Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On Falling Behind, Letting Go, and Origami Yoda

The Boy and his origami Star Wars family

It happens every year. Always a different reason, but every year: I am behind. Incredible mountains of snow that needed shoveling. Chickens and bees had to be dug out. Frozen waterers exchanged two and three times a day. Ill parents to care for. Orthodontist and doctor appointments. So many outside commitments to attend. It doesn't matter; I am behind.

I get overwhelmed thinking about all I need to do: how many blocks I'm behind in school, the seeds I haven't started, the eggs I haven't hatched. I haven't even purchased some of the supplies I need to teach some of our scheduled subjects, or ordered seeds for this year's garden. Or bought chick feed for chicks that I will eventually hatch. Or scheduled our state required portfolio review. Or finished my portfolio! (Because we haven't covered all of our subjects!)

Then i take a breath and ask myself what it means to be "behind." Behind what? And, does it actually matter?

And to that question, I say yes, and no. 

I've read lots of homeschooling advice regarding the pressure we put on ourselves. "Relax; don't get so uptight; let it go." Which, in some cases is great... Sometimes you do have to let it slide. Who wants to sit over a math book when your nose is running all over your face? Or run chemistry equations with an overflowing basement? Not me, nope. When there are emergencies, let it go. Forgive yourself. Have a cup of tea, read a good story aloud, go for a nature walk. After wiping your nose and bailing the basement.

But, y'know, if you let it slide all of the time... gotta take the dog to the vet, need to buy groceries, let's have a play date....well, maybe it's time to rethink priorities. I am in charge of my child's education. I have to hold myself accountable. And having two adult children who constantly remind me of this, I can't always just let it go. We have to do school.*

Yep, I said it. Throwing of cabbages may commence.

But really, sometimes we need to pressure ourselves. Or maybe I just need to pressure my self because those are the things that throw me off track. Dentist appointment in the morning? Forget ever getting back to school work afterwards.

Some days I just need to tell myself: fetch that second (or third) cup of coffee, light the darn candle, and get the day started. Even if it is noon. No one made a rule that lessons have to begin at 8 am. (Made myself laugh at that one, 8 am? Who am I kidding?)

But back to whether it matters or not:

On days I get thrown off track, we will find ourselves immersed in some type of learning. The Boy has great interest in origami right now (especially Star Wars origami). So he folds about a million Yodas (and all the other major players) a day, experimenting with different folds, creating his own versions. He has been writing creative pieces like mad. I couldn't get him to write a paragraph last year and now he's writing all kinds of short stories. He reads any book I pick up for him, so I throw him piles of historical fiction. Fill that in with a library trip, gym class, piano lesson, theater practice, and Latin classes and we still had a full week even if I didn't break out the Algebra book.

This year has been especially tough on our rhythm, but I've learned to throw in one or two "learning activities" on the days I get thrown off track. I give him a book I had tucked away, or we go on a walk and talk about some historical event. And I plan for the next day, and make an attempt to get everything I wanted to accomplish done by week's end.

Let it go?  Sometimes. But sometimes I just need to kick myself in the rear and get going. Never by 8 am, but usually by that third cup of coffee.
Origami Yoda, based off the books by Tom Angleberger

* Doing school is a loosely based term in our house. We do not "school at home," which is obvious from any of my previous posts.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Good Enough Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Good Enough Gluten Free Semi Low Carb Chocolate Chip Cookies

Oldest Son had been experiencing stomach issues for a few years, but last year they became much worse. As in he felt-like-dying worse. 

It was June 25th, 2013, we were on our way to what Husband and I thought was a family picnic. It was a family gathering, but the purpose was a surprise celebration for our 25th wedding anniversary. We were all piled in the car when Oldest Son asked his father to pull over. He was green, and in pain. We offered to take him home, not knowing that he was part of the surprise plan. He refused, got back in the car, and moaned his way to the gathering.

During the 3 hour ride we talked about how his issues had become much worse recently. I suggested an elimination diet, just to see if there was a lactose or other dietary irritant or allergen. He opted to go gluten free as his first trial. Starting after the party, of course. Within a week of adopting a gluten free diet he started feeling better. 

Now, a year later, he can tolerate small doses of gluten. But, he usually ends up feeling cruddy so stays pretty true to gluten free. As his mama, I've tried to be supportive and have added more gluten free recipes to my repertoire, as well as generally altering our family's diet to low sugar/low carb. 

Because I like to cook, and because I believe in the value of whole foods, I stay away from pre-packaged stuff. Besides, packaged gluten-free foods are tremendously expensive and many are devoid of any real nutrition (just like their full gluten versions). Dairy, fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts...they're all gluten free, naturally!

But we still do occasionally crave a sweet: a cookie, a brownie, a piece of cake.

There are a few things I've discovered over the year in regards to baked goods. The first being that no gluten-free/low carb baked item will ever taste like its full floured/sugared counterpart. No cake, brownie, cookie, bar, pie crust, whatever, can match the taste and texture of a "real" baked good. So when you read a recipe for "Best Ever  GF Low Carb Muffin" just remember, it says "gluten free low carb muffin," not "best muffin ever." Not the same, no how.

 Another thing I have found is that by going without any sweets for a period of time, say 2 weeks, your sense of sweetness changes. For instance, I once put 2 tsp of sugar in my coffee, plus cream. Now, the cream adds enough sweetness without added sweeteners. I've realized that American food is just way too sweet, our recipes call for too much sugar.  

And like gf/lc baked goods, no alternative sweetener tastes "just like sugar." They all have an aftertaste or slightly different taste. Suck it up....lose the sweetener or discover which ones taste best to you. The benefit of reducing the amount of sweetener you need is that when you do use an alternative sweetener, you reduce the risk of a funky aftertaste.

Once you get over those distinctions, you start to judge recipes differently. Is it gross vs. good enough? Will it satisfy that craving enough to keep you from snarfing down a box of Otis Spunkmeyers? We each have our criteria and our methods of judging recipes. To keep or to toss? (To the chickens, of course, not the trash). I used to ask my family "Is it a keeper or just okay?" Now I ask if it's good enough? Hence the Good Enough Scale. "How does it rate on the Good Enough Scale?"

So, on this lovely spring day, the Boy decided he wanted to bake real chocolate chip cookies for his dad. Knowing that Oldest Son and I would not indulge, I decided to try a gluten free recipe. Like most cooking projects, I looked over several versions for gf and lc cookies, then made my own mash up. Oldest Son rated it "pretty good" on the Good  Enough scale.

One other thing I've discovered: many items made with coconut or almond flour have a better texture after cooling, rather than eating warm. And some, like cookies, are better frozen.

So much for hot, gooey chocolate chip cookies. Guess I need to suck it up.

Good Enough Gluten-Free Semi Low Carb Chocolate  Chip Cookies
2.5 cups Blanched Almond Flour
.5 tsp sea salt
.5 tsp baking soda
.5 c softened butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
.25 c sweetener (I used Swerve)
1 c dark chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Stir butter until smooth. Add egg and vanilla to butter. Stir to mix. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix together. Add chocolate chips and stir in.
Form half inch balls and place on greased cookie sheet (or sheet lined with parchment). Press lightly.
Bake for 7-10 minutes until very light golden.  Remove from cookie sheet to cool. Put them in the freezer if you like the resulting texture better.

Makes about 44 cookies. Serving: 2 cookies. Approximately 7 carbs/139 calories per serving.