Archive for April, 2013

The whole dietary change endeavor is going really well. I’m not really struggling with being vegan like I thought I would, but I can’t say that I’m having any majorly noticeable health changes either. I don’t get my cholesterol checked again until the week after next and we’ll see if my changes have made any positive difference on that front.

While I’ve been really good, I have fallen off the wagon, so to speak, a few times over the past month or so. The biggest failure was during my two youngest kids’ birthdays. They have birthdays less than two weeks apart, and our family tradition is to let them pick every meal for the day of their birthday and the day of their party. Needless to say, they aren’t vegan and their choices made mine harder, and quite frankly, I didn’t fight it.

I regretted that with Pieces’ birthday party day when I had a Red Robin hamburger for lunch and Smithfield’s fried chicken for dinner. I felt horrible the next day. My digestive system completely rebelling. So I won’t be doing that again, and I was much better behaved during Pynni’s birthday choices because of that experience even though my choices were not vegan.

My big failure to be vegan revolves mostly around fish. I can’t seem to get enough fish; sushi in particular. It is unhelpful that Whole Foods has really good sushi, and when I go there, it’s super easy to pick up a roll or some nagiri or both (depending on the selection). I guess the upshot is I’m not eating my weight in sushi when I cheat.

So not totally vegan. My problem seems to be that I don’t have any hard held moral objections to eating meat. If I could afford it, I would eat only local meat from animals I’ve looked in the eye, but that’s expensive. I do, however, support local farms as often as I can.

Also, I never really got around to committing to the Engine 2 diet. I have been mostly vegan, and except for maybe 7 cheats, I have been wholly vegetarian. I’ve stopped cooking with butter (I’d given up margarine a long time ago) and I’ve switched from olive oil to coconut oil for sautéing. I use much less oil than I used to and it’s healthier, so I’m hoping that a plus. I’ve tripled my fresh produce intake, at the very least, and I’ve been eating only whole grains. So all in all, I’ve been very happy with myself and I haven’t let any bad choices or momentary weakness derail the over all goal. Basically, I haven’t completely reverted to eating foods made with cream cheese and heavy cream after having a hamburger because why even try? So there’s that.

It remains to be seen if my efforts will have any noticeable effects with my blood work in a couple of weeks. My actions after that will be determined by the results of the tests. I can tell you that those actions will not include returning to the foods that put in the place I’m in now.



So things are moving along. My food choices have not given me cause to hang my head in shame. I do need to make a conscious effort to drink more water and I need to start keeping that food journal again. I hadn’t really made a habit of it before I left on my trip and I completely forgot about it while I was gone. Conveniently? Maybe.

I hadn’t intended for these posts to include recipes, but I find that when I come across something I’m really enjoying, I like to share. Last night’s meal falls into that category. I modified my recipe for Tortilla Soup  and made it vegan. It was, surprisingly, delicious. Through the last few weeks I have made two, not insignificant, discoveries about cooking vegan. First, it takes a lot less time to make dinner when you don’t have to cook meat all the way through. I like my veg crisp tender. I like the veg to retain that bite it has when raw. This takes much less time to achieve than when cooking meat. With that being the case, it takes double, or more, the amount of seasonings and spices to achieve the same density of flavor in the same dishes, and I’m not talking about salt here. I’m talking about using double the amount of garlic or ginger or cumin or chili powder. With less time to steep in the delicious tastes while cooking, more is more.

Anyway. My recipe for Tortilla Soup: Vegan Style::

Avocados in first, smother with soup, squeeze of lime, HOLD THE TORTILLAS!

Avocados in first, smother with soup, squeeze of lime, HOLD THE TORTILLAS!

  • 1 can vegetarian black beans; drained and rinsed
  • 1 tub extra firm tofu; remove as much moisture as you can as seen in this video then cut into cubes
  • 1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (I only had a can of whole, peeled tomatoes so I put them through my food processor for a few seconds)(You can use fresh tomatoes, but they require cooking down and salt adding to get them to release their juices.)
  • 1 onion; diced
  • 1 poblano pepper; deseeded and deveined and chopped finely
  • 4 garlic cloves; minced
  • 1 1/2  tsps Cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 can chopped green chilies
  • 2 cups vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 400ºF

  1. Sauté  the onions, poblano pepper, garlic for 2 minutes in a small amount of coconut oil
  2. Add the tofu to the pan, followed by the cumin and chili powder. Salt to taste. Sauté for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the chopped green chilies and the black beans. Saute for 2 minutes more.
  4. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the vegetable broth. Bring to a soft boil and reduce temp to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Cut small corn tortillas into 1/2 strips. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them for 7 to 8 minutes until crisp. Keep a close eye on them because the time between not quite crisp and burned is very short.
  6. Serve with avocados and a squeeze of lime. If you aren’t vegan, you can sprinkle some Colby Jack over it. I like to assemble my bowl and put the soup over it: tortilla strips and avocado first, then ladle on the soup, and finally, top with cheese and lime juice. I like to decimate half a lime for my bowl, but you can do whatever you prefer.

Me? I don’t care much for the corn tortilla strips, but I love the avocados and lime. Seriously, you should try it with lime.

More please!

As you may already be aware, I homeschool. We’ve joined some homeschool groups this year and they require that I post group things for everyone to choose to do. It can be as simple as, “Hey, we’re going to the Museum today, wanna join us?” to as complicated as, “Hey, I’m going to teach a science lab every Thursday for the next 6 months. Join us! Bring your brains and the Required Dollars!”

Guess which category I fall into.

Right, so I seem to be UNABLE to do things the easy way. I host science labs at Homeschool Explorers and now, a writing club. So I read this blog post by Lydia Netzer. I got all inspired and lost my mind and posted a listing for kids to join Chi and me in our Junior Secret Novelist Club. There wasn’t the clamor for the few open slots that I thought there’d be, and I was admittedly a little disappointed. I guess it’s a good thing because I would have had a hard time telling people that our club was all full.

So our first meeting was Wednesday, April 3rd. Only two other kids showed up. Our club is all boys. There is the possibility that one girl will be joining us for the remaining meetings, but that has yet to be seen.

We named our club and made up our oath and created a secret handshake. We’ll be revisiting the secret handshake as the boys seemed to think “handshake” meant “full body contact wrestling”.

Our club name is “Secret Nerf Zombie Brains Musical Nature Authors Doctor Who’s Drudon Novelist Club”. Don’t ask, the boys came up with it.

They came up with words that painted pictures in their mind. It was not my place to judge their choices. They made the name from those words.

Our Oath:

I promise always to write with Time Travel,

Evil Stuff, Excitement, and Fantasy.

I promise never to write Kiss-y Crap,

Non-fiction, Mermaids, or Boring Stuff.

Nice huh? They came up with things they liked best in books and things they disliked in books. We distilled it into these four things.

All in all, I think they had fun.

You know homeschool kids are odd, and I don’t mean that they aren’t regular kids. I mean that they are completely at ease learning and participating in a lively conversation while turning cartwheels in the living room, make pencil rockets out of their ears, and hopping around the dining room table. It’s becoming one of my most favorite things.

All About Reading Success!

All About Reading Success!

Sometimes, I feel that I jump around too much. Change my mind too much about what the right curriculum is for, well, Pynni mostly. Then, I started using Workboxes to organize our school day and help my kids be a little more independent in their learning and eventually take ownership of their learning. The workboxes work great because you can learn new things and review previous things all in one school day. They are also great because I don’t have to spend all day teaching each child individually, and instead, we can all have school simultaneously.

But filling those boxes takes some creativity, and I’ve been perfecting the right combination of topics all year. I’m feeling pretty confident with where we are at this current moment.

Firstly, I’ve decided to stick with All About Learning Press’s All About Reading. It has really helped Pynni work to build her confidence and overcome her block where reading is concerned. Pieces is really flying with it, also. I think those two things are worth the expense. AAR teaches the rules to reading so there is little memorization of sight words. Be still my heart.

So I’m using the Phonics stuff as a supplement until the kids finish it. I will continue to use Explode the Code because the curriculum is all workbook pages and the kids enjoy working on them. That along with AAR gives us plenty of  activities to fill in any empty spots in our workboxes. For Chi I use Critical Thinking Co’s, Reading Detective. It teaches how to read critically while teaching the various parts of stories both fiction and non-fiction. I also use Guiness Book of World Records Reading for reading comprehension with Chi. He reads a lot, but I like to keep an eye on it to make sure he is still progressing.

As for math, I switched Chi to and started Pieces on Math-U-See. We are all really liking it. I switched Pynni from Life of Fred to Singapore Math this year. It was okay. Pynni liked it a lot, but it was a lot of extra work for me and I do a lot of prep for school as it is. I felt that it wasn’t helping me teach her in a manner she was grasping. She would do the work, but I don’t think she was understanding why she was doing things the way the curriculum asked.

When we reached the end of the book it was a no brainer to switch. So I ordered her the correct level of Math-U-See instead of the next level of Singapore Math. I think it will be less stress for me and more straight forward for her. We start that this week.

I’ve been supplementing math with apps on the iPad. I use Splash Math by Study Pad for the various grade levels to great effect. It is a really great resource for practicing concepts in a non-traditional manner. I’ve also been using Study Pad’s Time app and Splash Money app to reinforce counting money and telling time with the two Littles. I’ve also incorporated Critical Thinking Co’s Mathematical Reasoning at the appropriate knowledge levels for each kid. It is another supplement that can be a stand alone curriculum. I’m all about the reinforcement.

I’m still using All About Learning Press’s All About Spelling for spelling. Pieces recently started that because I think it helps with being a better reader. I love this curriculum because it teaches spelling in a way that explains the rules and exceptions in a logical, progressive manner.

I use Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing with Ease for both Chi and Pynni. Pieces will start next school year. It teaches writing in a non-threatening way. I can not express enough how amazing this curriculum has been for Chi. I know there are many other factors at work here with the ease in his being and manner these days, but I can hold this particular curriculum up as a huge factor in that. Chi was almost completely against any form of writing. He hated it. He just flat wouldn’t do it, and Writing with Ease completely set all the stuff I knew about learning to write on its ear. Chi will write now, without any complaining. It’s still not his favorite, but he will do what is required when asked. It makes me so happy!

For grammar I use First Language Lessons. All three of the kids use the curriculum. I really like it. It’s very scripted, but it teaches in little bits that grow and repeat until the child gets it. All three of my kids are really thriving grammatically speaking.

For vocabulary, I use WordlyWise. I’ve tried doing other things for vocal, but this seems to be the best. It’s a little advanced for Pynni’s reading level so I haven’t started using it for her. Chi hates it, so we do it in small bites and I’ve added as a supplement to help reinforce the words he’s learning and to break up the amount of workbook work he has to do day after day.

I have all of the kids doing some logic type stuff; problem solving and the like. They all do Critical Thinking Co’s Building Thinking Skillsword ladders, and logic links.

For history, I use Susan Wise Bauer’s A Story of the World, and Joy Hakim’s A History of US  (world and US history respectively). Iuse Highlights Top Secret Adventures and Which Way USA for geography and social studies. I use SuperCharged Science for science along with Usborne Books about science.

For piano I use Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber both primer level and level 1. For foreign language I use Rosetta Stone: Spanish. For typing, I use Type to Learn 4. For handwriting, I use Handwriting Without Tears which teaches print and cursive. For computer science, I use Scratch by MIT and Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0.

That’s pretty much it.

note: I do not work for any of the above mentioned companies and no one from any of the above mentioned companies as given me anything for mentioning them. Everything is my own opinion based upon experience with curricula I have purchased with my own money after my own research.


Pieces age 6.

Pieces age 6.

Pieces. 2 months old.

Pieces. 2 months old.

When he was little he would say “sits” with a major lisp. He meant “six”. It must have been his favorite number because whenever you asked him how old he was that was the number he’d say. He was three.

Now? Today? He turns 6 for real. I’m not sure how this can be. He is my Happy Surprise and he came into this world with a smile on his face. He finds the humor in everything and smiles all the time.

Since three, he’s taken 1 year of speech therapy and addressed much of his lisping issues. So now he says, “Six.” And so he is. Happy birthday, buddy! I love you so much I’ll never stop!

Pieces at five.

Pieces at five.

4 year old Pieces.

4 year old Pieces.

3 year old Pieces.

3 year old Pieces.

Pieces at two.

Pieces at two.

Pieces one year old.

Pieces one year old.

Vegan-y Veg

Well, you all know I fell off the wagon, so to speak. It wasn’t because I was having an issue with my new diet. I just made crap choices. Again and again.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to have heart disease. I don’t want to have a heart attack before 40. I know, intellectually, what I can do to change my health trajectory. So all those failures while I was on my epic road trip? I’m not going to let them derail me. I can rationalize them all away. I can make excuses all day, but in the end, I slid back, very comfortably I might add, into the skin of the me BEFORE my last physical. The Now Me, refuses to let that derail my intentions, my focus, my goal.

So I’m back home and I’m moving in that direction. I know from past experience that whole hog isn’t a successful road for me, but just knowing my end game seems to help me make the right decisions in the here and now. I have to plan and move in a general direction before I make the leap. So I’m back to moving in the general direction.

Today, I didn’t rule the roost with my choices. I had Chick-fil-A for lunch. Really it was more out of hunger and extreme tiredness than anything else, but there you are, I made a shit decision. My sandwich was on wheat… That’s about as good as I can claim. Oh, and it was dry.

Tonight, though, I’m happy to say that I made good decisions. I chose to have a veg bowl that consisted of black beans, corn, pico, avocados and nutritional yeast. It was yummy! I also had some cooked polenta patties. This is where my non- E2 happened with this meal. I sautéed those patties in coconut oil. Not much, but any is not E2 compliant.

Last night I made a version of my signature lettuce wraps without meat. It tasted delicious, but the veg was WAY too… oh, I don’t know SMALL. I used my food processor to cut up all the veg because I was in a hurry. The result was a moderately pasty concoction that tasted like the real deal. Next time I won’t be using my food processor to chop the veg.

For now: T’s Lettuce Wraps

1/2 cup soy sauce

8 tsp fish sauce

5 tsp sugar

2 shallots finely diced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

2 jalopeno peppers, de-veined, de-seeded and finely diced

4 tblsp fresh ginger,grated

1 bag or more baby spinach cut down into “strips”

1 bag grated carrots

1 pkg sliced, fresh mushrooms diced

2 cans water chestnuts diced

1 can black beans, vegetarian, drained and rinsed

1 pkg ground Seitan

Melt 3 tbsp coconut oil in a hot wok. Add jalapeño, ginger, shallot and garlic to the oil. Sauté for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add “meat”: black beans and Seitan (you could add cooked lentils here if you wished). Sauté for about 4 minutes to infuse the beans and Seitan with the flavors. In a separate bowl, make the sauce: soy sauce, fish oil, sugar. (I recommend doubling this part.) (Also to make it vegan, skip the fish sauce and add the juice of 2-3 limes. To make it E2 compliant, skip the sugar and add 2 tsp of honey, sauté everything in veg broth, and use Tamari instead of Soy sauce.)  Add veg: spinach, mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the sauce and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Serve with big iceberg lettuce leaves, or bibb lettuce leaves as the wraps. Fill the wraps with the filling made above and brown rice.

IMG_0777I went on a road trip to see my parents. I took my kids, my homeschool, my yarn, some E2 Happy snacks, and a bunch of good intentions. Well, the trip was great and the kids were very well behaved. I got to see my grandmother who has been in the hospital for some time. I crocheted her a hat that looked fab on her and spent a bunch of time running errands for her. It was good to see her spunk and spark, again.

We had school during the week days and the kids were great considering that it was a modified version of our workboxes. I expected a bit of an issue with Chi, but that didn’t happen. He was very amenable to the change. That is amazing. Chi. Flexible. Chi. Chill in the face of change. CRAZY and so amazing! I’ve said it here before, but homeschooling him has been the best decision I ever made.

I spent some time before my trip looking for quilt designs for a quilt my mom is making. We usually do it like this: I pick a design, find the pattern, choose the fabrics and help cut out the pieces. Mom puts all the squares together and assembles the quilt and does the quilting. She does all the sewing. Due to all the things I was in town to accomplish, that gave me several days to actually do some of the sewing.

Triangles together with thread

Triangles together with thread

It was a sort of newsflash for me. I LOVED it! And this time, I made the quilt design based on a photo I found of a quilt I liked. I took the whole project to a whole different place when picking out the fabrics. So much so, that Mom wasn’t sold on the idea until we started piecing it all together. It’s going to be really fabulous and I’ve discovered that I don’t hate sewing at all, let alone how much I thought I hated it.

Toward the end of the week, I went to watch some basketball in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the NCAA tournament. College ball is always great and live College Round Ball is always super fun. It’s been a thing I’ve shared with my dad since junior high. There were a couple of downsides. The main one being that Rupp Arena is old and crappy and uncomfortable, but also Dad got sick and missed a couple of games. The b-ball was fun, in the end. I’m glad I went.

Rupp Arena runs Cardinal Red.

Rupp Arena runs Cardinal Red.

So that leaves us with the good intentions. So I did okay in the first few days of the trip. I wasn’t eating entirely vegan and not even close to E2 Happy, but I was making good choices. Choosing the vegetarian option, which almost always includes cheese, and the veg where possible. Admittedly, I didn’t make any special efforts, like ordering things not on the menu and giving special dietary cooking instructions to the waitstaff.

My downfall is, and has ever been, soda. I don’t like artificial sweeteners of any stripe. They are just awful tasting to me. So when I have a soda, I go all out. For some reason, when I’m drinking soda, my inhibitions in other places, dietarily speaking, gets completely shot. It’s hard for me to resist sodas when I’m on a road trip. I don’t know why, but it probably has something to do with rationalizing wanting a caffeine boost, but not wanting coffee in the middle of the day. Perfect recipe for the drinking of sodas. And this road trip was 10-ish hours to my parents’ house one day followed by 6-ish hours to my grandmother’s house the following day. Doubled for the return trips. Lots of driving. Lots of time to convince myself I could have a soda.

So I did.

The rest of the trip/visit followed suit and my good intentions paved my way into food choice hell. But, I’m home now, and I’m recommitted. I want this to work. I want to be healthier. I don’t want to have a heart attack before 40. I don’t want to end up a diabetic because I can’t give up the damn sodas. I’m working hard to not beat myself up over the lapse, and just move forward, one food choice at a time.