Tuesday, June 19, 2012

First Thing Monday Morning: A Day Late, and...

 ...do you remember the rest of that old saying? (a dollar short, in case you were wondering)

It reflects the frustration of missing an important deadline because you forgot to record the date on your calendar, or you forgot to look at the calendar, or (if you're like me) you looked at the calendar but at the wrong week!

Yesterday I was the poster child for people who are calendar challenged. I got a call early, saying that there was no play practice that morning. That was certainly a relief, because I had not gotten word in the first place that an extra play practice was (as it turns out, it was not) scheduled. I glanced at the calendar and went on with my day...

...virtuously staying away from the computer because I was going to get some neglected things done.

(things can get neglected when you struggle with time-related issues, like calendars and schedules, and self-discipline issues, like routines)

Boy, did I feel good.

...right on up to the point (about 5:30 pm) where I realized what day it actually was, and that I'd missed an important annual event put on by our homeschool group, something we'd all been looking forward to for weeks.

I'm still kicking myself. This is after kicking myself all yesterday evening, diving into housework (scrubbing is a great outlet for anger and frustration) and throwing a grown-up sort of tantrum -- which involves, first, badmouthing oneself out loud, and then when the kids protest, taking it private. The problem with this solution is that it doesn't really solve anything or prevent future flakiness.

I have got -- at this late date -- to establish routines, to get my physical surroundings under control, for starters. I'm so distracted and distractable, I'm feeling less and less of use to anyone (including myself).

One of the reasons for First Thing Monday Morning is accountability, a way to stay on track, though of course you have to get on the track before you can have any hope of staying there. Another reason is to share resources that have helped me. This week's planned-but-not-scheduled-ahead-of-time (I'm learning to do this but I got busy last week and my scheduled blogging time on the weekend didn't happen) was to be a book review. There's this mom who's written an e-book about getting on track. I got the eerie feeling while reading, that we were twins separated at birth.

The book is called 28 Days to Hope for Your Home and has a subtitle of (not for the mildly disorganized). If you want a preview, you can go to this link and see what I read when I first stumbled across the book. (FYI, that link is an affiliate link. If you were to decide to buy the book through that link, I'd get a little pocket money. And thank you.) You can read her latest blog post here. (Not an affiliate link. Just in case you were wondering.)

If you're desperate and want to get started now, and not wait for the book review, you can get the e-book. I'm not trying to hold you to a schedule. (Just me.)

I bought and downloaded her book in a moment of desperation, and have been applying it for about ten days now. It's helping. Things are getting better around here. I've even started the girls reading the book; they need it as much as I do. But I don't have time today to give the book justice, so here's the plan: this week I'm going to be working on next week's post (imagine that, thinking ahead) and First Thing next week you'll see a book review. (If the creek don't rise... as my sister-in-law is fond of saying.)

So, since we started talking about calendars and how slippery and difficult to manage they can be... we'll wrap up with talking about calendars. How do you manage yours? What are your favorite tips for keeping your schedule straight? Share them here in a comment, or please feel free to link up!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How does your garden grow?

Yesterday we got some more of the garden planted:

Peas (yes, I know it's late in the season but the weather has continued unseasonably chilly, so we'll see)
Basil (doesn't grow well from seed, so we'll see)

A parsley plant and a rosemary plant (rosemary looks pretty puny, here's hoping it survives)

The seeds were sown according to the Square Foot Gardening method. However, the squares aren't marked off, so we're just kind of remembering where they were sown.

Questions for Square Foot Garden fans:

How do you mark off square feet in your garden?

How do you make paths between squares? (Our garden is just a big rectangle of dirt at the moment)

What kind of trellises or frames do you like best for climbing plants?

...and perhaps the most important question of all, in our Northwest garden:

How do you control slugs and snails?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Works for Me Wednesday: Homemade Coconut Milk

One of these days I'm going to get my act together (that's partly what this blog is about, anyhow, homeschooling while living real life) and take pictures, or better yet, hire Youngest to take pictures for the blog as I'm doing things.

Unfortunately, today is not that day. I made coconut milk this morning. No pictures were taken. Please build mental images of a (Blendtec) blender, unsweetened coconut flakes, and water all working together to create a creamy, frothy result.

We're out of (cow's) milk, and a couple of people in the family have gone dairy free anyhow, so I've been making alternative milks from almonds, cashews, and finally, coconut.

Almond milk has received the best feedback, but it's also the most expensive. Cashew milk works in recipes, but has "an unpleasant bitter aftertaste" in tea or coffee. (I didn't notice bitterness, myself, but my coffee that day did remind me of hazelnut creamer -- and I don't care for hazelnuts.)

Coconut milk has better flavor, but I've noticed that people were consistently leaving the last 1/3 to 1/4 of a cup of beverage. The reason? Residue. (Cashew milk has a similar problem.) For some reason, people around here don't care to chew their coffee or tea.

This morning I hit on the solution of pouring the coconut milk through a tea strainer. Still turns the tea or coffee a lovely milky white, adds body to the beverage, but not so much body that you have to chew the last few sips.

It really tastes good (unfiltered, even) on muesli, too.

Check out more great Works-for-Me-Wednesday ideas at We are THAT family!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5-minute homemade GF bread, simplified

We've been baking bread out of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day for some months now. So far, it's the best-tasting GF bread recipe we've found, with the best texture. Even our fussy eater considers it edible!

 I've mentioned it to friends who were looking for a palatable GF bread that wasn't too complicated, and directed them to an online recipe at the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day website, having looked at the ingredients list and noting that it's similar to one of the recipes we bake out of the cookbook.

Last weekend, I really looked at that webpage, and was dismayed at how complicated the baking process sounded. We get decent bread with a much simpler process. Here's how we do it:

Whisk together dry ingredients in bowl of heavy duty mixer. (We love our KitchenAid!)

Heat liquid to just above lukewarm. (Because the yeast is mixed with the flour, you want it a little warmer than if you were proofing the yeast directly in the warm liquid.) Add oil (we use coconut oil) and sweetener, stir to dissolve. Add beaten eggs to liquid mixture. Pour into mixer bowl with dry ingredients. Begin mixing slowly to start (otherwise you might have clouds of flour flying about), increase speed to medium and beat until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes.

If the dough is loose like batter, I'll beat in more rice flour at this point to stiffen it up. It doesn't have to be stiff but it has to be firm enough to handle.

Scrape into 6-quart storage container, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit on the counter for two hours. Do not let it sit in the mixer bowl, or you might have bread dough creeping over the lip of the bowl, over the counter, and creating a slow-motion cascade down the cabinet face to the floor. (In hindsight I wish I'd gotten a picture of that.) The dough will more than double in size. Trust me on this.

At this point you can either shift the whole container into the refrigerator, where it will keep for 5-7 days, or you can bake some or all of it into bread.

Handle the dough with wet hands to prevent sticking. Take out as much dough as you wish to use, shape gently, and place in pan or on a baking sheet. Either grease your baking pan/sheet really well (GF is synonymous with sticky), or use silicone bakeware.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 208 or more. The bread may look and smell done, but if it hasn't reached that minimum temperature it will likely be gooey inside.

If baking from the refrigerated state, shape your bread as above (wet hands, remember!) and place in baking pans. Let rise 90 minutes to an hour at room temperature, and bake as mentioned.

Disclaimer: I have included a couple of Amazon.com affiliate links in this post. If you click on the links and decide to purchase, I make a little pocket money. At least that's how I hope it works. Thank you!

Monday, June 11, 2012

First thing Monday morning...

I remember when I was rooming with my sister in college. Well, I was in college, and she was in graduate school, but for about a year we shared an apartment off campus.

She has always been a go-getter. Seriously, for years I couldn't understand how she could get so much done. She probably couldn't understand how I could get so little done! We are opposites in many ways... however, living with her had its bonuses. I lived something of an organized life -- the apartment was never a mess, with her in charge. (Did I mention she's my older sister?) Even if it had been a busy week, on Saturday morning she'd get up, make a list of what needed to be done, wake me up and hand me my orders. We'd both work away (I admit, I was not always cheerful about not getting to sleep in on a Saturday, spoiled younger sister that I was) and by lunchtime the place would sparkle and the rest of the weekend was free for fun! ...and, er, studying.

Musical chairs... er, chores

She also put music on while we worked -- maybe something she picked up from our mom, who always had the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcast playing when she did Saturday clean-up. Or maybe she just knew that music can get you moving and keep you moving when you're doing chores that don't require a whole lot of brainpower, just elbow grease. One of the songs I remember was from the Broadway musical Purlie! -- a men's chorus singing a rousing "First Thing Monday Morning!"

Gonna get me straight... 'fore it gets too late...

I can't tell you much else about that Broadway show, because I never saw it, but I do remember that record playing, among others, to spur us in our Saturday cleaning sprees. For some reason, though, "First Thing Monday Morning" sticks in my head. Maybe because it's one of the procrastinator's mottoes.

When the going gets tough, the Tough -- um, what was the rest of that?

When you're surrounded by disorder, when you're living in chaos, you have this desire to get things straight, to do things "decently and in order," and an orderly approach seems to involve the ritual of setting a start date, just the right start date as a matter of fact, whether it's Monday morning (the start of the week) or January 1st (even bigger, the start of a new year). The energy starts to flow as the deadline approaches, you gear up, you look forward to tackling the problem (and maybe there's some dread mixed in with the anticipation, anxiety that it's not going to work), and then the day arrives!

There are several different outcomes, in my experience.

- An interruption comes along, some reason that you can't start on the designated day. You have to wait a whole 'nother week to get started! (This is assuming we're talking about "Monday Morning Syndrome.") What an energy drain. It's the procrastinator's dream, though, because you get to put it off another week.

- You get started on The Day and work along and it's just not fun, but you force yourself anyhow, for awhile. You almost welcome the inevitable interruption that throws you off track.

- You get started on The Day and actually enjoy bringing order out of chaos... but it doesn't last. I've figured out that my college biology professor was right. Everything trends towards disorganization. Without the spark of life, corruption sets in; organic matter breaks down (or is broken down) and falls apart. Without consistent upkeep, order breaks down and slowly -- or not so slowly -- becomes chaos.

First thing Monday morning...

I'm in the digging-out phase yet again, after an over-busy school year. Monday seems like a good day to talk about planning and organizing strategies. You're welcome to join in!

I'm not advocating Monday-Morning thinking (tried it, bought the T-shirt), but rather establishing (gulp) routines, figuring out how to make things work, especially for someone as distractable, overbooked, and happy-go-lucky as I tend to be. A Monday-morning check-in is a good accountability tool.

How about you?

Are you just getting started, re-started, or partway on the journey from the City of Chaos to the Realm of (most-of-the-time) Order?

I've included a Linky at the bottom of this post, if you'd like to come alongside. Today's topic: What's motivating you to do things differently? What's your pet peeve right now, in terms of your home and schedule, something you have the power to change?

Alternatively, just leave a comment to this post, and Happy Monday to you!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book Review: The Secret of N'de

Being an author myself, I hate to write a negative review. However, I think I owe this cautionary note to the parents of voracious readers who don't always have time to pre-read a book before recommending it to their teens.

I've become a little more cautious in approaching our reading. I've been burned a couple of times, regarding book recommendations. I'm learning to consider the source. Not everyone has the same taste. (What a boring world it would be, if they did?)

For example, a friend recommended I read The Time Traveler's Wife.

Now, this friend writes some incredible fiction that she publishes online, and I've greatly enjoyed reading her stories. However, when she recommends books to me, I have to keep in mind that the website we both write for is somewhat censored, in that there are standards and ratings (something like the movie rating system in theaters). There are specific things that are not allowed on that site, which oddly enough allows a certain freedom in reading.

...coming back to my point -- she really enjoyed that book, and I found it was not to my taste. In the reading (and I was not able to finish that book, just could not force myself to keep reading), I remembered that while my friend writes wonderful stories even within constraints, there are times when I've found our conversations about real-life interests disturbing. (Let's face it. There's a lot in real life that can be disturbing.) I still love to read her stories, but I approach book recommendations with some caution.

Lately I've been investigating Christian fantasy, or maybe you'd call it allegory. A lot of teens of my acquaintance have a taste for the genre. Books have been published to feed this appetite, alternatives to secular fantasy that can be disturbingly graphic in depictions of sex and violence. These books are written for the Christian market, many with spiritual themes. Such books include 100 Cupboards, The Light of Eidon, The Bark of the Bog Owl, The King of the Trees, and their sequels. (The books I've named are examples of well-written fiction. I have also read some horrible books that were touted as "the Christian alternative to Harry Potter." I won't dignify them by mentioning their titles here.) The Mirror of N'de was the latest in the Christian fantasy genre to appear on my radar.
I just had this niggling need to pre-read it before recommending it to our teens. I'm so glad I did that! Definitely not right for them. They don't need to add those vivid images to their storehouse of nightmares. This morning I am still haunted by some of what I read.

Here is the publisher's description, from Amazon.com:

In the mythical city of N'de lives thirteen-year-old Hadlay and her people, the Ramash. Scorned and abused by the unloving and absent Emperor, the Ramash are poor people, placed second to the ruling class of the Oresed. Young but bold, Hadlay rages against the injustice in her city. When she is chosen for the honor of serving the Prince in the Tower, she hopes to find a way to right the wrong . . . but soon discovers that things are worse than she believed.

And here are some pull-quotes from the back of the book, also from Amazon.com:

"This book is a fine choice for young fantasy readers looking to delve into a creative new allegory with a fascinating storyworld, magic, symbolism, and a few neat surprises."
- Jill Williamson, Christy Award-winning author of the Blood of Kings series.

"Fantasy, by definition, is different. The Mirror of N'de is outside of any labeled box. L.K. Malone has written a surprising book of fun and truth. A must-read for every Christian family."
- Donita K. Paul, author of the DragonKeeper Chronicles.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? However, I learned my lesson the last time I gave a book to one of our teens, a book that had been recommended as "well written, and a gripping read." Yes, the book was well-written, and yes, it was a gripping read, so much so that the teen couldn't put it down even as it splashed graphic images across her brain and seared her memory with mental pictures that kept her from sleeping for some time after. I'm so sorry about that. You see, once you read a book, you can't go back to where you were before you read it. It leaves an impression on your heart and your brain.

I stayed up way too late reading this book. I couldn't put it down! It's a book that grabs you, draws you in and keeps you interested, but the evil is so very evil... You know, come to think of it, the Bible has a lot of mention of evil, but not terribly descriptive. For example, Jezebel was thrown down from the window, there's just enough detail to get the gist, but not a whole lot of description. The descriptions in The Mirror of N'de are pretty mild if you're used to watching body-count movies or if you play violent video games, but if you haven't seared your sensibilities and built up mental calluses to depictions of gore, you might find the book disturbing.

(Don't get me wrong. I've been there. In my younger days I enjoyed a "good" body-count movie. Examples I can think of include Speed, the Die Hard series, the Lethal Weapon series, Cliffhanger, Under Siege. I even watched the first in the Alien series, though it scared me spitless. I used to read graphic murder mysteries, too, and books by Stephen King, but it's been a long time since I left those habits and my calluses have worn away.)

I wonder if a book written today has to be graphic in its depiction of evil in order to sell, even to Christians?