Sunday, March 23, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Your Wedding Registry - Kitchen Edition

This time, the advice is not totally unsolicited.  My dearest Kate, who was once one of my fifth grade students, is now a real grown up and is getting married soon!  She asked her Facebook friends advice on what to include and not to include on her registry.  Always a bastion of wisdom, I chimed in and decided to expand on it here.

Gift registries have come a long way over the years. They used to be paper pencil things you could fill out only at your local businesses.  Now they are electronic, world wide accessible and way more fun to fill out.

But somethings are the same.  If  you're getting married today, you're probably going to get towels, dishes and sheets, just like your momma and her momma before you.  Here's what else I think you should ask for.

Today I'm going to focus on things you will want for your kitchen:  Don't register for most of this stuff at Wal-Mart or Target or JC Penney.  Find a consultant and get Pampered Chef.  Their products will be so much better and you will use them forever.  A lot of it even comes with a lifetime warranty.  They do wedding showers and registries and what-not.  It's worth the effort!

 Specifically, get these:
  • Forged cutlery.  If you spend any time in the kitchen at all, you will need a good knife set.  I highly recommend the chef's knife, butcher knife and small paring knife.  I use them almost every day.
  • Stoneware.  Get the covered baker and a pizza stone.  If you plan to have a large family, get two.  They're so worth having.  Everything tastes better when cooked on a stone. 
  • Salad spinner.  I don't have one of these, but I wish I did.  My mom has one that I've used many times and it makes washing fruits and veggies a breeze.  It's a great way to let the kids help with meal prep, too.  
  • Can opener.  Get the one that actually breaks the seal rather than cuts the edges.  So much safer than having sharp metal in the kitchen.
  • Cutting boards.  Get a couple of sizes.  The mini ones are great for quick snacks and the larger ones for bigger meals.
  • Kitchen shears.  Get a pair.  Use them for cutting up chickens.  They are awesome.
  • Garlic Press.  Connie Seibel turned me onto these many years ago, when we were neighbors in Gridley.  I have used mine almost non-stop since then.  Garlic has about a million and one healthy qualities, so go ahead and stick it in everything.  Makes stuff yummy, too.
  • Mix-and-chop.  It's a funny, kind of star shaped utensil that makes chopping up ground beef, onions, etc such a breeze.  You want one of these.  Trust me on this.
Here are a few other, non-PC things you should have in your kitchen.
  • A Ninja.  No, not a Jackie Chan movie extra; a blender/food processor combo.  It's so fantastic, I cannot begin to tell  you how much I love this thing.  It's as awesome at chopping onions as it is at making smoothies.  Get one.  You'll thank me later.
  • Pyrex bowls and dishes with lids.  You're going to want a couple of these.  Glass is so much better than plastic.  You can freeze it, microwave it, and eat right out of it.  Be sure to get the ones with lids.  Lids are so much better than covering something with plastic wrap.  When you can, get the lids that snap on.  They are awesome!  We use these in my husband's lunch box almost every day.
  • A crockpot big enough to cook an entire roast or 10 pounds of ground beef.  This can be your best friend in the kitchen, especially if you work outside the home and when you have little kids to take care of.  
  • I love, love, love my Zyliss brand ice cream scoop.  It's the one thing I have that I love this brand more than the Pampered Chef equivalent.  It's that good. 
I will probably have more unsolicited advice for you on the rest of your list soon.  Be looking for it!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Unsolicited Advice for Homeschooling Little Ones

Over and over and over again I see and hear loving, caring, hard-working mommas who are contemplating homeschooling their preschool and kindergarten kiddos ask the same question; "What curriculum should I use?"

My answer is very simple:  "None.  You do not need to buy an expensive big box curriculum for a child that age."

Give me a minute before you think I'm advocating the impossible and I'll expand on some things I think you should do instead.

1. Read to your child.  Follow the words with your finger while you read aloud and help your son learn that English tracks from left to right.  Ask natural questions as you read.  Have your child predict what will happen next.  Count the number of dogs on the page.  Ask which has more, what color the balloons are, or what time of day it is in the story.  Little ones love this and these are the prereading skills they need.  An expensive curriculum won't likely give you much in this regard that you couldn't figure out all by yourself but they will charge you an arm and a leg.

2. Go places.  Go to the library, the grocery, the zoo, the park, the museum, the firehouse, city hall, the aquarium, and to church.  While you're there, talk about what you see and what you're doing.  Even if you think your kids are too young to understand, with time and repetition, they will pick up on so much more than you can imagine.

When you're at the grocery, explain to your daughters and sons that you are picking cereal based on what is on sale and the nutritional content.  Let them see the difference in price between red delicious and Fuji apples.  Let them help you put the produce on the scale and learn to read it.  At the checkout, explain the difference between paying with a debit card, credit card, check and cash.  Explain why you choose to pay the way you do.  It doesn't need to be a formal lesson or one that takes very long.  A few sentences here and there add up!

My kids have all been to the voting booth with me more than once.  They know how the process works and why it is important to me.  Hopefully, by the time they are 18, going to the poll will be such a natural thing for them to do that they won't miss a single chance to have their say in the world.

3. Use what you've got and what's around you.  Point out letters and numbers you find in your home and around town.  In the car, have the kids look outside for the letters in their names or the alphabet.  At home, have them search through magazines for letters.  Cut them out and make an alphabet book or wall with construction paper and glue.  Make or buy some simple and inexpensive letter flash cards if you must.

Sing the alphabet and count as part of your bedtime or bath time or whatever time routines.  Make it a natural part of the day, not "school time."  Learning can take place 24/7, so don't relegate it to 8-3.

4. Let kids be kids.  There is much knowledge to be gained in free play. This is something any preschool or kindergarten teacher worth listening to would tell you.  They would probably also tell you that they are getting more and more pressure to leave this out in lieu of formal learning.  They probably hate that.

5.  I'm a big believer in the "better late than early" philosophy.  I had a friend once explain it to me this way: It is possible for a farmer to work his field in the cold, snowy, frozen ground of January.  It can be done, but at a great cost in time and resources for the farmer.  The ground itself does not necessary benefit from this either.  However, if a farmer waits until Spring and works his ground when it is ready, it is a much, much easier process for both the farmer and the field.   The same is true about our kids.  If we force them to begin formal schooling before they are ready, the process is long and hard and often kills the natural love of learning the child once had.  If however, we wait until the child himself shows some signs of wanting to begin, it all goes so much more smoothly.

I have four kids and they have all learned to read at different ages.  At age 5, my oldest wasn't ready for kindergarten.  He didn't show the least bit of interest in learning to read.  At age 6, we started our formal homeschooling and he still wasn't ready then.  I didn't understand all that I do know and I probably pushed him too hard that first year.   At age 7, when he decided he wanted to be a reader, he became one.

My daughter read early.  She listened to me teach her brother that first year and when I started with her the next, she really had very little to learn.  She had picked it up from listening to me work with her older brother and basically taught herself to read at age 5.  She has been a voracious reader since.

Tigger is almost 7 and still learning to read.  At age 5, he had zero interest so we didn't do much.  This year, he started taking an interest and we have used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons along with sight word cards to teach him.  Once he saw the value in reading, he started wanting to do it, with less fuss when I told him to get his book out.

My youngest just turned four and we have done zero formal schooling with him.  He watches a lot of Leap Frog videos (The Letter Factory is our favorite!) and has a Letter Factory toy of his own.  He sits with Tigger and me when we do our reading lessons and he's learning.  A few weeks ago my dad handed him a pen and told him to write his name. He did. All by himself with not one single writing lesson. You will be surprised at how much your kids will pick up just by living.

Seasoned homeschoolers, would you agree or are you big fans of the big box curriculum?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off to the Vet

So, the other day I decided that I needed to take my dog to the vet to get his shots.  They were, after all, due in December.  It was February 28 and I thought I would bite the bullet and take him in.  Why the delay, you ask?

Well, you see . . . Flash has this thing about getting in the car.  Once upon a time he used to like it but now that I won't let him sit in the front seat and hang his head out the window it's a different story.  Don't think I'm awful, but when he was a puppy he jumped out of my arms and out the window of our moving car.  Since then, I've never trusted him to be smart enough not to fall out and I just don't think I could handle it if I ran him over.  So I don't let him hang out the car window.  And he hates that.

So....Friday we have an appointment with the vet.  It's just short of a 20 minute drive.  And the dog howls the entire time.  I am not even exaggerating.  The. entire. time.  Even better, my four year old decided to "sing along," so we got the full stereo effect.  Big E and I could not stop laughing.

My daughter, however, who had her ears closest to the canine symphony, was less than impressed, as you can see by the photographic evidence I captured that day.

As horrible as this excursion was, this still wasn't as bad as when we had to take him in last summer.  He'd slipped a disc in his back and I thought he was dying.  He wouldn't move and the howling started at home.  I hauled his 50 plus pound beagle butt into the van and he continued to serenade us with the music of his people as I pulled out of the driveway.  Lucky us, there was summertime road construction on the highway and no way to evade it.  Even luckier, we managed to be first in line for the wait for the pilot car.  Yep.  We had to sit, looking at the highway worker holding the stop sign, for 15 entire minutes.  Like that's not awkward enough without Flash baying like he's on the scent of the world's largest rabbit.  The poor guy didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  Honestly, neither did I.  About ten minutes in, or maybe it was only two, either way, it felt like we had been sitting there for hours, I let my then nine year old son walk the dog along the side of the highway in a construction zone.  Because, you know, at the time it seemed safer than leaving me in the car with that insane beagle.

Like my sister says, "that dog is a mess."  And oh, my goodness, he is.  He is a mess.  A giant food stealing, stinky eared, gets up on the furniture when he's not supposed to and drives my mother crazy mess. But he's almost 14 years old and I think his days are numbered.  He's totally deaf and mostly blind already.  But he still follows me from room to room and sits at my feet.  He whimpers until I pet him and if he gets out, I'm worried out of my mind until he comes home.  He's my dog and even though I hate to admit it, I love the smelly, bratty beast that he is.

One day, long from now, my kids will recall their childhoods and tell my grandchildren of that crazy mess of a dog that howled the entire way to the vet.  Every. single. time.  And they will laugh and they will smile and they will know that they share something that only their mother and their siblings can fully understand.  And they'll laugh again and tell their children that "Flash was a good dog. . ." most of the time.