescribed wait time, we place the order.

Pro tip: giving kids free reign with money is often the same as tossing it in the trash. We make the allowance big enough that it's "worth it" and small enough that it's no skin off our teeth when the kids make stupid decisions.

Ages 12 and up
They're on their own for finding money. In other words, GET A JOB ALREADY. We do, however, put lots of energy into helping them find work. Our parenting focus accelerates in its continual shift from a) taking care of them to b) helping them take care of themselves.

As they start making more money, we push them to see the bigger picture. What are the rapidly-upcoming costs of living away from home, education, travel, transportation? Do they want to invest money? How can they get the best interest rate for their money? We help them set financial goals (my older son has loosely challenged himself to squirrel away a one or two thousand dollars annually), and they are expected to start chipping in for some of their activities. For example, we paid for my son's year of choir, but he has to foot the bill for his choir's optional summer trip to New Orleans. Also, depending on how much money we have in the budget, we sometimes ask the money-earning children to chip in for shoes, clothing, youth events like summer camp, and their own special interest projects, such as farm animals and pets, pimped out sound systems, tools, etc. Our oldest is only 15 (only! what am I saying? he's freaking 15 already, yikes!!!!), so we have lots of new territory yet to be discovered. But at this point, the kids know that if they want a car, they have to buy it themselves (and depending on how much our car insurance gets raised, they may need to help out with the difference), and college is on them.

We expect our teens to take a version of the money management class that changed our lives (beginning next month, we're facilitating another classsign up here!). My older son watched all the class videos with me and just finished taking the junior version of the class with his youth group.

We try to be transparent with our children about our own finances. They see us creating the budget (i.e. screaming at each other) and setting aside cash for groceries, household, entertainment, etc. They are fully aware that money doesn't grow on trees and that there is a limited supply. Interestingly enough, rather than resenting the limits, this makes them endearingly appreciative of any little extravagance.

***

Having money is fun and interesting, and allowances give kids some independence, but I don't think an allowance is something children need. Now that the kids are older, I'm seeing (in retrospect, of course, always in retrospect) that the learning experience kids get from an allowance is totally different, and much more superficial, than the learning experience they get when they actually have to work for it. Come to think of it, perhaps children aren't learning any more about economic responsibility through getting an allowance than they are learning to feed themselves by putting plastic strawberries in a tiny cart in the grocery section of the children's museum.

In other words, allowances are nice, but they're not really the solution to anything, either. At least not the way we're doing them. We've made our boldest money-teaching strides through the agonizing process of improving our own money management habits, demonstrating the value (and it's not monetary!) of hard work, and trying to actively weaning our children off our pocketbooks. The whole process is complicated and awkward and not at all tidy-neat and formulaic, but this tends to be our approach to Life In General so it's not that terrible.

But maybe we're making the whole kids-and-money thing harder than it needs to be?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.3.14), grocery shopping, a monument to childhood, and soda crackers.

Monday, March 2, 2015

the quotidian (3.2.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Lunch: popcorn, apples, and banana splits while watching I Love Lucy shows. 
The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven.


Birthday braids.


Boots are so yesterday.


SSR.


If you have a water balloon toss on the porch when it's below freezing, watch your step.


Girlfriend brought jam!
(She walked in the door wearing a post-it note. It said "haircut." So I gave her one.)


Teatime!


Chopping squash for a fundraiser chili.
(He was dismayed I made him do the work for his own fundraiser, silly boy.)


Two things the man loves: granola and books. 

This same time, years previous: the chicoj coffee cooperative, leap year baby, air, print, internet, potatoes and onionsred raspberry rhubarb pie, and a birth story.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

homecoming

Last night when I got home from rehearsal, this is the sight that greeted me.


I had called my husband as I was zipping out of town (and right before stopping by the store to pick up some on-special ice cream—priorities!) to let him know I'd be there in time to do bedtime reading. But as soon as I stepped in the door, I saw that I was not needed after all. The children were deep into the papa read-aloud, and totally entranced. So I tiptoed across the kitchen, pulled a chair up to the computer, and went about some of my “work.” (Reading plays is work, right? Right?) Every now and then my husband's droning voice was interrupted with shrieks of laughter from the children. The house was warm and (mostly) clean, and it smelled of cinnamon. I had just stashed three boxes of ice cream in the freezer. What a sweet, gentle ending to an ordinary day.

This same time, years previous: roasted cauliflower soup, the quotidian (2.25.13), for my daughter, and reverse cleaning.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I guess this means we're unschooling

Last year I went through a personal homeschool revolution. How did I feel about self-directed learning? What was my relationship to unschooling? How did learning actually happen? What did it mean to act on the new information I was acquiring?

I've always felt dubious about traditional schooling, but last year's questions made me go far deeper. I wasn't just happening to do things differently, la-de-da-de-da. Now I had facts and reasons to back up my experiences. And oh, the experiences! Interesting how, after fifteen years of Growing People Up, there is so much perspective gained. Tuning in with how my children learn has been hugely instrumental in My Paradigm Shift of 2014.



For example! I have watched as...

...my older son listened to Khan biology lectures with complete absorption. He wasn't taught cell structure year after year, progressively getting more detailed (and more jaded), so the information was new and fascinating. Also, there is a big difference between listening to information for the fun of it and listening to it with a need to glean key points for future regurgitation. His openness and free-wheeling fascination is palpable and completely different from how I, a top-of-the-class-student, listen.

...my younger daughter, for years, could not grasp basic mathematical concepts. She couldn't mentally maneuver numbers to understand that, for example, 8 + 7 is the same as 8 + 2 + 5. It felt insurmountable, so we took it slow. Lots of repetition and elementary concepts. But recently, in the last few months, there has been a shift. All of a sudden she's juggling numbers with more ease. The multiplication facts stick in her brain faster and easier. This (small but major!) shift has nothing to do with my steady dedication and everything to do with developmental readiness—if it was the former, I would've seen steady improvement, but with the latter, there's a jump that's clearly a result of ability. So why was I pushing it all these years?

...my younger son frolics with numbers. He gets numbers. Multiplication, square roots, fractions—it's all a game. I do math with him because he'd be mad if I didn't. (As I was writing this post, he came out of rest time in search of a calculator. He had pulled an 8th grade math book off the shelf and was giving it a go.)

...my children begin launching into the real world of employers, paychecks, responsibility, and tedium. These they're-actually-doing-it! experiences, and the fact that they are thriving outside of the home, has done wonders for my anxious mind. Just because they don't know the state capitals or prepositional phrases doesn't mean they're destined to a life of drugs, whoo-hoo!

...my almost-a-teenager daughter finally learned to read and then took off flying.


So now that I've read lots of facts and amassed a bunch of experiences, how does this change our homeschooling practices? Quite frankly, not that much. I still make my kids do things they don't want to do, and I still let them take initiative in their learning. But I'm much more comfortable gauging my decisions on, not the school system at large, but on what makes sense for us. For right now, here's what that looks like.

*My older daughter works at the farm two full days a week. My older son works there one-and-a-half days a week. My older son also sometimes goes to work with my husband. The result: I only have all four kids at home for one or two mornings a week, so I'm not spread quite as thin as I used to be.

*I aim for three or four “study periods” per week with each older child. I aim for four or five with the younger two.

*For the younger two, there is a daily math lesson. Also, each child reads aloud to me (or an older sibling) for about fifteen minutes. My younger daughter is also taking a gymnastics class.

*My older daughter has a math lesson and listens to a Khan lecture on biology. (Regarding Khan lectures: my goal is not mastery or complete understanding, but rather an exposure to ideas and terminology. If my children decide they want to learn more about a particular area, then other measures are taken.)

*My older son writes for thirty minutes, listens to a Khan history lecture, works on his Algebra, and practices his music for choir. He was working through a book on Latin and Greek root words, but that kind of fizzled. He's also on a Bible quizzing team and studies (the book of Mark) for the matches.

*I read library books out loud to the younger kids, and nights when we're all home, we have a family read aloud time.

*We're slowly (as in, over the last year or so) working our way through the Cosmos series, as well as the From the Earth to the Moon series. We are re-watching the Planet Earth series. We just started watching The Incredible Dr. Pol on Netflix—it drives us crazy that they put a blur-spot over the prolapsed placentas and autopsies. We want to see what's happening!

*All the children are involved in youth group activities at church. They get together with friends. They relate to extended family members, mentors, youth group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and our dinner guests.

*Then there is all the regular life learning which makes up the bulk of our existence: watching over the dentist's shoulder has he pulls two of my older daughter's teeth, studying up for a learner's permit, babysitting the cousins, junior ushering and nursery duty at church, listening to Radiolab, reading oodles of books, baking cookies, playing in the snow, biking, doing chores, caring for the animals, selling eggs, attending a viewing, writing letters, playing Monopoly and countless games of cards, etc, etc, etc.


bandaging a hurt paw 

To sum up: I no longer spend much time thinking about what kind of schooling we're doing anymore. We're learning and living—our days are full. Even in our small family unit of six, we have drastically different abilities, gifts, and interests. I'm relaxing into the freedom to simply be who we are and learn as we wish. It feels so natural I almost forget to talk about it.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.24.14), birds and bugs, bandwagons, cream scones, food I've never told you about: part three, and Grandma Baer's caramel popcorn.    

Monday, February 23, 2015

the quotidian (2.23.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Sausage, butternut, and spinach quiches.


A lapful of babies.


Plus braces; minus two teeth.


Waiting impatiently (and for two hours!) for her father to unstick himself from the snowbank 
and get home with the two extra kids he was hauling back from town. 


In his snowy element: the man from Upstate New York.
(I think he was secretly pleased that the snow defeated him.)


A spot of warm in a world of drear.


Hearth clutter.


Because of course.


After the storm, a day of bizarre warmth.

This same time, years previous: peanut butter and jelly bars, pan-fried tilapia, the quotidian (2.20.12), a quiet day on the ranch, the case of the whomping shovel, blueberry cornmeal muffins, the morning after, and Molly's marmalade cake.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

lemon cheesecake morning buns

The problem with sweet rolls is that they are a breakfast food that is too complicated to make in time for breakfast. What with all the yeasty risings, they just can't happen first thing in the morning. 

Sure, there are makeshift solutions. Shaped rolls can be proofed in the fridge overnight and then baked first thing in the morning. Or already-baked rolls can be wrapped in foil and then, come morning, warmed in the oven. But both of those solutions are, I think, suboptimal. Dough made with commercial yeast is not enhanced by a refrigerated timeout—the dough often overproofs, turning bloated and sour—and reheated rolls feel second best. There's nothing quite like freshly-baked sweet rolls, period.

All my sweet roll angst came to the forefront when, just the other day, I read this title: lemon cheesecake morning buns. Fresh rolls? In the morning? With lemon? Ooh-la-la!

Then a snowstorm hit, and a hot oven and freshly baked goods seemed the right thing to do. I had my husband pick up a couple lemons and some cream cheese, and that night after supper, I mixed up the dough, the cream cheese filling, and the lemon glaze. A couple hours later, after reading to the kids and popping them into bed, I hustled back out to the kitchen to assemble the rolls and pop them into the fridge. (Yes, yes. I know what I said about yeast doughs chilling in fridges, but this yeast dough is only mildly yeasted, plus, it boasts baking powder and baking soda. The nighttime rest left it only slightly puffed and with no ill-flavor effects.) That night I went to bed excited. Breakfast was gonna be delicious!




And it was. The rolls were delightful: lemony and cheesy, light and tender. We each had two.

Later, I had another one. Cooled, it tasted even better, I thought. Like a lemon cheese danish.



So now I have a solution to the sweet rolls-for-breakfast conundrum. It's not the classic sweet roll, but hello, LEMON AND CREAM CHEESE? 'Nuff said.


Lemon Cheesecake Morning Buns
Adapted from Julie of Willow Bird Baking (via Becky of Chicken Wire and Paper Flowers).

The only change I made was to reduce the butter. I know! I know! Me, Jennifer, the butter queen cutting back the butter! It's crazy! But seriously, a whole stick of butter with pound of cream cheese for just the filling? Even for me, it seemed like overkill. So I cut it in half and didn't miss it.

I've broken the recipe into three stages: early evening, bedtime, and morning. It may look complicated, but taken one step at a time, it's not. Also, the first step involves the biggest mess. If you do it immediately after supper, you can add the dirty dishes to the supper pile and better utilize the dishwasher's services. If you're sneaky, they won't even know they're being taken advantage of.

Part One: Early Evening 
For the dough: 
¼ cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder, and salt
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup (10 2/3 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 cups, minus 2 tablespoons, milk

In a small bowl, combine the water and yeast. Set aside. Measure the vinegar into the bottom of a two-cup measure. Top it off with milk.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using your fingers, cut in the butter. Stir in the milk and dissolved yeast. The dough will be sticky—there is no need to knead it. Cover with a cloth and set aside.

For the cream cheese lemon filling:
1 pound cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 egg
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons butter, softened

In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and lemon zest and juice. Cover with plastic and set aside. (The butter is applied separately from the filling.)

For the lemon glaze:
2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup milk lemon zest, for garnish

Whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and milk. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. 

Part Two: Bedtime
To assemble:
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter. Knead very briefly. Roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Spread with the 4 tablespoons of softened butter and then with the cream cheese filling. Roll the dough up as you would for sweet rolls and cut into 24 pieces. Place the rolls into two, greased 9x13 pans. Cover tightly with plastic and store in the refrigerator.

Part Three: In the Morning 
To bake and serve:
Turn the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the rolls from the fridge and let sit on the top of the oven while it preheats. Bake for about 25 minutes until the rolls are puffed and golden brown. While still warm, drizzle with the glaze and sprinkle with lots of fresh lemon zest. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This same time, years previous: in the eyes of the beholder, homemade Twix bars, and dulce de leche coffee.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

in my kitchen: 11:50 a.m.


*At the kitchen table, my daughter cuts out sugar cookie hearts.
*Beside her mess sits the cookie cookbook that my younger son pulled out. He, too, wanted to make cookies, but I ignored him and then he got distracted by...
*My husband installing little shelves in the back of my cupboards, to maximize space and organize our junk.
*Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! is blasting on the radio and my husband's drill is whine-screaming. Which means I can't actually hear Wait! Wait!
*The beef, onion, garlic, and jalapeno for the evening's chili is browning on the stove before getting dumped into the waiting crock pot for an afternoon-long simmer.
*On the cookie sheet atop the stove, the chili ingredients from the freezer: soupy black beans, red beans, corn. I didn't plan ahead, so I had to thaw them in a warm oven for an hour.
*On the counter, a bag of maseca flour. Ree introduced me to this chili-enhancing method.
*Also on the counter, our new toaster, a surprise gift from the in-lawsTHANK YOU!!!! It has four slots and a bagel setting. For a good twenty-four hours, it was our main source of entertainment. I even bought a couple bags of bagels so we could have the full toaster experience.
*On the dining room table, a pile of discarded coats. Because why bother actually putting them away?
*And also, on the table but out of sight, a pan of cheesy bacon toasts (but with naan instead of bread) for lunch.
*To the far left, a glimpse of the freshly-organized shoe room.
*In the microwave, leftover beans reheating for lunch. (They were not a hit with the fambly, so lunch was an angst-ridden affair.)
*On the kitchen table, lots of weird junk. At some point it disappeared.
*On the counter, dishes from breakfast and a morning of cooking. After lunch, two kids worked together (not very cheerfully) to wash them all up.

This same time, years previous: almond cake, Monday blues, digging the ruffles, coconut pudding, pain and agony, and I don't feel much like writing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

in the last ten months

When I was a kid, my mom made me and my brothers keep lists of the books we read. It was nice to know how we spent our hours and, when people asked for suggestions for good reading material, to have a list at hand. Also, she used the book lists to bulk up her homeschooling records.

To this day, I still keep a list of all the books I have read, and I make my children do the same. However, up until a year ago, only my older son was reading. Despite being well-beyond the normal age at which children learn to read, my twelve-year-old daughter was not.

I was, quite naturally, extremely worried (and had been for years—you can read the whole story here), but then, rather suddenly, she began reading. Now, one year later, the tables have turned so wildly that, when I have contemplated sharing her book list, I feel shy. Maybe people will think I'm bragging?

When I mentioned my hesitation to my friend, she said, “Oh, no, you need to share that list. Remember how you felt a year ago? What would you have wanted to hear back then?”

And so, for the pulling-her-hair-out worried Me of winter 2014, I share this book list. This, dear mama, is what your daughter-who-can-not-read has read … IN THE LAST TEN MONTHS.

The Coming of Dragons: the Darkest Age, by A.J. Lake*
Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Peter and the Shadow Thieves, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The Lightening Thief, by Rick Riordan
Peter and the Sword of Mercy, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan
The Titan's Curse, by Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan
Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
Unwind, by Neal Shusterman
Unwholly, by Neal Shusterman
Unsouled, by Neal Shusterman
The Island Stallion, by Walter Farley
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
The Book of the Sword, by A.J. Lake
The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley
Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
The Enormous Egg, by Oliver Butterworth
Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare
The Circle of Stone, by A.J. Lake
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore
Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson
City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare
The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
The Son of Neptune, by Rick Riordan
Here's To You, Rachel Robinson, by Judy Blume
The Mark of the Athena, by Rick Riordan
New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer
The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke
Mind's Eye, by Douglas E. Richards
City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare
Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The Bane Chronicles, by Cassandra Clare
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
I am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore
The Power of Six, by Pittacus Lore
The Rise of Nine, by Pittacus Lore
Fire, by Kristin Cashore
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

*In the case of a series, I only linked to the first book in the series.

***

If there is anything I have learned from this list, it's this:

Learning readiness is a real thing.
Ignore arbitrary learning time schedules and trust the child.
Imposed learning doesn't hold a candle to the passion that comes from within: watch out.







This same time, years previous: the quotidian (2.17.14), chicken pot pie, creamed chicken with cheese biscuits, and tortilla pie.

Monday, February 16, 2015

the quotidian (2.16.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


After a frightfully cold and windy night: 57 degrees in the house.


Struggling to keep up.


Cheesy bacon toasts, but with naan instead of bread.


For the neighbors, with love.


The open-air studio.


Hanging out.


This cuddly little guy has completely won over my non-baby-loving husband.


Never too old for dress-up and a tea party.


A new cousin! 

This same time, years previous: chocolate pudding, Shakespeare in church, sweet, ginger lemon tea, just stuff, food I've never told you about, food I've never told you about, part two, odd ends, and cleaning up bad attitudes.