Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our New, Permanent Menu for the Week

This was thought up in some haste, just before grocery shopping the other day, so it may not be as perfectly balanced in meal choices as future or past menus have been. Our goal was to write it down and stick to it, simplify this one aspect of life right now. It is basically healthy, includes no non-foods or artificial anythings, and does include easy-prep and advance-prep meals. Bon appetit!

Day:                                                Lunch:                                                    Dinner:

Sunday      sweet potatoes, rice and beans              fried fish, green beans, potatoes

Monday     quesadillas, cucumbers, carrots          hamburgers and fries, tomatoes, lettuce

Tuesday     pasta, tomato sauce, sugar snap peas    chicken, vegetable stir-fry, rice

Wednesday   sandwiches, raw veggies                     Italian sausage soup, salad

Thursday     rice salad                                              lasagna, carrot salad

Friday        salad w/hard-boiled eggs, bacon, bread    pasta or leftovers, salad

Saturday     baked potatoes and ham                          pizza night (homemade pizza)

made ahead, for the whole month: Italian sausage soup, lasagna, hamburgers
prepped ahead: grate cheese for quesadillas, carrots, celery, broccoli, etc. cut up, lettuce washed and stored in containers for the week (dried well in a salad spinner), same day prep; grate carrots for carrot salad, cut potatoes for fries, soak until frying, cook rice and chop veggies for rice salad
dessert: is yogurt or fruit

Simplicity Parenting: Step 2: Schedules

Pronounced by Mr.Payne as "sheh-dules", of course, like Colin Firth or Hugh Grant...a-hem, back to business. Changing this aspect involves   s l o w i n g      d o w n,   less time that is tied up in scheduled activities. More time to be a child, to eat as a family, to dream and to sleep.

When we first moved to this country with two small children, I was blown away at the schedules of a very sympathetic family I met at the hotel. We met, but we hardly ever had time to talk, because this mother of four was so busy driving her children to all of their activities, even though they were in the midst of moving to another part of the country. The youngest, at 4 years of age, was "supposed to" be at karate four times a week, but he usually only made it three times. What was surprising to discover was that this had become the norm here, everyone sighed and bemoaned their busyness, but it was expected once you had children. True, my own 4 year old was in her second year of school in France before we moved, but I had kept it to half-days (against all that was considered normal there) and we never went out again after we were home for the evening.  No one did. Evenings are times for dinner with your family and bed in many places.

It's funny how time and habit can change one's perceptions. Once my daughter began kindergarten, the notes home about "opportunities" for sports and outings and "fun" events at school came every week. "Come play in the bouncy house on Friday night when you are not in class or doing homework, fun? Hmmm.) School started at 8am, yet school skate parties were scheduled during the week from 6-8, to make it convenient for parents who worked. What about making it healthy for children? Soccer was offered on Saturday mornings, that was our traditional time to go to the market and muck around the house. Lily was not interested in soccer, but she was soon signed up for a ballet class on Saturday because I had always wanted to take ballet and was thrilled I could offer my child this great "opportunity." When did children or adults get to do any mucking around? You know; no agenda, maybe take a walk, work in the garden, go on a picnic? During the week there was school, after school we studied French, made dinner, gave baths and got to bed by 7 so that we could wake up early enough to be at school by 8. I hated it. The following year, though we were homeschooling by then, saw an acceleration in the activity level. Lily began ballet class in the evening. She was accepted into the TAG program, which meant we paid an inordinate amount of money per month, but she could go to class four times a week, some of those nights were from 5-9! As she never went more than twice a week, the worry became more about how much money we were spending and not "taking advantage" of the class time, but I had another baby and toddler at home and was not willing to go out after bedtime any more often than that. I wanted a regular rhythm, a "normal" from my childhood family life, where things happened at the expected time each day.

Balance is what Payne says we are to aim for. He asks families to take a look at their calenders and label each day with an "A" or a "C" for active or calm. His proposal makes sense; when you have one active day, try to sandwich it between two calm days in order to offset the stress of the active one.  This is just not going to be popular with some of my friends or readers, so please understand that I am making no judgments or criticizing choices made by anyone else. I am taking the defense of healthy childhood, and what works for some families may not work for others, but here are Payne's recommendations. He offers the idea, and the results he has seen as proof, that taking three or four days a week when there are no organized outings or activities, no after-care, no classes, no sports, can be wonderfully calming and healing to a child's spirit. Children are being barraged with too much activity, too much busyness going on around them, and to grow and thrive they require a regular rhythm and regular down time. Down time, by the way, is not screen time...but that, my friends, is another post!

When you sign up for the Simplicity Parenting starter kit at their website, you are sent a link to a very good podcast on this subject. "Stemming the deluge of childhood overdrive," is how Payne puts it. Here is the link again to his website:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Simplicity Parenting: Step 1

This is the first of four articles on what I took away from the Waldorf conference on simplicity parenting, featuring Kim John Payne as keynote speaker.

Having known for years that clutter was anti-productive and not the best environment for learning and growing, I thought I had the basic concept pretty much understood and applied. You can walk on all of the floors in our house, the nature table is kept sacred (that means I throw anything on the floor you might dare to set on it) and things are cleaned and dusted.

What Payne had to say about simplifying took it all to a new level, one that I love, having adopted it in the past week. He is the author of a study on children with ADD and ADHD in Waldorf schools. His method: paring down four things, beginning with environment, have turned around the lives of many, many children, without drugs. All children, even those from caring, loving homes with pretty wooden toys, feel overwhelmed by too much stuff, they all share a basic need for stability and strength through order. And as I listened, I felt very drawn toward this down-sized version of my over-filled house. 

In practice, this is what Payne did; he would come into a home for a day-long consultation, bringing with him  his tools of the trade: a bunch of garbage bags. In each instance, including in beautiful Waldorf classrooms, he worked with parents to remove half of the toys and books. He then removed half again of the toys and books. First step completed. An orderly, uncluttered environment, with less toys and books means that children will actually be able and forced to play with what is left. If sticks and acorns are all that is left, that will open up their imagination to create with these. Another Steiner observation that Payne reminded us of: a child, up to the age of 8 or 9, can be told the same story, day after day, for a month. The children will not be bored with it, they will have time to really discover all of the ways in which it can speak to them, but you will develop your own will and patience in reading it to them. (This is where a bit of Elizabeth Zimmerman wisdom comes in. She advised learning to knit with your eyes shut. Her reasoning; so that we are able to read and knit at the same time, especially the same book our kids want to hear over and over... and over.) Back to the reason he mentions this; a bookshelf with a few, well-chosen books on it is worth more than a roomful of them, so overwhelming that a kid will tell you "there's nothing to do/read/etc. in here."

In our house, I began with my own space, so that I was not imposing upon my children what I was not willing to do myself. I cleaned out my closet. I have a walk-in closet that I could no longer walk into. I cleared out seven or eight bags of things I should have given away years ago. Many of them are baby or toddler clothes I had stored on my closet floor, many more are items I have not worn for a long time or should no longer wear, due to size or age.I can now enter an organized, peaceful feeling closet and find both clothes and yarn stash. I think I might move my meditation practice to my closet, just don't tell the kids.

I next approached the school/playroom. I tossed many unused/broken toys and took the rest to the basement storage space. I left the play kitchen, the silks and a box of K'nex the boys had been building with over the weekend. I asked Puck Monday morning whether he wanted to keep the kitchen in the playroom, he said no, he liked the space (he is three), so I put that in the basement too.  How nicely they played all week! A couple of toy cars they found somewhere and the K'nex took up all of their time, along with playing soldiers outside and jumping on the trampoline. I always think that they need options and outlets for creativity, thus having more around will provide them with more opportunities. The outlets are in their heads and hearts, and as for options, well, kids need less of those than we think they do. I did not fare so well with the books, but I was able to take out three bags to be donated to the library. I'll work more on it this week, most likely I will put them in a box somewhere until I can give them away, or I will rotate them. Books are harder for me. Result: we love our playroom uncluttered! It is a peaceful place to be, with room to explore and play and dream.

Next in the environment step is food. The low-down on this step is eating real food, without the added clutter of preservatives and hormones and taste-enhancing ingredients (BHT, BHQ, MSG, etc.) Cultivating in our children a taste for the healthy begins with drinking water and proceeds from there. One ultra-freeing idea that our family has adopted this week is to have a permanent menu. This allows for such greater ease of weekly menu-making and discipline that I can't believe we did not do it before now. What it means: every single Sunday we eat x for lunch and y for dinner, every single Monday: same scenario. What it translates to: if fish is on the menu for Friday night, you know it is coming. If you love fish, you can dream of it all week. If you do not like fish, you know it is coming, rain or shine. Conflict resolution is good for kids, Payne reminds us, and in his words; "they can stress about it for days before and prepare for...hunger." As a colleague of his pointed out; not a lot of kids actually die from hunger in the United States.

The "how to" of our menu: we decided to keep this menu for 2 months, and then switch, as we have plenty of favorite dishes and some of them go with each season.  The next menu will be a summer one of veggies and meat on the grill, gratin portugais, cold soups and big rice, black bean and couscous salads. We will keep it for 3 or 4 months. As many of the dishes that I can make in advance, I am making once a month. This month I was able to make 4 batches of  hamburgers (Monday), Italian sausage soup (Wednesday), and lasagna (Thursday). They are all neat and tidy in my freezer, so on those busy days of the week, there is no excuse for not sticking to the menu.

So tell me if you are inspired to take the simplicity challenge and why, we'll compare results next week. For more inspiration, see Kim John Payne's website:

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I really hate one particular function of my new toy (the Mama i-pod no touch). I was peacefully listening to a lecture on simplifying parenting when it kicked in. First selection: 99 questions for US Citizenship quiz, question number 57: During the cold war; what was the main concern of the United States? Communism.

"Shuffle" to: (which, for the uninitiated, is a mechanism by which one's i-pod demonically switches to a totally new and unrelated track):  the final song from Chess, a musical some may remember from the 80's, in which the triumph of the US over communism is played out through an epic chess game.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Waldorf Conference: Inspiration and a Grand Time

Isn't Grand a great word? When was the last time you heard it? I'll bet the person was either over seventy or using it to describe their car, as in Pontiac Grand Am, in which case they were probably under twenty-five.

But Grand is exactly how this weekend turned out to be. Accompanied by my co-pilot (of the non-driving but highly entertaining sort), Aragorn, 12, we set out for Viroqua, Wisconsin, at 4:30am, Saturday morning. Destination: a conference on Simplicity Parenting. What attracted me to register was that it was a Waldorf conference. I was looking forward to my painting workshop in the afternoon, but the whole simplicity thing  seemed sort of old hat. Oh well, maybe a Waldorf approach to simplicity would hold new treasures. How little I knew!

We stopped for gas and caffeine and Aragorn talked me into sharing one of those energy colas that I now know taste like sweetened recycled pee with bubbles. Luckily, I also had a thermos of tea and some good chocolate on hand. We took one wrong turn and ended up 20 miles from Madison before I knew what hit me, that is an hour out of the way.

Why drive four hours (OK, five and a half) to spend a weekend in lectures and workshops? As a parent and educator of my children, the spirit and intellect need some renewing and fresh air once in awhile. Inner work is the term for this in Steiner language, becoming a better person, thus a better mother and better teacher through a conscious effort to do so is the idea. Besides, I am really bad at painting and always hoping for a miracle break-though each time I try.
The guest speaker was Kim John Payne, author of "Simplicity Parenting." His lovely Australian accent made him a joy to listen to, and he was a good speaker. (Accents make me go weak in the knee anyway.) He  had so much to offer in information, statistics and practical advice. This Waldorf crowd should have had it all figured out, we knew not too surround our kids with too much junk, overschedule them or let them sit in front of the tv. Sitting there, though, I realized that modern life had unfurled its insidious tiny leaves into the clean lines we had set out for our family's life together. Like a noxious, viney weed, the moment your concentration is  focused elsewhere, the moment you begin to listen to the "shoulds" and "musts" of society, it enters your life and fills the spaces you had reserved but forgot to safeguard. More on each topic will follow in further posts, it would fill pages! For simplicity's sake I will offer my insights on his counsel in tidbits rather than the huge post I've been trying to write all week. I am learning...all the time.

Here is a link to an article on his organization's blog:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Market? In Winter?

What can you do when you find yourself computerless on a Saturday morning? You could sleep in; ha! that was BC. Watch cartoons with the kids...good for awhile, but not all morning. Submit to the weekly dire need to tidy and clean the house? Not if I can help it. Accept a friend's invitation to stroll and shop the farmer's market? With only one child along? Too good to be true!

That is how I came to become a new regular of the indoor winter farmer's market. I thought there would be a lot of baked goods that I couldn't eat and not much else. Well, there is a whole lot of luscious, delicious looking bread, there's no doubt about that. There is also so much more...rows and rows of shimmering homemade jams shining in the sunlight streaming in through a window. Chocolates; Bob who makes sinful fudge and a lady who makes the most gorgeous, delicate homemade chocolates. (The box on the table was a gift for my parents.) Soap; at least three soap makers, the bar on a plate to the right is soap, all week we kept trying to use it as butter or cut it into cheese slices.

And there is cheese; lovely cheese, beautiful cheese, fabulous cheese. No need to eat the soap. It tastes awful anyway. There is honey, half a dozen producers of honey. There are even vegetables! A few locals have sold out their greens, but there is a brave lady selling sweet peas and tomatoes from California. (It's pretty hard to sell non-local items and keep one's head up around here.) I need to try five different vendors before I can find eggs, I buy six dozen, nice brown eggs with bits of feather and fresh hay still stuck on them.) I guess I really should have stayed home to clean...but I'm going back this week.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Morrow's Academy of Martial Arts

The idea of martial arts always seemed so...martial to me. My only experience with the discipline came from one highly chaotic judo class I took at university, I lasted the first day, and an equally disappointing tai-chi class. The let-down from the second class was not so much due to the class itself, but to the hour and conditions in which I was taking the class. It began at 8pm. I was in my first trimester of my third pregnancy with two toddlers at home. It was bedtime by then and my focus was lousy. (OK, inexistent  would be more accurate, but at least I gave it a few months that time.)

Kung-fu with Mr.Morrow has turned out to be a fabulous experience for our family. He holds himself to high standards: he stays in shape, he fasts for part of the year, he sponsors charitable works in the community, he keeps his temper and sense of humor at all times. What he expects in return from his students is on every parent's list of priorities. 

Accountability; you show up on time and with the proper equipment. If you forget a part of your uniform, you know you are the last one in line for everything that day. There is no yelling or harsh words, a gentle teasing at the worst, but each child knows there is a consequence for forgetting, and it is not to give mom a phone call.

Respect; children address their teachers as "sir," or "Mr.Morrow." He is respectful when speaking to them and expects that they, in return, treat him, the other teachers, their classmates, and the equipment with respect. All must bow in and out when moving onto the mats for class. It is cute beyond belief to see my six-year-old perform the briefest bow in the world when he jumps out of class to get a drink or change into sparring gear. The older ones are a little more reverent, thank goodness.

Discipline; is modeled and required in many ways. Nearest to my heart is Mr.Morrow's insistence on proper grammar (big sigh of appreciation). They must all do all of the warm-ups and take turns leading the class in stretches and push-ups, lots of push-ups. They need to watch quietly, lined up neatly on the mat like so many hens, as each student takes a turn demonstrating a move. They get moments of running and talking too, it is definitely fun, but in an environment where they feel safe knowing that their master is there to take control again of the situation.

How do I know it's fun? You should see their faces after class; happy and excited. You should see their faces on a day when I can't take them because of work or illness; not relieved, not happy. And they are gaining in fitness and strength; how many adults do you know that can do 25 finger-tip push-ups? (Or in my sad case, any push-ups at all?) This alone gives them a new confidence, they are taught integrity, patience, love, acceptance, but also know they have the strength to defend themselves or another, should it be necessary. Thank you, Mr.Morrow.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sweet Kids: Good Help, but Hide the Rasor!

So when I awoke Thursday, if you can call it that, to a fever and wracked with pain, my darling son and younger daughter announced they were taking over for the day, "go back to bed mama." I fussed around the kitchen for a minute, slightly worried when Aragorn asked whether the fast food restaurant down the road took cash, and gave in when it was clear I was not a help.

 I slept for hours, so grateful for my bed, my comforter, the guilty quiet of kids watching tv. Then, for some reason, I decided that I would feel better and become functional if I washed my hair and cleaned up and got dressed. This can be true, in most situations. On that day, for me, it is doubtful whether it made a difference at all. The next step is what continues to amaze and befuddle me. Without any memory of it, I must have decided I needed to remove unwanted leg fuzz. In any case, the next morning, feeling clearer, after a day and night resting, I took a bath, and there discovered the battle scars of the previous day's attempts to shave. For Pete's sake, I could have bled myself to death! Visions of Medieval physicians "releasing toxins" through bleeding come to mind...

Moral of the story: never mind, I already told you in the title. I am glad that I did not try to write a blog post that day. Happy to be back among the living, breathing and logical. And thank you to my children and husband who contributed to the house being held together while I mended. Thank you too, to the two good friends who dropped by with DVDs to keep the kids busy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Still Typing Today with Company Present

Really present, as in: on my lap, present. Poor munchkin, along with my other poor munchkins who are collectively filling the house with moaning, sore bodies, sore throats, coughs, chills, headaches, temperatures high enough to allow us to save on electricity and yes, vomit. 

What will this day be like (I am resisting adding "I wonder..." with all my might, because you may just get the impression that I am a fan of the Sound of Music and wouldn't that be the sappiest thing you could think of me, ugh). What will the future be (my fingers have taken on a will of their own, this comes from renting, for the first time in six years, a really good record, considering we used to own it, but tragically, in VHS format, and our VHS player bit the dust, The Sound of Muzak, as my theatre teacher in college called it. I agreed with her at the time, but that only lasted as long as Brecht and Sartre held sway over my world view. I wonder. 

I will quit wondering and get back to the business of making tea with honey, distributing cough drops, soothing the weary and the extra grumpy and keeping the dog out of the barf bucket.