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Now that cold temps and snow have finally arrived, soups, stews, and chili call like sirens from the kitchen.  I’ve shared my turkey chili recipe before, and it’s one that we always enjoy. I typically make a double batch, freeze half for the future, and all’s well.  I came across a different recipe this week that looked delicious, and decided to try it.  My family was surprised when they heard what I was making, “Chicken chili?  Why chicken?”  Yet afterwards, we were all glad I tried something new.

Southwest Chicken Chili

Crockpot cooking offers a great opportunity for kids to help with meal preparation. Especially in a recipe as simple as this one, ingredients are measured, poured, and mixed. Kids can help with every step, and other than using a can opener, there’s nothing sharp or tricky involved.  As always, the beauty of slow cooking becomes evident when you return home from a busy day to find dinner waiting, without the mess of last minute prep.

Creamy Chicken Chili

The biggest difference between this recipe and the one I usually make (other than the chicken) was the addition of the ranch powder and cream cheese.  We make our own ranch powder and keep a jar of it in the refrigerator (using this great recipe), and it worked beautifully.  The only change I made to the chili was to use salsa in place of the diced tomatoes, and I omitted the chili powder as a result.  I used two frozen chicken breasts, and cooked it on low for eight hours.  We ate it with shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and some crumbled tortilla chips, and it was delicious.  Really, really good. I will most definitely make this again.

Share your favorite crockpot recipe with our readers, especially ones suitable for kids in the kitchen.  Keep warm! Snow’s on its way.

A day of homeschooling is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re gonna get.  Not only do our activities vary from day to day and week to week, but the children offer more surprises than the schedule.  As their personalities develop and knowledge broadens, we engage in on-going discussions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I kept track of a recent Monday, marveling at the variety of moments that made up a “typical” day.

Late Wake-Ups

After a busy weekend, my sleepyheads slept later than usual.  My younger daughter woke up around 8, grabbed the laptop, and began her math.  (Math done willingly and independently, you ask?  Follow the link, you’ll understand).  My older daughter woke up an hour later, which meant she needed to get straight to work since we had a class in the afternoon.  Even though my kids are no longer little, I still maintain “never wake a sleeping baby.”  My older daughter began her math test, and the morning was underway.

The Sewing Box

I’m not sure how working on vocabulary in the dining room led to my little one finding herself in the closet downstairs, but suddenly, there she was.  She came upstairs with my grandmother’s sewing case, and sat on the floor to comb through it.  My grandma passed away a few months ago at age 94, and embodied values and skills that are no longer the norm.  Her sewing box was a perfect example of this- full of zippers, claps, snaps, antique buttons, and all kinds of sundries used for making one’s own clothing.  Even though the sewing box distracted us from school, what a neat historical lesson on then vs. now resulted.  We all agreed that Great-Grandma lived in the “Olden Days,” and I was relieved when my kids generously decided that my age qualified me as “from now.”

Lunch

Meal prep frequently serves as an educational activity.  Today’s lunch was brown rice wraps filled with rice, beans, and cheese, steamed mixed vegetables, and clementines.  As a quick interlude to seat work, my kids took turns heating their wraps on the stove, shredding cheese, and spooning the rice and beans onto their plates.  We discussed nutrition and the importance of including protein, fruits, and vegetables in our meal.  Then they cleaned up after themselves and emptied the dishwasher.  Life skills, hooray!

Science

We’re in the middle of a lesson on plant reproduction and life cycle.  Did you know that on a rainy day, the sperm cells of a fern plant swim down the stem to the egg?  I didn’t either, and frankly, would not have believed this if I had not read it with my own two eyes.  A few days ago a cable guy was repairing wires at our house while we were discussing how the sperm and egg of plants work similarly to humans.  I can only imagine what this poor guy must’ve been thinking as he overheard my kids asking questions about this process.

Stereotypes and the Portrayal of Women in the Media

What?  Yes, this came up today.  Over the weekend, my girls and their friend watched Clueless, the 1995 coming-of-age film about California-bred Cher and her gal pals.  After watching the movie, the girls had a realization- girls and boys are often portrayed in stereotypical ways.  In a nutshell, they wondered why girls are shown with messy hair and sweatpants, sadly eating ice cream out of the carton just because “a boy broke up with them.”  They couldn’t figure out– why don’t girls in media utilize social support?  Why should a girl feel devastated just because a boy broke up with her, and why can’t the girl be the one who ends things?  Why wouldn’t girls derive their worth from other aspects of their life?  They also noticed the girl trifecta- the smart girl, the pretty-but-dumb friend, and the follower.  They wondered why the athletic boys always coveted the “popular” girl, but that in the end, the shy, geeky guy often won her over.  Every time we watch a movie, I capitalize on the themes present, jumping on teachable moments.  Imagine my surprise when this time it was my kids initiating the discussion.

The Afternoon

After lunch, we attended a STEAM class at a local library.  In the car on the way there, my girls read geography lessons aloud, then we listened to a book on CD.  At the library, they built marble runs and interacted with other kids.  Back at home, they finished up school (practicing piano, working on a project due for a homeschool class on Wednesday, reviewed spelling words) then did their chores and helped me start dinner.  All in all, a successful day.

I receive the gamut of responses when sharing that I homeschool my kids.  Everything from, “Wow, that’s amazing, I could never do that,” to “My kids would never listen to me, yours must be saints,” to “You think you’re better than the teachers?  Do you even have a teaching degree?”  Many people ask questions, which I think is great, but others seem to think I’m either judging them for not homeschooling, or they judge me for whatever kind of freak I must be.

We’ve been homeschooling for almost five years, and you know what, perhaps I am a freak.  Day after day I’m living a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience.  Some days represent our ideal learning—peaceful, passionate, excited, efficient.  Other days end in a chaotic jumble of disorganization and frustration.  I view homeschooling as an extension of parenting.  It has always been my mission to choose the best foods,  activities, and experiences for my kids, and as a homeschooler, their education falls under this umbrella as well.

As for the “I could never do it” response I often hear, the truth is, you don’t know until you’ve tried.  Homeschooling is not for everyone, and I’m not implying otherwise.  Many parents find themselves successful despite initial doubts and insecurities.  I look at the ability to homeschool as a muscle.  At first, it’s weak.  It’s easy to doubt yourself, and hard to believe you will do a good job.  As the homeschooling journey begins, there are lots of opportunities to practice and strengthen this “muscle.”  Eventually, you become a homeschooling athlete, completing a triathlon with confidence and skill.

So who is the homeschooling mom?  She’s kind of like the mom of little kids, but years later.  Moms of infants and toddlers rarely get a break- the intensity and needs of young children tend not to let up.  Homeschooling shares similarities.  While the children mature and their needs change, at the end of the day, you’re still meeting needs all day long. Homeschooling and parenting become blurred.  Sometimes mom serves as the teacher and other times, the teacher also has to be the mom.

The homeschooling mom cannot imagine what parents whose kids go to school do all.day.long.  (I know, you guys are busy, just a different kind of busy).  When she enrolls her kids in a two hour class, she fantasizes about the many, many things she will do in that time.  Grocery shopping!  Clean the house!  Nap!  Read!  Exercise!  Catch up on emails, phone calls, and paperwork!  Coffee with a friend!  Lunch date with the husband! Somehow, though, those two hours fly by and it ends up not being enough time. Exercising will have to wait for later (um, tomorrow), texting can suffice instead of calls, and we’ll see the husband during dinner, which will be made from what was already in the house, thank you very much.  The homeschooling mom won’t have her hair or nails done, because, when? She’ll be wearing yoga pants or jeans, because, why not?  She may stay in her pajamas on the rare day when no one has anywhere to be, and she’ll probably consent to reading and snuggles on the couch on a rainy afternoon.  She’ll have the kids cook lunch and count it as “culinary arts,” and realize that playing outside can count toward P.E.  She doesn’t get snow days, or sick days, or days off, but she also doesn’t have to say goodbye every morning, or make her hair presentable for afternoon pick-up.  She forgets to start dinner, leaves the laundry in the dryer (whoops), and brings the kids rollerblading at 10 am for “recess” because everyone needs a break.

In other words, she’s a mom.  Whether homeschooling or not, she parents the best that she can, makes mistakes, tries harder, reaches out for support, and hugs her babies tight. She may look a little more harried since she’s with the kids from morning to bedtime, but we’re all working in one way or another, whether we get paid or not.  No, homeschooling parents don’t have teaching degrees, but may have teaching backgrounds.  Their kids are not saints, but they know how to make all kinds of learning work.  They might just be amazing, but aren’t all moms?

When I was a mom of just one, I devoted tons of energy to fun projects.  I kept a water table in the kitchen, and filled it with rice, oats, shaving cream, or soapy water and toys. We did crafts with feathers and toilet paper tubes, walked through paint to create footprints on paper tapped to the floor, and made sparkly Gak.  After the birth of my second child, I kept this up for another few years.  I look back at pictures of my girls with paint in their hair, and who can forget the crunchy feeling of rice beneath our feet on the kitchen floor (ouch). What happened to that mom? The one who had the time to sit down and play, who didn’t mind a little extra mess, and possessed the energy find innovative ways to keep little hands happily occupied?

My food blog also documents a time that looks too good to be true.  I was cooking, from scratch, all the time.  Bread, yogurt, granola, muffins, trays of pureed vegetables, even bagels.  I still cook often, but rather than three times a day, I’m making batches of foods that can be stretched for a few meals, and loosely defining breakfast and lunch (sure, a cheese stick, an orange, and a muffin on our way out the door count!)  My love of cooking hasn’t changed, but my availability has, and also my willingness to dedicate so much time to the prep, cooking, and clean-up.

I worked full-time until my older daughter was two.  I nursed her all the way through that time, carrying a pump until she was… I’m not even sure how old. More than twelve months. She was tiny and didn’t eat much, and refused solid foods any time she had a cold, so nursing was essential.  When I look back at that time, my primary memories are of my husband, daughter, and I being silly and carefree.  Dancing around the living room in the evening, cuddles in bed, chasing one another around our tiny apartment.  I decided to stay home full time because I wanted to be the primary parent.  I had June Cleaver visions of perfectly running our lives with ease.  The house would be organized and spotless, every meal would be hot and organic, and there would be leisure time left over for playing, resting, and socialization.

I’m pretty sure if I came upon my former self, the young(er) and energetic version, I wouldn’t recognize her one bit.  I know now that June Cleaver moments only exist on television. I’m still running things as smoothly as possible- cooking, cleaning, laundry, homeschooling, errands, extracurricular activities, and socialization.  The main difference is that while my memories of the earlier days of motherhood felt leisurely, now time is flying by.  Sure, the baby days were challenging.  I had Post-Partum Anxiety, and was in the haze of sleepless nights and days filled with La Leche League meetings and changing one diaper after another.  Yet, I remember the toddler days as… relaxing? Have I edited my memories to only remember the best parts?  Does nature allow us to block out the darker times so that we continue to populate the planet?  Or, have I changed?  What has changed, exactly?  One child to two children.  A mom who is twelve years older, and approaching 40 instead of being in her late 20s.  A mom who has given her all, every moment of every day, and forgets to recharge. A mom who homeschools, and parents, and lives at her job 24-7 (and yet doesn’t get paid for any of it).  A mom who juggles life… and everything that goes with it.

I’m not alone.  We’re all the mom who gives her all.  Or the dad who gives his all.  The single parent, the widowed parent, the aunt/uncle or grandparent raising little ones. We’re all trying our best, but tired, and yet we keep going. We have to. Sometimes, looking ahead feels overwhelming, especially knowing the teen years are rapidly approaching.  We feel burnt out, stretched too thin, and just plain tired.  Yet other times, we can look back fondly on those energetic, young-parent moments.  We flip through photo albums, watch home movies, and feel that surge.  Of love, of peace, of being so very thankful.  So when we’re tired, a bone-weary, I-just-don’t-want-to tired, we can tap into those cherished memories as an elixir to get through another dreary January day.  We can allow ourselves to feel energized by the knowledge that we were young, energetic, and creative, and maybe, just maybe, there’s more of that energy left than we realized.  Tomorrow, I’ll get out the paint, unroll the paper across the kitchen floor, and we’ll leave behind our footprints. We’ll do a goofy dance around to the living room.  We’ll snuggle on the couch with a book.  The younger me didn’t care if things got a little messy, or if every chore wasn’t done, and somewhere deep down, she’s still there.  In me, and in you. So join me, tired mom, dad, or grandparent, and let’s find our old selves together.  Share your successes, challenges, and memories with our readers, below.

Somehow, we always end up with too many over-ripe bananas. In the summer, they’re easy to toss into smoothies, yet this time of year, they pile up. Eventually, I peel and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer, but who needs 100 bananas in the freezer?

I’m a recent Instagram convert (don’t ask what took me so long, but now I love it) and discovered the videos on there.  The time lapse videos, to be exact.  In one minute or less, you can learn how to glam up your eyeshadow, upcycle random household stuff into crafts, and cook.  I scrolled across a video that started with two bananas, and had to learn more. Forty-three seconds later, I was copying down the recipe and excited to try it out.

Banana Oat Muffins

Banana Oat Muffins

These muffins came together so quickly (my daughter did most of it herself) and we had fun deciding what toppings to try out.  We settled on blueberries, chocolate chips, and diced apple.  The recipe yielded 18 muffins rather than the dozen shown in the video, so we made six of each kind.  Since oats are used instead of flour, these muffins can easily be made gluten free by using gluten free oats.  With a short ingredient list and no need for even a butter knife, this recipe can be made entirely by kids.  Leftovers warmed up nicely in the toaster oven, making them perfect for a busy school morning.

Now that I’ve discovered the wonder that is time-lapse cooking, I’m excited to see what is out there.  It’s fascinating to watch new dishes come together right before your eyes, and copying down the ingredients as they flash across the screen offers a fun challenge.  What are your favorite video recipes?  Share with our readers, below.

My girls had a friend sleepover the other day, and they woke up hungry and wanting a breakfast that was “not cereal.”  Fortunately we’re on holiday break, so I could indulge their wishes and save cold cereal for a busy school morning.  I had some other tasks on the agenda, so I looked for something that would come together quickly.  I found potatoes that looked great and would go well with eggs and fruit, so I decided to give the recipe a try.

Breakfast Potatoes

Breakfast Potatoes

The most time consuming part of preparing this recipe was dicing the potatoes. They didn’t need to be peeled, which was awesome.  I always skip peeling unless absolutely necessary.  There are great nutrients in the skin, plus, who wants to peel potatoes?  I expected the recipe to call for browning in a frying pan, but they were able to go in the oven, which saved me the time of standing in front of the stove.  The recipe indicated that they may stick to the pan, and recommended lining the pan with parchment paper.  I think this was key to the success of the recipe, so I definitely recommend following this tip.  The only two changes I made  (of course) were to use fresh rosemary instead of parsley, and I browned them under twice under the broiler instead of once, stirring halfway through.

Breakfast with Potatoes

They were quickly gobbled, with many compliments about their crunchy outside, fluffy inside, and flavor. Definitely kid friendly.  They were simple enough to go with any kind of main dish.  The recipe has been pinned on my Pinterest Breakfast board, and will definitely have a recurring role in our repertoire. Share your favorite breakfast recipes with out readers, below.  Happy New  Year!

No matter what holidays your family does (or doesn’t) celebrate,  sweet treats are everywhere this time of year.  If you or someone in your life happens to be gluten-free, most of those babies are off-limits.  Instead of feeling left out, decide on what you’ve been missing the most, and bake to your heart’s content.  With great flour blends and tried-and-true recipes, no one needs to miss out on the sweet fun of the holiday season.  Our family has accumulated many hours of baking over the years, and I’m happy to share our tips for success, along with links to some of our favorite holiday cookies.

Some tips for gluten-free baking success

  1. Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Baking Mix: I’ve tried lots brands of all-purpose gluten-free flour mixes, and for years I mixed my own using recipes from a few trusted sources. Mixing your own yields great results but is a huge time commitment.  The original Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose mix contained bean flour, which in my opinion was not conducive for any sweet baked goods.  The 1 to 1 blend, however, rocks.  I’ve found it to work well in making breads, cookies, muffins, and just about everything.
  2. Parchment paper: Gluten-free baked goods respond well to parchment paper.  Use it to line the pan before baking brownies, to roll out dough for pies or cinnamon rolls, or on baking sheets so that nothing sticks.  Working with gluten-free dough is different than traditional gluten-full dough, and parchment paper truly helps you get similar results.
  3. Your digital scale: So many quality recipes give measurements for dry ingredients in grams or ounces rather than cups.  At first I didn’t understand, but the precision and ease of assembling ingredients speaks for itself.
  4. Shape before you bake: If you’ve baked with regular flour, you know that baked goods tend to round themselves out as they bake.  Muffins puff up, cookies spread, and loafs naturally take shape.  Not so with gluten-free!  If you leave your dough or batter oddly shaped as it goes into the oven, it will maintain that exact shape after baking. After much trial and error, I learned two tricks.  First, if you’re baking anything in a pan like bread or muffins, give the bottom of the pan a few taps on the counter to help even out the batter.  Keep a small bowl of water nearby, and occasionally dip a fingertip or two into the water and use it to smooth out the tops of baked goods, being careful to use the water sparingly.
  5. Don’t overbake: Gluten-free baked goods don’t mess around.  If you overbake them, they get hard and crumbly, more so than traditional baked goods.  Err on the side of caution, and set your timer for just a minute or two less than necessary.  Better to check on what’s baking and give it another minute rather than find it’s overcooked.

Peanut Butter Blossom

Cookie Favorites

I shared a number of our family favorites last year and the year prior.  Still at the top of the list are Peanut Butter Blossom, the red and green M&M chocolate chip, and sparkly sugar cookies.  Last year we tried candy cane cookies, which were delicious and will be back this year. Lemon sugar cookies have also been a staple.  We’ve always enjoyed this recipe, although for a cookie swap this year I tried a different recipe (with Bob’s 1:1 flour substituted) and we may have liked them even better!  More fluff, and fun to roll in powdered sugar before baking.

The M&M Chocolate Chip

 

In the end, it’s just about adding a little magic to your holiday season.  Sharing the love takes many forms, and a sparkly cookie platter is just one way. Spend some time with our family’s baking tips and favorite recipes, and make some memories.  Share your favorite recipes and baking tips with our readers, below. Happy baking!

It’s no secret that I love a) my crockpot and b) soup.  Combine a + b and I’m one happy mama.  With the busy holiday season and cold days, coming home to a warm, healthy meal that was prepped in the morning is a gift in and of itself.  I was looking to make something different the other day, and had frozen chicken breasts and a bag of potatoes that I wanted to use.  I couldn’t think of anything offhand, so I did some Googling.  The search resulted in a plethora of options, so I read through them until I found one that looked good.  Hearty potatoes, chicken, carrots and celery, some turkey bacon to add flavor-depth… yum. Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I was able to make a decent meal without a trip to the store.  This recipe also had a few steps that could easily be assisted by my kids, which is always a bonus.

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Healthy Slow Cooker Chicken Potato Soup

I followed the recipe almost exactly.  (Anyone who knows me just fell over in shock). There wasn’t anything I needed to omit or modify in order to make it gluten-free, which is awesome.  I used turkey bacon, which I had in the freezer but thawed really quickly by running the edge of the package under warm water in order to separate four slices. After these were crisped in a frying pan, I put the remaining ingredients into the crockpot.  I don’t always like crockpot recipes that require pre-cooking some ingredients as that kind of defeats the purpose, but for certain ingredients, like bacon, I get it. The chicken breasts were frozen (not shredded like shown in the recipe photo), but I knew that’d be fine since ultimately it would break up in the liquid.  Most soup recipes cook all day on low, so I was surprised to see this one call for cooking on high.  Since my crockpot is newer and cooks quickly, I was able to cook it for six hours rather than a whole day, and it was fully cooked.  My kids helped peel and slice the potatoes, carrots, and celery, so I count that as cooking with kids.

After about four hours of cooking on high,  I could tell the chicken breasts had softened up.  I gently shredded them with two meat forks, so that they would absorb the broth. After two more hours, the liquid was bubbly.  I tested the potatoes and carrots, which were fork-tender and ready to eat.  In order to give the soup some depth and creaminess, I ran the immersion blender through it just a little.  I made sure to break up the chunks of chicken and some of the vegetables, but left it very chunky. The soup was extremely hot due to being cooked on high, so it required scooping into bowls for a good cooling period before it was ready to serve.  The recipe photo showed shredded cheese on top, but it didn’t appear to need it, so I skipped it.  I could put cheese on most anything, so that says a lot about the flavor of the soup.  With the diced turkey bacon, it had a richness that seemed complete on its own.

This was a big hit.  My husband can be really picky about soup (he prefers dinner on a plate, not in a bowl) but the turkey bacon seemed to sway him into concluding that the soup was enough to be “dinner.”  My kids loved it, as it wasn’t too spicy and contained nothing that needed to be eaten around (like zucchini, whose presence always offends them when it’s in soup).  It made a wonderful amount- plenty for dinner with enough left over for another night.  That’s always a huge bonus, as another dinner that can just be heated and eaten makes me really happy.  I guess it doesn’t take much to win me over.

Overall, A+.  Easy to make without any fussy ingredients, unique soup (no beans or pasta, as so many tend to have), healthy, gluten-free without any substitutions, and one simple enough for the kids to help prep.  I’m looking forward to eating it again tonight.  My husband would like to add that “pork bacon would bring out a whole different flavor.” I don’t eat or cook with pork, though, so he’ll have to make it himself if he’d like to test that out. Share your favorite soup recipes with our readers below, or your feedback on this one. Happy (almost) Holidays!

Pre-kids, I was fairly laid-back.  It was easy to be carefree and fun-loving when my job was pretty much to worry only about me, myself, and I.  Fast forward twelve years, and my responsibilities have broadened to include caring for my two girls, three pets, a husband, and sometimes extended family, all who have varied needs.  I’m now the serious one, and I suppose I’ve embraced that, because I keep things running smoothly with my lists, planning, and schedules.

Sometimes, though, being the grown-up is a drag, and kids learn to tune their parents out. There are times when I can’t repeat myself one.more.time.  No one is listening, or my kids are squabbling, or I find myself caught in “mommy mode.”  I can’t remember exactly how she came about, but one day, I invented a fun-loving alter-ego, Lady Leaf Lover.  She speaks in a British accent and offers only compliments and encouragement.  Lady Leaf Lover doesn’t appear too often, but when she does, my girls greet her with hugs and enthusiasm. Sometimes she invites her husband, Lord Leaf Lover, to make a cameo, and he’s an even bigger goofball. The whole process gets everyone in hysterics, and whatever scuffle the Leaf Lovers interrupted is long gone.  Should you introduce a Lady Leaf Lover to your parenting repertoire, and if so, how?

Pick a true alter-ego

If you’re the serious one, your alter-ego should be funny.  If you’re the goofy parent, let your new character be as serious as a General.  No matter who you choose, you want to both shock and crack-up your brood.

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Go with a wacky name

Who IS Lady Leaf Lover, and where on Earth did she get her name?  I really don’t know, but my girls googled her and couldn’t find any evidence that she’d ever posed for a photograph.  Regardless, every time she surprises the girls by popping in, her trills of “Darlings!  I’ve missed you!” pause any conflicts, and their attention is immediately riveted.  Mrs. Smith might be funny if she tried hard enough, but an absurd name really lightens the mood.

Be positive

Parents are great at giving orders and doling out consequences, but what kid is excited for that?  Your alter-ego, however, offers nothing but love.  When the kids are overwhelmed by a task, Lady Leaf Lover swoops in with encouragement and fun ways to get the job done.  She’s patient, she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and help out a little, she doesn’t get cross, and no one gets mad at her.

Use a funny voice and/or accent

When Lady Leaf Lover first came to visit, she spoke with a British accent.  That fact is both comical and unfortunate.  Comical, because I am terrible at accents, and often waver into Scottish, Jamaican, even Western; unfortunate for the same reason.  Her voice is high, squeaky, and silly.  “Get ready for bed!” sounds much funnier when Lady Leaf Lover says it, and for some reason, my kids are more willing to listen.

Lighten the mood

Your alter-ego is your tool for when the daily parenting tricks are not working, and everyone needs a change of pace.  There are times when we’re all frustrated and I know the situation could go downhill fast.  At that moment, I’ll take a deep breath, quietly exit the room, and find some strength from deep within.  I return with a, “Helloooo!” and everyone brightens.  It’s a signal that we’ve shifted gears and turned a tense situation around.  It might sound silly, but there’s a lesson there.  When things are getting out of hand, it’s better to take a step back and find a positive way to deal with things rather than to let it escalate.  Humor isn’t always appropriate, and there are plenty of times when I’m not in the mood.  Alter-egos are like a secret weapon to be enacted only when the time is right.

Parenting is hard work.  There are tantrums, disagreements, homework, and bedtime. There are times when being a parent feels easy and can be done with grace, and other times when every morsel of energy doesn’t feel like enough.  There’s a time and a place for all kinds of parenting, and it helps to turn to humor when it’d be just as easy to turn to anger.  Channel your inner Lady Leaf Lover, and share your experiences with our readers, below.  Tootles, Darlings!

Throughout a typical stretch of homeschooling, we have productive days yet plenty of cringe-worthy moments.  Homeschooling is as much about the journey as it is the destination. It’s not just about what the kids learn, but how they learn it.  Ideally, with some passion, excitement, freedom, creativity, and self-led interest.  As my kids mature and their learning needs change, I sometimes feel like we’re reinventing the wheel.  When I really think about it, though, it’s more like fine-tuning, and I’m good with that.  I want our homeschooling experience to be ever-changing, and evolving to meet all of our needs. Yet at the core, I’ve hit upon certain nuances that help the process feel more fluid, less overwhelming, and minimize chaos.

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Organization

Organization serves as the backbone of how I make things work.  Like all parents, I’m wearing many hats, and plenty often, I’m overwhelmed.  A few subtle tricks have helped make life easier.  Just as I did when I was a student, I keep a detailed planner of assignments and projects.   Seeing what needs to get done in writing provides a visual that takes the burden off of one’s memory and allows for a concrete tracking of progress.  And who is a stranger to the delight of crossing something off of a to-do list?  Not only do I plan out what we hope to cover each week, but I break it down by day and subject.  It’s all written in pencil, because, you know, Life.  I took this a step further and we put a label on the front of each of the kids’ books, notebooks, and folders, marking not just the subject but the days of the week on which it is used.  Finally, each day when they are putting away their completed work, they prep the next day’s work and leave it piled on a shelf or chair. It allows them to begin their work after breakfast with minimal prep and fumbling.  We have a homeschooling bookshelf- top shelf for supplies and reference books, they each have a shelf of their own, and the bottom shelf is for joint subjects and manuals.

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The Library

The library serves as a the homeschooler’s hub for resources and community connections. Not only do we save an inordinate amount of money by utilizing books and online resources such as a foreign language program, but the library graciously allows us to meet there for homeschooling purposes whenever we’re working with other families.   Not to mention, there are always enrichment opportunities such as science club or art classes throughout the library system. Having this support has greatly enhanced our homeschool experience.

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The Internet

Once upon a time, I felt like I needed to physically obtain materials to supplement our curricula.  Little by little, I’ve discovered so many online resources that allow us to access what we want, when we need it.  Whether it be an animated video to demonstrate mitosis, sound clips of a composer’s work, or passages from a poet, we have found so very many fascinating items on the internet.  Equally as important, we’ve made great friends through online homeschooling groups, purchased materials at a significant discount by joining forces with other homeschoolers, and participated in awesome field trips that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Chores

Giving my kids some daily responsibilities around the house allows me just enough breathing room to focus on their schooling or gasp, myself (rarely).  The way I think about it, I give the bulk of my daytime hours to their schooling, and in return, they give back some of that time by doing chores.  When they grow up, they’ll know how to cook for themselves, keep things clean, and do laundry.  In the meantime, it helps our house run more smoothly.

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Color Coded by Child

Flexibility

If I had things my way, we’d keep to a schedule that would make the military proud.  Any parent knows that while goals are nice, kids have other plans.  Any homeschooling parent multiplies this by ten.  So while I have my daily expectations, I have learned to be flexible. Sometimes we need to get outside and run around.  Sometimes an important appointment or errand interrupts the school day, and our morning work becomes evening “homework.” Sometimes, things take too long, no one gets it, and we’re running behind.  And once in a while, we speed through everything and are done early.  I’ve learned to fit bits of work into whatever opportunity presents itself.  On weekend trips to visit friends and family, my husband drives so that I can read a chapter aloud.  A writing lesson might get done on Saturday morning.  Books on CD have turned our driving-to-and-fro-activities time into quiet, peaceful car trips while enjoying literature.  As much as I wish life would fit into clean, neat boxes on the calendar, I’ve learned not to stress (as much) and let things happen at their own true pace. This doesn’t come naturally, but after all, the process is about learning, not just checking off a to-do list, and I want my kids’ experience to reflect that.

Moms and dads, post in the comments below and share your tips and tricks with our HVP readers.  Whatever helps make your home run more smoothly and your school day a success, we want to hear about it.  Happy December!

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