Merry Michaelmas!

Be sure to eat some blackberries…

According to an old Irish folk tale, blackberries were supposed to have been harvested and used up by this date, too, since it is told to children that when Satan was kicked out of Heaven, he landed in a bramble patch — and returns each year to curse and spit on the fruits of the plant he landed on, rendering them inedible thereafter. So a dessert with blackberries would be perfect.

St. Michael the Archangel, protect us!

To-Do List: Oktoberfest

Clean House
Re-Clean House
Pay Bills
Cook Sauerbraten (half done)
Make potato salad (potatoes are cooked)
Make red cabbage
Thaw hot dogs and bratwurst
Reevaluate supplies (do I have enough for 120+ people?)
Make last minute shopping list (ice, more soda, rolls…)
Hang blue and white crepe paper throughout house
Make 90% of children’s toys inaccessible for the party

The best ever pumpkin bread

Theory: 1 + 5 = 0


take 1 mini-loaf of this pumpkin bread
add 5 hungry children
you will have 0 crumbs

Pete is willing to risk another broken arm to get to the pumpkin bread.

This is good stuff.

How much can he shove into his mouth? All of it!

Now if that recipe scares you (a whole cup of oil…3 cups of sugar!!), I have been experimenting with healthier substitutions.

The first thing I did was use 2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of regular flour. There was very little difference in the taste.

Next I reduced the amount of sugar to 2 1/2 cups, cut the amount of oil to 1/2 cup, and used 1/2 cup applesauce. Compared to the original, there is a taste difference, but the kids haven’t noticed it, and it doesn’t bother me.

Bill, who looked at me like I was a lunatic for even attempting to alter the original recipe…I mean, why oh why would I take a perfectly yummy recipe and ruin it by making it healthier, said that the altered recipe was acceptable for daily consumption, it wasn’t the same devour-the-whole-loaf-and-beg-for-more kind of recipe. This is the recipe I make in mass quantities at Christmas time and have him give out to co-workers. He’s very popular when he makes those rounds, and doesn’t want to lose that momentary pied-piper-esque power.

So take his biased opinion for what it’s worth.

If you just compare the sugar, oil and flour, the alterations reduce the overall calories by nearly 25%, the fat content by 48%, and the carbs by over 11%. And the flour alteration gives you more than 3 1/2 times the fiber. Since I use this recipe to make mini-muffins as a snack for the kids, these substitutions make a delicious dessert a healthier snack.

Halloween planning

It’s unanimous: the kids think Petey should be this for Halloween. Sold out, of course.

Fritz wants to be Obi Wan. Billy wants to be Anakin.

Katie wants to be Princess Leia. Jenny said she wanted to be a kitty-cat, but changed to Princess Leia too.

I tried to convince Billy to be Luke and Fritz to be the older Obi Wan, but noooo… (He doesn’t have the right colored light sabre, he says, and I’m not buying another one.)

…I could probably convince Katie to be Princess Amadala, but Princess Leia with the ear-muff hair is such an easy costume. Besides, Princess Leia is much cooler than Princess Amadala who dies of a broken heart…puh-leeeze! Anybody think Princess Leia would die of a broken heart? (And Billy is dead-set against Katie being Princess Amadala, since Katie would feel obliged to try to kiss him, often, and that is just really gross.)

So, it looks like we’ll have multi-episode tricker-treaters this year.

Unschooling my preschooler

By the time my first-born child was three years old, he could identify every letter of the alphabet. He could count to twenty. He knew his colors and shapes. He was brilliant, I tell you.

Three months after his third birthday, my mother babysat him and his younger brother while I went off to the hospital to have my first daughter. While my husband and I were gone, my mother taught him how to write his name. I was sure he destined for a future of grandiose intellectual achievements.

That fall, he attended preschool at our church. Where we lived at the time, everybody sent their kiddies off to preschool, and the church’s preschool was almost a requirement if you wanted your child to get into the church’s elementary school. But sometime during his second year there, we decided to homeschool instead of enrolling him in the parochial school. I considered enrolling Billy that fall so he could have a preschool experience too, but wisely decided that any possible benefits outweighed all the drawbacks.

And so I began homeschooling my kindergarten and my preschooler.

It was an easy year. Fritz’s kindergarten program took, at best, about an hour or an hour and a half to do. And Billy had no desire for formal schooling of any kind!

There were times I felt a twinge of guilt that he didn’t seem to know his alphabet or his shapes as well as his older brother. I thought I wasn’t giving him enough one-on-one time. Then I asked myself: how did Fritz learn all that stuff? Mainly by reading books with me. From the time he was a baby, he didn’t want to listen to the story, so we looked at the pictures. Do you see a triangle? I would ask. Do you see a brown dog? Do you see a purple dog? Oh, no! How silly!

But I read books to Billy too. I asked the same kinds of questions. Billy was just a different kid, and our family was not the same family: Fritz did not have an older brother who would set up train tracks or build couch-cushion forts. Billy had a lot more playing to do than Fritz did.

The following year, my oldest was in first grade and I had two preschoolers. This was a challenging year! Katie was different than Billy, and she wanted to be kept busy. She wanted her own notebooks. She wanted her own “homework.” And I just wanted her to go and play. The year after that, when I had two who were officially school-aged, was even worse. She demanded more and more time in the classroom, and I demanded more and more time with her out of the classroom.

For her, I finally bought a bunch of preschool workbooks and would give her 4 or 5 pages every day. Sometimes, I would just hand her construction paper and scissors and tell her to make squares or circles. As often as possible, I tried to include her in the lessons for the boys. I assigned her a poem to memorize like the boys. I read the Bible stories to her and had her draw pictures to go with them. I had her doing the phonics based reading lessons until they became too hard, and had her doing the art lessons centered around the letters of the alphabet.

This year, I’m even busier with “real” school as I do third, first and kindergarten. My fourth child is now preschool-aged. And I just want her to go play. She does have some workbooks. She’s learning how to use scissors. And we have puzzles, math manipulatives and lots of books to keep her busy. Reading time is now usually only an hour before bedtime shared by all five kids (although Pete doesn’t really want me to read the book, he just wants to sit on my lap for a minute pretending that I’m reading to him and then he sits on the floor and proceeds through the book at a pace that suits him).

She can’t recognize all the letters of the alphabet, and she’s over 3! And she hasn’t yet mastered making the letter J for Jenny – not exactly a difficult letter to copy. Yes, there are times I feel she may be getting short-changed. But I know it will even out in the end. Billy picked up on his phonics lessons much faster than Fritz did, perhaps because he had heard the lessons already when I did them with Fritz. Katie seems to be doing well on the lessons that I did with Billy only a year ago. And all of the kids are benefiting from listening to the history and science lessons I give to Fritz (and Fritz benefits from listening to a review of the lessons I give to the younger kids).

Preschool isn’t about formal lessons, even if the child is demanding them. The important things they learn at this age are learned through everyday living and interactions. Jenny really wanted to help me in the kitchen the other day. I was slicing onions and could not have her do that. So she kept me company in her usual spot on the other side of the kitchen counter on a kitchen chair. She played with the drinking straws and hid them. She asked me where they were. She found one, and counted one. She found another and counted two. She found another and counted three. I played along, reinforcing her counting, asking her if she had found them all, feigning ignorance over where she had hidden the others.

This is preschool. This is learning in a fun way, using a game of the child’s design. The workbooks, the scissors, the pattern blocks – these are all busy work to help me get formal lessons done with the other children. Her education is really happening in the kitchen, or the car, or the backyard.

Troublemakers Anonymous

They say that knowing you have a problem is half the battle. How about knowing you are the problem?

Last night at dinner, Bill and I were discussing children, in general, and difficulties, in general, about having them around.

He’s not the problem,” I said, nodding in Pete’s direction. I didn’t say who was the problem, I didn’t even stare at the offending party or parties. But Bill and I traded knowing looks across the dining room table.

“I’m the problem,” said Jenny.

“Hmmm…do you think you might someday not be a problem?” I asked.

“Nope,” said Jenny.

Great. We may know we have a problem, but the problem is unwilling to change…and that’s a problem.

A Dictionary of Modern Baby Talk

(for 12 to 15 month old children and their parents)

Aiyahaahh!!!: 1. A phrase, usually, accompanied with pointing gestures, meaning, “I want that, and I want it now!”

Choo-Choo: 1. Train. 2. The sound a train makes. 3. A phrase meaning, “I am trying to play with my train, why do you insist on trying to change my diaper instead?” 4. A phrase meaning, “No, I won’t take a nap, I want to play with my train.” 5. A phrase meaning, “I want to play with my trains here in this room, but I am lonely. Stay with me or send me a playmate.”

Daddy: 1. Father. 2. A phrase meaning, “I want my father.”

Doggy: 1. Greta. 2. Any other canine.

Eeeyaahaa!: 1. A phrase meaning, “Get me out of this high chair right now.”

Hat: 1. Something worn on the head. 2. A phrase meaning, “No, I won’t wear that.” 3. A phrase meaning, “Look, what I stole from my sister! It looks so much better on me, don’t you think?”

Juice: 1. A beverage made from fruit. 2. Any beverage. 3. A phrase meaning, “I am thirsty, please may I have something to drink?”

Nose: 1. An organ found in the middle of the face used for smelling. 2. A phrase meaning, “Look where I can stick my finger to elicit funny faces and complaints from all my family members.” 3. A phrase meaning, “Bring your face a little closer so I can see how far my finger fits in there.”

Ow: 1. An exclamation of pain. 2. A phrase meaning, “I need a kiss right here because I fell down.”

Shoes: 1. Clothing worn on the feet. 2. A phrase meaning, “Let’s play the switch-footwear game for the next hour!” 3. A phrase meaning, “Good morning, how are you? I’m well rested and can’t wait to start the day. Please get me dressed immediately! See, there are my shoes! Breakfast can wait!”

Stinky: 1. A phrase meaning, “I need a diaper change badly.” 2. A phrase meaning, “I need a diaper change badly, try and catch me!”

Unhunhunh: 1. A phrase meaning, “I am trying to climb on this chair to reach that high place. Why are you standing there watching me and not helping me?”

Warning: having parties may be hazardous to your security clearance

Back in April, I described an interview I had with a man regarding my neighbor who was seeking a high level security clearance. Did I know if he ever tried to overthrow the government? Does he have any foreign interests?

At the time, Bill was filling out a form for a similar clearance. A few days ago, Bill had a face-to-face interview with a woman who went over his form line by line and asked him about every single response.

You didn’t write your mother’s maiden name down? Why? Are you hiding something?

Oh, no, sorry. I guess I missed that line.

And then she wrote down that he claimed to have forgotten to fill that part in.

Why didn’t you write your wife’s address in this section?

It says to give the wife’s address if we are divorced or separated. We’re still married, and my wife lives with me.

You should have written N/A.

And then she wrote down that he felt the section didn’t apply to him.

This went on for one agonizing hour. Then she wanted to talk to somebody who has known him since he began working in the building. He called up to his buddy, Brian, with whom he worked for over a year. They shared a desk – literally sat inches away from each other. All phone conversations with my husband that year were three-way conferences by default.

Brian was interviewed in private, but shared some of the better questions with Bill afterward. Basically, they seemed the same as the ones I answered about my neighbor last spring. What makes this particularly amusing is the timing of certain questions.

Not this Saturday, but next, we’re having our Third Annual Oktoberfest. Brian attended last year’s party, and has already RSVP’s for the upcoming event. So far, I have 60 people marked as coming (half of them kids), but I expect more will be calling me over the next few days. Last year we had about 85 people.

The invitation this year, all my design – Bill had nothing to do with it, is full of quotes on the glory of drinking beer. I actually, personally, can’t stand the stuff, but it was a funny invitation. Bill suggested that it was too much about beer, so I added a post script: It’s not all about beer. We’ll have wine and schnapps, too. I thought that was even funnier.

For me, it’s all about the food. I’m making Sauerbraten, Hot Potato Salad, and Red Cabbage among other things. Since the vast bulk of our guests are military-types, many of whom have done tours in Germany, my yummy cooking is a big hit. But, honestly, so is the keg of Spaten beer.

And with full knowledge, as a past attendee, of the upcoming festivities, Brian is asked questions like: Does he ever throw parties? Does he ever drink?


My children make me calmer…

For all those women who think they could “never” handle more than one or two kids, here‘s a study that suggests the more kids you have, the better a mother you become (if you are a rat, that is):

Hormonal changes occurring in female rats after they give birth to and nurse their offspring may cause long-term endocrine and neuroendocrine changes that help produce better mothering skills with each pregnancy and reduce the mother’s anxiety levels as she matures, according to scientists at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the University of Otago Medical School.

From Danielle Bean, who really should be napping with her 11 day old son instead of blogging.