Secret Math Weapon: Secret Codes

22 Sep


Photo courtesy of Adam Wilson

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but perhaps something clicked after I heard Andrew Pudewa of the Institute for Excellence in Writing speak at the homeschooling conference earlier this month.

He said creating relevance is the most important and effective thing you can do as a teacher.

He also said that my oft-recited tagline, “You’ll do your math, darn it and you’ll enjoy it!!!,” is really not going to get me or Mustard Seed anywhere.  In his language, that’s enforced relevance, the least effective and least pleasant kind.  The kind where you resort to making someone do something…or else!

The best kind is intrinsic relevance, where the student is interested in the material because they inherently enjoy it.  True, learning is a discipline and that means sometimes doing things you don’t enjoy to get a long-term pay-off, but there will be a lot of built-in opportunities for discipline.  Meanwhile, it’s very motivating to get a taste of the cool things you can do with your study.

Secret Codes

It doesn’t take much genius to know that young girls love secrets.  Mustard Seed has all kinds of secret lists and whisper-whisper moments with hands cupped over friends’ ears.  This top secret information usually turns out to be some kind of bombshell like, “Teeheehee, don’t tell my mom, but my favorite color is now blue instead of pink.”

Bingo!  Mommy sees this and and thinks “instant relevance.”

Since I’ve been making up her math worksheets anyway, today I wrote her a special message and encoded it.  She had to work problems, the answers to each of which revealed the letters of a message.  My code was very simple: I just numbered the alphabet, but this link lists several sites that do more complicated codes.   We had a lot of fun with this pyramid code also.  I’d really like to find a webpage where I can enter a personalized message and it churns out math problems at her skill level that will yield my secret message when she solves them, a quick way to do what I did today.

Mustard Seed seems to love this and not even really realize she’s doing math.  She was even adding up 2 two-digit numbers in her head while we were doing this!  I would be so eager to hear your tips, tricks and ideas for making math fresh and fun.  Leave me a comment!


Shaherazade Interactive and Week 1 & 2 Nitty Gritty

31 Aug

The school year is in full swing.  I’m not going to have a lot of time to blog, but when I do, I’m going to try to use this as an accountability tool.  So here goes…

We started last week.  I was satisfied with the actual amount of work we got done though not with our adherence to the schedule.  This was due in part to needing to go on Monday afternoon to buy some of the materials we should have already had.  As a result of The Headmaster having to work very late several nights, we ended up staying up late, which I was trying to curtail after a long summer of late nights.

Tuesday we had our first co-op.  Last year, we only did History and Science and one mom would teach/host per meeting.  This year, we are still meeting every other week, but we’re dividing the day up into 5 classes, with each mom being in charge of a subject.  We’re doing History, Science, English, French and Art.  It seemed to go really well, and I was most impressed that we actually stuck to the schedule we had planned.  I was amazed at how much learning we got in in the same amount of time we used to meet for last year.

We’re beginning this year with a review of last year.  I’m focusing on the Acts of the Apostles, but we’re also getting a headstart on Arabian Nights, since we’ll be covering the Islamic Empire in a few weeks.  While I’m trying to make sure we study music that correlates to the time period (Byzantine Empire through Renaissance) as much as possible, one of my favorite pieces of classical music is the symphony Shaherazade.  Yesterday I found the most amazing tool to go along with our reading of Arabian Nights.  It’s called Shaherazade Interactive and it tells the story of how Shaherazade saved her own life through storytelling, even as it introduces kids to the symphony, showing them how different instruments are the voices of the different characters and how the music gets sweeter or more dramatic to reflect the action in the story.  It has games that have kids sequence a part of the symphony and match of parts of an instrument, as well as more information on storytelling, the Persian miniature art form, the geography of Persia, and more.  On top of that, IT’S GORGEOUS!!!  They also have a create-your-own-opera of Hansel and Gretel and another one about Brahms.

This Week’s Nitty Gritty

Sacred Studies–Selected passages from Acts.  Last week we covered Paul’s conversion.  This week, we’ve done Ananaias and Sapphira (always a good one) and Peter’s imprisonment.  We’re also working on Acts 2:38 as a memory verse, as well as the Apostles’ Creed, complete with hand movements.  It’s amazing: those hand movements even helped me.

Math–We haven’t got our math program yet, so I’m doing it old school style by making up worksheets for Mustard Seed to practice her facts from last year and begin work on double digit addition.  I’m not sure if I’m teaching it the way Math-U-See does, but she seems to be getting it pretty easily.  I also introduced her to simple carrying, but I’m keeping this as “bonus” material until we’ve had a little more practice with the simpler stuff.

LiteratureArabian Nights

SpellingSpelling Power.  I’m working on using their system, rather than just flying through word lists.  This involves entering each word into a dictionary, doing a 10-step kinesthetic/visualizing/writing worksheet and making sentences with the words.  So far, there seems to be an improvement.

Vocabulary–We are making sure to hit the vocab words listed in Tapestry of Grace (most of which is geography-related this week), and we are keeping some old business cards nearby and jotting down unknown words we come across in Arabian Nights, the Bible, or our science reading.

Grammar–Building Christian English from Rod and Staff, Unit 1.  So far the going is slow, not because it’s difficult to understand but because we haven’t gotten to it.  We’ve done the first 2 lessons.

Penmanship–We haven’t gotten to this yet, but she has had plenty of practice writing for other subjects.  I can tell that we need to work on this though because I still see letter reversals, letters made with the wrong order of strokes and a general disregard for proportion and caps/non-caps.  On the plus side, she loves writing letters and lists, so we should be able to get plenty of practice in.

Latin–Let’s not talk about Latin, okay?

History–So far we have worked on geographical terms.  We’ve practiced finding things on the globe and found peninsulas, isthmuses, mountain ranges, and archipelagos.  We talked about the parts of a river and Isabella made her own labeled drawing of one.  Now she is eager to make her own world with all these landforms.  I taught her about latitude and longitude and then we used that knowledge to map out the daily progress of Hurricane Katrina on a hurricane tracking map.

Science–We’re working on Chapter 1 in Apologia Astronomy and doing the notebook that goes along with it.  We’ve made part of Stonehenge and discussed its significance.  At co-op she made a model of the solar system using paper clips and marshmallows to demonstrate the relative distances.  She came up with her own mnemonic for the planets.  We are also reading Along Came Galileo.

Art–She made beetle scarabs at coop and learned about the different kinds of lines one can use to draw things.  Now that we have Sister Wendy’s Book of Art, we will be able to look at some of the ancient art and move ahead to some Byzantine stuff.

Music–Shaherazade Interactive and listening to ShaherazadeHansel and Gretel create-your-own opera

French–I taught the kids several commands at coop: sautez, marchez, nagez, volez, as well as “Je m’appelle…” and “Je suis un garçon/une fille.”  We also chanted the verb to be.  At home, we need to review these, as well as the vocabulary already learned from Le Français Facile.

Better Than the Next Guy

20 Jul

As usual, in the following post I fell into that Ann Landers voice that I do so frequently, as if you stopped by so I could talk down to you about the ills of the world and how you should handle your relationships.  But actually, I wrote it all as a SELF-INDICTMENT and a dialogue with myself trying to figure out what MY response should be to some things that I’m trying to process that, while they don’t affect me directly, do leave me thinking hard about a lot of things.  Have you ever had one of those care-worn days where the problems are not even your own?  Yeah.

It’s really easy to get uppity about other people’s lives–surprisingly so.  For one thing, generally speaking, people tend to give a lot to feel superior to.  For another thing, one tends to be forgetful and blind about one’s own life to the extent that the mental acrobatics blow the mind.  These two facts are a deadly combination.

C.S. Lewis says in several places that the devil is quite content to see us delivered from committing a whole host of sins, if instead he can get us with the sin of pride.  A lot of people won’t even suspect what they’ve fallen into if they bypass the temptation to lust, drunkenness, or greed by telling themselves that they’re somehow above all that.  And isn’t it as common as a cold to hear a lovelorn girl encouraged with the well-meaning and, actually, pretty effectual statement, “Oh, you were too good for him anyway.  He doesn’t know what he’s missing”?  A pastime I personally enjoy greatly is to find someone who’s, objectively speaking, messing up their lives, so that I can compare myself favorably and sum up with a hearty, “Well, at least I’m not that bad!”

Sometimes it seems as if one hears about all the bad things going on in the world all in one day: that behind the pretty, manicured lawns, in between taking the kids to soccer practice and dropping them off at their friends’ houses, families are ripping each other to pieces, shanking in the back the people that they swore in front of God and everybody to love, or the ones they brought into the world, or the ones that brought them into the world.  That injustice is going on, not somewhere out there,  but down at your courthouse and at your city hall and across the street at your neighbors’ house.  That people bear false witness regularly and get away with it.  That more people that you work with, go to school with, pass on the street, and yes, God forgive us, even go to church with have addictions to serious things than you could have ever fathomed.  That crime has its tentacles in the land you love so deeply that it’s hard to imagine how they could ever be gotten out.  That mental illness is real and prevalent and doesn’t wear a hazard label to point itself out.  And that the general attitude to all of these things and the things that lead to them is blasé.

I’m thinking 3 things in response to this:


How can the tide of these things ever be turned back at this point?  Maybe a magical past where these cancers (societal and literal) were rare is simply a fiction, though I doubt it.  It seems like an impossible situation, and as more and more families get infected by these problems–ones that truly span to the third and fourth generations–it’s hard to see how such suffering won’t become even more common.  But while with man, something may not be possible, with God, all things are possible.

If you’ve ever read a medical dictionary, you will be familiar with what I’m feeling right now.  They are enlightening chronicles of just how many things can go wrong with a body.  There are diseases you’ve never even conceived of!  And yet, most of us don’t have them, and actually, people recover from disease every day, all the time.  A skinned knee doesn’t stay that way for long.  It regenerates itself–IT MAKES NEW BODY PARTS, however small.  When you are attacked with a cold or stomach virus, it’s almost a given that you won’t die from it.  Your body mobilizes incredible resources and keeps things in check.  And the more body processes you’re aware of, the more amazing it seems that they almost all go off without a hitch.  To me, it seems nearly impossible that such common, widespread, systemic evil could be healed, but I guess the point is, can’t you make the argument that healing is always miraculous?  The world that Jesus came into in 1 A.D. or so: could it have been that much better than the problems we face today?  A world where death was cruel, painful, and a common sight; women had it rough; slavery was not even questioned; being orphaned from violence or starvation was a bigger threat to the family than divorce; mob justice prevailed; and values like turning the other cheek or helping others with no personal advantage had not really come into vogue yet–and that’s the civilized Roman Empire.  And in that world, God established his Church, where the movement of radical love lit it on fire.

2. Pride goeth before the fall.

My first reaction to things of this nature that I hear is genuine shock and abhorrence, not of the people, but of what’s going on.  About a quarter of a second later enters the stupid idea that I’m somehow better than what I’m hearing about–or at least better currently–or at least, well, even if I do it, at least I know better.  Or whatever it takes to make me feel good, according to the circumstances.  And immediately, all wrapped up in one tight little jelly roll with my (perhaps) righteous indignation and my (maybe) natural horror of wrong-doing is another factor that has to do very little with my concern for those people, for the world or for offense to God and a whole lot to do with my image of myself–in short, my pride.

Does this make sense?  NO!!  I have at one point or another been guilty of precisely 60% of the things I turn my nose up at.  Am I really sure I want to play the judgment card???

I am frequently a participant by omission in many of the wrongs.  Am I willing to help, to be a good neighbor, a peacemaker, to set a good example, to put my money into things that matter, someone willing to listen and give wise advise, someone willing to share Christ’s forgiveness and his road map for life with other people?  Pretty imperfectly.

Does it matter if the next guy is really messing up compared to me?  NO!!  Not any more than it matters if my wrong answer to the math problem was one number closer to right than your wrong one.  No use consoling myself with that: WE’RE BOTH WRONG.  What am I thinking trying to use what everyone else does as my yardstick when I’m accountable to an unchanging, absolute standard?  What I do that falls short is between me and God.  A lot of people like to say that to get others off their backs about a moral question; I mean it as “Uh-oh, it’s between me and GOD.”  He knows when I’ve fallen short, and He doesn’t take “but so-and-so did worse” as an excuse any more than I do from Mustard Seed.

3.  Practically speaking…

…what’s my right reaction to things that really are abhorrent, especially if it’s the kind of thing that I’m in a position to say something about?  First, proceed with caution by speaking the truth in love  and lovingly and by checking myself for pride.  Try to think of times I’ve behaved similarly and been forgiven.

Second, pray, pray, pray.  Instead of ranting about it with friends, pray!  Pray on my own and with friends.  Ask for God’s will to be done in the situation, rather than giving him a laundry list of what I think is wrong–the diagnosis–followed by my suggested treatment.  Prayer is not only an alternative to worry, not only a dialogue to bring us closer to God in the details of life.  It’s an effectual way to address problems.  Ora et labora.  Working (taking action) and praying: they are two sides of the same coin, and the Bible actually talks about praying way more than about taking action, as far as I know.

Third, I can focus on my spheres of influence–what I have the most direct control over–and be willing to do something about that.  (When you’re nose is down on the grindstone, it’s pretty hard to hold it high up in the air.)

  • How can I love somebody in my life?  Maybe by making sure I’m filling up my kids’ “tanks” as they grow, by doing extra nice things for my spouse whether the going is great or the thought of taking one step in kindness turns my stomach.
  • Am I willing to offer peacemaking advice, to forgo giving barbs, stop discussing problems idly, and to glory in mercy more than justice at a personal level?
  • How can I sacrifice for someone and give up that last bastion of selfishness?  Would I give up my hobby?  my ideas of the way things should be done?  my prestige?  my desire to feel young/important/free/wanted/thrilled/smart?
  • Can I set a good example (without being self-righteous!) by  leading a sober life in all senses of the word?  Being honest despite it costing me?  Being faithful? Focusing on serving rather than getting?

Can I???  Well, as we said at Mustard Seed’s baptism a few weeks ago, “I will, with God’s help.”

Summer Progress Report & Sweet Potato Hash Recipe

18 Jul

When up late working on a translation job, I usually opt for quickie power food like Honey Bunches of Oats au lait.  While the diet has not yet recovered from the month of culinary good times with the in-laws, tonight I’m treating myself to something infinitely yummier and healthier: my favorite Southwestern Sweet Potato Hash.   And while those taters sizzle away on the stove, my thoughts are turning to summer goals, some of which are serious, get-some-dirt-under-my-fingernails goals and others of which are what summer goals should be: the aspiration to do enjoyable, relaxing, out-of-the-ordinary things.

I’m pretty serious about these things, and the good Lord knows I love a plan, so long before summer was here, I had made a list.  Lest that list stay buried in one of my many spiral notebooks that floats about the house, I am replicating it here, for documentation, accountability, and safekeeping, not to mention that I would very much like to hear what pressing items of leisure are on your agenda.  So with no further ado, I give you The Summer List.  And if you want the recipe for the sweet potatoes, srolly-scroll-scroll to the end!

😦 Go to the pool a lot.  We have slacked off about this, but will resume tomorrow.

Vacation Bible School. 

Pioneer day camp (August)

Prepare everything for homeschool next year.  I’m on it.  But it’s going to take a while.

😦 Read up on the classics.  I’m not really reading anything classic right now, but I just finished Half Broke Horses the other day, read To Hell with All That a few weeks ago, and am in the middle of Obama Nation (thank you, 99 Cent Store!) and The Trumpeter of Krakow, which will be for school this coming year.  I can’t for the life of me seem to be able to finish  Pilgrim’s Regress, and my copy of the Aeneid has stayed pathetically bookmarked in the same place for about 4 months.   Meanwhile my list of books I want to read, classics and otherwise, grows daily, and now that I’ve figured out how to note every book I ever hear of using the Memo function on my phone, this tendency will only get worse.

√? Book club on medieval and Renaissance literature.  Well, you don’t have to actually read to meet, right?  We started on St. Augustine’s City of God about a month ago, and I made it through about 40 pages of 900 (that thing is long!), and we met to discuss it.  I had marked mine up with all kinds of comments in Word but didn’t take my laptop to the meeting on account of it’s not really portable anymore ever since the battery finally gave up the ghost.  So we solved one of the philosophical dilemmas the book brings up, and then pretty much giggled like middle school girls for the next two hours.  There was talk of reading one of Shakespeare’s histories, but I have not started on that yet, and we haven’t met in a month due to all the hubbub, but I’m sure now things will even out.

Sew.  Yes.  I made Mustard Seed’s baptism dress, which was no small feat, but I had expert help from a very kind professional seamstress.  I haven’t made the summer pajamas Mustard Seed so badly needs, but I did manage to make a sarong (easy!) and two skirts with matching headbands for my nieces while they were here.  I also really want to try making one of those maxi sundresses (like the look, hate the name) or some of the breezy, simple blouses I see everyone wearing.  They look like such a cinch that you shouldn’t even need a pattern!

😦 Make handmade Christmas presents.  Haven’t even wrapped my brain around this one.

Deep cleaning and organizing of the house.  This sort of happened as a result of company coming, but has now been undone to a large extent, so more could always be done.

😦 Work full-time for a month.

Decorate the house.  We did some of this already, including an abstract masterpiece by the Headmaster that now hangs in our living room.  The main issue right now is more functional, since the tracks on my dresser drawers have fallen out and now I can’t open them.  The Headmaster really wants to get that and a cushioned fabric headboard taken care of when the budget allows.

Make popsicles.

😦 Make yogurt.

😦Make bread.

😦 Start a garden.  I’m not sure if this will happen right away, as there seem to be quite a few things to be decided upon–border, size, whether or not we will try to level out a slope in that area of the backyard–before I can proceed.

Attend the Shakespeare Festival. (August)

Participate in choir.  Doing it, sort of.  Actually, I just sang with them for the first time, although I’d been to two practices.  I’ve always admired how great they sound, so I was really nervous, but one really nice member has taken me under her wing, and I didn’t trip in front of the altar, so I’m gonna call that a success.

Get more involved at church.  See above and VBS.  I’m working on whether there are any other ways I can do this as well.

😦 Make kids’ meals and do other service projects.

😦 Work on badges for American Heritage Girls.

😦 Let Mustard Seed paint.

Slip-n-slide in the yard.

😦 Tons of play dates.  I’m on it.

Use all the crafts Mustard Seed has in her closet.

😦 Exercise

😦 Play board games


Southwest Sweet Potato Hash

*Please beware I write recipes descriptively, not quantitatively!

Peel and dice a sweet potato.

Cut the corn off 1 cob.

Dice or cut very small strips of red bell pepper.

Melt butter or heat olive oil in a skillet and then toss all of the above in.

Season it with salt, pepper, minced garlic or garlic powder (not garlic salt!), cumin, and chili powder (not cayenne pepper).

Cover and cook about 10 minutes or until the sweet potato is soft.  You can even let it blacken a little if you like that kind of thing.  I do!

During the last 2-3 minutes, toss in some cilantro leaves and some black beans.  You could go with canned but it’s healthier if you use fresh, so plan to make this within a few days of making a steaming pot of black beans, if you want to go that route.  Give the cilantro just enough time to release its flavors, but not to get wilty and for the black beans to warm.

Serve it with warm wheat tortillas and maybe some salsa on it or guacamole as a side dish.  It’s actually one of my favorite breakfast foods!

Summer Checklist

11 Jul

I had visions of this summer being a time to relax and slow down, which of course, in my mind, would leave me free to do all kinds of things, thus immediately mentally filling up the days once again.

(Did you see the logic I used there?  It’s really quite…something.  And believe me, it’s a party in my head like that all the time.)

Summer has been fun, but a lot has been going on so far.  We had VBS the first week of June, and then we were gearing up for a visit from family, although we did manage to squeeze in a trip to pick our own blueberries and to the farm for meat and other goodies.  The following week my mother-in-law got into town, but I was by then in a tizzy because I decided to make Mustard Seed’s baptism dress….the week before the baptism.  (I’m really just not learning about that procrastinating thing.  Or that taking too much on thing.)  Then more family came, and the baptism took place, dress and all.  It was followed by a week filled with lots of shopping and a 2-day trip to San Antonio with the folks.  We had a leaky pipe inside our wall that I had to take care of last week, and of course, I’m now thinking about the coming school year and so, starting to make all my weekly plans in an effort to be a little more prepared this year than I was last.

We have managed to do some of the things I envisioned, however.  Top on the list was make homemade popsicles.  Check!  And yes, they were good.

Next was, make sure Mustard Seed learns how to swim. Sort-of check!  She has made leaps and bounds with her swimming skills, although I still wouldn’t drop her off down by the river and say “See ya upstream!” or anything like that.  She is unbearably cute because she wiggles her bottom quite a bit as she tries to propel herself forward.  She keeps forgetting to put the arm motion together with the foot motion, but when she remembers, she’s golden.  She likes to raise her head straight back to breathe, which never really works out like she thinks it’s going to, but we’re working on that.  Her improvement is such that where last year, she wouldn’t even jump to me from the side in pretty shallow water, twice this summer I’ve let her swim in the deep end, albeit with me and the Headmaster right beside her.  I would have paid good money just to see her confidence level improve this much, so I’m pretty pleased.

I had thought we’d continue with a little bit of schooling, just to keep things fresh—math and whatnot.  On that, not-so-check.  We did manage to read a whole book about Queen Elizabeth I this weekend which is actually for the end of next year but which I was scoping out ahead of time.  And Mustard Seed is begging me to do Spelling because she knows that if she reaches a certain point, we will have a “science party”.  That’s what she asked for if she completed up to a certain point beyond her first grade goal, and I never would have dreamed she would latch on to that so vigorously!  I’m going to have to make much better use of incentive programs, seeing as how this one has worked out.  Just goes to show she is more goal-oriented than her mother.

So, I had a brief period last week where I was going to be a Doctor of Naturopathy.  I’m not sure if I’m over it yet or not, but the symptoms are at least significantly reduced.  It’s not quite so out of left field as it might sound.  When I was in college, I really wanted to go to complementary medicine school.  Of course that’s not surprising because in college, I really wanted to do about 300 different professions, and many of them simultaneously, including, to name a few, poet, English teacher, translator (funny how that worked out), social worker, sociologist, professor (of anything, really, mostly so I could smoke pipes and fake a British accent), Middle East talking head on CNN, lawyer, opera singer…

But then I thought,


Med School.

And that right there is how 90% of med school “candidates” get weeded out.  The mere thought just tires them out.

Of course, the idea of me going to any kind of med school right now is ridiculous on several levels, particularly the “Um, aren’t you supposed to be homeschooling your child?” level and the “Exactly which tree are we going to get the money to pay for that from?” level.  But maybe someday.  Maybe when I’m a grandmother I can be an N.D. instead of playing bingo.  Who knows.  It’s interesting because I’ve never been a particularly career-driven person (and might not pan out to be with a medical career either), so in some ways, staying home to homeschool is not such a sacrifice for me personally as it might be for some, but that was a little taste of what that might feel like.  For now, I will be content to learn what I need to know to help my family and myself be healthy and hopefully pass some of that information along.

Thoughts on Nourishment

14 Jun

Wow, I’ve had some major epiphanies about health lately that I’m so anxious to share!

I started my focus on health just before the holidays.  I simply committed to exercise at least three times a week by following the Couch to 5K challenge.  Admittedly, I need to crack the whip on exercise again before I fall totally out of the habit, but at the same time, I’ve been working at health from another angle more recently: nutrition.

I had gotten to a pretty sorry state with how many sweets I was eating.  Pretty much, if I had access to it and felt like it, I was eating it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hid behind the freezer door to eat ice cream unseen or tried to step into my NOT-walk-in pantry so as to devour mouthfuls of Pirouettes clandestinely.  Why?  Because I knew it was bad enough not to let my daughter do it all the time!  But that didn’t stop me from doing it!

On the other hand, with the exception of the sweets, I thought we probably weren’t doing too poorly on healthy eating.  We don’t eat fried food, we eat fish once or twice a week (usually salmon), we ate more chicken than beef—and we cut that fat off!  I really limited my milk intake, but I made sure to buy Horizon for Mustard Seed and me in order to avoid the hormones and antibiotics.  I tried to switch us from white rice to brown and to buy whole wheat pasta at least some of the time.  You’ll never find Wonderbread in my cupboard; only German Dark Wheat for us!  No Yoplait, just good old sugarless Bulgarian Yogurt, sweetened at home with honey.  If it was me cooking, nothing but olive oil would be used, no corn or vegetable oil and hardly any butter.

Sure, we ate copious amounts of Goldfish, Wheat Thins, and Triscuits, but there’s no sugar in those, and the latter two are wheaty.  That can’t be bad.  And true, a lot of times I was too lazy/tired (who really knows which one anymore?) to cook up a vegetable or make a salad, and I knew we could definitely stand to eat at more regular times, but on the whole, I thought we were doing pretty well.

If you’re like me, this is probably somewhat what you eat like.  You probably consider yourself fairly health conscious, as I did—and do—but also as someone who’s not absolutely rigid.  After all, a kid’s got to eat something besides celery sticks for snacks, and what’s wrong with a treat a few days a week?  You can’t live avoiding significant sources of food, and anyway, it’s not a balanced diet.  I was hearing lots about the “Real Food” diet/movement, and honestly, I heard that as the slightest bit snide and patronizing, as in, “My way of eating is better than yours.  Gosh, yours isn’t even real food.”

It took me hearing some of the specifics about what’s wrong with today’s food supply and realizing how pervasive these problems are to make me realize that when someone says “Real Food,” it’s not meant to be a judgmental hyperbole; it’s meant quite simply, as a concerned and pretty reasonable warning.  Much of the food that’s readily available to us these days is really more the notion of something it used to be than the actual thing: milk with all the vitamins and enzymes stripped out or killed off and then a select few sprayed back in; vegetables that look like themselves but have significantly less vitamin and mineral content than 100 years ago; corn that has insecticide not put on it but genetically bred into it so as to release over time; meat fed on feed that doesn’t cause the animals to produce the health-giving hormones it used to when fed grass but pumped full of artificial growth hormones and antibiotics that pass through to the eater; pasteurized, heat-treated everything.  It begins to make you sincerely ask the question: Just because I can eat it and it keeps me alive for a while, does that mean it’s fit for consumption?

It was Katie at Kitchen Stewardship, who constantly mentions Nourishing Traditions, that started me wanting to read it, too.  Fortunately, a friend had a copy I could borrow.  I wanted to skip the introduction and get straight to the recipes, but I finally disciplined myself into reading it, and boy, am I glad I did.  The best way to describe this book is perhaps to picture your standard nutritionist having a conversation with a contrary 5-year-old who thinks it’s Opposite Day.  Pretty much everything you think you know about healthy eating?  Well, turns out you’re wrong.  Congratulations!

Imaginary Conversation with a Nutritionist on Opposite Day

Fat is bad for you. You should buy low-fat or fat-free products.


Okay, but if you must eat fat, at least avoid all those saturated animal fats, including butter.


Our grandparents used to think that cod liver oil was a good idea and that chicken liver would keep you healthy, but now we know that cod liver oil can cause Vitamin A toxicity, and organ meats have the most concentrated toxins in animals.

Cod liver oil is wonderful if it has the right balance of A and D.  And don’t eat any part of a toxic animal!

Well, surely we can agree that the vegetarian lifestyle is healthier and vegetarians live longer?


Yes, but eating meat gives you high cholesterol levels, and everyone knows that high cholesterol means you’ll get heart disease and die early.


Fine, so we don’t see eye to eye on the animal thing.  Surely you can acknowledge that it’s important to eat lots of raw vegetables and fruit to get those vitamins and minerals.

Not so fast. Humans can’t digest some things raw and other raw vegetables inhibit the thyroid.

Well, we now know that everyone needs to get some soy into their diet.

Heaven’s no, don’t do that!  The stuff’s poison!


And so on, etc.  It’s a little bit difficult to wrap your brain around.  Up is down.  Down is up.  Oh, and by the way, this thing you ate without the least bit of worry, well, worry.  On the other hand, the information is backed up by numerous studies and scientifically explained.  It makes good sense.  It’s hard to imagine that our food is so rife with allergy-causing, disease-inducing elements, but there’s good evidence there and elsewhere that it is.  And if it’s true, if the situation really is that dire, then is it really extreme to try to ensure that your family is truly getting nourished?  We depend on our local grocery store to provide that nourishment, but if the preposterous is happening and the grocery store is not providing that nourishment, is it crazier to keep eating empty or toxic food or to go to great lengths to get nourishing food?

We’ve only been trying to eat the Nourishing Traditions way for about a month, and very shoddily, at that.  Now, about 3 years ago, a friend talked me into going vegan.  I did it for 6 months, sometimes “breaking” it to include cheese (that is why I’m alive to tell you about it :-)).  I also was a fish-eating vegetarian for about 2 ½ years in college.  So I have those 2 experiences to compare to this.  I should say, also, that I have several health conditions (low thyroid, hypoglycemia, PCOS, generally messed up hormones, and adrenal weirdness—my terms, not the doctor’s), so I have those to consider.  One thing that is clear about all those—and one thing that almost all nutritional schools of thought seem to agree on (but with varying degrees of strictness)—is that sugar is a very, very bad thing indeed.


On a vegetarian diet, I was able to stabilize my blood sugar with things like fish, cheese, milk and yogurt.  That was good, but what was bad was that I was not even being a “good” vegetarian.  I didn’t live on things like vegetables and brown rice and beans, which wouldn’t be such a bad meal.  I lived out of a vending machine, and Honey Buns were frequent fare, as were unmentionable amounts of soda, the coffee granita I purchased every morning before my first class, the smoothies (with protein powder) I purchased from the campus Smoothie King, and the blueberry muffins or oatmeal I ate while driving to school.  Now that I write that all down, I am in wonder that I didn’t have worse results than I did!  As it was, I was extremely tired and frequently depressed, gained what ended up to be almost 20 pounds, all told, and it was during this time that I had what I could definitely identify as a hypoglycemic episode.  I can’t tell you how my thyroid was doing because I wasn’t getting it treated, but I do know that my hormones were completely off, and it was during this time that I developed PCOS.


When my friend asked me to join her in trying veganism 3 years ago, the only reason that I considered it after my vegetarian experience was 1) I started out to only do it for 6 weeks; and 2) I thought perhaps the problem before had been that I hadn’t totally cut out animal products, was eating poorly otherwise (frankly, not many vegetables!), and was consuming lots of sugar.  I thought perhaps I could “do it right this time.”

My experience with veganism didn’t turn out much differently, with the exception that I neither gained nor lost weight.  At that time, I was being advised that it was very important not to eat much sugar and to avoid lots of carbohydrates, particularly simple ones like white flour, white rice, etc.  What I found was that it was almost impossible for me to do this.  The cravings were so strong and I only felt not-shaky after having some sugar.  If I started off the day with beans or sweet potato, things went a little bit better, but I would still crash.  I was advised by my physician’s assistant who had been vegetarian for 25 years NOT to continue with veganism, given my set of conditions, since they would exacerbate all of them.  Blood and saliva tests taken during this time confirmed that my hormonal profile was far from what it should be.

So Far on Weston Price/Nourishing Traditions

First, it’s important to point out that we haven’t begun to follow nearly all the recommendations.  Here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Raw milk
  • Free-range eggs directly from the farm
  • Soaking oatmeal
  • Buying “natural” chickens and making bone broth from them
  • Cutting out the “whites”—rice, pasta, bread
  • Eating lots of soaked beans
  • Using lots of butter
  • Changing our water to reverse-osmosis filtered water to avoid the arsenic, radiation and fluoride in our local municipal water
  • Using Real Salt, which has natural trace minerals and has not been bleached
  • Taking high-vitamin cod liver oil
  • Significantly reducing sugar intake from all sources—completely eliminating sodas and having only small sugary treats, only once or twice a week

That last bullet point, sugar, seemed nearly impossible to me before.  Why?  Not because of a lack of willpower (which I nonetheless lack) but because of the physical feeling that would come over me that would make it impossible for me to get through my work and I would feel really lousy—shaky, tired, cloudy thinking, sense of hopelessness.  This would go away when I would have something with sugar and caffeine, so of course, I would.

So how am I overcoming it now?  For one thing, I have to make sure to have the right kind of meals at the right times.  I can’t go too long without a meal, and I have noticed about myself that I can go from thinking I have no appetite to “I have to eat something NOW!” pretty quickly, so I really need to go more by the clock than by my feelings.  If I don’t allow that shaky feeling to develop, I won’t be tempted to eat sweets and I will still have enough energy to prepare the food (which has been a problem in the past).

If I’ve failed to eat on time, I’ve discovered that if I make myself eat a good solid meal first, I almost never want that sweet by the time I’m done with the meal.  If I do, it won’t hit my bloodstream quite so hard as it would have on an empty stomach.

But what if there’s no food available and I haven’t got the energy to make any?  This is where fat has been helping me.  A bit of goat cheese or a glass of raw milk has had the greatest ability to stop me from wanting sugar and giving me enough energy to go ahead and prepare a meal.  Strangely, the effect of the goat cheese is better than the generic cheddar cheese brand I buy (not Kraft imitation cheese, but not the fancy deli cheese either).  Even a few bites of chicken or beef will help, although I don’t get the sense of relief that the goat cheese gives me.

Part of giving up sugar has been willpower and strategy, as well.  Finding out some specifics about the carcinogenic effect of the caramels in sodas—which are made using ammonia!—really helped me to kick that habit.  As much as I wanted one, I just couldn’t see chugging something that is a known cancer causer.  Once I realized that a Chai Latte at Starbuck’s, even at 11:00 a.m., meant that I would not be able to sleep that night and that I would have immediate digestive problems, I made a decision to nix that.  NOT DRIVING BY STARBUCK’S has helped a lot, but if I do want to go, I now get an iced Passion tea, unsweetened.  (It’s plenty sweet naturally.)


I haven’t been back to the doctor in a few months, but I’m eager to see how my test results may change.  I anticipate that just the change in sugar intake will have an impact.  PCOS shows up as a reproductive problem, but it’s actually a blood sugar problem and most people with it have insulin resistance.  When you cure their insulin resistance, the PCOS goes away.  Sugar and caffeine have a horrible affect on the adrenals, since those substances goes your adrenals to go into overdrive and then get tired out.  It’s like putting your body into a constant state of fight-or-flight.  Your adrenals, in turn, affect all your other hormones.  God very wisely made it so that people with adrenals in the fight-or-flight-type state cannot make the hormones necessary to reproduce—a sort of self-protection mechanism.  But to have a long-term hormonal imbalance once any true danger has passed is a set-up for even more serious illnesses like cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune diseases.

My brain seems to be on health topics a lot lately, so I’ll likely post some of the information I’ve been coming across and some of the recipes I’m trying, such as the cream cheese/whey blob that is currently sitting on my counter.  (Doesn’t that sound attractive?)

Using Outlook and Your Phone to Organize Homeschool

14 Jun

Keeping track of all your family members’ events and appointments can be a big job.

So can trying to stay in a routine and remember all of the things on your to-do list.  I looked at several fancy organization systems specifically designed for homeschoolers.  In the end, I found a solution in something that I already had on my computer–and you probably do, too.

Over several upcoming posts, I’m going to show you how I have been able to do several convenient things with nothing more than Microsoft Outlook and my Blackberry, including:

  • Create and combine weekly schedules for each person in your family
  • Keep track of all those homeschool association events you heard about in August and had completely forgotten about by April
  • Merge all your e-mail from various addresses into one place
  • Attach lesson plans to a specific “class” on your schedule
  • Attach an e-mail about an event to the event on your schedule

How Outlook Can Make Your Life Easier

Outlook is software that comes as part of the Microsoft Office package.  It is used primarily for e-mail and scheduling in office settings, and that’s why I ignored for a long time.  I have my free e-mail account; I had my Franklin planner or Day Minder from Wal-Mart.  Why did I need to mess with typing things into an online schedule I couldn’t carry with me?  Why would I care about routing my e-mail through Outlook?

Well, even if you’re more likely to wear jeans every day than kitten heels and 50s-reminiscent dresses like the ones on Mad Men (squeeee!!!), and even though people are more likely to want to meet with you about how to do long division than about your TPQ reports, this software IS for you, too.  Here’s why:

1.  You can create and combine weekly schedules for each person in your family.

Creating a schedule in Outlook is very easy.  You can look at things in the Day, Week or Month View.  If you’re on the monthly calendar and you just realized your daughter’s book club meeting is this week, you can just double click that day and up pops a handy-dandy dialogue box where you can fill in the details related to that event.  Fill in the times, address, and any details you want to remember.  You can even include a link to a Google map! (See below about copying links to appointment notes.)  Save and Close it at the upper right.  And there you go!  Now you won’t be the victim of a sudden heart attack as you realize an important event is going to take place in 1 hour.  You can schedule your whole day in this way if you want to.  And you can even schedule a reminder that can go to your phone, or if you do happen to have your computer running most of the day, you will hear the alert as long as Outlook is open.

But let’s say that you also want to have schedules for each of your children, who each have all kinds of things going on, and for yourself.  Or let’s say you want to have a master, “in theory” kind of a schedule, as opposed to what actually might happen from week to week.

For this, you’ll need to go New>Calendar on the top left.  Give it a snazzy new name, like The Life and Times of Child #2.

Or not.  Just Child #2 will do.

Now you (or your child) can enter all your own events.  You can do this for as many people as you need to.  Then, if you want to see schedules side by side, you just need to go to the lefthand sidebar and tick Mom’s Calendar and Child #2’s Calendar and they will both appear together so you can compare.  Nice!

After our homeschool association held their kick-off meeting in August, I went in and filled in all the events so I didn’t have to give it a second thought. Plus, then I got to throw that paper away–BIG PLUS!

2.  You can keep your homeschool (and life) from devlolving into utter chaos by creating a Master Schedule.

I mentioned using the calendar to create a master schedule/routine for your family.  This would be different from what might actually happen when, say, your husband’s tire blows out and all of a sudden you are tapped to go spend the morning sitting at Discount Tire when you were supposed to be finishing your salt maps of India.  Things like that probably never happen to you, though.

The master schedule is great for putting down what classes you will do when and with which child. If you are the type that needs to schedule your housekeeping chores á la Sidetracked Home Executives, you can modernize that system a little by scheduling them here.  Meal plans are a great thing to keep together with all this as well.

The really cool thing is that if you schedule History for Monday at 11:30, in the notes section, you can actually put your lesson plan in that space, or you can link to the Word document where you have your lesson plan.  I don’t know about you, but I’m always finding great links and videos on the Internet I want to share with Mustard Seed or study up on myself before I teach the lesson.  How to keep them all organized?  Probably Google Reader was not designed for this.  Just put the link in the notes section of the class period it pertains to and voilá!

Works just as well for recipe links, meal plan charts you made in Word or Excel, grocery lists that go along with them, etc.

How to do it:

Once you’ve opened the appointment or event in question, also open your computer’s My Documents.  Go to the file you want to attach to an appointment.  Highlight it and click Copy.  Then move back into the Notes space for your appointment and click Paste.  It’s that easy.

Links work just the same way.

Now say it’s an appointment or event out of the house.  Say the hostess sent you some e-mail saying that you’re supposed to bring a salad or gargoyle wings for the school play, and you don’t want to forget, but you don’t want to have to go fishing for that information in your inbox again.  If you’re using Outlook Mail, you simply highlight that e-mail, Copy, and Paste into your appointment notes, just as for a link or Word document.  That’s pretty painless, right?

3.  You can merge all your e-mail so that you don’t have to constantly be checking (or like me, neglecting to check) various accounts.
This is one I understand less about, so bear with me, and as I learn more, I’ll pass it on or update this post.

I, for example, have an e-mail for my business life, the e-mail that I’ve been using for 10 years with my maiden name on it and where I get most of my bill notifications, and then an e-mail where I get most of my homeschool stuff due to The Great Attempt to Use My Middle Name Debacle of 2009.

Some people might say, “Michelle, why don’t you just switch everything over to one e-mail account?” but that’s just crazytalk and makes entirely too much sense.

But in all seriousness, even if I could just migrate to a nice, simple e-mail that uses my married name and *sigh* just my first name, I still would want to keep it separate from my business stuff, just because delivering projects from an e-mail like just kind of undermines my professionalism a wee bit.  Even sending things from a very professional-sounding Yahoo! address is frowned on; plus, I’ve got a website for my services and I use that domain name for…and well, I just want to keep my double lives separate, ok?  Okay.

So if you have multiple accounts due your secret life in the CIA or whatever, you can send all your e-mail to one place (and have it all pop up on your phone) by using Outlook.

I’m going to leave it to the fine experts to explain how to set up your free Yahoo! or free Hotmail account in Outlook; however, I will say that I’m still working on this.  If I figure it all out, I’ll let you know.

More tricks and tips on using Outlook to follow soon!

Do you have any great, yet simple, tips for organizing your homeschool or household?  Do tell!