The Past Few Weeks

I am a little behind on blogging, as you can tell. Here are some pictures to catch you up on our family’s activities over advent and the holidays. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Years. Happy 2012!

As we do not have an official nativity, Jedidiah had the idea of making one out of popsicle sticks. It actually turned out pretty well!

We celebrated our friend Seth’s third birthday at a fun play place…

We had our first snows of the year (both of which melted very quickly)…

We waited and waited and got extra-excited about seeing grandparents, and we enjoyed making silly faces in general…

We did crafting, crafting, and more crafting (pictures to come).

We rode an AMTRAK train to Arkansas…

And, we had a memorable and very merry Christmas with my family (highlights from the trip are coming up in the next post)…

We also had a delightful New Years celebration with a few other families. Our celebration was complete with a countdown, confetti, noise makers, and sparkling grape juice – all at 8 pm!

The Kindergarten Search

December has felt really busy around here. With the addition of Christmas crafting and advent activities, we have had less down time than normal. Also, Josh and I have been visiting schools in the area to begin our decision-making process for where Jedidiah will go to kindergarten in the Fall. Jedidiah is very excited about this big step in his life, and we want to choose a place that will be a good fit for his needs and personality. Since neither Josh nor I grew up in this area, we are not familiar with the Evanston schools at all. We both wanted to see what our options were before simply choosing the neighborhood public school. Evanston also has a public magnet school with a focus on the arts. There is Montessori school just blocks from our home that goes from Pre-K through 8th grade. There is also a Catholic school only a few blocks away where a few friends from our church have sent their children. We are also only a mile or two away from a highly esteemed Waldorf school. And, there is a neat Christian school in Chicago that we wanted to see. So far, these are the schools we have visited:

King Lab – We loved the focus on the arts at this school. We also loved the diversity, the small class sizes, the community feel, and the fact that it is a public school.

Chiaravalle Montessori School – This school was absolutely gorgeous. It is a small school, very close to our home, and it has a special community-type feel. I love that the students learn daily living skills as a part of their curriculum all the way through. I think this would help Jedidiah who tends to get overwhelmed easily.

Chicago Waldorf School – Let me just say that this school was amazing. Every person I talked with was exceptionally genuine. The education offered at this school is incredibly well-rounded – from science to athletics to art to music.

Daystar Christian School – This school is a unique Christian school that is located in the heart of Chicago. The school takes advantage of their location by doing many, many excursions to museums and locations in the city. They have worship services, small classrooms, and caring teachers. Major downside: it is at least a 30 minute commute each way.

Honestly, I would feel good about my child attending any of these schools. They have all been great schools with clear philosophies that help children to learn and grow and develop friendships. And, all of these schools go through the 8th grade, which I think is so much better for children developmentally than changing to a new school during the fragile early adolescent years (although, we don’t really plan on living here that long). Of course, the private schools are expensive, but one thing we have learned is that financial aid is always worth a try…you just never know. We have not made any decisions, yet. But, the process of seeing the schools has been encouraging and enlightening. I have come home with many new ideas to enrich our home environment, as well. All of this makes me excited about this next phase of Jedidiah’s life. I will be sad to send my little boy away for several hours each day, but I think there are many beautiful adventures in life and learning ahead of him. I would appreciate your prayers as we make this big decision.

One more cute story: Jedidiah has not gone with us on any of the school tours until today. He was so excited that the school (Daystar) invited him to come along that he decided to dress up. He wore a tie and vest and looked oh-so-cute and handsome. It was great to have one-on-one time with him and both parents. I think it made him feel really special. 🙂

Thanksgiving & A Few Lilia Quotes

This year, we spent Thanksgiving at home for the first time in our marriage. I have to admit there were many things I missed about being with family. In some ways, staying home on Thanksgiving felt like the holiday turned into just a regular day of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. But, it did turn out to be a really nice day in the end. We had several guests over – friends from church and the neighborhood. We made lots of delicious food. The kids and I made decorations, and I think that our home looked very festive for the occasion. The kids had a great time entertaining our guests after the meal – talking about all the things they are thankful for, showing off ballet and karate moves, and doing all sorts of cute and silly things.

The past few days, it has been Lilia who has been cracking me up with her comments. Here are a few…

– We made a special juice punch with juices and sparkling water for the Thanksgiving meal. Lilia really liked it, but left some in her glass for an hour or more after dinner. When she went back to drink it, she said, “It’s not punch anymore! I need new punch, momma.” The punch had gotten “flat,” so to her it wasn’t even punch anymore!

– Tonight, we went to a wedding rehearsal dinner with Greek food. Lilia really like the falafel and kept saying, “I want more waffles!”

– Lilia and I made a white turkey chili in the crock pot today. She has only seen me make beans in the crock pot for our weekly “beans and rice night.” When I went to put other ingredients into the crock pot she said, “No, momma! It’s a bean pot!”

– Misunderstandings….Lilia still has some unclear words, and a few of my misunderstandings have been really funny, too. Tonight, she saw a picture of our neighbor Rob speaking into a microphone. She looked at it and said, “Rob has make up on?” Really, she meant, “Rob has microphone?” Then, tonight in the bath, she said (in a distressed tone), “I am naked and wet!” I responded with a laugh, and something about how that’s just how it is in the bath! She really said, “Band-aid is wet!”

I hope you are all enjoying your Thanksgiving weekend! Josh did take some pictures with his fancy camera – I will try to post those soon.

Gramma Said I Could

“Gamma” (Lilia’s way of saying Gramma) is her new reason and excuse for just about everything. One night recently, I was putting her to bed, and she had a piece of paper and pen that she was using to draw. I told her to put the pen and paper away because it was time to go to sleep. She looked at me, quite offended, and said, “It’s for my Gamma.” A few days ago, Lilia’s friend Seth was over and was feeling sad about leaving to go home. His mom asked if he could borrow one of the musical instruments that he had been playing with (they live across the hall from us). His mom picked up a cowbell and offered it to Seth as a possibility. Lilia objected saying, “No, it’s my Gamma’s.” When Jedidiah wants to play with something Lilia has, she often uses a similar excuse, saying, “It’s special. My Gamma gave it to me.” I’m sure she picked up on her brother saying this about things that his Gramma actually DID give him.

Once recently, she even used this one on me. I pulled out a purse I hadn’t used in a long time since my current purse handle had broken. The old purse was one that I had let Lilia play with from time to time. She saw me put it over my shoulder and said, “Momma, my Gamma gave me that purse! It’s special!” I laughed and said, “Nope! I bought this purse in Thailand with my own money, and I’ve had it since long before you were born.” She said, “Oh”…which is her usual response. But, it did take her a long time to get over this one. She still sometimes says, “Mommy wearing a dress-up purse?” I guess that purse was definitely hers in her mind.

So, she hasn’t quite used the excuse that “Gramma said I could…,” but it might not be long. I thought you’d like to know that she’s thinking about you, Gamma. Lilia appreciates all the special things you give her (or the things she thinks you gave her), and we’ve got your cowbell for you when you need it!

Sweet Morning

This morning turned out much differently than my daily plan laid out for me. We had scheduled a retired teacher friend from church to come over and do some learning activities with the kids. The house was in need of a “cleaning blitz,” that’s what we call it when we all work together to quickly tidy up the whole house. We worked hard and had everything presentable just in time, but our friend had not arrived, yet. I sat down on the couch with a stack of newly borrowed library books, and we began to read while we waited. Twenty minutes later, I decided I had better call our friend to make sure she was still coming. It turned out that she had completely forgotten, not realizing it was already Thursday. I felt myself relax. It felt like a gift really…a clean house, a whole stack of new books to explore with the kids, and an open morning.

We spent a long while reading, and then Jedidiah got the bright idea that we should make cookies. It was only eleven in the morning, but, hey, why not? So we worked together and made snickerdoodles, cookies that remind me of my mom (I think, because her grandmother used to make them for her?). While the cookies were baking, I made some spinach quesadillas, a simple favorite. The kids actually gobbled down the quesadillas before they began asking for cookies. Jedidiah really and truly said (after biting into his quesadilla), “DElicious!! Mom, you’ve gotta try these! They taste like cake!” And later, he shouted an enthusiastic, “Yumm-O!!” After the quesadillas, we all enjoyed each other’s company and the tasty cookies we had made together. The point is, that a free morning without any chores tugging at my brain is a rare occurrence…a chance to be fully present with these little ones changing and growing so quickly right before my eyes. A gift. And, every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

And, just because, a few sweet pictures of my dear kiddos earlier this Fall…

 

 

Oh, and the spinach quesadilla “recipe,” in case you were interested…

Ingredients:

Corn tortillas

Fresh spinach

1/4 cup chopped onion

1-2 cloves minced garlic

Oil or butter (whichever you prefer)

Soy sauce

Cheese (shredded – I used mozzerella, but whatever you have will do)

This “recipe” will not have exact amounts. I just eyeball everything and make more or less depending on how many people I am feeding or how much my kids are eating. First, in a small pot, saute the onions and garlic in oil or butter until the garlic begins to brown. Then, add spinach (I usually just fill my small pot to the top, since it cooks down so dramatically). Add a teaspoon or so of soy sauce, and a very small amount of water, if necessary. Cook until the greens are wilted. I’m going to assume that you know how to cook a quesadilla in a skillet. I usually cook the quesadillas in a little butter, because I think my kids need the fat & it makes it taste super-yummy. I simply put a corn tortilla in the pan, sprinkle some cheese on it, spread a little of the spinach mixture over that and then top it with a second tortilla. Seriously, my kids LOVE this recipe, and I love that it gets them to eat spinach.

Musings in Response to the Couponing Craze

As I have pondered this topic for a few weeks now, several thoughts have come to my mind. Here are my thoughts and musings…

To begin, let’s remember that the companies that print coupons do so because it is beneficial to them. They must be making money off of coupons or they would not keep printing them. Check out this article about sneaky ways that coupons actually cause you to spend MORE money. Of course, it is possible to stay strong and avoid buying things that you don’t need. But, remember that you are being exposed to a ton of advertising just by looking at coupons (coupons ARE a form of advertising).

One of my biggest concerns with couponing is the formation of an unrealistic expectation about the cost of food (see this article). Over the past few years, I have come across the concept of “unrealistically low prices.” I would like to unpack this concept for you. When my eyes were first opened to the needs of the poor and to the reality of my life in relation to the poor, I highly valued a low price on clothing and food to save money, to identify with the poor by living on less money, and to be able to give more money to those in need. As I have learned about food justice and about sustainable living, the way I spend my money has changed along with my idealogy. I first read about the concept of unrealistically low prices in a book called “The Plain Reader,” a compilation of writings by Anabaptists. The idea is that the price that you pay for something should be a reasonable price for what it is. For instance, buying a dress for $5 does not reflect the cost of the fabric, the cost of the labor to make the dress, the cost of transporting the dress to the store, and the overhead costs of the store where it is being sold. If any one of us spent several hours sewing a dress from purchased fabric, we would never sell it for only $5. This is an unreasonably low price. Some one is losing when items are sold for unreasonably low prices. The workers may not be receiving fair wages, the environment may not be treated well in the process…there are probably a combination of factors at play.

In his book “The Omnivores Dilemma,” Michael Pollan takes this even further when he talks about the true price of our food. For instance, the true price of a Big Mac at McDonald’s must take into account the way the corn was grown that is fed to the cow who is raised in unhealthy conditions and then shipped (using gas) to other locations to be processed. There is waste to be accounted for, pollution that fills our skies, top soil lost, and large amounts of fuel used. Plus, there are many people that participate in the process – farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, factory workers, advertisers, fast food workers. Can all of this possibly be covered in the dollar or two that we pay for a hamburger? My point is simply this: is it reasonable to expect to pay so little for our food? And, is it possible that we are doing this on the backs of the poor?

Personally, I want to spend my food money in such a way that I am supporting small and local businesses and farms. I want to pay a price that is reflective of the food that I am receiving, not because I like spending lots of money, but because it just seems like the right thing to do. I want businesses to succeed that have ethical practices, keep preservatives and additives out of their food, and sustain the local economy. And, really, spending my money that way is better for me, too. Fresh, local, natural foods means that my family stays healthier (and in Jedidiah’s case, more calm and rational, too). It means that the earth God gave us is treated well. It means that workers are paid a decent wage (a great way to help the poor!). I spend my money in this way by buying a share in a Community Supported Agriculture, by searching out local options in stores and in my area, and by choosing brands that I respect.

The problem is that I don’t really have all that much money. So, just like the avid couponers, I am always looking for ways to save money. Here are some ways I do this without (in my opinion) compromising my first point:

-I gladly take the items that others throw out. Our country has a whole lot of waste, and I find it completely acceptable to use things that would otherwise get thrown away. Twice a week I participate in “Manna,” a free food giveaway in my alley. Grocery stores donate all the food they are about to throw out, due to impending expiration dates. Even Whole Foods donates food to our little operation. I’ve thought about starting to take pictures of all the food I get for free – it’s truly amazing. Like the Manna of the Bible, it only makes sense to take what one can use because it’s all expiring quickly! Maybe I’ll write a whole post about Manna one day soon. I am also the recipient of many great treasures obtained through the dumpster-diving adventures of some of my friends. They know what factories to go to and get unopened food that isn’t even past expiration (the companies throw it out because it would be past expiration by the time it arrived in the stores). I could say more here, but you get the idea…

-I choose to grow some food of my own. We grow what we can on our porch, but we are limited in this department. I look forward to a time when I can have a huge garden and grow a greater percentage of our food. I think this is one of the best possible ways to have fresh, healthy, inexpensive food that is good for us and for the environment.

-I participate in a food cooperative. The cooperative buys quality food in bulk and then sells it at cost to the members of the co-op. I even bring my own containers to fill up with rice, nuts, pasta, etc. This way, I am even able to reuse my packaging! I really think it would be easy to start something like this wherever you are, as long as you had a group of people interested in helping to get it started.

Finally, I want to address the topic of stockpiling or hoarding food (something that goes hand in hand with extreme couponing). Honestly, this just doesn’t sit well with me. Biblical passages like the man with all his storehouses of grain are flashing before me. I am not completely against saving up for the future or being prepared, but I am against the kind of “catastophobia” (that’s what my husband calls it) that causes people to hoard food out of fear. In contrast, I am a proponent of “preserving the summer’s bounty.” All cultures have had to find ways to preserve seasonal foods so that they would have food for the whole year. I see this kind of like the extra portion of manna that God gave the day before the Sabbath. Canning, freezing, drying, and fermenting food when it is in season means that we are prepared when there is less food available. It also means that we do not have to buy as much at the store. And, personally (although my space is limited), I would rather have canned applesauce, dry beans, and frozen fruit to eat in the case of the hypothetical catastrophe than Dorritos and the newest flavor of boxed crackers.

SO, will I use coupons? Yeah, I think I probably will. Here and there. I see nothing wrong with saving a little money, especially on high end healthy snack options. Who knows, buying a few of these things might help some good companies get off the ground. But, I do not want to dedicate myself to saving money through extreme couponing. There are other ways that I find much more life-giving…to me, to the earth, and to others around me. I would rather spend time with people, in my garden, and cooking from scratch than sitting on the computer looking through hundreds of coupons. If I can live on less money and still spend the money I do have in a way that gives back to people and the earth, that’s what I want to do.

PS – I want to say thanks to those of you beginning a conversation in response to my last post on the current couponing craze. Many good points have already come to the surface in that conversation. I want to address those points in a later post.

The Couponing Craze

I’d like to start a conversation here about the current couponing craze. Maybe you’ve noticed it? Maybe you are one of the crazed couponers out there?! I was alerted to this popular hobby through the pictures posted on facebook. Friends of mine frequently post pictures of the piles of packaged food and home items that they bought, touting surprisingly low prices for the mountains of grocery store treasures. I mean, who wouldn’t want to join in the fun of getting more for less? And, really, I’m just the type who would do this sort of thing, right? I mean, I make it a goal of my life to live simply, to identify with the poor. Even more, I’m a stay-at-home mom who does most of the grocery shopping and cooking in our home, just the type of people I see doing this sort of thing.

To be honest, at first I blew the whole thing off, due to my picky grocery shopping habits. I have a son who cannot eat foods with food dyes or flavorings and who is also sensitive to most preservatives. Plus, I avoid chemical household cleaning products and instead make my own cleaning products. Most of the photos I’d seen of couponed loot were filled with items that I would never buy (or even use if some one literally gave them to me). But then, I saw a different photo. This one showcased organic goodies, Whole Foods treats, and just plain healthy foods. So, although I took my skeptical thoughts and uneasy gut feelings with me, I decided I had to look into this whole couponing thing.

What I learned from poking around a bit is that there are now many websites (such as coupons.com) that post printable coupons. The successful couponers check various sites regularly and utilize various coupon sources, including the local paper. I am not experienced in this realm, but I have read that some coupons can be printed multiple times or doubled up to increase savings. I think there are a lot of tricks to learn. And, from what I hear, people have even been teaching classes at churches, even, to maximize one’s savings through couponing (a way of being a “good steward,” I guess). I have read a few couponing blogs to study up on the craze (I will not name any names here – I’m sure you can locate these blogs yourself through google). Through these types of sources, I have learned that people have earnest reasons for their couponing hobby, including saving enough money to allow them to be home with their children instead of returning to work. I have no intention of criticizing such noble act. I would, however, like to give my response to the couponing craze, as I’m calling it. My searching and thinking, reading and considering, has lead me to have a few thoughts on the matter that I would like to share. And, I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Let’s make this a lively discussion! For now, I’ll give you a little time to think about it. And, in a day or two I’ll begin sharing my musings…