Large Family Eating: The Thanksgiving Edition Cont’d


Last week’s post was all about our favorite Thanksgiving Recipes and this week’s post will not be too much different: we literally ate leftovers all week. Instead of showing you the warmed-over version of what I cooked, I’m giving you the pictures from the day it was served. It looks a lot better that way.

I am still blown-away by how generous people were to our family after my miscarriage a month ago. I’m emphasising it because we’ve had meals prepared for our family for a month now and… How can I say this… It’s been eye-opening and humbling. I have never brought a meal to someone who has miscarried. I remember once dropping something off at the house of an acquaintance who had recently miscarried. It was on recycling day and her curb was covered,I mean covered, with empty pizza boxes. It was as if my family had kept all the pizza boxes for two years in the garage and suddenly put them out to the curb. I remember thinking (yes, I am that aweful of a person) “Really?” It just seemed so extreme to me. In the back of my head, the thought that maybe someone was taking advantage of the situation might have reared it’s ugly head. Now I can tell you: yes, really. A dear friend who sent us a gift card for M&M wrote in her card to expect a complicated miscarriage to have the same footprint as a full term pregnancy. I’m starting to believe it. Long story to say: people have been feeding us, people are absolutely amazing, it is as appreciated as it is needed.

Thanksgiving has marked the end of my post-traumatic love fest with comfort foods. Now is the time to get serious with health and wellness, starting with cleaning-up my eating. My eating is pretty clean already and I am researching to what extent claims that gluten and dairy can worsten a thyroid condition may be trusted. Separting the wheat (ha!) from the pseudo-science is an extreme sport, let me tell you. I’d love to read your experiences with food elimination and if you were successful in turning-off the little voice in your head telling you that there is no medical basis to gluten sensitivity. I’m so eager to feel good again and I’ve received such confusing and inappropriate care from my doctor that I feel like any twerp on Facebook with a made-up degree could sign me up for a kool-aid retreat if it promised results.

Collage_Thanksgiving Bread

I made Artisan Bread. I’m not very good at it, especially at getting the crust just right. I love how the kids all made turkey sandwiches right off the bat. As they say, leftovers are the best part.

Collage_Thanksgiving veggies

For veggies we had lettuce, cranberry apple orange sauce and boozy squash. Oh and sinful Brussel Sprouts, with cheese, bacon and onions. My husband made mashed potatoes and we researched on Google why mashed potatoes get gluey. Answer: overcooked and overworked. Turns out potatoes are fragile little things. You need to gently coax the starch out lest it comes out galloping and turn your mash to glue.

Collage_Thanksgiving squash

Collage_Thanksgiving turkey

Once we were all turkeyed out, we went for a walk. You know the nice thing about being completely wiped-out-of-shape? You can take a 4km slow walk and you’ll feel like you just run 12km.

Isn’t my country road absolutely stunning?

Collage_Walk in Middleville

What’s for supper? Vol. 4: More muffins and spaghetti sauce


What did we eat this week?

MONDAY


Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.

TUESDAY

Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.

WEDNESDAY

Collage_Spicy peanut pork

Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.

THURSDAY

collage_spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!

STILL THURSDAY

Collage_znoodles

When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.

Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.

Collage_znoodles with sauce

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY

Collage_crepes

My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.

Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.

 

Homeschooling Questions: Working with different ages, grades and interests


The second question that appeared in my homeschooling questions post on Facebook was how to teach multiple children, with different ages, needs and interests. Just like everything homeschooling, my answer will reflect my family’s dynamic, attitudes and hopes with regard to homeschooling. I think that it also reflects my family’s situation: we have 9 children aged 19 all the way down to 17 months. Day-to-day, our homeschooled children are in grades 10, 9, 4 and 1 and we have 3 preschoolers aged almost 4 — the twins — and 1.

 

As a parent, your “education” personality matters to how you will handle different children with different interests. What is your vision for your homeschool? When you think about your homeschooling do you envision yourself reading to your children in a field of yellow flowers? Do you see yourself in a modern classroom? Do you see yourself in a one-room schoolhouse in 1930?

 

My friend Lindsay just started homeschooling and blogs about it at http://www.myfourcrowns.wordpress.com In one of her recent posts, she shared a tour of her new homeschool room, you can see it in all its awesomeness here. Other than Lindsay’s impeccable taste, what can you tell about her homeschooling personality from reading her post? Well, for one, she has a dedicated homeschool room in her house. She has desks in it, and a map and a whiteboard. It’s well organized, it looks crisp and inviting. I know from chatting with Lindsay that she toyed with the idea of having a homeschool uniform. And the picture of her desk shows printed copies of the Ontario curriculum. Whether she ends-up sticking to the curriculum or not is irrelevant: the presence of the documents on her desk suggests that she likes rules, structure and direction. Heck, being able to paint navy horizontal stripes suggests some serious ability to plan, focus and follow through. All these details point to a very distinctive homeschooling personality. We all have one. I also have friends whose house shows no outward signs of homeschooling, other than children. Their children learned to read around age 8, several have not seen anything resembling a math course manual before they were 14. Their learning is happening organically and creatively, at the rhythm of the family’s life. How you handle teaching multiple children will also be rooted in your homeschooling personality.

 

My homeschool and my laptop reside on my kitchen table. We designed our house with a view to have the kitchen table serve as the nerve centre of the whole homeschool operation. My vision of the homeschool is something akin to a one-room schoolhouse where children of different ages, abilities and interests work more or less on the same topics at their own levels. If you look at my homeschool book shelf you’ll see “The Well-Trained Mind”, “Designing your Own Classical Curriculum” and “The Charlotte Mason Companion.” I find that the classical curriculum lends itself well to working with children of different ages and stages as long as you approach it with flexibility.

 

In practical terms, I gather all the children at the table in the morning at 8:30am. We are Catholics so we always start the day in prayer. We say a prayer to our Guardian Angels for guidance and a morning offering. I check-in with the teenagers who are mostly working on their own via online classes and assignments. We iron-out kinks, they tell me if they need help with this or that and off they go. After the teens are off, I set-out to work with the elementary school aged children. I compare our groove to a ping pong match where I will give David some work, then help Sarah while David does his work, then give Sarah some work, then help David, and so on. While I am doing that, I’m also making sure that the twins are not destroying anything. I can reasonably expect about one hour of sit-down, written work in the morning. That’s when I stack-up writing-intensive work such as French, English and math. Because my children struggle with writing and are almost exclusively auditory learners, we can learn a lot by reading on the couch. We do history, science and religion on the couch through reading and retelling. I am also adding a literature reading of a book related to our history subject (currently Ancient Egypt). In terms of academics, I do not follow my children’s interests. For instance, we are all learning about Ancient Egypt in history, natural science in science and going through the credo (what we believe) in religion.

 

Here is a bullet-point list of things to consider when teaching multiple grades. The take-home message of these bullets is “transitions may and probably will kill you.”

  1. Be ready. Children don’t wait. In the evening, I like to prepare the books and notebooks the children will be using the next day. I talked about using spiral bound notebooks to keep track of the children’s work. The notebook are ready. This way, if David is ready to start and I have to go change a diaper, he can start on his own. Having our books ready on the table minimizes the time wasted looking for things.
  2. Be predictable. Having predictable routines help the children know what’s coming. I find that it helps with focus and continuity. As a parent, it also helps me remember what’s coming next and minimizes the time spent thinking “Ok, now what?” Because that’s all the time the children need to start a fight or set something on fire.
  3. Feed the children. Regular snacks and body breaks ensure that I don’t lose whatever small attention-span my children have. If I stay ahead of the curve foodwise I can minimize inattentiveness and tantrums.
  4. Stack transitions. Since transitions can and will kill you, try to keep them to a minimum by doubling-up. Try to work on one subject until snack time for instance, so the subject transition and the snack transition happen together.
  5. Be focused. It took me a while to understand that I couldn’t write a blog post or check Facebook while homeschooling. Any inattentiveness on my part multiplies with the children.
  6. Don’t squander your best work time. My children work in the morning. It takes a really big deal for me to schedule an activity or running errands in the morning. Try to adapt your schedule to your children as opposed to adapting the children to the schedule. Trying to homeschool after lunch is always a disaster.
  7. Know your limits. I couldn’t homeschool four different grades. We registered the high schoolers with Mother of Divine Grace School so I could focus on the little kids. Whether you seek help by getting a cleaning service, tutoring or a babysitter, realize that housekeeping, schooling and childcare are all jobs that people get paid full time salaries to perform. If you can’t cram it all in a 24h period by yourself, give yourself a pat on the back: you’re normal.

Warts and all


I had a moment the other morning. You know the kind? A “Mother of the Year” moment.

I’m telling you this because I used to think that mothers of large families were different. I used to think they had a special gift, a special patience, a special temperament. That they were “good with children,” whereas I wasn’t.  I used to think that mothers of large families found joy in the little aggravations of motherhood, whereas I found exasperation. I used to think that they had boundless patience and energy, whereas I ran out of both shortly after getting up in the morning.

I am now one of those mothers. I have 8 children including a pair of twins. I am expecting my 9th child in the spring of 2014. I am a member of the large family club although I expect someone to knock at my door and revoke my membership any day. Mothers of large family are inspirations. They make people think they can do it too. I don’t think anyone looks at me that way. Or maybe they look at me and think: “Yeah… let’s not and say we did.”

Mothers of large families have moments too. Moments like the other morning, when my 4 year-old woke-up just a little too early. I dragged my sorry behind to the kitchen to help her with breakfast before she could wake-up the twins. No luck: I heard one baby stir and thought that I may be able to nurse him back to sleep for another hour or two. I hurried to prepare my daughter’s bowl of cereal before the crying twin could wake-up his sister. Doing so, I inadvertently poured the milk instead of letting her do it. We’ve all done this right? Except that the difference between you and I is that you only have two children: I’ve had 17 years to learn these lessons and I still screw-up.

I am nursing one baby to the sound of a major melt down in the kitchen. She is screaming like her arm has been chewed-off by a shark. The second baby starts waking-up. I return the first baby to his bed and leave the room. Return to the kitchen and that’s when I had my “moment”. I grabbed my daughter by the arms, sat her down a little too firmly in front of her bowl of cereal and told her to stop screaming. Actually, I may have told her to shut-up. I did not threaten to tape her mouth shut with duct tape although the fleeting though may have crossed my mind. My entire day was going up in smoke: the twins up before 6 am meant that they would certainly fall asleep in the car when I left for errands at 9; the short car nap would certainly knee-cap the afternoon nap; no afternoon nap means no work in the afternoon; no afternoon nap means a hellish supper time; a hellish supper time makes everybody cranky and uncooperative. And I dumped all this squarely on my 4 year-old’s shoulders. Because yeah, she should know, right?

By now, I was back nursing my second twin back to sleep but my daughter was no longer screaming: she was wailing and sobbing for a hug. And from upstairs, stuck nursing in the dark, my heart sank. My child is only 4 and her need for affection and affirmation is gigantic. Not that my other children’s needs are less significant. But this particular child feels everything keenly. The frustration of having the milk poured for her but also her mother’s disapproval and anger. The firm arm grab, the harsh tone of voice, they just broke her apart. And now, I was at a loss to understand how after parenting so many children for so many years, I could still let a 4 year-old get the best of me.

I did give her a big hug. And I did apologize. Later that evening, as we were reading bedtime stories and cuddling in bed, I still felt the sting of failure but she didn’t seem to remember. We read about the wolf and the seven kids, naming each kid after her siblings, puzzling as always over who would be left out (all the kids are swallowed whole by the wolf so it’s a blessing really.) My little tantrum of the morning seemed all but forgotten.

In the balance of our parenting, we all hope that the happy, cozy, moments, the ones that we share around a bedtime story or a family walk in the park will outweigh the moments when we lose it. That’s why we need to love and cherish our children at every opportunity. So that on the whole, they’ll remember their childhood as a happy one, and their parents as loving. I don’t know yet how my children will remember me: a loving mom or a tired old hag with a short fuse? Maybe it will be a bit of both.

I used to parent with very clear goals and expectations in mind. I still parent with vision. But the minute expectations about my children’s table manners and church etiquette have given way to a broader vision of happiness and respect for themselves and others. If I can’t be a perfect parent, I will cover my imperfections with an extra layer of love and forgiveness. I hope that my children will remember the love over the imperfections. Warts and all.

DSC_0081

Unsolicited Advice: Achieving potty training success – Don’t be anal about it


True confession: I never waited for my kids to be “ready”. I potty train at 2. That’s it. None of my children (until the twins) cared about spending some time in a soiled or wet diaper. Some of them may still be in diapers had I been waiting for signs of readiness. There is a window of good will at age 2 and we jump right through it.

Our no-nonsense approach to potty training hinges on the knowledge of our potty-training children’s temperaments and the unavoidable fact that we cannot control their sphincter function. Keep cool, calm, and collected. This is not about you. First read the preamble to this potty training edition and make sure that you are in the right frame of mind to teach your child: The Potty Training Edition

1. Take time off work, or plan to stay home for 4-5 days. The key to potty-training success is repeated successes. Success is defined as peeing in appropriate places. This is very difficult and immensely frustrating if you are always on the go.

Ask me about the day I sat my potty training toddler on a cashier’s counter at a department store and she emptied her bladder. I asked for a towel and the cashier gave me 2 tissues… That’s how I learned that if I was going to keep my temper, I would have to stay home for a few days or use Pull-Ups.

Don’t set yourself and your child for failure. Being constantly on-the-go will cause setbacks that are frustrating for you and demotivating for your child.

2. Figure out what motivates your child. Our approach is based on rewards or positive reinforcement. Some children respond well to motivational charts with stickers. Others respond well to the feeling of being a big boy/big girl. Some children are motivated by a special treat. Don’t skimp on the rewards: this is for a limited time only. Once the habit of peeing/pooping in the toilet is well established, you won’t have problems removing the treat, it happens very naturally. We use Smarties all the way. If you see that one motivator is not registering, try another. One of my friends buys a big toy that goes on display on top of the fridge. She uses stickers and after 7 days without accident, the toy is theirs. My kids would get discouraged by the delayed gratification and responded better to the immediate gratification of a single Smarties candy. For the purpose of this post, I will use “Smarties” as a synonym for “reward”.

3. Reward liberally. At first, I give Smarties to everybody who pees in the toilet. It sets the mood for the potty training child.

4. On the first day, I put my child in underwear. A little note: some children will treat undies like a diaper and only have success completely naked. That’s cool too. Just have a lot of cleaning supplies handy and let go of your inhibitions. Make sure that your partner, significant other or co-parent is on board. If not, delay potty training until you can teach with one voice. I strongly advise against using any form of punishment to potty train. It causes more problems than it seems to solve at first.

5. Your goal for the first few days (it can take a few hours or a few days) is to make your child aware that she is peeing. What does peeing feels like? Before a child can learn to hold pee, she needs to learn what pee feels like. The sensation that we “need” to go is the feeling of pressure in the bladder and tightening our sphincters. The first phase of potty training is to make them aware that they are peeing. I watch them like a hawk and offer the potty but I never force them. As soon as they pee I take them to the potty and say “You peed! Next time we’ll do it on the potty”. No rant, no lecture, no disappointment. I try to get them to sit on the potty long enough to pee but this can be difficult. I make a game out of it, try to read a book, watch a movie, whatever. Otherwise, I just let them be and tell them when they pee. “Oups, another pee. Next time you’ll do it in the potty.” I always have some cleaning supplies handy because this can be a messy stage. I also buy 2 dozens cheap underwear. They have to be cheap enough to be cut and thrown out if the child has a really bad poop accident. The key to potty training success is to keep your cool in all circumstances. Scrubbing poop and swishing disgusting underwear in the toilet is not a circumstance that commands coolness. Life is too short to spend it up to your elbows in a toilet bowl. Unless you work in the septic tank business. But I’m not paid for this gig.

6. Keep body functions matter-of-fact, will ya? Peeing is no big deal. There are no air-horns going-on when you pee, are there?  Some children may be jubilant when they have early success. Jubilate with them. But for some temperaments, the jubilation is a cause of stress and increased expectations. At first, keep the horns and sirens under wrap until you get a feel for what motivates or stresses your child. I ask my early potty-trainee if she needs to go every 2 minutes. At the first sign of stress or stubbornness, I ratchet-it-down a few notches and leave my child alone. Yes, she may pee on the floor, and that’s ok: she is learning what peeing feels like. Never force your child to sit on the potty/toilet. Just walk away, make tea, go scrub your baseboards or something. At the end of a long day, I have been known to put a diaper back on. Relax, this is not a salvation issue. If you can’t respond in a constructive way DON’T RESPOND. Put a diaper on the child and pour yourself a drink or three.

7. Every time your child puts even a drop of pee in the toilet, give her a Smarties. The goal is to teach her what peeing feels like. Be liberal with the Smarties: she may want to go to the toilet every 30 seconds, fantastic!! Take her. If you get a single drop of pee every 30 seconds, give her a reward every single time. To expel a drop of pee, she is using her sphincters. This is good stuff. One of my friends (a mother of 10) uses pretzels because it makes them thirsty…. Then they need to go more often. Apple juice and pretzels, Baby! Now you understand why you are taking 4-5 days at home to do this.

8. As soon as you see the pee=potty relation consolidate, build on it. If you go to the park, bring a potty. The more time you invest in potty training during the early days, the more success you will have. If you interrupt your potty training for errands, playgroups, coffees etc, it will take longer.

9. Once your child understands what peeing feels like and can control the outflow of pee, she will naturally start to keep it in. I find that this happens naturally: when they understand what pee feels like and are motivated to do it in the toilet, they learn to hold it. This may take a day for a motivated child but it can also take longer. That’s why I don’t like any method that promises success within a certain number of days. “Success” is not potty training in 3 days, children are not machines. “Success” is peeing and pooping in appropriate places with no damage to your relationship.

10. Be ready for setbacks. Potty training is often two steps forward one step back. As your child learns to control her bladder, she can get overconfident and start having accidents again. As always, keep your cool. She is not doing this to annoy you. Stress and tension in the household can also compromise potty training. Potty training is very demanding on the child: if her brain is occupied by a sudden language spurt or a stressful situation in the family, it may take away from potty training. Once again, keep your cool and stay the course.

11. The answer to any and every accident is calm and composed: “Oups, you had an accident! Next time you’ll do it in the toilet.” Don’t rant, don’t argue. Walk away, go make tea, call your girlfriend or take-up crochet. I usually just check Instagram and see what cooler people are up to.

12. Just stay the course. Remember that the most important key to success is not to let potty training turn into a power struggle. You will lose that struggle. It’s as simple a physiology: you cannot control someone’s sphincters. On the up side, your child cannot control your response. Manage what you can control and let go of what you can’t. Remain unaffected by your toddler’s antics. Respond constructively or don’t respond. It’s ok to ignore the bad stuff, how do you think I went this far without taking-up drinking?

13. If you have questions, just leave a comment. Don’t get married to a deadline, those only cause friction and stress. After 5 days in underwear, if your child shows no awareness of her need to pee, nor willingness or ability to go on the potty, stop and wait another month. If after 5 days your child has anxiety or throws tantrums at the sight of the potty, stop and waits another month. If your partner supports harsh methods of potty training and punishes your child when she pees in inappropriate places, stop and get a supportive partner. If your child is scared of the toilet, use a potty. If your child doesn’t want to use the potty, try a toilet adjuster. If your child is severely constipated or has pain when urinating, stop and seek medical attention.

Recap:

You cannot your child’s sphincters, your child’s mind or your child’s temper.

You can control your response, your temper, the purchase of diapers.

The key to success is to know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t and acting accordingly. Stay calm and happy potty training!