27 March 2014

Banning "Busy"

Sunday evening Matt commented that it had been a very Isaac-centric weekend.  Soccer game Friday night, (Matt) taking Isaac fishing Saturday morning, Isaac's talent show Saturday evening, a meeting after church on Sunday about a camp for Isaac, meeting up with scouts at the Children's Museum in Winston-Salem Sunday afternoon.

Before Isaac was born, I said that we would limit the activities that he became involved in so that he was not doing too many things at once,  I understood that it is not good to have kids over extended and stressed out in elementary school.  I was intent on not becoming "that" parent.  But there have been weeks recently when it feels like I have forgotten that pledge.  When Isaac started playing sports through the YMCA each fall and spring I allowed him to drop tae kwon do because I knew that doing both would be too much.  But last Thursday we were running from school, to a drum lesson, to soccer practice, to a scout meeting, and that was a simpler version of the evening since I opted out of a school event that same night.  And that does not factor in Wednesdays, when we have to be at church for Isaac to practice tone chimes and attend choir rehearsal or Mondays and Fridays when we have soccer practice and games.  Yet I know that we are much less busy than other families whose kids are involved in multiple sports, or who have multiple kids they are running around.  I don't feel as frazzled as some women, but I know that I could be doing better.

I recently read Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte.  After hearing two interviews with the author in one day I was intrigued enough to buy it from Amazon and recommend it to a friend. The author's message of feeling like there is never enough time to get it all done resonated with me as I often feel that way myself, along with most mothers I know.  I found enough free time over the past week to finish the book, though -- I guess I am not as overwhelmed as I thought.

A couple of years ago, a friend shared an article about how "busy" was a self-imposed social construct created to make people seem more valuable or important than their friends or co-workers.  Being busy had become a virtue.  In one of my favorite lines in the article, the author states that "if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary."  I was thankful that my job, teacher or librarian, take your pick, appeared in those books.  But I also tried to take to heart the author's message that idleness is not for the weak.  That my value did not lie in how much I accomplished in a given day, but in how fully I lived.  

That article has been cited and shared by friends and co-workers more than once since it was written and I thought of it when I heard Schulte interviewed about her book.  She started her exploration with a time study and examining her own life through the lens of the time crunch that many women, in America in particular, feel.  She found many factors at play, ranging from the still inequitable division of labor in the home between men and women, the inequity that still exists in the workplace, and how little our society values play or leisure time.  She portrays her own struggles to overcome outdated expectations and the work that is being done to overcome them in the workplace.  In the end, her argument is that, if we are to live full lives, then our ideals need to change and the focus cannot just be on the role of women and making mother's lives easier, but on restructuring the workplace in addition to realigning our society's expectations for women and men.

In the three areas that Schulte outlines in her book, I feel like Matt and I are on the right track for the most part, but it is hard to ignore all of the external forces.

Matt and I have never been caught up in the "ideal worker" mystique that Schulte describes in her book.  Neither of us want or expect to be stars in our fields.  We have both chosen professions that focus on serving the community and are quite happy being worker bees to our supervisors' queens.  We both work hard and try to leave work at work.  Matt's situation makes it easier for him to do this than me, but I am attempting to limit when and where I will allow my work to enter into my personal life.  Neither of us are the ideal worker who is always on call, always checking email, always working.  But I still find it hard not to try to live up to extreme expectations.  There is the adage that 20% of the people do 80% of the work.  I don't want to be seen as part of the 80% who slack off and allow others to carry the load, so I do more -- if I am involved in multiple aspects of the school then I will be indispensable, right?  And then there is the tool by which my job is evaluated.  In my position I cannot be given highest marks unless I am a leader outside my school, preferably on a state or national level.  So I have to decide if I am going to put in the extra time and effort, outside of the time I am paid, to be "Distinguished" or if I can accept being merely "Accomplished."

Matt and I do a pretty good job, I think, of sharing parenting responsibilities.  That weekend that Matt described as Isaac-centric, I had spent less time with him than Matt had.  After Isaac was born, I nursed, but I also made sure I was able to go out to the gym or to dinner with friends while Matt stayed home.  He has taken Isaac to doctor's appointments, been the drop-off parent for daycare and school, is the stricter disciplinarian, and helps with homework.  I never wanted to be or felt I had to be a stay-at-home mom and we both knew that parenting was going to be a partnership.  But I have not escaped the guilt that Schulte says comes from an expectation of the "ideal mother."  I feel bad that I am not crafty or that I don't bake Isaac's birthday cakes or that I haven't started fun traditions around every little holiday or make creative snacks so that he won't be a picky eater.  I shrug on the outside and say that's just not me, but on the inside I feel like I should have done more to make life fun for Isaac.  And, yet, even as I write this I know that that feeling is ridiculous.

One thing Matt and I do not do well, is share housework.  And I am mostly to blame for this.  In many aspects of my life I live by the rule that if you want something done right, do it yourself.  I am a bit of a control-freak.  I do the grocery shopping because I can stay on a budget better than Matt, I think.  I do the cleaning because I will pay more attention to detail, I think.  I do the cooking because I am the pickier eater and I will not like what Matt cooks -- this one has actually been proven true many times.  The other things? Matt is perfectly capable of doing all of them and offers to.  But when he asks what he can do to help or what needs to get done, I usually pass.  I am not willing to lower my standards, standards that I learned growing up, mainly from my grandmother who was a homemaker.  Logically, I know that my house does not have to be perfectly clean, but I still get frantic that it be spotless (at least the visible parts) before friends come over, which stresses everyone else in the house out, too.  I know that the house does have to be clean before we leave for vacation, but I get tense thinking about coming home to a mess.  I have relaxed some of my expectations and let go of some chores -- I don't worry about the bed getting made, no one will see it.  We all do our own laundry, even Isaac, and if our clothes sit in the laundry basket until we need it for the next load, so be it.  I have been committed to cooking more, so often the cleaning schedule that hangs on my bathroom mirror gets ignored.  Isaac now makes his own lunch, though sometimes that feels like more of a hassle than just doing it myself, to be honest.  My obsessive control of the housework affects our time to play.

While reading about the ideal worker and the ideal mother and how our society values productivity over leisure, I deliberately took time to read rather than cleaning the bathroom, or mopping the floors, or putting the dishes away.  I also took a couple of walks, started getting my containers ready so when this interminable winter ends I can plant herbs, and wrote a couple of posts for this blog.  Matt and I are starting to plan our summer vacation and, rather than plan a week that will keep Isaac entertained, we are going to take a few days to ourselves while he stays with family.

At the end of Overwhelmed, Schulte advises her readers to really think about what they want and begin to structure their lives around that.  So these are some things I want:

I want to take more walks.
I want to sit on my porch and drink a glass of wine in the evenings (if this winter would ever end).
I want to enjoy lazy weekend afternoons napping on the couch.
I want to ban the word "busy" from my vocabulary and instead focus on the time we have spent playing.

Right now I want to watch the UF v. UCLA game.

24 March 2014

Unlikely Hero

The new Lunch Lady graphic novel arrived at school last Thursday.  Isaac was there to see the new arrivals when I opened the box and claimed first read as soon as he saw it.  I don't think he had read any of the other books in the series -- we don't have all of them in the library, just a couple that I have been able to acquire the past couple of years.  But he knows that it is a graphic novel series and was interested in reading it.

I did make him wait until I had cataloged it before he could bring the new book home.  Since I knew he would ask about it the next day, my promise motivated me to catch up on some processing tasks I needed to get done.

So, Friday afternoon I checked out to Isaac the newly barcoded  Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle.  I also brought home my personal copy of Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians for him.

He started League of Librarians on the drive home that afternoon and sat in the car when we arrived to finish it.  He read Schoolwide Scuffle Saturday after coming home from a morning of fishing with Matt and a friend.  The weather was beautiful so he sat on the porch to read. 

Lunch Lady is the creation of Jarrett Krosoczka.  He has written picture and chapter books in addition to his graphic novels.  When you think of school personnel as likely heroes, the lunch ladies probably aren't the ones that come first to mind.  But the Lunch Lady heroine and her assistants have adventures most women in the serving line wouldn't dream of having, and most kids who go through the line would never imagine them having.  

There are some fun videos and activities on both Krosoczka's website and the Random House website.  There is now even a School Lunch Hero Day site to promote a special day set aside to honor School Nutrition Professionals the first Friday in May.  I think I know what my library helpers will be working on once National Poetry Month is over.

I think we will be searching Ed McKay for other Lunch Lady books.  I will even overlook the fact that the school librarian was the bad guy in #2.

18 March 2014

Inspired by The Doctor

Isaac is both fascinated and terrified by Doctor Who.  We came late to "The Doctor" fan club and still don't watch it regularly.  Matt usually has it playing while he is on the treadmill and occasionally he and I will find the time to sit down and watch an episode together.  But, for about a year, if it was playing Isaac refused to be in the room.

At the same time, any reference he saw excited him -- pictures, cartoons, toys.  He bought himself a Dalek necklace at a comic book convention last summer and peruses the rack of figurines at the local comic book store whenever we are there.  One of our favorite coffee shops has a Tardis replica that Isaac loves and wants in his room.

Matt has been frustrated by Isaac's resistance to watching the show.  I have had to remind him many times that he is still only 8 -- his threshold for "scary" is different than ours.  He is starting to get past it, though, and has sat down and watched a few episodes with Matt recently.  Because he wants Isaac to warm up to it, Matt has been careful to pick ones that are less scary and he is always mindful of taking the time to talk about what they watched once it is over.

Last fall, a friend of ours sent Isaac a book commemorating the 50th anniversary, Doctor Who: The Vault.  Isaac will sit and look through it over and over.  He will compare The Doctors and look at the monsters and try to pick out characters he remembers.  He is not really reading the book, it is more of a browsing volume.  But if there is a question that comes up when he and Matt are watching the show or talking about something that happened, he will pull out the book to look it up.

One of Isaac's buddies is also a Doctor Who fan.  Last week, on the way home from school, Isaac announced that he and Abe are going to write a book of Doctor Who poems and illustrations.  I am pretty sure this was Abe's idea, but Isaac was excited about it -- he and Abe already had a couple of poems composed and pictures drawn.  Here are a couple of their verses . . . .

Doctor Who?
You know who
The Companions know
And so do you

Fezes are red
Tardises are blue
Daleks are evil
But The Doctor will save you

I am not sure what the plurals of "fez" or "Tardis" are, but I thought these were a pretty good start.  There was apparently a debate between the boys about the last line of the second poem -- Abe wanted to pay homage to The Doctors' bow ties, but Isaac insisted that bow ties were not ubiquitous enough in the show to merit it.  Upon arriving at home, Isaac proceeded to look in his book at every Doctor to see how many wore bow ties.  He felt vindicated when his search was complete -- a majority of The Doctors were sans bow tie. 

There has not been much progress on the collection of original Doctor Who poems in the last few days.  Maybe this snow day will jump start the creative process again.  Or maybe we will watch a few episodes to get some inspiration.

17 March 2014

Matt Reflects on Burying Our Cat

P.S. Your Cat is Dead

Between the neverending winter, and the upcoming soccer season tying up our weekends, we needed a change of scenery so we decided to take an overnight trip to visit some friends in Charlotte. There was the normal frenzy of packing and planning for travel.  Nancy came home and cleaned the house and I packed a change of clothes and called on our neighbor to check on our pets.  As we were walking out the door, Nancy told Isaac to feed the cat.  I remembered thinking that I hadn’t seen the cat in a few days.  This was not unusual.  Our cat Angelo preferred to sleep in the sewer on cold snowy nights rather than stay inside. (I couldn’t help but take it a little personally when he would howl at the door and pee on everything until we let him out into the snow, only to disappear down the storm drain.)

Isaac asked if I had checked her hiding spot, behind a recliner in the loft.  I went upstairs and looked behind the chair, saw our motionless cat and knew right away that she was dead.  I called her name “Miss Ophelia” twice to see if it would wake her up, this method proving successful on the many many times that I assumed that our dog had died only to find out that he was, in the words of “Miracle Max,” only “mostly dead”.  

After she didn’t respond, I announced, “She is dead.”

Nancy and Isaac both came up and confirmed it.  Nancy gave me the same look she had when Isaac asked what exactly the commercial for Tampax was advertising, a look that conveyed “I am the responsible adult most of the time, but you need to deal with this one.”

I knew the vet up the street offered cremation services, and already had their number in my phone (referring back to the time the dog was only “mostly dead”).  I am not going to lie.  I was as surprised as anyone.  We had been preparing Isaac for the dog’s death since we suspect he had had a stroke, is blind, deaf, senile, and those damn vultures circle whenever he goes out in the yard.   

Miss Ophelia was our retirement pet.  She was self sufficient, pretty, sweet, funny, and loved everyone (except neighbor cats and possums).  She was also seemingly very healthy, although in retrospect she had to have been about 15 or so.  You never know with rescue cats.  She was small and you could tell that her black fur was brown when she was in bright sunlight.  

In the last few years, I had grown terribly allergic to her, my eyes itching fiercely for hours, and my hands swelling up and sprouting red blisters if I touched something that she had been lying on.  But she was loyal to Isaac, often sleeping on his bed whether he liked it or not.    

I am not sentimental about bodies.  This is a function of being in the medical profession, and my religious upbringing.  When I asked my elderly grandmother if there was any music or scripture she wanted at her funeral, her response was “Do whatever the hell you want.  I won’t be there.”  

I donned rubber gloves and spread out some waterproof table covers that we use for surgical trays.  I picked her up, and the grief that was welling up was immediately superseded by the nausea from the smell.  

There is a bit of controversy here that will probably last in our family for years.  This is no slight to Nancy’s housekeeping skills, but there was a dead cat for somewhere between 2 and 5 days in the house without us noticing.  Nancy will claim 2 while Isaac’s version is 5.  

Isaac and I put the bag with the body in the back of the truck and drove up to the vet. It was a slow afternoon and the one receptionist was on a phone call, so we had to wait.  When another employee asked how she could help us, I explained the situation and asked how much cremation would cost. She looked it up on the computer and the cost came to $68.  

I called Nancy (who was home airing out the house) and she deferred to my wisdom.  I made a few calls and realized that there was no way we were getting rid of the cat cheaply.  (Footnote here….No cat is ever a “Free Cat”.)   

We live in a townhouse so don’t have 1) a yard or 2) yard tools to dig a hole.  I thought about calling friends to borrow either a bit of yard or at least some shovels, but couldn't reach any and waiting a few more hours was not an option.  Isaac, ever the pragmatist,  looked at me and said “Dad, if we pay $70 , we won’t have money for snacks on the road.”

So we drove to Home Depot to buy some shovels instead.  I asked Isaac how he was doing and he told me that he was holding in his tears until later.  I told him that he could cry whenever he wanted to.  He could be mad if he felt like it.  He could ask God “Why?” if he wanted to.  I told him that he may cry two weeks from now or not at all.  

We picked out two shovels and Isaac carried them through the store.  When he said “Two shovels?  We got ourselves a party!” my uncontrollable laughter teetered on the edge of tears.  I told him that it was okay to joke, too, to which he replied “Well….we are off to bury a dead cat!” in a fake cheerful voice.  I replied, “Easier than an alive one.”  He came back with, “Much less screechy.”  

As we walked into the woods near our house, he quipped “The time comes in everyone’s life when sooner or later they have to bury something in the woods.”  We found a spot and set to digging the hole.  He and I both dug until we had a hole that seemed more than deep enough.  

Isaac backed up to avoid the smell when I removed her from the bag and the wrappings (having heard my 15 minutes of dry heaving, he was reasonably cautious.)  We dropped her in the hole, said our goodbyes, a prayer and offered up “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.”

Isaac threw the first dirt in the hole and we set to finishing the job together.  

When we finished, he said “Our work here is finished.”

And I said, “And now the worms do theirs.”  

There are some of you who would find it disturbing to joke like this, but this is how my family chooses to deal with pain.  We name our fear, and then joke: not out of false bravado or a misguided feeling of invulnerability but a real sense that one day we will all be there, and there is nothing we can do about it.

I hope that Isaac appreciates how fragile and unexpected life is.  Death is ugly, but fearing it can make you waste your life.  I also hope he learns how to grieve in a healthy way -- by talking with people he loves and doing the work that needs to be done when someone or something dies.  

Strength and Honor,

Smart about the States

One of Isaac's favorite apps on the iPad is "Stack the States."  It is one of the few apps for which I have paid to upgrade to the full version.  He often plays it in the car during our commute to and from school.  During the game he has to answer questions about various states to reach the next level and, periodically, he will throw a question out to me about one state or another -- most of the time I can answer them.

Since he has been playing the game, he has become interested in looking at maps and locating states.  There is a bulletin board outside the library with a map of the United States on it that he will pause to look at and try to name as many states as he can.  Unfortunately, he often does this when I am not in the mood to dally and just want to get in my car and get home.  

Since Isaac has shown such an interest in geography and United States trivia, I bought him a Smart Book on the states at the last book fair.  There is a page or two of facts and trivia about each of the 50 states along with QR codes that link to videos and quizzes.  I thought the interactive format would appeal to him and would be a way to combine screen time with an educational activity that was geared toward one of his interests.

As a break from reading chapter books, we have taken the time to read through a few pages before bed on a few occasions -- reading the information and watching the accompanying videos, then taking the quizzes.  I have been a little disappointed in the videos that the QR codes link to and the quizzes for a couple of the states do not actually ask about information that was in the text.  Isaac will either ignore the videos entirely and just read, or skip the reading and go straight to the videos and quiz.  He hasn't put the whole experience together, yet, of using the videos to supplement and the quizzes to bring it all together.  

The format of the book is also a bit confusing.  It is arranged by region, with states grouped geographically.  There is a Table of Contents, but it still makes finding specific states harder than it would if they were simply arranged alphabetically.  The QR codes for each region in the Table of Contents do not necessarily add to your knowledge of the region, either.  I thought they would link to an explanation of the region, but some are a short video or just a random slideshow.  The link for The South, for instance, is merely a slideshow of regional foods, while The Pacific Region links to a short video about cable cars in San Francisco.

Overall, the book is appealing and is the type of text that many kids are drawn to -- books of lists and trivia are always popular because they are quick reads and can be read in snippets.  The "smart" aspect of this book, though, is weak.  This is a case where technology for the sake of technology does not add to the experience.  It is not integrated into the content well enough to be necessary and the book would do just as well without it.  

05 March 2014

What's for Dinner?

Two years ago, Matt and I gave up meat for Lent. We did not intend to give it up completely, just to cut back on what we ate during the 40 days (minus Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  But eating meat only a couple of times a week became eating no meat at all.  It had been something we had wanted to try for a long time and we were both surprised at how easy the transition happened.

Then Easter came along and we hosted our annual lunch for which I prepared a ham, and we both decided to continue to refrain from eating meat.  We were not missing it so we saw no reason to start eating it again just yet.  For the next seven or eight months, we managed to find ways to eat that did not include beef, poultry or pork products, though we did decide we were going to eat fish.

I have never considered myself a good cook.  Utilitarian is the term I have used to describe my culinary skills -- I cook well enough to keep my family fed.  I would never have said that I liked cooking, either.  It was something I did because I had to.  A survival skill.

After almost a year of subsisting on a meatless diet, I knew that if we really wanted to continue then we needed more variety.  Even when I was cooking meat, we ate similar menus every week.  It was boring.  I sometimes tried new recipes, but was particular about how many ingredients and steps they contained.  More than five of either and I skipped it.

Isaac was doing okay with no meat.  He actually kind of likes the meatless substitutes for ground beef and chicken.  And when we went out, he could choose to have chicken or beef if he wasn't in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.  But he is almost always in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich.  He was rather a picky eater, but I was, too, and so are many kids.  But I felt like I should be trying harder to expand his options and broaden his palate, and mine.

So, at the beginning of 2013 I did something unusual for me -- I made a New Year's Resolution.  I resolved to find and try one new recipe each week to vary our diet and keep this meatless lifestyle we were trying interesting.  Matt and Isaac were supportive.  They bought me a cookbook for Christmas and our journey began.

It was an interesting year.  Some of it was a struggle, but for the most part my challenge was rewarding.  I did not become a great cook -- as evidenced by the puddle of egg and milk that ended up running down the cabinets yesterday afternoon when the quiche I was preparing overflowed.  I am a more confident one, though. I have learned how to look at a recipe and see beyond the ingredient list and multiple steps.  Honestly, I rarely follow a recipe step by step, taking shortcuts or making substitutions along the way.  I have used ingredients I never would have tried before and even discovered that maybe I do like food that is a little bit spicy.

My resolution was probably hardest on Isaac.  Matt will eat anything, so he never worried about what showed up on his plate.  But there were nights that dinner was a tense, teary affair.  I have never been willing to make Isaac a separate dinner -- our rule is that he eats what is put on his plate, then if he is still hungry he can choose an alternative.  I tried hard to never give him a large portion and there were a few nights I relaxed the rule because I knew that he would hate what we were having.  I mean, I wouldn't have eaten brussel sprouts just two years ago no matter how much cheese they were smothered in, so how could I force Isaac to eat them?

But we finally seemed to turn a corner late last year.  Isaac tries things much more willingly, now.  He is either discovering that food with color isn't that bad or that it's not worth the fight.  Either way, dinner has been much more pleasant recently.  I have also started buying him chicken and ham occasionally because I know that his dietary needs as a growing boy are different than mine and Matt's.  I even make him bacon many mornings before school.  There have even been nights, however, when he declared that whatever it was that I made was the "best" thing he had ever had.  And he asked for seconds!

It was a bit of a relief to come to the end of 2013 and be able to relax my weekly recipe search.  I have not given it up completely, though.  I still spend most of my time on Pinterest hunting for recipes to try.  My resolution kept us at home for dinner more often, which is something we definitely want to continue.  I have found that I really like knowing what goes into my food, so I have stopped buying items like salad dressings, hummus and guacamole and started making my own.  Last summer I finally managed to grow some herbs on our back porch and used them in my cooking.  I am already eager to begin this year's herb garden (if only the weather would cooperate).

I kept a list of all of the recipes I tried last year.  Most were main courses or side dishes for our dinner, but some were desserts or snacks.  Some were variations of a meal that we used to eat with meat, but many were new foods or contained an ingredient I had never used before.  But none of the recipes were hard -- I still mainly keep to my five ingredients and five steps rule.  I may have surpassed the basic survival skill level of cooking, but I am still a working mom with about 30 minutes to get dinner ready each night.  The act of cooking, though, no longer causes me stress.  I have actually come to like the time I spend getting dinner ready, puddles of egg and all.  I never thought I would have said that at the end of 2012.

So here is what we ate last year -- some months I cooked more than others, but I averaged about 2 new recipes a week.  Isaac's favorites are the desserts.

Butternut squash apple gratin
Meatballs with apricot almond couscous
Baked gnocchi
Slow cooker vegetarian lasagna 
Italian mushroom polenta bake
Spicy polenta black bean casserole
Roasted stuffed peppers
Mediterranean flatbread
Bell Pepper and ricotta calzones
Shrimp fried rice
Polenta with sautéed vegetables and spaghetti sauce
Creamy mushroom quinoa with asparagus and olives
Vegetable enchilada casserole
Pecan honey crusted grilled shrimp 
Asparagus "delight"
Penne fresca pasta salad
Garlic dill baked salmon
Hummus cups
Roasted veggie tacos
Lentil sloppy joes
Black bean quinoa casserole 
Lemony red potatoes and green beans
Smashed potato lettuce wraps 

Spring vegetable risotto
Summer squash tartine with ricotta rosemary and lemon
Zucchini rounds with tomato and feta
Crispy polenta with sautéed vegetables
Eggplant, tomato and feta stacks
Leek and asparagus quiche
Cheesy vegetable crescent rolls
Cast-iron charred corn
Tomato corn quiche
Zuchini fritters
Onion dipping sauce
Bell pepper salad

Potato kale enchiladas
Open face feta omelets
Pumpkin pecan dessert bars
Pineapple cheesecake dessert bars
Shrimp couscous
Crunchy baked taco casserole
Acorn squash soup
Harvest cheddar soup
Pumpkin blossoms- chocolate and vanilla
Parmesan crusted tilapia
Corn potato gratin
Mexican style eggs in a nest

Black bean and rice skillet with roasted carrots
Veggie pita pizzas
Spaghetti with homemade lemon pesto
Mujaddara with quinoa fatoush salad
Veggie gyros with lemon dill couscous
Tomato tart
Veggie Korean pancakes 

Buttery garlic spaghetti with herbs
Strawberry tomato bruschetta 
5 layer Greek dip with toasted pita chips
Spaghetti squash with apples, pecans and goat cheese
Crockpot tortellini
Roasted veggie hummus wrap
Red pepper goat cheese frittata
Black bean mango quinoa salad
Spaghetti squash bake
Edamame rice bowl (quinoa instead of rice)
Creamy shrimp rigatoni
Frying pan donuts 
Baked eggplant parmesan
Baked zuchini sticks
Roasted eggplant penne with basil pine nut crumble
Eggplant rollups
Salmon with sriracha sauce
Roasted eggplant with potatoes
Calabacitas with zuchini and corn
Peach salsa
Siracha hummus

Broccoli cheese soup
Quinoa omelette breakfast cups
Ranch dressing
Skillet hash browns 
Tatsoi cheese spread
Banana egg pancakes
Mama samberg's cranberry relish
Pecan bars

Lemon broccoli pilaf 
Lentil scallion fritters with feta 
Meatball mozarella biscuits
Stuffed portobellos 
Spaghetti squash quinoa bake
Potato Brussels sprout frittata 
Brussels sprout gratin
Roasted broccoli chick pea orzo salad
Pea ricotta spread
Phyllo bird nests

Cilantro lime fried egg on sourdough bread
Quinoa burgers
Tofu pineapple stir fry 
Honey lime slaw with salmon tacos 
Cheesy chile quilles with fried egg 
Broccoli pesto braid
Creamy polenta with poached eggs and olive-herb pesto
Breakfast potatoes
Butternut squash penne
Spinach mushroom cups
Parmesan baked tomatoes
Crestless spinach zucchini mushroom feta quiche
Angel hair with roasted eggplant and yellow squash
Black bean yellow squash boats
Spaghetti squash caprese
Grilled peaches with margarita cream
Eggplant pizzas
Pumpkin spice white chocolate chip cookies
Jamaican patties
Greek yogurt Mac and cheese with spinach
Kale goat cheese frittata
Polenta cheese bars
Corn cheddar quiche
Coconut candies
Two ingredient oatmeal cookies
Creamy hash brown frittata

04 March 2014

Catching Up in Body and Mind

Isaac has been reading voraciously.  I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's true!  He has passed up opportunities to play video games or watch TV to READ!  Saturday night, with about 45  minutes to kill between finishing his project and meeting a friend for dinner, he sat and read until we had to leave.  Sunday afternoon after coming home from a friend's house, rather than choose to chill out with the TV on, he sat and read.  Yesterday, when I asked him what he wanted to do when we got home, since we were leaving school  3 hours early, he said he wanted to come home and read.  And he did -- for about two hours!

I have been dumbfounded.  I sent Matt a text Sunday night with this picture, and the question "How do I fuss at him for not getting his lunch ready when this is what he is doing?"

Normally, I have to pull him away from Netflix to finish chores, not from a book.  And it is not just with reading that we have noticed a change.  Last night he practiced his drums without a fight.  And actually played and practiced his rhythms for sustained periods rather than 30 seconds at a time.

So to what do we owe this miraculous shift?  One thing, I think, is the return to a routine.  The weeks since Winter Break have been a roller coaster.  We have only had one full week of school on a regular schedule due to delays, early dismissals and cancellations.  Those interruptions have wreaked havoc -our sleep schedules are off, we have not been eating as well as we should, chores have been left undone, and the feeling of lethargy that took over has been hard to shake.  I need a routine to function well.  Not one that is inflexible, but one that gives me structure so I know what needs to get done and what the time frame is for doing it.  If I, an almost 40 year old adult, have been completely knocked off kilter by the past few weeks, then I can only imagine how Isaac has felt.  

I also think the weather over the weekend helped.  Isaac spent most of Saturday and Sunday outside.  Exercise and sun are good for our bodies and are brains, and I know the lack of both has made me more tired and cranky and unmotivated.  So, why wouldn't it be the same, or worse, for an 8 year old?

But I also think Isaac is maturing.  Not that at 8 1/2 he has all of a sudden reached an age when the hard times will come again no more.  But I forget that he is one of the youngest in his class.  He probably is the youngest boy, actually.  Some of the kids are almost a year older than him, and when you are 8 and 9 that can make a huge difference.  Third grade is a hard adjustment and he is only now reaching the age that most of his classmates were when school started.  His brain and his body finally seem to be catching up to the demands that school is placing on them.

There have also been some external motivators and confidence builders that have given him a new way to see himself.  We found out two weeks ago that he qualified for the AG program.  This was important to him because his friends are also in AG - not because to him it meant that he really is smart.  But getting that affirmation in the form of acceptance into a special group did, I think, slightly alter how Isaac views his abilities.

Whatever the reasons for the recent love of reading and increase in attention, I am thankful for them.  Of course, we are out of school again for a snow day so there goes our routine.  Isaac slept late and decreed when he got up that he would be spending the day in his pajamas.  It sounded good to me and I was even looking forward to sitting down and watching a movie this morning.  Instead, Isaac wanted to download the next Wimpy Kid book so he could try to finish the series.  So, as I finish this post, he is in the other chair reading.  Sounds like a pretty good way to spend a snow day.  I think I will join him.

03 March 2014


Isaac had two projects due this week, a timeline and a Reading Fair display.  One was assigned by the teacher, the other was optional -- but when your mom is the librarian and she is hosting a Reading Fair and asking for voluntary submissions, it's not voluntary.

Luckily, the snow helped us get ahead on the timeline project, so we were not rushed to finish everything up over the weekend.  Isaac researched Ellen Ochoa and created a timeline of important events from her life.  He could choose to make any kind of timeline he wanted to, so I found a website that we could make one digitally.  I try to help him find ways to use technology for projects like this, partly to give him the experience and partly to search out new tools that I may want to use with classes.  We used timetoast.com for his timeline.  It was pretty simple, but it has some limitations that will prevent me from using it with students at school, namely it lacks an educator component that would allow teachers to set up student accounts and keep projects private and it is not set up to accept dates for which you only have a year.  Isaac did a good job once he buckled down to work.  We even managed to get it turned in early!

With the timeline out of the way, we focused on his Reading Fair project.  Typically, when I "asked" Isaac if he was going to do a Reading Fair project, he said no.  Then Matt talked him into doing one if I would let him use the new Ripley's Believe It Or Not book that was on the Book Fair.  If it meant he would do a project, I was willing.  Around the same time Isaac was reading a book from the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshish, and on the Book Fair there was a value pack that contained most of the series.  Since I will jump at any opportunity to encourage Isaac to read, we bought the set.  The first one he read was The Attacks of September 11, 2001.  We had visited the memorial over the summer, so I thought the connection may interest him enough to convince him to use that book for his project.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was right.

Because I was pretty much forcing him to do this extra work, I increased the amount of help I was willing to offer.  I let him dictate what he wanted to say while I typed to save both of us aggravation and stress, and oodles of time.  Otherwise, it was Isaac's vision that we used to create the final product.  He had an image of the towers and the smoke and that is what we made.  I was worried at first that maybe it would be too disturbing to recreate that scene in 3D on his display.  But I realized that to him, and to all of his classmates, it is just that -- an image.  It is real to me and the other teachers, but what is more real to Isaac is the hole in the ground and the fountain that we saw a few months ago.  So, we made towers out of foam board and painted them to look grayish-silver, and made smoke from batting and construction paper.  

I was impressed by how Isaac worked on the Reading Fair display, especially since he ended up doing it so willingly, as opposed to the cajoling and whining that was involved in getting the timeline completed.  The difference, I am sure, was the connection he had with the book and the fact that, despite my initial mandate, it was something he chose to do.  Because, really, if he had fought me on it, I would have caved.  

We ended up having fun working on it together and he felt a sense of accomplishment when it was ready for display.  It wasn't the most elaborate or polished project submitted, but it was genuinely his work.  It is something he is proud of and is a boost to his confidence.  And it makes Mom feel pretty good, too.

02 March 2014

Teaching Failure

It can be hard teaching your child to fail.  Not that you actively teach him to do his worst and seek out defeat.  But he needs to learn how to fail because there are times that he will.  Matt and I have tried to approach failure realistically, letting Isaac know that we have both failed more times than we can count.  But we are also teaching him to find his strengths and to find success in results that other people may view as failings.

The Male Bakeoff theme for this year was something to do with the beach (I can't remember the exact wording, but it involved clever wordplay).  Upon hearing what the theme was, Isaac decided he wanted to make "Sharknado."  Very loose beach connection, but why not?  So, he and Matt worked out a plan and they created their masterpiece out of rice crispie treats, cotton candy and gummy sharks.  It was pretty impressive. (It was also recreated after a major structural fail the morning of the Bakeoff, but that is another story.)

One thing to note about the planning that goes into the Cravey men's Bakeoff entries -- how edible it will be is not necessarily considered.  I am not sure if the judges actually tasted the "Sharknado," but they were impressed enough by its appearance to award it the "Weirdness Cup."  Isaac was thrilled.  And he now has a mug to match his dad's set.

Later that week, the "People's Choice" awards for the Bakeoff were announced and Isaac got his second trophy -- 3rd Place People's Choice.  You would have thought that he had won the lottery, he was so excited.

After the Bakeoff, we turned our attention to the Pinewood Derby.  There are incidents in Matt's past that caused him great anxiety about this event, and since neither of us are skilled with power tools, we were not looking forward to it.  Isaac and I browsed Pinterest for inspiration and he found a car design that I felt confident we, with our limited skills, could handle.  Thankfully, we had help from some very generous fellow scouts and church members and managed to get the car ready for the big day.  We knew it probably wouldn't win any races, but Matt and I were keeping our fingers crossed that it would at least not be last in every race.

Isaac was visibly nervous before his first run, so I don't think he heard the race announcer comment that car #61 was one of the most original he had seen in all of his years working with the Derby.  Isaac's car placed 4th in his Den, so no racing trophy.  But later that day, when the final awards were announced, he walked out with a monster of a "Most Original Car" trophy, and a huge grin on his face.

In case you can't tell from the picture, Isaac's car was an ice cream sandwich.  Thank goodness for Pinterest and for Paul Hicks!

To put both events in the perspective of our family's view of competitions like these, the harder other people try to take it seriously, the harder we try to make it fun.  This is not to say that we are not competitive.  Put a board game on the table and the claws come out!  But we know our strengths, and we play to them well.  We know that we will not be the best tasting, the fastest, the most polished, professional looking competitor.  But we can make something that will be memorable.  We find success in bringing humor to what can become a tense competition and putting smiles on people's faces.  

Isaac is a smart, talented kid.  But there are things he is not good at, too, and he needs to learn to accept those weaknesses so that he can make the most of his strengths.  This is something that Matt and I are still learning how to do ourselves, so maybe Isaac could have better teachers.  But we are what he was given, so we will do our best to teach him to fail with humor and grace.  If we can do that, then we will have succeeded.