Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Without water...again...

After a maintenance guy came to my apartment yesterday to "see what we are dealing with" and told me that he would be back with materials, workers, etc on Thursday, I assumed we would have both hot AND cold water all day Wednesday with a disruption on Thursday, and possibly Friday.  WRONG!  I woke up, planning a nice relaxing shower, and a smooth morning, getting ready to go volunteer at my school's new grad student orientation, to run some of my own errands on campus, come home to bake some fresh bread, and then go back to campus later for a poetry reading.

Instead, I woke up, went to the bathroom, and hit the flusher on the toilet...and nothing happened.  Now, we just went through a few waterless days last week, and it wasn't pleasant.  But, also last week, the temperatures were milder.  Today is looking like a hot one, and I have stuff to do! So, alternate plans...we have HOT water, but not cold.  I've filled some bowls with hot water, cooling it to a reasonable temp to use for bathing, washing dishes, etc.  This isn't how I had planned to spend my day...

What do you do when things don't go as planned, or you wake up to an unexpected problem like no cold water?  Do you complain and stomp your feet, or do you decide to just get on with life the best that you can?

Since I don't actually know why we don't have cold water today, I also don't know how long we will be without it.  The guy yesterday gave me no indication that the water would be off today.  I hope it is back on before this afternoon when I need to get ready for the poetry reading!  I signed up to be a reader!  I don't want to go looking or smelling icky!  Sigh...  In the meantime, I will revise some poems, fold all the laundry that was washed yesterday, and do a bit of cleaning and organizing in our living room.  But, at some point over the next three days, water or not, I have to get to my school to take care of financial aid, get my new I.D. sticker for the school year, pick up insurance cards, etc.

Life goes on, cold water or no...

A while later, I had a moment of nostalgia.  I was in the kitchen, and was only half-listening to the video playing on my computer in the next room.  Although it was a video about rescue animals, the voice was reminiscent of the TV show "Perry Mason."  As a child, I spent many hours with my grandparents watching "Perry Mason" reruns.  Often, those hours were also spent baking cookies and pies, making card houses, or just laying around with a good book.  But, what I remember most is the feeling of satisfaction.  I was loved, cared for, and safe.  I had good, fresh, healthy food to fill my tummy.  I had companionship.  I had it all.  As a mother, I want to create those types of feelings and memories for my child.  I hope he will grow up to remember his childhood with the same affection I have for mine.  Later today, we will go for a walk, and come home to make dinner together - sunny side up eggs per my son's request to learn to make eggs in every way possible.

What are you doing today to build those special memories and feelings in your child?


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wording matters...goal setting...

A friend regularly posts on her Facebook page 5 things she's excited about, and 5 things she's thankful for.  Then, the rest of us comment with our 5 things to be excited about, and 5 things to be thankful for.  I started writing my 5 and 5, and for one, I began with "Plan to..."  Why would I PLAN to do something?  Yes, I need to take steps to accomplish my goals, but there is something about saying (or writing) "I plan to do..." that also allows space for, "But I might not do it..."  I don't have the time or energy for "might not" or "won't" or "can't."  I WILL accomplish my goals.  No doubt, no second-guessing.  Only doing!

I also recently posted this on my personal Facebook page: "...has no room in her life for whiners, complainers, cheaters, enablers, blamers, or people who refuse to accept personal responsibility."  I'm on this big personal empowerment kick.  Can you tell?  What negativity are you willing to cut out of your life?  What things are you going to DO to progress in your life?

Excited and thankful that we get to live so close to NYC, all of the amazing things available to see and do here! Sculptures ouside the Time Warner building.


Thanks to Sheri for posting her 5 Exciting things, and 5 Thankful things.


5 Things I'm Excited about:
  • Grad school starts back on Sept 6.
  • Tutoring starts back on Sept 6.
  • Homeschool for JP starts back on Sept 6.
  • Getting certified as a kids yoga instructor (This is the one that I almost started as "Plan to..." - no planning, only DOING!)
  • Organizing homeschool class offerings
5 Things I'm Thankful for:
  • My health.
  • JP's health
  • Good friends all over the globe
  • My parents
  • My siblings
What are your 5 and 5?

MAIL CALL:  Junk mail...and a package for JP from Amazon.com - a birthday present from our friend, Chris. 

WHAT'S FOR DINNER?  Eggs!  JP wanted to learn to make as many different styles of eggs as possible.  We were supposed to make omelettes last night, but instead had dinner at my grad school's orientation program.  So, we did omelettes tonight...sort of.  I showed JP my omelette technique, and supervised while he made himself a decent, but slightly overcooked bacon omelette.  I made myself a veggie omelette...that didn't turn out very omeletty and instead was an ugly, but yummy, mess in a bowl.
In the big picture on the left: JP is being funny, and yelling at his eggs and bacon like he is their drill sergeant. Top right: giving me a "Not another picture, mom!" kind of look.
Middle right: The best pic I could get of JP's omelette.
Bottom right: My mess of eggs and veggies (red, orange, yellow bell peppers, scallions, tomato).


Monday, August 29, 2011

Schnofelurpalumphagus...

...is the word of the day.  Do you ever make up words?  Or, try to invent your own language?  We do it all the time at our house.  The new words and language don't have to have real meaning attached.  Instead, just make them up and use the tone and volume of your voice, combined with your expression and body language to convey meaning.  This is a fun game when the kids are bored, or you feel a need to interact in a different way.  Give it a try.  Walk up to your child right now, and say a random made up word, but put real emotion and energy into it.  Then, see how they react!  Give it a try, and let me know what happens!  My son and I have had entire conversations just using made up words and noises, and by observing one anothers body language and facial expressions.  A fun, easy way to relax and connect...

Yesterday, I planned out our first six weeks of the homeschool year...we won't actually start lessons until September 6th, however.  That is the day my grad school classes begin, and the day my tutoring students go back to school...seemed like a natural start to the homeschool year as a result.  I'm very excited for all of us!

Although my classes don't start until next Tuesday, I volunteered today for new student orientation (this will be my second year in the program).  It was great fun to see old friends, and make new ones.  I took the boy with me this evening for a new student welcome dinner - basic green lettuce salad, grilled chicken, fruit salad, dinner rolls, lemonade, grilled veggies.  Then, I took the boy to CVS for junk food - he's been good, he deserves a treat.

To make up for the lack of pictures in yesterday's curriculum planning post, I have four pictures for you today...but no mail call...again...I'm considering getting a P.O. Box and posting my address on this blog just to entice you all to send me snail mail...no, just kidding.  It would be nice to get more mail, but I don't want to spend money on a P.O. Box.  It would defeat the purpose of the careful budgeting that I've been doing over the past two months.

Did I mention previously that we were without cold water for a couple of days last week?  It had nothing to do with Hurricane Irene.  Just dumb luck - the bathroom above ours had a leak AND the boiler in our building had a burst pipe.  That translated to no running cold water for about two and a half days.  Our hot water was so hot that it was probably illegal...as a result, I ended up with this:




and this:



But, I also ended up with this:
I had a few zucchini about to go bad in the fridge, and decided to make zucchini bread.  Don't you just adore those baking dishes?  I will do a separate post on them at another date, as I am trying to research them a bit and find out if they are worth anything.  I scored them for free from a friend who is moving out of state and getting rid of almost everything she owns!  They are definitely vintage...and so cute!

Will post the zucchini bread recipe another day...want to tweak it just a bit more first.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Planning for fall...homeschool curriculum options and ideas...

Apologies in advance for the lack of fun and interesting pictures in this post!

I've been patiently waiting for a box from Book Samaritan before I plan our full homeschool curriculum for the fall.  JP is going into what would be the 8th grade if he were in public school.  I don't care so much about grade levels, and rather focus on can he doe the work I give him?  Is it too challenging?  Not challenging enough? While I wait to see what goodies Book Samaritan decides to send, I'm planning our first few weeks with materials we already have on hand.


Language Arts - I believe very much in giving children a wide variety of reading materials, spanning a range of levels.  What we happen to have on hand for literature will definitely be on the easier end for JP, but that will allow him to enter our school year feeling both relaxed and confident.
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
  • The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
  • The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
  • A unit on Edgar Allen Poe
  • A poetry unit based on lessons by Kenneth Koch (see this post) 
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Elements of Style by Strunk and White
  • Megawords for vocabulary and spelling
  • Variety of writing units from around the web
  • Continue working on a story JP began early in the summer

Science - For science, I believe in teaching both evolution and creation, along with discussion about why people place faith in one or the other, and whether it is possible to believe that both are correct. 
  • The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan
  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Middle School Chemistry 
  • Make Your Own Web Page by Ted Pederson and Francis Moss
  • Variety of chemistry, electricity, magnetism, and geology experiments from around the web

Math - Finish the pre-algebra workbook JP had started last spring



Social Studies -
  • Geological features unit
  • Map skills unit
  • State report
  • Nation report
  • Mythology unit

Everything else -
  • Piano lessons
  • Golf lessons
  • Yoga 
  • Hiking
  • A series of nature classes at the local Audubon center
  • Work on Russian using Byki.com 

MAIL CALL Our poor little mail box has been entirely empty for a couple of days. We had junk mail, and one note for JP's birthday on Wednesday and Thursday.  Friday - nothing.  Saturday - nothing. Sunday - always nothing...but our mail carrier comes at random times, so I checked to be sure I hadn't missed Saturday's mail.  I am expecting a book from Paperback Swap, and a few pen pal letters, so I'm very anxious to find something in ye old mailbox.

DINNER CHECK I neglected to get out the camera while we made dinner tonight.  Mistake...I will remember the rest of the week.  Tonight, I taught JP to make scrambled eggs, to cook bacon bits (bacon cut into small pieces), and how to roll them up in egg roll wrappers, and fry them for breakfast egg rolls.  He loved helping with dinner tonight.  In fact, he enjoyed it so much that we decided to try a new style of eggs every night for the rest of the week.  We are going to be using Alton Brown's egg chapter from the book I'm Just Here for the Food: Version 2.0 as the basis for our dinners this coming week.  I promise pictures... 

    Saturday, August 27, 2011

    On dreams, realities are made...

    Do you have a dream?  One that you want to turn into reality?  What are you going to do TODAY to make that reality happen?
    Last night I had a dream that the Kardashian family was in my circle of acquaintances, and somehow Josh Duhamel was a Kardashian too.  We were sitting at a large conference table, with the Kardashians on my right, and pseudo-Kardashian Josh, across from me.  To my left were several of my good friends from real life, including my bff's Sheri, Beth, and Casandra.  In my dream, I was telling the Kardashians about my plans for the future, and then I told them that they would be funding my new t-shirt line.  Joshie tried to take control, saying that they would be happy to help, but that they would take control, and guide me.  I said, "No thank you.  What you are going to do is underwrite me, and I am going to be in total control of everything.  You'll do what I say, when I say, how I say.  This is my baby, and I merely need your money to make it happen."  Josh, the dear boy, was shocked and could only stare, mouth agape, as his mama Kardashian said, "Of course dear!"  One of the Kardashian daughters began to complain, and was shut down by mama Kardashian who told them all to stop their whining.  Mama Kardashian basically gave me what I needed financially, and my friends gave me their love and support. It was amazing!

    (This post has been edited, and irrelevant parts removed.)

    Yes, I mentioned Hurricane Irene.  We live just north of New York City.  I anticipate really high winds, lots of rain, and hopefully nothing else.  We are not in an evacuation zone, and our town's website indicates that we should be safe if we stay indoors, and just wait it out.  That is what we plan to do.  Just in case, I plan to pot water tonight, clear window sills of photos, books, knick-knacks, and stuff like that.

    Grad school orientation is this coming week, and I've volunteered for hospitality to welcome new students.  My second year in the program begins September 6th.  I'm excited, but also a little nervous.  Although I came out of spring term with some great poems, it was an awful term, and I'm still recovering.  My word smithery juices are low and need replenished.  Spring term drained me entirely.

    I haven't posted much about our homeschooling plans for fall, and plan to sit down this weekend to plan for the first few weeks of the school year for JP.  He is in 8th grade if you go by age.  So far he is signed up for golf lessons (PE), and for a few nature classes at a local Audubon center.  I have some curriculum but am still waiting on a box from Book Samaritan.  Depending on whether we get any math curriculum from Book Samaritan, I may break down and buy Teaching Textbooks curriculum.  I've got a stack of books for literature, as well as several lesson plans on various poets and writers.  For history, I am thinking about a new approach involving field trips to local historical sites (within two hours of our home), with unit studies before the trips.  For science, JP has requested to do chemistry AND geology.  I have a full chemistry curriculum (FREE online from the American Chemical Society!), and have planned a unit-study type of approach to geology, including lapbooking, adapted for middle school.  I am also toying with the idea of having JP blog about his geology lessons...we'll see...  I realize this is all very sketchy and not very well laid out.  After the weekend, and our fun with Hurricane Irene, I hope to have a more cohesive plan.  JP's first day of school this year will be September 6th which corresponds to my first day, and the first day of school for my tutoring students.

    MAIL CALL:  This has been a sucky week for mail! Just bills and junk mail.  Sigh...

    WHAT'S FOR DINNER? Tonight, I plan to thaw soup that I froze a while ago (veggie noodle), and I will probably bake up some naan bread. 

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    Video games with a side of cabbage and carrot egg rolls...

    We have been without cold water, or a flushable toilet for about 36 hours.  I was beginning to really despair when I finally! got through to the building management company today.  Apparently there was a major pipe burst in the boiler room.  At the same time, repairs were happening in the apartment above ours.  No warning about the water being off...no notice that there was an emergency and we'd be without water.  Just BLAMMO...  Well, thankfully, the water was all back on about 20 minutes after I hung up with the management company.  They also assured me that a contractor would be calling me about some other repairs that I've been pestering them about...fingers crossed that the contractor actually calls and can show up in the next few weeks!

    Anyhoooo...with the water drama resolved, I was able to wash up a massive amount of dirty dishes, clean the counters, and get on with life.  JP didn't seem too bothered by the water issue, and primarily spent the last day and a half with his new video game, Deus Ex.  Since it was his birthday on Wednesday, I allowed him to stay up late and play the game as much as he wanted on that day only.

    Before you run out and get this game for your kid, you should know that it is rated M - and with very good reason.  Of all the rated-M games that JP has expressed interest in, this one has by far been the most violent and bloody.  The online reviews that I read all did a poor job of expressing just how bloody this game can be, not to mention the swearing - more than I expected.  Before I allow JP to get any game rated T or M, I make him figure out why the games have those ratings, and to read multiple reviews, including those posted at Common Sense Media.  He has to convince me that the games are ok before I allow him to play them, or buy them.  I think we both weren't entirely prepared for Deus Ex.



    That said, however, we talk frequently about video games and game violence, language, drug use, sexual themes, and all aspects of the games (and of movies...).  We talk about the fact that these are just games; they aren't real.  We talk about the fact that some people get so wrapped up in their games and in these fantasy worlds that they begin to obsess and become game addicts.  We talk about the pros and cons of gaming in general.  When was the last time you had a talk with your child about these types of things?  As a result of our discussions, my son has made up his own mind about some games being too violent or graphic.  He's told a friend, "Dude, I think you are a little too into this.  It's just a game.  We should take a break and do something else for a while."  Talk to your kids...they need to hear you.  Talk to your kids so that they are empowered to make smart choices when you aren't around.  Your kid may not want to hear it, but you need to talk to them anyhow...

    Enough soap boxing...on to the cabbage and carrot egg rolls!  Originally, I had planned to make these for dinner last night, but with the water drama, that didn't happen.  And, I was so excited to have the water on this morning that I couldn't wait until dinner time to cook! These turned out so much better than I expected!  JP is allergic to soy sauce, and I don't like oyster sauce, plum sauce, or many other sauces that seem to be in or accompany many egg roll recipes.   So, this recipe is without those additions...  These came out tasting fresh and had just the right amount of crunch to go with the soft veggies inside.  I should also tell you that I am terrified of frying anything in a pan of oil, so I did more turning and fiddling than necessary while cooking these.

    Amended to add:  I have been reading egg roll recipes all week, and although I used just what was in my own fridge, and took measurements, tasted and adjusted, etc along the way, I realized today that my mind was also guiding me along the lines of recipes I had read, in particular the peanut sauce recipe from Love Veggies and Yoga.  You can read the original recipe HERE.

    Cabbage and Carrot Egg Rolls with Sunflower-Sesame-Ginger Dipping Sauce
    1 package of egg roll wrappers (I used 8 out of the entire package of Nasoya brand wrappers.)
    1/2 of a red cabbage (mine came out to about 3/4 of a cup)
    1 large carrot, peeled (about 2/3 of a cup)
    1/4 C sprouts (We had alfalfa sprouts on hand, and I packed the 1/4 cup.)
    4 scallions, including green parts
    1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
    salt and pepper to taste
    olive oil for frying (or your favorite type of oil)


    Shred your cabbage and carrot.  Make sure the cabbage and carrot pieces are small enough that they won't rip your wrapper when you fold it up.  Dice the scallions.  I like to peel my carrot, and then just use the peeler to keep going and make thin curly strips from the carrot instead of bothering with a knife.  You could also grate the carrot.  If you haven't minced your ginger, do so now...peel the skin off first.


    Add 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil to your frying pan.  Add all of your vegetables, including the sprouts and ginger.  Cook, stirring and turning frequently, until soft. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding salt or pepper, if you like. Set aside to cool.


    Once your veggies have cooled, place an egg roll wrapper on the counter in front of you, fill and roll according to package directions (mine had a nice graphic on the back, Nasoya brand...available in our grocery's produce section).  


    Pour a few Tbsp of olive oil in your frying pan, and gently place a few egg rolls in the hot oil, turning occasionally as they become golden brown and crispy.  I pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and no more...I am way to chicken, and recall an incident involving a friend's sister being badly burned by spattering hot oil.  Once browned on all sides, set aside on a plate layered with paper towels to soak up any excess oil (I used so little oil there was not much to soak up!).






    To make the dipping sauce:
    1/3 C sunflower seed butter (or peanut or almond butter...whatever you prefer)
    1/4 C maple syrup
    1/4 C vinegar (just plain white vinegar works fine)
    1/4 C sesame oil (the flavor really does make a big difference!)
    2 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and minced
    1/4 tsp chili powder (I found the sauce was a bit too sweet without the chili powder...the chili powder gives a little heat and kick)


    Use a blender (I used my immersion blender) to combine the ingredients until smooth.  My sauce turned out very thick.  You could thin it with more syrup, vinegar, oil, or even just plain water.  Taste, and adjust seasoning.


    Serve two or three egg rolls with a small dish of dipping sauce, and enjoy!


    Our mail has been coming quite late so I don't have a mail call entry for today...


    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Birthday boy is fast asleep...

    Since we homeschool, and have no pressing errands or appointments today, I allowed JP to stay up all night last night.  This was in honor of his 13th birthday.  I am writing this at 10am, and he just fell fast asleep on the living room floor.  Of course, I don't want to entirely throw off his sleep schedule for the next few days, so I will wake him up around 2pm or so, and make sure he is back in bed at a reasonable time tonight.  It is tempting to go for a bike ride after waking him, but as you will read below, getting a shower after might not be so easy...




    Birthday cake - lemon on lemon with chocolate sprinkles.
    While it was wonderful to celebrate JP's bday yesterday, it wasn't exactly the best day for me.  I woke to NO WATER in the kitchen or bathroom!  I knew we might have service disruptions to our gas and electric due to repairs at street level, but there was no mention of the water being shut off!!!  If I had known, I would have gotten up extra early to shower, and pot some water for use over the course of the day.  I would have washed my sink full of dishes the night before. I would have done ALL of the laundry on Monday instead of just half.  Sigh...such is life.  Full of unexpected twists and turns.  Now the HOT water is on, but not the cold.  Not fun, and not sure how long it will last!  Might be asking a friend to use her shower if it lasts beyond today!

    How do you cope with such unexpected events?  I wonder how my neighbors coped?  What about people with 9 to 5 jobs that needed to shower, shave, etc to prepare for their workday?  How did people cope before indoor plumbing?  Although I enjoy camping and hiking, and don't care if my campsites have showers, I do enjoy my plumbing at home!

    I have two other bits of news:

    First, I've added MYSTERY sets of envelopes to our Etsy shop!  Each pack is filled with envelopes from our growing pile of random upcycled, recycled, photographic, and other envelopes.  These are all extras or ones that don't quite fit a good theme for a complete set.  As such, we are just pulling twenty at a time from our pile, and shipping them on to you for a fabulous price!  Check them out HERE...

    Envelopes of all styles!
    Second, our post on how I manage as a homeschooling, single, grad student mom was featured by the Gifted Homeschooler's Forum on their Facebook page this morning!  Read that post HERE.

    MAIL CALL:  So far, nothing today.  The last few days have been very sloooooow for snail mail.  I am expecting a few things for JP (bday cards, maybe a gift or two), and eventually we should (I hope!) get a box of homeschooling materials from Book Samaritan.  If you've not heard of Book Samaritan, they are a wonderful charity organization that helps homeschooling families by supplying FREE materials.  Check them out HERE.

    WHAT'S FOR DINNER:  Tonight, dinner will be dependent entirely on the water situation...our hot water is so hot that I can't easily wash dishes or do anything with it unless I fill a bucket or bowl and let it cool.  If the water situation hasn't been remedied by this evening, we may just have cereal for dinner!  If the water situation is fixed, we'll have vegan veggie rolls!  I need to wash and prep the veggies, as well as cleaning a pan to cook them in!  Unfortunately, the wrappers I bought to make the rolls are the kind that really need to be cooked.  They taste awful raw.  Again, had I known about the water situation, I would have bought a different type of wrapper to make raw spring rolls!  Sigh...


    Wednesday, August 24, 2011

    JP is 13! Happy Birthday!

    Wow! I can't believe my boy is 13 years old!  He has gone from a grumpy, colicky baby to a happy, and mature young man.  I am so proud of the path he has set for himself - he said to me recently, "Mom, no one is ever going to pressure me to do something stupid, or something I don't want to do.  No one!"  Yes, I am having a "proud mommy moment" - the kind that makes the eyes of strangers or the childless glaze over; the kind that makes moms of less well behaved kids shoot looks of venom.  But, when we are proud of our children, why shouldn't we celebrate them?  They are wonderful creatures, full of love and life.  I once had someone say to me, when they found out we homeschool, "What makes you think your child is so special?"  My response was, "What makes you think yours isn't? ALL children are special." 

    Even though it is my son's birthday today, and thus feels like a special day for both of us, I want to challenge you to find a way to make your children feel special today.  It doesn't have to be big.  Just do one little extra thing - an extra hug (keep hugging until THEY tell you to stop), a small handwritten note on the pillow before bed, a smiley face with ketchup for dipping their snack...and, while you are at it, do something for your spouse or significant other, and for a few friends.  Because EVERYONE is special in some way.

    A look back at my young man's first 13 years...

    Welcome to the world, little man!





    Just out of the bath...



    Life with an eye patch is easy when you have Mickey around!



    Preschool, just before Christmas. (I just love his expression!)



    Swim lessons.



    JP with Nan, me, and Jenny the dog.



    First missing tooth!



    Making a new friend in San Francisco.



    Halloween costume contest at Legoland (second from the right).



    Karate, belt promotion.



    Science class at Lawrence Hall of Sciences in Berkeley, CA.



    Making apple pie.



    At the driving range, deciding which club to use.



    When I checked earlier today, the mail hadn't come yet, but JP is just desperate for some birthday cards! We started the day with breakfast in bed.  He requested eggs (omelet style), bacon (he chose turkey bacon), and a glass of water (but I gave him lemon ginger tea).  Then, he played video games for a bit.  When he was ready, we headed out to the video game store where he used one of his gifts (a gift card plus cash) to buy a new game.  He's been happily playing the new game for a few hours now, stopping periodically to come and tell me about it.  In a bit, we will head out to Applebees for a birthday dinner, then home for cake (lemon cake with lemon frosting - pictures tomorrow).  Overall, a nice and relaxing birthday.  Next week, we will celebrate again at a water park with JP's best friend.

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Postcrossing...

    JP and I love to send and receive postcards and snail mail.  I realized this morning that I neglected to mention Postcrossing in my post about turning children into writers.  Postcrossing is a great, low-commitment, and low-pressure, way to encourage writing.  Postcrossing is a post card exchange program, and great fun!  To date, my son and I have sent 79 cards, and received 82. We currently have 8 that are "traveling" around the world.  These 8 are on their way to China, Taiwan, Vermont, Latvia, Netherlands (2 cards), Russia, and Germany.  It is so much fun to receive a handwritten postcard in the mail!  My son and I love to look at the cards, read the messages, and study the postage stamps.  We've received a wide variety of cards...take a look at a few...
    From Finland (my favorite postcard EVER!)
    From Estonia
    From Boston (as noted on the card)
    This card came from China, despite the fact that it has a US mail box on it!
    From my friend Chris, all the way from Japan.
    From my best friend, C, in California.
    From the Netherlands (aka - Holland, as noted on the card).
    From Canada (as noted on the card).
    Beautiful stamp from Valerie in France.

    In other blog-related news, I plan to implement two new features to encourage me to blog more regularly:
    * Mail Call - where I share with you the post cards, and other fun mail that JP and I receive.
    * What's for dinner? - exactly what it sounds like.  I tell you what we had for dinner, and share a few recipes.

    Today's mail had nothing interesting.  For dinner? We ate an Israeli salad, rice, and garlic bread.  My friend's dad makes this for her family frequently.  They are from Israel and have told me that it is one of the most common dishes eaten there.  My friend's family often have it as an afternoon snack.  Although I found many recipes online, they all were slightly different, and I didn't have the exact amounts of some ingredients for some of the recipes.  So, thinking about the flavors, I just created my own:

    Malea's Version: Israeli Salad

    * 1 tomato, diced
    * 1/4 of a large red onion, diced
    * 1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced
    * 1/4 of an orange bell pepper, diced
    * 1/4 of a yellow bell pepper, diced
    * 1 medium cucumber, diced (skin on, seeds removed if you wish)
    * 3 Tbsp lemon juice
    * 1/4 Cup olive oil
    * dash salt
    * dash pepper

    Mix the veggies together in a bowl. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a small bowl (I just mixed them right in the measuring cup used for the olive oil).  Pour the lemon juice and olive oil mixture over the veggies.  Stir to coat the veggies in the dressing.  Taste, and adjust seasoning as necessary.  Eat!

    Sorry about the lack of a picture...ate it all without thinking to snap a photo!  Oh, but here is my one and only postcard from Israel:

    From Israel

    Friday, August 5, 2011

    Turning children into writers...

    Many children, like my son, don't have a natural enthusiasm for writing. For years it was a chore to get my son to write anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. Now, at almost 13 years old, my son writes every day. What changed? Do I force him to sit and write daily? No. Does some other teacher or tutor make him write every day? No. Instead, I changed a few of our family habits, and my approach to teaching my son to write. While we have used some specific writing, grammar, and general Language Arts curriculum (he is homeschooled), the most effective things have been the least academic. And, I am not talking about updating a status feed on Facebook, or text messaging... I am talking about creative writing, writing that communicates more than how one is feeling in 160 spaces or less. I'm talking about engaged, innovative, creative writing.

    Here are my tips and thoughts on helping children to become writers...

    First, make sure they have the tools to write! As obvious as this may seem, I am amazed when I arrive a student's house, and there are no pens or pencils to be seen. No paper. No notebooks. Nothing...how is one to write without the tools? I recommend putting out a pencil or pen jar, a tub of fun erasers, a pile of notebooks or paper. Make it easily accessible. And, those pages that you print off, then toss away? If the other side is blank, put it in a box for scratch paper - my son often uses scratch paper for sketching out new ideas or making notes.

    Writing and art supplies on top of a low bookcase in our kitchen. 

    I also try to provide a variety of notebooks from basic lined notebooks to fun, colorful journals, and even sketchpad style notebooks. July and August are a great time to stock up on notebooks, journals, and writing supplies - just check your local office supply or drug store for their great back-to-school sales! You should be able to find a wide selection of notebooks, pens and pencils for next to nothing! Notebooks are great for journaling, writing stories, keeping lists, and more.

    Notebooks from my Etsy shop!

    As an avid writer of letters, and with several pen-pals throughout the world, I am often asked about finding pen-pals for children. Honestly, I think it is a great idea, but children don't make very good pen-pals without extensive parental involvement and encouragement. Most of the time it is the parent who wants their child to have a pen-pal, and the child has little interest. Wait until your child is asking on their own about pen-pals, then investigate options. That said, I do have a few tips on encouraging children to write snail-mail letters...

    Get a fun, colorful box and fill it with cute stationery! The local dollar store usually has a good selection at a low price. Even better, take your child to pick out their own stationery! Your computer also probably has some cute fonts, backgrounds, and clip art to create your own. And, every time you see a rack of postcards, buy some! I was in New York City and found a deal where I got 20 postcards for $1! That is great, but if you can get even 5 postcards for a $1, that's a decent price. Anytime you travel, be sure to pick up postcards too. Have your kids use the stationery and postcards to write to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even to you! Have them write silly notes to their best friend, even if the child lives next door! They are more likely to keep writing to these people than they to a stranger that they find through a pen-pal exchange. Some of them, you don't even have to put in the post - just walk next door with the letter or postcard for the neighbor child! Your kids will love seeing the faces of their friends and family light up with joy...and, they will be encouraged to write another letter or postcard!

    Our family mailbox...I don't recall where we found it!

     
    To go along with the stationery and postcards, set up a family mailbox. This can be just an empty shoe box, or you can go all out and buy an actual mailbox at the local hardware store! Set it somewhere easily accessible to everyone in the family, and let the kids decorate it. Whenever they have something to tell you, but for some reason they don't want to just say it, they can write a note and put it in the mailbox. This is fun for sharing jokes, silly secrets, or a simple "I love you."



    These are all fun ways to engage your child in writing, without the stress of school-based assignments. The key to having your child continue to write is to be non-critical of the "fun" writing your child decides to engage in. Your child's spelling, grammar, and content will all be addressed by their teacher or when you go over their homework. Your child's journal, letters, postcards, and notes are informal expressions that they put their heart into. Expect them to make mistakes, but also expect the lessons from school to eventually work their way into the fun writing. Be supportive and encouraging about this fun and free writing! You want them to keep it up for a lifetime!

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    I'm curious...what are your food habits, concerns, and interests?

    I've recently begun to work at a raw foods juice bar and yoga center.  It got me thinking...how and why do people make the food-related choices that they make?  My son and I have food allergies and sensitivities which force some of our decisions, but what about the other choices we make?  I also recently watched a video on a raw foods store in Southern California which was raided by law enforcement, and the owner jailed.  (Watch the video here.)  What prompts people to choose raw, vegetarian, vegan, or any other specific dietary path?

     
    Tomatoes by BlackOrchid2004 on Etsy

     
    Although I'm not a vegetarian, or vegan, I do tend to shy away from meat (I just don't like it, and feel better when I don't eat it).  I also have a weird relationship with fruit - somehow, I have convinced myself that I don't like fruit, so I don't eat much of it.  I love berries, but the rest? Ewww...the reality, however, is that my fruit-distaste is purely mental!  If I get over my disgust at the thought of eating an apple or a pear, I always find that I ENJOY fruit and love the flavors!  Yet, time and time again, I think "Gross..." before I ever get to the "Yummm..."  I have no idea where that came from, but clearly I need to reprogram that part of my brain.


     
    Vibrant Asparagus by dreameryphotography on Etsy

    I'm curious...what are you food preferences?  Are you an omnivore? Are you vegetarian or vegan?  Do you have food allergies?  Do you follow a raw diet?  Spill the details, please!  I want to know!