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This Week’s Favorite Things

It’s nice to list the things that go right for a lot of reasons. If you feel like you didn’t get anything done during the day, month, or year, you can look back and see all the great things you did. That part is also handy if you homeschool and need to report about what your children did.
It’s great for planning what to do other years — maybe you want to do something you did in the past, or maybe you want to make sure to do all new activities the next year.
I sometimes just like having a record of the things I did — I tend to forget if I don’t write things down. So it’s nice to see what I was doing last year, or the year before. Pictures, sounds, and smells help give my brain something to use to remember.

This is what we did this week:

  1.  Talked about solar flares, the magnetosphere, auroras, excited molecules, photon emissions, and various other astronomy stuff with the six year old. I was just about her age when I did a science fair project about sun spots, so it’s an extra special happy moment for me.

    A good page for tracking aurora weather: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
    Another page for space weather and lovely aurora pictures: SpaceWeather

  2. Taught the ten year old about programming, using GameMaker.
    It’s a really nice program! We finished two short game tutorials
    already and he has a lot of ideas about where he wants to go from here.

    Anyone have any ideas for learning how to make nice game sprites and icons? I think our artistic abilities (or lack thereof) are going to trip us up…

  3. The three year old has actually been well-behaved lately. I’ve had time to do things for myself. I get to rest when I need to, which is nice. Plus, I’m learning how to play the guitar using Rocksmith (fun!), finding time to solder a little solar project together (muscle wires are so cool!!), plant my plants, play with the other kids, make music with Mixcraft, and so forth.
  4. The weather finally turned warm! The cold weather really drains me. It makes me hurt all over, no one ever wants to go outside, I always miss the sun, and I can’t plant more things in the garden. The kids played outside a lot! It’s about time.
  5. I started my tomatoes, peppers, and lavender downstairs and my cool weather crops outside! The girls and I also planted some flower seeds in their new flower garden.

    A great site for growing food: Grow It Eat It at the University of Maryland

  6. Finally saw the cherry blossoms with the kids — we missed the past two years. We spent a lovely afternoon and evening with their grandparents.
    National Cherry Blossom Festival

  7. I ate ahi tuna, a hamburger, and a turkey and swiss sandwich this week. Small victories! (Long story, health stuff. I’ve been living on boring mush for a few weeks).
  8. I’ve lost about ten pounds in four weeks. It was accidental (and really quite miserable at the time) but it’s a nice silver lining to my angry storm cloud of health nonsense. I have twenty more to go.
  9. I planned some more field trips for the kids (yay!) now that the weather is better. I really want to do a lot more traveling then we have. It’s just very difficult with my eating issues and dragging around a three year old.
  10. The kids are so much better at helping clean things up, when they are motivated to. It’s still a giant mess around here. I have no idea when it will ever be a decently organized place to live, but at least sometimes it seems like it might get better, eventually.

It was a good week.

Let’s Resume Blogging!

Hello, my few fans! I’m currently recovering from an episode of Extreme Burnout, which sounds way more fun than it actually is. My beloved children all managed to go through a difficult phase simultaneously, coinciding with my health being not quite so good, and just about everything seeming to go wrong.

Science this week has been all about cell biology. I found a very nifty little game called Cell Craft that introduces the player to some of the cell’s organelles and lets the player practice fighting off a viral infection. We then printed out some pictures of different types of cells (bacterium, cyanobacterium, animal cell, plant cell, yeast cell) from the Biology Coloring Book and compared and contrasted the structures. We proofed a packet of yeast and looked at the yeasties under the microscope. My son even practiced drawing some yeast and other tiny cells. He especially likes cillia and flagella.

We’ve also spent a good deal of time discussing The Lord of the Rings. My daughters are completely in love with the story. Most of their exposure to it is through the Lego video game, but we’ve watched the first movie, as well. They spend a lot of time playing out scenes with a plush Frodo and Legolas, their favorite characters. The LK has also invented her own character, named Candy Golumn. We also just started reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (free from Project Gutenberg, because it is out of copyright).

In history, we’re studying two different time periods. The MK is studying ancient Greece, specifically the difference between the city states of Athens and Sparta. We read a children’s adaptation of The Odyssey written by Mary Pope Osborne (the author of The Magic Treehouse series). The BK is covering the world in the late 19th century, setting the stage for WWI. This week we read about the Irish potato famine (and grandma provided some lovely family history) and the Boer War, which was interesting because he loves the idea of finding diamonds laying around, and he had no idea what Lord Baden-Powell did before the boy scouts.

In math, the MK is investigating fractions, usually in relation to food and cooking (how typically homeschoolery!). The BK is still obsessed with conic sections, especially circles right now. He learned how to graph equations that describe a circle and is branching out into other forms of graphing equations, such as lines. He is really enjoying the new “intuition” activities at Khan Academy, such as Parabola Intuition 2. The three year old likes counting things and making patterns. And, of course, a lot of games at The Family Game Store in Savage.

In health this month we mostly learned all about respiratory infections. Whee.

PE is mostly playing in the back yard, laser tag, and parkour classes. The LK just started her own little gymnastics class, which is helping her learn how to take turns and follow instructions. She also has a beautiful forward roll.

For music, this month I began teaching the kids about about song structure using Mixcraft (like Garage Band only for the PC and pretty amazing!!) and the radio. The MK
played with loops (that is, short bit of a song you can mix together)
while I defined what a verse, chorus, and so forth is. Then we analyzed the rock
songs on the radio while we drove places. Finally, the MK wrote a few songs.

They have also been hard at work learning “life skills”, such as how to clean the dishes. That is probably my favorite lesson. I sprained my thumb and came down with bronchitis for two weeks, so it was really born of necessity! I’m glad they managed to step up and help out the family.

My New USB Microscope

This is the goo that was on my glasses.

This is my sister’s diaper ;).

This is my sister’s doll’s shirt.

This is my sister’s ornament.

 This is a chicken nugget.

 This is a doll’s hair.

 This is a milk weed seed :).

 This is a computer.

This is milk weed fluff.

It’s a printed eye.

A shirt.

Happy 2013!

I got pretty quiet at the end of the year, huh? I think it started with working on writing Actual Books and spending time with the kids. Which progressed to feeling sick and tired and miserable again, which then progressed to just being sad and apathetic.

I also spent a lot of time being upset that I seemed to be stuck in the land of not sleeping and changing diapers while everyone else in the universe was suddenly getting new exciting jobs, or publishing books, or having some sort of life and I was just treading water and getting behind. But hey, the kids won’t be little forever and this will eventually end! So I may as well enjoy it the best I can, while I can.

So hey, let’s not do that in 2013, huh?

I’m going to review my 2012 goals and make some new ones for 2012!

1. Lose Weight: It went well for a while, then my new diet had me gain 10 pounds in the fall. Ooops!

2. Get in Better Shape:I gave it a shot, and tried new things to get exercise. Health and time got in the way a lot.

3. Wean the Baby: Done!

4. Keep the House Cleaner: Well, yes, but that isn’t saying much. 😀 Things are getting slowly more organized, and the kids are learning to clean up with less help. Still, it’s a total mess.

5. Streamline bed time: Yep, got better. 🙂

6. Write more: Absolutely! On here, and other places.

7. Volunteer: Eh, not so much. This hinged on many of the above things.

8. More Trips:For much of the year this went well. We visited family and did a lot of the things I wanted to! Still, I spent most of spring and fall and feeling miserable, and gave up on a lot of things I would have rather done.

Summary: I did get a lot done! Was it perfect? Hardly! But it’s good to figure out what is important to you and focus on it and do it better than it was done before. So, considering everything, I’m happy!

Goals for 2013:
1. Follow my FODMAPs diet strictly. I’ve tested a gazillion things and failed almost all of them. I don’t have time to feel bad, I just need to eat the same things over and over and be happy.

2. Exercise every day. It makes me feel better, and I’m too tired of being sore and weak and such. That’s one reason I just need to feel decent every day.

3. Move the baby to the girls bedroom. I want my room back. 😀

4. Clean a room every day. I have no idea if the house will get much cleaner, but hey, let’s clean a room a day and keep going.

5. Go to bed on time. I stay up too late. That makes me sick.

6. Write my stupid book. No excuses. Write every day. Make time for it no matter what.

7. Spend more time with the kids doing what they want to do. Reading books, snuggling, working on projects. Make a minecraft mod, decorate cakes. I felt so horrible all year that I spent a lot of time just trying to get space and be alone and rest. So how about I just eat food that doesn’t make me sick, get some exercise, go to bed and wake up nice and fresh and play with my kids?

8. More trips! We live in a place with so much to do. Let’s go do some of it!

9. Try new things, make new stuff, figure out what I want to be when I grow up. 🙂 I’m always happy when I learn something new or make something for friends or family to use.

Are these really just the same goals only slightly different? Yes. Yes they are. But refined a bit to focus on being happy and doing the things I want to do.

Paper bag tree

This is a fun little craft. You cut the tops of a paper bag in strips and twist them together to make a trunk and then branches. I was going to leave it bare, but The MK thought it was sad without leaves, so we cut up tissue paper and glued it on. I made a little stand for it out of a paper plate and more tissue paper on top. They sprinkled more tissue paper on top. Fun and quick!

Love Me Do

Official school is still on hiatus while I do fall cleaning and Halloween costume sewing… but we seem to just be accidental unschoolers. I just can’t get them to stop being interested in things and learning stuff. Geesh, kids. 😉

For those of you watching me on Facebook, you may (or may not, knowing Facebook) know that we have a colony of mealworms. (Or is it Kingworms? I can never figure out which is which). The first one that turned into an adult was eaten by the worms, so the next time one pupated, we moved him into his own tank. Then another one pupated and we didn’t know what the adult would do with him, so we put him into another tank. But then we ran out of tanks.

Today we had a new pupa (and 3 about to pupate) so we decided this was a good day for the adults to move in together. The kids are hoping for baby mealworms. But we didn’t know if they would go cannibal, so they are taking turns babysitting the beetles.

The Boy decided they needed romantic music — I jokingly suggested “Love Me Do”, but he couldn’t find it on iTunes (I think it’s only on the upstairs computer). Instead, he went to the kid’s playlist and just searched for everything with the word love in the title. Pretty good problem solving!

So far they have feelered each other. One pushed the other off of the communal carrot, so we added a second carrot. One ate a little and now they are both sitting in opposite corners, looking surprisingly pouty. I have no idea how to tell a beetle’s gender, but since there doesn’t appear to be any difference between them, I’m guessing they’re the same gender. Oh well — we have four more adults on the way!

Pork and Cream Cheese Pupusas (GF and low FODMAPs)

While I love old favorites and tried-and-true recipes, I’m always looking for something new to make things more interesting. Because I can’t have wheat and various wheaty products, I’ve spent a few years attempting to cook all sorts of different grains, like quinoa, teff, and sorghum. On the other hand, I lived in Texas and California for about half of my life, and always loved corn tortillas and corn chips. Even when I lived in Russia, we made tortillas from scratch in order to introduce the students from Great Britain to tacos.

I’ve made pupusas before, once. They are from El Salvador and are a really great “street food” because they are an all-in-one, easy to carry and easy to pack meal. Basically, you mix masa harina and water, just as you would for corn tortillas, only you make them thicker and stuff them with filling. Last time I made them, I tried stuffing them with ham and cheese for the kids, which was rather tasty. This time I stuffed it with slow cooked pork and some half-and-half cheese I made last week.

Slow-Cooked Pork

Take one pork roast and place in a slow cooker. Add a splash of vinegar (I use rice), a little water, and which ever spices appeal to you — I used cumin, ginger, peppercorns, paprika, salt, thyme, and a few bay leaves. Then, set on high and let cook until it falls apart — could take 6-10 hours or so. Then you pull it apart with a fork and let it cook longer, if you want. 10-12 hours is ideal, I think.

Pupusa Filling

Mix the pork with the cream cheese, add any other flavorings. I added chipotle, ancho, and some more salt. I like a smoky pork taste.

Pupusa Dough

Mix masa harina with water according to the directions. I usually just add water and mix until it feels “right”. You don’t want it too crumbly, so if you have trouble forming balls, add more water. Let it sit about 10-20 minutes before making the pupusas so the dough is well-hydrated, and add more water if needed.


Roll the dough into 2″-3″ balls and either poke a hole in with your finger to stuff, or squish flat and fill like a ravioli. Then squish the whole thing (with filling!) until it’s no thicker than a centimeter. Try to keep the filling from falling out, but it really doesn’t matter. Cook on a griddle (or pan) for 3-5 minutes each side, until the dough is cooked, the filling is heated through, and the surface is nice and golden brown.

Place on a paper towel to cut down on the soggy sweating… or just eat immediately, because who can wait? I ate mine with some tomatoes from the garden, the husband enjoyed his slathered in sriracha (none for me.. too much garlic…). Salsa would also be nice, but it is hard to keep FODMAPs-friendly.

It seems like a lot of work, but the dough itself is easy, and you can fill it with whatever you have for leftovers! I just happened to have pork and cream cheese, so it was easy.

Outlining His First Essay

Today The Boy outlined his very first essay. It goes with our grammar and writing curriculum, even if it wasn’t one of the assignments. The books have introduced the idea of an essay, some examples, and described the sorts of strategy you use to put together the paragraphs.
So, because he was already trying to persuade me to get pizza and started to list all of his reasons, I opened Google Drive and started a new sheet and just wrote down what he said. It took one more minute to guide him into categorizing things and making a quick outline with a phrase or two he might use in a topic sentence. Then, out loud, he gave me an example of what it might say.

Motivation: Pizza.

Brainstorming Reasons for pizza
  • You wouldn’t have to cook or use any dishes besides a pizza cutter
  • paper plates
  • kids like it
  • no arguing over dinner
  • spinach pizza is healthy — spinach, tomatoes, parsley, cheese, bread
  • it’s good.

Persuasive essay outline:
  1. Intro
  2. Healthy — pizza is a square meal
    1. Spinach and tomatoes are veggies
    2. Cheese is good for calcium and protein
    3. Bread — a major part of the food pyramid
  3. Even though it’s healthy, kids like it!
    1. No fighting
    2. It’s happy — kids would all eat well
    3. Good
  4. Finally, it’s easy for mom
    1. No cooking
    2. No cleaning
    3. No need to come up with dinner
  5. Conclusion
 So — does he earn a spinach alfredo pizza for this?

1, 5, and 10 years ago in August

Ten Years Ago

10 years ago, I was having the worst morning sickness ever. I
couldn’t even keep down water. But still, I went to the Daytona Reptile
show to see my internet friends and (apparently) to buy a blue tongued
skink. It was wonderful seeing people I’d known for years — I really
wish I could have made it back other years!

Five Years Ago

I had a 1 year old little girl.

And she needed surgery again to have another ear tube put in so she could actually, you know, hear. And maybe learn to talk.

Thumbs up to homeschooling

And I made one of the biggest decisions ever: I decided that Home IS Possible and I quit my job and started homeschooling. Happy home to us!!

And The Boy rode his first roller coaster.

He liked the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

We also spent a lot of time at the Children’s Museum.

One Year Ago

A year ago we celebrated The Girl’s fifth birthday with a family party at her favorite sushi restaurant.

The garden was doing so well.

The baby enjoyed minecraft.

And we made gluten free fractal cookies.

Goals in July

Well, June was a really good month for my 2012 goals. July… not as much.

 1. Lose Weight: B

The weight loss slowed down a bit, but it’s still going. It’s not quite on track for the year, however.

2. Get in Better Shape: D
Clearly I did not exercise every day. I spent a lot of time failing FODMAPs challenges, eating the wrong things, being really tired, and letting all that keep me from being useful.

3. Wean the Baby: Already complete.

4. Keep the House Cleaner: B
It’s been sort of maintained, but we didn’t really uncover much new cleanness.The dishes were often undone and the kids’ rooms are horrible, but we made the living room and dining room much better, so I figure they sort of cancel out.

5. Streamline bed time: B
Bedtime is still going quite well.

6. Write more: C
I’ve thought about my book more, invented more backstory, researched things, determined some more of the story structure and obsessed over it in every way except for, you know, actually writing it. I also didn’t blog twice a week.

7. Volunteer: B
We had people over and managed a cub scout camping trip. That counts, right?

8. More Trips: B
More pool time, games day, park day, and camping. Adequate, but we didn’t really hit any of the specific places.

So, in summary, I don’t think I did a spectacular job of anything, but I guess I held in there pretty well in the face of all the bad weather and unhappy tummy problems.