Classics Challenge - Anna Karenina

I've been wanting to read a Russian Novel for a couple years now but found them intimidating. Last fall I decided that 2017 was going to be the year I did it! I was just determined - even more so once I found out Russian Classics were their own category.

I did get a bit freaked out when I downloaded it to my kindle and it said expected reading time was around 24 hours. I think I would have preferred not to know that! But once I got started, I was surprised by how easy of a read it was, at least it terms of following the story.  I guess I just expected to be a lot more confused by the names and the plot that I was. No, I didn't understand all the intricacies of the politics and side stuff but I grasped enough to understand the characters and their reactions. And I couldn't pronounce the names but it wasn't too hard to remember for the most part, who was who. There's a lot of characters and relationships between them and they are all fairly complex people but I felt so immersed in the world that I couldn't help but connect to it all. The chapters are short so it made it easy to just read a few at a time. And the storyline jumps around so much that I never got stuck in a section about the ones I didn't like as much for very long which helped me keep going.

But while it was a technically easier read that expected, the ideas aren't. This is the type of book I could easily see a book club coming together to talk about and if everyone gave a brief synopis, you might not even think they were talking about the same book. For me, it was all about Kitty and Levin. In both cases, I liked the characters to begin with (although not always their choices!) and loved experiencing their life and growth through the story. I found Aleksey's thought process fascinating and I found myself sympathizing with him quite a bit. Anna's sections were actually my least favorite although I was still quite drawn into her story at the end. I stopped many times to think about what I would, or should, do if I were each character and there weren't usually easy answers to that question. Despite being set in a time and place I know very little about, people are people and I felt like this was a fascinating and realistic portrayal of them.

So overall, I loved it! After a bit of research, I had originally wanted to read the Constance Garnett translation and that's what our library's e-book says they have but when you actually got to download it, it's the Pevear (P&V) translation so went with it. This definitely seems like a book I'd love to reread someday so perhaps I'll try that translation next time. I'm pretty sure they'll be a next time - in a decade or two.

Anna Karenina is my Russian Classic selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge over at Books and Chocolate. 


Spring Update

I don't know why I can't seem to keep up with this old blog thing...maybe it's the three kids and the homeschooling and the 10 chickens, one old cat and 2 crazy pooping guinea pigs. Or something. I don't know. But anyhow, here's a spring update. Maybe there will be another before summer. But no promises.

Buying - A minivan! After a year and a half of smooshing three kids and their massive carseats in a 5 seater SUV, we were able to upgrade. Now I gotta be totally cliche and go to Target and buy some organizational stuff for it. I probably won't be wearing leggings or buying myself a starbucks while I'm there but I might put my hair in a topknot. Can't break the mom mold too much.

Doing - All the nature stuff, all the time. Seriously, it's crazy!  The first of march has us buying a new batch of baby chicks. Baby chicks are so so cute! But then they grow and the cuteness factor decreases while the pooping increases and they needed to go outside. Craig processed the old hens last weekend. It was his first time and I don't think it was a favorite activity of his but he hide it well and managed to sneak in a bit of a science lesson. These are all the eggs he found developing in just one hen! But we cleaned out the empty coop and just this morning moved the babies out there. 

They aren't this cute right now. And they aren't pretty like full grown hens. They are awkward adolescents. Apparently its not just the human species that struggles a bit in the middle. 

Then we found a dead mouse. Well, first it wasn't dead. I found it in the breezeway and calmly relocated it to the backyard. I may have screamed before I calmly carried it out in a net but that's neither here nor there. Then Craig put out traps. Then it was dead. Lucy insists that the one that the trap caught wasn't the same as the cute cute one she saw me take out in the net. I have no opinion on that matter. But we are right at the end of Term 1 of Year 2 of Ambleside Online and what chapters were coming up next in the Burgess Animal Book but the mice chapters so I couldn't say no to a journaling request. We identified it as a Deer Mouse and when I mentioned that mouse was in the next chapter, they insisted I read it right then on a Sunday afternoon. I rarely read ahead in their school books but I made an exception. I was pretty much feeling like a supermom in the nature study department - until Lucy informed me Monday night that Jonah had found the dead mouse again and was carrying it around all afternoon. Supermom nature mom or not, I have limits and they had been reached! 

But even that wasn't the end of nature week! We met up with some friends and searched for a fairly rare flower called the Fremont's Leather Flower. It only grows in a tiny area in our state but with a challenge like that, we had to try. And we found it! And then we ended up on a hike around the glades that none of us was quite prepared for. Over three hours and almost three (up and down, muddy waterfall filled) miles, all three moms and all nine kids made it back to our picnic spot. I may have had to carry Norah in my Boba on my back and a soaking wet Jonah in my arms (he played in the creek) for the last quarter of it, but we made it! My kids insist that even with the ice cream I treated them to afterwards, they never want to do that particular hike again but I think it was worth it. The views were amazing and I'm pretty impressed at what their little (and my older!) body can do. I didn't take any pictures on the hike itself because I left my phone with my bag at the front (because I didn't think we'd be hiking!) but here is the elusive flower. It's more impressive than my photography skills would indicate. 

Lucy draws pretty things too. Like this dogwood. I asked her if she wanted to draw the rare flower we drove out specifically to see. No, she wanted to draw a Dogwood which are pretty much everywhere  here. I am very proud of myself for letting her choose. 

Limping along - The last few weeks of school. Besides the nature studying, we're just pushing through weeks 10 and 11 of the term. Not because anything is wrong with the term, but the weather is so gorgeous that its too hard to call them back inside in the morning and sit at the table. Also, Norah has discovered that she can open my kitchen drawers this week. We toddler proofed the cabinets a while back but she didn't know how to open the drawers. Until now. Craig picked up some locks at home depot tonight and they will be installed this weekend. But one more week! We can do it.

Cleaning - Everything! My spring cleaning fever has kicked in. I don't ever plan for spring cleaning, I just wait until I get the urge. It normally happens around Easter. And yes, all of a sudden I need to clean all the things! But the main floor is almost done and now that the baby chicks around out of the basement, I'll move down there. This is probably another reason the school days seem harder. Doing both well is difficult and maybe I should have waited until exams were done but I want to be done by next week too! Then it's spring break for everyone! I've got books to read! And Macarons to perfect!

First batch of Macarons. Edible but ugly. 


Whole30/Elimination Diet Wrap-up

I didn't mean to leave y'all hanging with the whole 30 thing but it just took for-e-ver to finish adding it everything. Yesterday I had quinoa with seemingly no reaction so I think it's finished!!! YAY! Now, the hard part has been over for a while. I like quinoa as much as the next gal, maybe more so, but its not exactly hard to live without it either. Really once wheat and butter was back, the rest seemed inconsequential. Although my first bite of peanut butter was really all I imagined it to be.

The good news - the brown rice was the only thing I reacted to! Which means that I don't have any big dietary changes to keep up with. The caveat is that I do feel the effects of sugar pretty quickly. But it's not a no sugar thing, just a really watch myself. And things with fat and protein along with that sugar seem much easier for me to handle. Yes to a bowl of ice cream after dinner - no to the donuts at church. I also lost about 5 lbs. Not gonna complain about that even thought it wasn't really a goal of mine either way. Now if I keep up with the ice cream thing it might not stay lost but c'est la vie.

The bad news - the brown rice was the only thing I reacted to. No big miracle with a diet change like so many other people with hashimotos/thyroid issues. Now, I'm in a good thyroid place right now but I was hoping that I'd discover something helpful after having put all the time and money and energy into giving it a try. If I work hard to put a positive spin on it, I still did learn something and now I don't have to worry about whether there is a big diet component I'm missing.

Overall, I'm not super impressed by Whole30 program. I know a lot of people who really like it and if you are eating a Standard American Diet, I can see how it would probably be a good change. I'm more of a slow and steady type when it comes to major lifestyle changes but I know there are some personalities that do better with this type of program. Whole30 is clearly laid out in terms of rules and there is a lot of support on blogs so you don't have to make too many decisions which is a huge factor for me and the time factor and goal setting is a big part of it. It's not really meant to be sustainable in its entirely but if you can keep some of the changes, you're probably going to be better off. My guess is that a lot of people go right back into eating the same old crap they were before. I did. I mean, not crappy processed foods, but the same stuff I ate before. Not a lot of the changes stuck. I ate a lot more vegetables while on Whole30 (because I couldn't eat anything else!!!) including a large salad for lunch everyday and I hoped to keep up with that - but have not done as well as I hoped. For the most part, we eat really healthy, whole foods that I prepare myself, it's just that they are now back to being cheesier.

I really wondered if this whole thing would change my perception of Paleo. I didn't come in with the mindset that grains are the enemy or dairy is inherently bad for you. I just didn't believe that despite the current hype. I was really a bit nervous that I'd chance my mind and then be stuck having to live without them. Now after having eaten dairy/grain free for a while - I still don't believe those things. I like those foods, I think they are healthy if your body can handle them. Mind can and I will continue to eat my delicious fresh raw milk and peanut butter and banana toast. Of course, if you can't handle them that's different. None of the Paleo things I ate in the last 6 weeks are bad for me either but my body clearly needed more carbs that I could easily get with Paleo, at least not with the amount of time I was able to dedicate to feeding myself.


What kind of baker am I?

I love to bake and I love all things British so what could possible go wrong with my watching The Great British Bake off when they added new episodes to Netflix? Well, maybe that I was on a crazy diet where I could nothing! Okay, not really, but almost.

It was torture. And that show is always a little bit like that because half the time I have idea what they are making or how I could possible buy or make that but it looks good. Even if they give me the recipe, I'm just never going to attempt to make a Rosace a l'Orange. Or Suet pudding - but I don't want to eat that either so that's okay. I have to consol myself with the fact that I will never be able to taste what they are showing me, but at least I can make a really good chocolate chip cookie (Ignore nestle; melt the butter! Then mix wet ingredients, let sit, mix some more until its ribbon-y and sugar dissolves. You're welcome).

I did crack up when the final's technical challenge of the season I was watching was - pretzels. And all three ladies were going on about how they only kinda knew what a pretzel should look like and why would anyone actually want to make a pretzel....and I had literally made pretzels the day before. (Pretzels were my gluten/wheat reintroduction food because the ingredient list is so simple I knew if I had a bad reaction, it would have to be from pretzels. Either that or I was reaction to water or salt in which case I have major issues. Plus they are yummy and liturgically appropriate! We make them all the time). The differences between America and Britain are fascinating.

I love how it only takes a few episodes before each baker on the show has a pretty definied role. Their's the guy who always cuts himself, the girl who has to have a theme and the interesting flavor combination person who always has Mary looking at them sideways. Or the short-cut guy who has Paul saying "well, that's not how I would do it." It got me thinking about what type of baker I am.

Messy for sure although I am getting better about that. Possible because I can often convince Craig to take kids outside to play while I tidy up and then I get to listen to whatever music I want instead of the Moana soundtrack on repeat. Just possible.

Pretty rustic and simple. I can do pretty and I used to love doing fun cakes when I was a teenager. But I'm always baking on borrowed time now. Nothing fussy.

Repetitive. I like to find a good recipe and repeat it until I've got it down. And I don't mess around much with flavors. Which is funny because I love flavors in my cooking and I cook a lot of ethnic foods - indian, thai, german/hungarian, korean - all the foods from all the countries with all the flavors. And I'm always trying new dinner recipes. I made samosas this week and they were good but both Craig and I said they needed more flavor. But if I make a cake, its probably be chocolate. Just chocolate. Maybe because I have to cook dinner every night so if it flops, no biggie. But I don't get to bake nearly as often so I want it to taste good.

But it rekindled in me a desire to start stretching myself. I've really done well with my breads and rolls lately but I want to try something fancier this time - the macaron. I mean, they are everywhere right now! At least, visually. I haven't EATEN one because I don't see them actually around here and I probably wouldn't want to spend the money on one if I did. But still, pretty, fun, not very rustic - something different!

I'm actually going to start with meringue cookies to work out those skills without having to worry about wasting lots of expensive almond flour. I think I've made exactly one meringue baked good in the last decade - a pavlova. It was good but even that was at probably two years ago. Time for practice! I'm guessing I'll have plenty of taste testing help.


Enjoy - A Book Review

The idea of rest and Sabbath and enjoying and delighting in God and His creation is an idea that I've been really thinking about a lot these past few months. So when I saw Enjoy pop up as a book to check out, I thought it would be a good fit for a devotional/bible study addition. I was right.

Trillia Newbell is not an author I'd ever heard of before but she covers this the idea of finding opportunities to enjoy the things God has provided us with in many ways. She talks about food and friendships and marriage and the sabbath and even art appreciation (yes, the arts!). I started reading this book and really pondering the end of chapter questions and thinking about how to apply it. Then I realized while that was great it was going to take me over two months to review this for y'all! So I speed things up. But it's not really a case of mile wide, inch deep because those are practical sides to an underlying issue of how everything in our life really should point back to God and how that fact is freeing. It enables us to enjoy it.

I'm also slowly working my way through a classic education textbook type book called Norms and Nobility. One wouldn't think those overlap much but they have. Norms and Nobility talks a lot about how modern education (and the modern world in general) has become very utilitarian. I don't think the church is immune to the effects of that. But Enjoy tries to combat that in a very practical, yet theologically sound, way.

Part of my wishes it went a bit deeper on some issues although now that I think about that, I see how that's not what she was going here but it will enable me to continue that on my own. I plan to go back again on the chapters I did faster and re-read and answer her questions and then go on to pursue some other books that focus deeper on the one to two issues that I think I struggle most with this. For me that means maybe a few of Flannery O'Conners pieces about Christians and their art which I've been hearing about and maybe a book that focuses on the Sabbath. But other people may have other issues they want to go dive deeper into.

 It's got a great conversational tone; I think Trillia sounds like a woman I could easily be friends and I think Enjoy would make an excellent book for a weekly or monthly women's discussion group.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Elimination Diet - Reintroduction Part 1

I did end up starting reintroducing foods somewhere about day 17. Between day 14-17 I could tell I was just not feeling good because of the lack of carbs. I know this was an issue for me when I tried gluten-free (and many others, just google low carb hashimotos!) and its much harder to compensate for that without grains as well. I just can't eat enough potatoes and bananas to supply me with the carbs I need to feel good. And they say right about two weeks of Paleo is when you often hit ketosis and that's right when I started to feel bad. Coincidence? Probably not. The doctor I am working with for Jonah's issues recommended 2-3 weeks as a good length for a gluten/dairy break for him anyway and since I was planning on doing much slower food reintroduction period than the 10 days Whole30 recommends, it seemed like a good time to get us all started.

That said, it wasn't a pretty start! I went with brown rice. Not because I had any great craving for brown rice but I had already planned the meals for the week and it was pretty simply to just make rice for everyone instead of making cauliflower rice for me to go along with everyone's brown rice. And I wasn't expecting any issues. And I actually felt really good that first hour (because, finally, carbs!) But then... Brown rice is now dead to me! I seriously felt like I had eaten a bag of rocks. That's the only way to describe it. I was that wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and was going to experience death by rocks. 24 hours later, I had not died but I had lost the desire to ever eat rice again. Now I have heard that white rice is a lot easier to digest and many who can't tolerate brown rice do just fine with an occasional serving of white rice. I am not yet at a place where I want to try this. Maybe down the road.

After I recovered from my one serving of brown rice, I waited another two days just to be mentally prepared. At this point, I'm not going to lie, I was really scared to try anything else. But I went with oats. Again, because kids eat oatmeal 2-3x a week so eating the same is very convenient. No issues.

Wheat a few days later. I've tried being gluten free for almost a year with no discernible difference in my labs or symptoms before so I was pretty sure it would be fine. Then 18 hours after trying to Wheat, I ended up with the horrible stomach flu. Violent vomiting a full day and a half after eating a sandwich is a bit extreme for a reaction to wheat so I was pretty sure it was just a stomach bug - but I was still nervous. The next day I was up to the BRAT diet. Except the BRAT diet without rice or wheat is just bananas and applesauce. That's not very sustaining. By the end of the day, I did try toast with almond butter and that was fine. No issues with wheat since. Kids didn't have issues with wheat either. And boy, are they happy to have their pb&j sandwiches back as a lunch option!

We actually just started dairy yesterday but jury is still out so I'll update that next time. And then I have some other stuff like corn, quinoa, beans and peanuts.

Sugar itself isn't a category to introduce on it's own like the foods because it just tends to come with them but I am keeping track of when I have sweeter things and how I feel. So far, I haven't done much. No binging, although I have wanted to! We had pancakes and they have a bit of sugar in them but I topped mine with fruit instead of maple syrup. I did make a paleo chocolate bar last week with cocoa, coconut oil, and maple syrup but even a small square of barely sweetened (we're talking 1 Tablespoon maple syrup in a 8x8 pan) treat was a bit much for me. I just felt jittery and had a headache later. The only new thing in that was the maple syrup so just as I suspected, I need to be very cautious about my sugar intake, even in more natural forms. My brain says eat a big bowl of ice cream, my body thinks that might be a bad idea. But for now, we keep going. The end is near!


Just a mild spring zephyr

The weather has been confusing lately. We went from 75 and kids complaining that I hadn't put any shorts in their clothes bin two days ago to them building a (teeny-tiny) snowman in the front yard this morning. But one thing I have noticed is that we are spending more time outside even when its a bit chilly because we plan things when its nice and then don't want to cancel.

A week or two ago the kids were begging to go to our local nature center so I planned it for a day it was supposed to be in the 60s. In actually ended up being low 50s and quite windy but we bundled up and survived. We ate our picnic lunch in the car but as long as we were hiking or climbing, nobody seemed to be bothered by the wind too much. And I actually remembered to take some pictures.

Jonah thwarted my attempts at a cute mom and kids selfie. He really just wanted his foot in the picture. I have no idea why. I make it a point not to try and understand why 4 year old boys do the things they do.

I call this one "Wait for me!"

She probably would have been able to keep up better if she didn't stop and pick up every piece of dried grass she found. Because there is a lot of dried grass on a prairie!

Using the sod house as a wind proof nature journaling spot. 

I let them take the stepping stone path all by themselves while I took the baby and stroller on the main path. I did warn them that if they got wet, they would probably regret it. They managed to stay dry.

She built it herself and was quite proud of it. 


Whole30/Elimination Diet - Week 2 Recap

Another week down. Actually, I'm writing this on day 15 so I'm halfway done with the intro part....if I keep at it for a full month. We'll see.

High Points: In a way things went smoother because we just kept to the same breakfast and lunches routine. The kids are eating more veggies now and we had a few good new good dinners. I've also started serving more side veggies at lunch and dinner - olives, pickles, fermented green beans, that sort of thing which I hope to keep doing next month.

Chicken Poppers - I used turkey and left out the optional cumin mostly because I forgot about it but it was a big hit with everyone. And they don't like zuchini but didn't mention it. We dipped them in guacamole. Guacamole has become the new hit of the month. I normally make my own if I can find good avocados but that's a pretty big IF so I've just been getting the Trader Joes/Aldi version and the kids seem to like a lot more than I remember. Maybe its the smoother texture of the store bought - or maybe they are just desperate for a creamy dip these days. I served them with Carrot/Raisin/Pineapple salad which was also a hit.

Orange Chicken - This was delicious. At least Craig, Norah and I thought so. Lucy and Jonah were not impressed which really surprised me. But Lucy had a tummy bug the day before and Jonah's been kinda whiny today and I'm suspicious. I'm really hoping they just didn't like the chicken and no more puking will be happening in this house this week. But either way, they were wrong, it was great. I used arrowroot instead of tapioca flour because I had it and am familiar with it and it worked just fine but don't add arrowroot into sauce until close to the end because it falls apart in too much heat. I also added snap peas to the mix. I served with brocolli for everyone, cauliflower for me and rice for everyone else. I've never been a fan of cauliflower before, it always just seemed like a bland form brocolli but I'm starting to enjoy it as a base instead of rice. But I'd still prefer rice. I miss rice. Rice is nice.

Steak Bites - No recipe for this. Just cut up steak into smallish pieces and marinated in a bit of olive oil, a bit of coconut aminos and some spices, fried up in my cast iron skillet. Kids probably ate as much ketchup with this as steak but ketchup is a vegetable, right? Served with roasted potatoes and a bunch of veggies. We buy our beef 1/4 cow at a time and funnily enough, I usually use up the ground beef and roasts first. I just don't think about serving steak until that's all I have left. But I really should. Steak is tasty!

Jonah and Norah are perfectly happy with what I give them. Norah isn't really dairy free since she's getting yogurt baby packets occasionally but since other stuff isn't in the house, she's not getting it in non-baby food ways. Jonah's always been my big carb guy so I'm really happy with how he's shifted to eating more meat. Normally dairy, eggs and bone broth are the main ways I've always gotten protein into him but a variety is certainly nice. He still eats his rice or potatoes first at dinner if they are there but will go on to the meat and veggies just fine. And he doesn't normally have any grain at lunch now with no complaints.

Low Points -

Lucy is annoyed with this all. And she was one I didn't think would mind much. But I underestimated how much she hates change. She likes the food I'm giving her but its different and she doesn't like different. I think I'll make some shrimp this week to appease her. It's one of her, and everyone's, favorite foods but they kids can eat like $10 worth of shrimp just between the three of them so it doesn't make it on the menu too much.

I had two slips. Neither intentionally though. One dinner was apricot chicken and I thought the jam we had was only fruit juice sweetened but I was wrong. Didn't realize until I was half way through recipe and I had no other plan to fall back on. Another time I thought I had a can of coconut milk but didn't so I used the kid's carton kind which had evaporated cane sugar in it. I remember seeing that when I checked label at store but got it anyway because it was supposed to be just for kids in their oatmeal or cereal which I'm not having (and because it was half off! A carton of coconut milk for $2!) If I don't make my own, I like the canned stuff for cooking, its thicker and more coco-nutty for things like curry but it slipped my mind. They actually ended up being on the same day too. In all its probably like 1 teaspoon of organic sugar so I hardly feel like a failure but my type A personality is annoyed. I am really happy neither was a case of my being tempted and giving in. That's big.  I'm finding it surprisingly easy to just not eat things. At church seeing donuts - that's okay, I'm not eating those. Everyone else eating veggie straws this afternoon. Not me. That part is kinda empowering I will admit.

I'm getting bored. I like to cook and I really love to bake and I miss it. I feel like I'm spending a lot of time with the part of food I don't like - the meal planning and recipe finding part and not as much on the fun cooking and experimenting part. Plus its expensive. Now, that's only an issue because, I still don't feel any different!! I think I'd actually be more motivated if I had felt bad like they said I might. Because then maybe I'd be more likely to feel good now - or at least have the hope of a change in the future. No tiger blood here. I think we just ate so well before that it really isn't that big of a change. I took stuff out but my body was already used to handling all the foods I'm eating - lots of veggies and healthy fats so no crazy reactions - or big improvements. Which is good long term. If I felt a ton better I'd feel like I need to stick with it ;-) I'm actually contemplating adding stuff in again next week. I'll be adding things one by one with a few days in between so it will take a few weeks to a month to do that still so it seems silly to wait just because. But then again, I made a committment so maybe I should stick with it. As you can see, I'm torn.

I'm also hungry. Really only at night. I'm used to having a snack and there are things I can have but nothing is easy. So I normally just have a piece of fruit or last night I made this apple nut "cereal" which was tasty (and one of those two oops moments). I'm not snacking nearly as much on Whole30 as I usually do but I really do need an evening snack as Norah still nurses the most at night and when I wake up, I'm starving but can't eat for an hour because of my daily medicine. It's rough. I miss having a cup of milk, or a piece of cheese or some peanut butter (and no, I don't really like other butters, I'm trying them but so far, not a fan) right before bed.

Jonah's diet doesn't seem to be helping him at all either. We'll give him (and Lucy but she's really just a tag-along) gluten tomorrow and see how he does.


Mother's Daybook - March 4th

Thinking - Thank goodness this month is over! This has been my first real bout with the February blues of homeschooling. Not just blahs of life, I'm tired of winter stuff, because, really, we've barely had any. It's the last day of February and the kids are running outside barefooted because its 72 degrees! But real, honest-to-goodness, am I doing okay with this homeschool thing? Are we getting everything in exactly as I planned (no, of course not), why can't we ever seem to get around to French (because something has to be the least important and that happens to be what gets dropped when something does), why is this so hard (because I've had a bazillion and a half appointments plus visitors plus lots of gorgeous weather beckoning us outside and when we are at home, we've got a toddler). Basically, am I failing my children?!

 No, I am not. I am feeling what apparently 85% of homeschooling moms feel in February. I made a few minor tweaks, texted a few safe homeschool mommy friends who are feeling the same thing, reviewed my list of read-alouds completed and took an honest and calm look at the schedule. We're going to be finishing week 6 this week which is really right on track so no need to panic. And then, I just pushed through! But today the kids were playing in their tree fort and spontaneously singing their folk song and I was able to just sit and enjoy it. I really enjoyed that they were singing their folk song OUTSIDE. February's song for us was There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea which, while perfectly delightful the first time you hear it each day, does tend to lose some appeal with repetition. But they love it and even if we were technically behind, all would really be okay. But I'm still glad it's March now!

Drinking - This Ginger Peach Green Tea with Matcha. It's Amazing! Yep, that capital A is deserved. And wonderful without any added sweetener. I also recently tries a similar tea, Pomegranate Raspberry Green Tea but its a little tart on its own and I can't add honey this month because of Whole30. I'll try it again in a few weeks but for now, its me and the ginger peach every day. Yes, daily caffeine. After many years of only herbal/rooibos teas, I have fallen pray to the lures of caffeine. It's true. I still love my rooibos teas but they are all loose and I broke my teapot with built in steeper thing so I can't drink them until I get some new steeping deceive. Better get on that self!

Watching - Finding Dory. Craig had to head out of town on business. I'm actually writing this now because I'm trying to stay awake to greet him as he comes home even thought its my bedtime already. But when he's gone, I tend to relax a bit. We eat simpler meals (hello Applegate Turkey Dogs and frozen peas!) and I break out a bit more screen time than our usual meager allowance. We went with Finding Dory and it was a hit. Jonah's seen Finding Nemo several times but it scares him still and I have to skip certain parts so I was relieved that he didn't mind much from this one. But I wish I could have recorded Lucy's face when she first saw baby Dory. Totally adorable! She was so in love with that cute little baby fishy.

Surviving - A tummy bug. Enough said.

But even when she's sick and needing her mommy, she can't let go of baby. The "three" of us spent a whole day this way. At first I thought it was just teething fussiness but no, it wasn't. 

Celebrating - Lent. Well, celebrating doesn't seem like the right word but for once I didn't feel like Lent snuck up on us. Our church doesn't have an Ash Wednesday service but we had a very early dinner, loaded everyone up and went into the city to go to the big Cathedral (this is before the tummy bug struck obviously. I didn't take puking kids to a Mass. I'm not THAT crazy). We had to leave a tad early but I think they all did well. And we got our ashes.

Lest you think I'm biased in favor of Norah when it comes to pictures. I did try to take the big kid's pictures but they weren't in the picture taking mood. They weren't grumpy, just being silly. 

Keeping Alive - Our new baby chicks! We got ten new little ones yesterday. The kids wanted to name them but thought keeping track of ten names/chickens would be hard so they named each group. The ones with black backs and black/silver sides are Wyandottes. Jonah named them Stars in the Sky but we are allowed to use the nicknames Stars (but not Star. It might be plural!) The ones that look all black (but as chicks are actually yellowish underneath) are Astralorps which is a new breed for us to try. They will be all black as adult so Lucy named them Midnight. All the Buff Orpington's are yellow are named sunshine and were my (and Craig's) responsibility to name so I went with the theme and did Sunshine.

This is our third batch of chicks and we've haven't lost a chick yet, even through some rough times, like a power outage that had us scrambling to fill water bottles to keep them warm enough a few years back. This batch so far seems particularly stupid/suicidal so we'll see if our luck, or should I say Chicken skills, hold out.

This is one of my favorite types of nature study . They grow so fast everyday is a new chance for nature study. One of the ten still had it's egg tooth so we got a upclose look at that this morning and will be watching to see when if falls off. In the picture below, its the little dot on the top of its beak that looks a bit lighter. I don't remember any of our previous ones having theirs but I don't remember looking either. They fall off pretty early so its lucky we got to see it. Plus, they are just so darn cute and fluffy. 


Whole30/Elimination Diet Recap - Week 1

Well we survived the first week! Actually, it wasn't too bad at all. I knew when we started all this that I was going to be keeping it pretty simply. Mostly I went through my list of our regular family favorite recipes and found ones that were already gluten free/dairy free for the kids and easily adaptable for Whole30 for me.

Breakfast: We normally eat either eggs and toast or oatmeal on weekdays served with fruit.  I'm replacing the toast with hashbrowns or spiralized sweet potatoes and I let kids have rice krispies or cheerios with coconut milk instead of potatoes some days - after they've eaten their eggs. Dry cereal is a pretty rare treat around here so they like this option a lot! If they have oatmeal, I still have eggs.

On the weekends we often to pancakes or french toast or something fancier and I knew the kids would be sad without that so one day I made banana/egg pancakes (mush 1 banana per person, mix in 2 eggs per banana and a sprinkle of cinnamon, cook like a regular pancake). The kids loved these! I also did some leftover sausage sauteed with spinach with an egg on top one day for myself. But we're used to fairly routine breakfasts so this meal is easy. I'll probably be bringing in more sausage and bacon to excite them a bit more as well.


This is our hard area as we are typically eating PB&J sandwiches 90% of the time. I bought these containers and have done a lot of bento box style lunches with rolled up turkey, pickles/olives (I didn't realize Lucy loved olives. Nobody else does but she devours them!), apple slices with peanut butter(kids)/cashew butter (me) as a dip, hardboiled/deviled eggs, carrot sticks, fermented dilly green beans and sometimes trail mix with nuts and sunflower seeds. This worked well for the three days we had picnic lunches and camped. I normally had a big salad with many of the same ingredients, topped with a basic vinaigrette.

We also did some leftovers and tuna salad on apple slices (kids) and as a salad (me). I'm going to be looking for a few more interesting recipes to try for the kids.

Dinner: I made my whole month's menu of dinners before we started this with almost all tried and true recipes which takes a lot of the stress out of this whole thing but because its mostly meat and fresh veggies and not pantry goods, I can easily switch out recipes later on in the month if we need to mix it up a bit and add in new recipes.

Roast chicken with roast veggies and potatoes and salad - no change!

Leftover chicken as chicken noodle soup - replace noodles with zoodles (spiralized zuchini). I was planning on taking mine out and adding zoodles just to mine and brown rice noodles into the rest but the kids wanted to try the zoodles. They didn't actually eat much of them thought so next time I think I'll add brown rice noodles to theirs anyway. Served with salad/veggies

Lemon pepper Salmon, roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli - no change! This is one of my kids favorites, especially Lucy.

Korean Beef Bowls - I used this recipe which is only slightly different from my regular recipe as that one has molasses but its similar and kids didn't notice. I made cauliflower rice for me and brown rice for everyone else and stir fried several veggies separated with a bit of sesame oil added for flavor (julianned carrots, brocolli, zuchini, spinach) plus kimchi all out in little bowls on the table so they could pick what they wanted - after they tried a tiny bit of each one. I normally do this as wraps with them filling lettuce but did it in bowls mixed together this time and kids ended up eating a lot more. This one was a bit hit!

Camping - Whole30 Approved Chicken Apple sausage for me, all beef hotdogs for kids, lots of fruit (grapes, strawberries, apples) and potato chips. The potato chips didn't have any non-Whole30 ingredients but kinda break the spirit of the thing for most people. As I'm doing it for more elimination reasons, rarely have potato chips and had very little time to plan these meals for camping, I don't care if that makes me a Whole30 cheat.

Super Nachos - Tortilla chips topped with seasoned ground beef, salsa, tomatoes, corn, lettuce and guacamole. I had mine as a salad without corn or tortilla chips. I don't normally put salad dressing on our nachos but without cheese and sour cream I thought we might miss it so I went through the trouble of making a creamy avocado cilantro dressing only to have the kids reject it in favor of straight guacamole. Whatever kids, it was good!

Thai Coconut Fish Sticks - This was the big hit of the week. The recipe is from this cookbook I reviewed a while back and my kids love fish but for some reason I got scared off by the red curry included even though my kids like curry and I already had red curry paste in my fridge. I don't know why but the curry flavor is mild but yummy. They ate these up! I served with roasted potatoes and veggies. And it wasn't nearly as involved or complicated as I thought it would be. We will definitely be making these again.

Pasta with Meat added to sauce and brocolli - Aldi organic spaghetti sauce is Whole30 and budget approved and we normally do brown rice pasta so other than leaving off parmesean cheese, no change for kids. I had mine with zoodles instead of pasta. I don't normally like zuchinni but am finding I like the zoodles because they don't have the same squishy/slimy texture zuchini can in other meals.

Snacks: Another hard area for kids especially. We eat lunch early (~11am) and they have a larger snack around 2pm after quiet time. I've done canned fruit with nuts on the side or apple/pb if they didn't have that for lunch but I need to come up with some other ideas. I normally have a snack as soon as they go down for quiet time - a cup of tea and some chocolate with my bible study time. I was super worried about not having my chocolate but luckily I'm used to my tea without any milk or sweetner so that can continue as normal. I've replaced my chocolate with a small handful of sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are not chocolate, let me tell you! But at least I have something to put in my mouth as I read so I'm not sitting there thinking about chocolate.

The other issue we had was donut time at church so I made rice krispie treats with coconut oil and Aldi brand rice krispies (which are gluten free, regular ones are not I believe) and took them along in baggies for the kids. I, of course, abstained. They didn't complain although Lucy did mention later on that they weren't quite as good as donuts.

We'll be having a lot of the same meals this month so the rest of my recaps probably won't be so long. I'll just highlight any favorite recipes we stumble upon and talk about how I'm doing. And how am I doing? Pretty good! The Whole30 website has a timeline of general responses and the only one that really applied with day 6 and 7, I was really tired. It could be the diet - or it could have been carry over from camping on day 5 when I shared a sleeping bag with Norah after midnight and didn't really get any sleep after that point. Hard to tell ;-) I'm actually really surprised how easy this has been for me. No crazy cravings which was my worry because sweets are my downfall. I did bring homemade lara balls along on our camp trip but I haven't really needed those the last few days either. It's more work, especially at lunch time and I need to make sure I eat enough at my meals because its a lot harder to fill up at snack time without cheese or milk at my disposal but otherwise, no real issues with my body. Now I just got to keep it up for 3 more weeks!


Classic Challenge: Oliver Twist

Knocking out a Classic Challenge book (my 19th Century Classic) AND doing some pre-reading for the kid's future school - yes please! Although the idea of any of my kids being old enough to read it someday is still a bit much. Shouldn't Lucy still be obsessed with Knufflebunny? I think so. But actually, her favorite book right now is Pilgrim's Progress so my heart needs to keep up with her growing mind and body.  Jonah loves his fairy tale and folk story picture books but has moved to an obsession with The Wizard of Oz. How did this happen? Luckily Norah still clings to her Gyo Fujikawa Babies and Baby Animal board books or my heart would be breaking right now. Let there always be someone in my life that loves pictures books. But back to Oliver Twist...

This is the third year I tackled a Dickens and he's growing on me. I liked Bleak House last year but this was the first book that I picked up in the evening because I genuinely wanted to read it and find out what happened - at least before I reached the second half. Dicken's isn't ever going to be my favorite author. He's too Victorian (even for me!) -  too preachy, people more caricature than multi-faceted character, etc but I'm definitely coming to appreciate him and the ideas he's trying to get across, especially when I think about the times he lived in.  He's worth reading and I do plan on keeping up with my "One Dickens Novel a Year" Plan for as long as I can.

Oliver Twist itself was quite fast paced and I was well enough acquainted with the musical and disneyfied version to recognize the characters and beginning plot (Sidenote: Despite it's lackluster drawings, Oliver and Company was probably one of my favorite disney movies growing up) but I was still on the edge of my seat for much of it. Dickens does know how to keep one engaged.

And because I picked on his characters a bit, I have to admit I had a certain fondness for a few of the ones in this book. I loved Oliver and really appreciated that despite all his hard times, he was able to maintain his innocence and tender heart. For personal reasons right now, that ideas is even nearer and dearer to my heart that it usually would be and while I know its not realistic to think that most kids can be Olivers and not Dodgers given those circumstances, it doesn't mean I can't enjoy it, right? I'm an optimistic. I also really liked Nancy. Her story is much more tragic than Oliver's and probably more realistic but also more nuanced than I feel like a lot of his characters are and I liked that.

I recently read a discussion about Dickens in which people were saying it was darker than they expected. But I had the opposite impression. I mean, it has its dark moments but coming after Bleak House, it seemed even chipper at times! I think he did a good job taking us back and forth between the light and the dark which highlighted the issues because of the contrast instead of just making the world he created seem overall dark and heavy as in did in Bleak House. There were times in Bleak House where it felt like his big message was just that the world was an awful place. I don't think that is what he was trying to say but it was so bleak that it felt like it and I lost sight of the point in the middle a bit. Where as with Oliver Twist, I felt like I could more clearly see the issues at play and why things were  happening. Not that either is better than the other as I really did like Bleak House too, its just different and I think a good choice for a younger student like I plan to use it with. And the more lighthearted sections certainly helped me get through it a bit faster! And fast I was, three classics down, 9 more to go!

Oliver Twist is my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classic Challenge over at Books and Chocolate


Whole30/Elimination Diet Recap - Background

So as I mentioned earlier, the kids and I are all on modified diets right now. But let me back up first. If you haven't been around the blog too long, you might not know this but I have Hashimotos, a auto-immune condition that wrecks havoc on my thyroid as well as other things.

 Overall, I'm actually doing really well with my health. I went and saw an endocrinologist two weeks ago and she said that she'd rate me as asymptomic for hashimotos/hypothroidism! I'm still on daily Armour but my labs look good, my thyroid itself looks good (I've got some nodules they are monitoring but nothing that's an issue as of now) and most importantly, I don't have real symptoms. Anyone with an auto-immune condition will tell you that's the real test because lab numbers lie but achy joints, brain fog and fatigue don't! So why do I want to do an elimination diet now?

Well, I've still got some lingering hormone issues which is closely related to my thyroid.  I'm taking bio-identical progesterone and it works well to keep both my numbers and symptoms in check and I have no worries about its safety or any side effects so in theory I could continue to take it until I 'm ready for menopause but I'm still trying to figure out if there is a root cause behind why my body doesn't seem to want to produce hormones on its own. Plus, I don't like needles and shots are painful.
So right now, when I feel pretty darn good, even dare I say, totally normal (!), seems like a good time to tackle something like this. Yet, it is ironic. When I really needed to, I didn't have the mental stamina to plan it, but now that I'm doing good, I can.

After looking at different options like SCD, GAPS and the AIP diet, I went with Whole30. I honestly think AIP (Auto-immune protocol diet) would be the best fit but I'm currently nursing a toddler and I couldn't imagine giving up eggs and nightshades along with everything else. So I went with Whole30 because I liked its clear cut guidelines and limited length. After the 30 days, I'll slowly reintroduce foods and document how my body handles everything. All that's to say that I'm don't think I'm the typical Whole30 users, at least those who blog about it. I'm not trying to lose weight, change my attitude about food or even really eat "healthier" except the cutting out processed sugar part. But I thought I'd document my journey.


Classic Challenge: The Thirty-Nine Steps

This wasn't my intended novel for the Classic with a Number in the Title category and I'm not normally a bit fan of the thriller, on-the-run, spy type adventure novel. But it was mentioned somewhere (a Circe podcast I believe but don't quote me on that) and I realized I had it on my kindle already. So off I went. I do still hope to read Fahrenheit 451 which was my original selection for this category. 

Now, here is where I feel a bit guilty because this really is a classic. It's well written and included on lots of Top 1000 Books or the 118 English Novels you should read before you die type of lists. But it was sooo boring! I don't like spy novels. Mysteries yes, but spy novels, no. The main reason for this is because I like the mental challenge of figuring out the crime but I don't like suspense. But this didn't really have too much suspense for me. In fact, it didn't have enough. The main guy, I can't remember his name and don't want to bother looking it up, was on the run, a lot. People wanted to kill him. Specifically a creepy man with hooded eyelids. You'd think I would have cared more. I wasn't on the edge of my seat but rather the edge of my pillow because I had to fight to keep the kindle in front my face and not fall asleep.

 And it's a bit ridiculous. I'm willing to overlook a bit of a coincidence or some lucky situations. As a fan of mysteries, you have to be, but this was really pushing the limits. Maybe if you're a fan of Jack Reacher or that sort of adventure/spy novel, this would be interesting to you, both for its own sake and for its importance as one of the beginnings of its genre. But it was not my cup of tea. At least it was short.

The Thirty-Nine Steps was my Classic with a Number in the Title Selection for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge over at Books and Chocolate. 


February Field Trip

We love to camp but last summer had a bit of rough luck in our attempts, several stormy days and a tummy bug mid-trip really put a damper on our fun.  But not the kid's enthusiasm as for the last few months, both Lucy and Jonah have been asking when its camping time.  We would try to remind them that it was WINTER still but then they'd just ask again. So when we saw the weather report had a whole week of 60-70 forecasted, we figured, why not go camping in February?!

We had planned it for later in the week then we realized we had made a mistake in calculating Craig's day off so Sunday night we decided to go camping on Monday! And we are in the middle of a fairly intense elimination diet for me as well as a gluten-free/dairy free trial for Jonah (with everyone else tagging along because I am not about to fight a 4 year old with every meal because he can't eat the same thing as his sisters). But I quickly made a meal plan, we threw stuff in the car in the morning and off we went. 

And surprisingly, we did pretty well. In answer to my question "Why not go camping in February?" Well, for one thing, the parks don't have firewood for sale - oops! Don't worry, we made it work and marshmallows were toasted and enjoyed by all (but me). And we had to use the dreaded VT instead of the nice bathrooms with running water. The plus side is that by the time the kids were desperate enough to give in and try them, we were the only family left at the park so I could leave the door open and let some extra fresh air in so Jonah didn't have to keep holding his breath. I was pretty sure he would have passed out if I didn't. It was only afterwards I realized that he was a boy and since the park was empty, technically that whole experience was unnecessary for him. Apparently I'm more of a girl mom than a boy mom still! And if Lucy has to give up gluten and dairy for him, then he gets to use a yucky bathroom same as she does. Fair is fair! Just kidding, after that I let him pee in the bushes.

You can see an empty campground around us although right about the time we brought out the marshmallows, another couple did show up so we weren't totally alone. But the kid's loved having free run of the playground and scootering all around the loop without having to worry about cars. And we've generally had good experiences at our state parks with neighbors being respectful, it certainly was a bit more peaceful than usual around the campfire -at least after the kids went to bed.

Everytime we go camping, I tell myself to take more pictures. The pictures above is the only pictures I had on my phone when I got back! That's really a good thing because I feel like our camping times are some of easiest times for me to just focus on being present with the kids.  I played with them on the playground, I read a bit while they scootered around me, Craig and I both did some reading aloud around the fire once everyone get into their jammies. It was nice, even if I don't have photographic documentation. I did manage to scavenge a few from Craig's phone of our big hike from Monday, some of which I did take.

And I got this video of Norah after she figured out how to climb up the bars and slide down herself. She was really proud of both new skills and repeated it about 20 times. 

She had already hiked a pretty good amount (for a 1 year old) earlier that afternoon before moving to my back and by the end of the sliding time she could barely lift her legs to the next rung but she didn't want to stop. All that moving made bedtime pretty easy. And I've figured out podcasts on my phone so the big kids got to listen to their regular kay ray reads to you podcast at bedtime as usual and we had a lot less of the "He's kicking me!" incidents of the previous years. Our camping as a family skills are definely improving - although I still can't ever remember to bring a potholder! We really need to work on a master camping list because apparently, we sometimes go camping at the last minute! 


A Mother's Daybook

Oops.  Wrote this last week and thought I had clicked publish but I guess not. Life with a Norah-toddler does not leave a lot of time for blogging but I'm hoping I'll get back to a regular schedule with it sometime soon. Or at least by the time she graduates high school ;-)

Listening - To fun stuff with my brand new wireless earbuds. I'm too cheap to buy a fancy pair but so far I'm really loving these SoundPEATS. (That's not an affiliate link just a hey, I thought you too might like decent cheap headphones link) So now I can finally listen to podcasts and librovox recordings while doing chores around the house. I still need to get better at using them to pause and play instead of going back to my phone because its often in another room and I have to just miss a bit while the kids are talking to me but I'll still take it!

Recovering - From the In-laws visit. Don't get the wrong idea, the visit itself was lovely but the kids always need a bit of a detox after family leaves as we adjust to our regular routine again and it always seems to hit one kid the hardest. Which kid varies but one kid each time which I suppose is better than all three at once. This time it was Lucy. I tried to give her some grace because I knew she was upset about them leaving but my limit was eventually reached today. But Norah needed an extra nap today as part of her recovery which kinda made up for Lucy.

Enjoying - My new clean garage. Craig and his dad spent Tuesday loading up a bagster full of stuff while his mom watched the kids play out in the amazingly gorgeous weather and I swept and sorted smaller stuff. I don't think the garage has looked so nice since we moved in. It was a project we had hoped to get to later this spring but it feels so good to have it done early. Don't worry, we did have fun with them too. Low key fun things - small Superbowl party, shopping, lunch out at Cheesecake factory (with a carryout dessert), a Carousel ride, lots of books read and new lego sets assembled.

Watching - The Wizard of Oz. The newest installment of our "Read the book then watch the movie." So far, I'm not sure the kids are impressed. Jonah's a bit frightened and Lucy keeps pointing out all the things the movie is doing wrong. In fact, at one point she told me that "If you hadn't told me that this was The Wizard of Oz, I don't think I would have known. It's really nothing the same." That was before Dorothy got to Oz. I think its gotten a little more accurate since but the Munchkin are not all blue and I guess they are supposed to be. I haven't read the books myself (the kids listened to the first two via librovox during quiet time) but I already know Jonah's favorite part about the Oz being a humbug is missing from the movie so tomorrow we'll watch the rest and see if the kids forgive me for suggesting it or not.


Classics Challenge

This is the cover I wish I had. 

My first Challenge book completed - and it was a good one! I'd been warned not to start Rebecca unless I could devote a significant amount of time in the next few days to finishing it. This turned out to be good advice. I'm reading a number of books slowly but I didn't manage to do that with this one.

It's a classic Gothic novel - dark landscapes, intriguing mysteries, dreams, a "weak" heroine in need of rescuing. Check. Check. Check. Check.

This is the I have. Blech!

I would say that Gothic novels aren't my thing but Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books and I had a love to hate it (or maybe a hated to love it) relationship with Villette when I read it last year so maybe I like them when I read them but just don't read many. I wasn't really sure how I'd do with this one but having heard it be compared to Jane Eyre in several places, I felt compelled to try.

Well, it is very intriguing and sucks you right into the story. I'm not one to fawn over prose but the language here is quite compelling. She sets the scenes well. Plot wise, I see where the similarities are but I think Rebecca manages to keep its own secrets fairly well. I saw some twists coming, others not at all and some I thought I had figured out but didn't quite get it right so the plot itself was great. And I finished it all in about 48 hrs because I just couldn't put it down.

But what is lacks it the strong character of Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre was weak socially and it that has a lot in common with the unnamed main character of Rebecca. But"Main Character" is also weak minded. Or maybe a better way to put it is weak willed. This is where much of the plot comes from and I didn't have an issue with her while reading the book as I felt she was also believable as that character (no eye rolling or exasperated sighs coming from me as several other goodread readers seem to have experienced) but she doesn't have the same strength of character that Jane Eyre had and it is that strength that drew me into the former and left me pondering it for days and admiring Jane as a character.

So it's not nearly at the same level as Jane Eyre. But then, Jane Eyre is a true classic for a reason and there is a lot of room below a Bronte sister and above twaddle and it's definitely a fun choice if your looking for a gothic novel or just a well written book to keep your mind occupied on a winter's weekend when you just want to snuggle up on the couch with a nice cup of tea.


Okay, I talked about the main heroine but now let's talk about "hero." He leaves even more to be desired that Mr. Rochester! Now I'm no Mr. Rochester fan. I've seen him pop up on more than one Top 10 literary lists in terms of romantic couples and heros and I'm always left scratching my head as to why. I love the book Jane Eyre and I do want him to end up with Jane Eyre but only because she wants him, not because I particularly care about his getting his own happy ending. But man, Mr. Du Mauerier, he's takes Gothic "Hero" to a whole new level. And yet - I still found myself routing for them. I disliked doing it but I couldn't really help it. It's written that way. You want them to get away with it all. They are a lot of gray areas in this book. And some really really dark charcoal grey ones. So much so that it had to be re-written when Hitchcock converted it into a screenplay. But she writes it so well that you don't notice it until the end then you step back from the story that's draw you in, think about it and are a bit horrified. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Certainly gives one something to think about.

Rebecca is my Back to the Classics Challenge Gothic Romance Selection. See more at Books and Chocolate.