Friday, November 30, 2012

Bumble Bee: A Free Knitting Pattern

For some reason, knitting for boys always feels difficult to me.  My boys aren't into sports teams and little boys don't seem to care much about the craftsmanship in lovely cabled hats.  They want pictures of their favorite things. They want snips and snails. If only I loved doing intarsia, so they could have all the things!

I set out on this hat pattern with the plan of making it reminiscent enough of a bumble bee for my son's approval, but also cozy and warm enough to satisfy my tastes.  For toddlers I strongly prefer earflap hats with ties so that it stays put and keeps little ears warm.  I also included instructions for just making a typical no-earflap style for both the toddler and kid sizes.  Knitted in a super bulky weight yarn, this hat knits up quickly, just in time for holiday giving.

I have linked to the techniques I used for increases and decreases.

Bumble Bee Hat

Yarn: Lamb's Pride Bulky 1 skein of "wild mustard" colorway and one skein of "onyx".  Keep in mind that this is actually a super bulky weight yarn, if using a substitution.

Needles: 10 1/2 circular needles or size for appropriate gauge.  I use 40 inch and magic loop method, but you could use 16 in and dpns for the top, if you prefer.  TAKE TIME TO CHECK YOUR GAUGE.

Gauge: 15 stitches and 21 rows per 4 inches in circular stockinette
Sizes: Toddler (Child)
(for non-earflap style, skip the instructions for the earflap and start  in appropriate section marked with ***)

Earflaps: Starting with black yarn, CO 5 (for both sizes)
   row 1: K across
   row 2 (and every even row): P across
   row 3: K1, M1L, K to last stitch, M1R, K1 (7 stitches)
   row 5: increase as row 3 (9 stitches)
   row 7: FOR CHILD SIZE ONLY increase once more as row 3, you should now have 11 stitches.  For toddler size, K across.

Continue in stockinette stitch until earflap measures 2 (2 1/2) inches, ending with an even (purl) row.  Cut yarn and place all stitches on a stitch holder.  Work second earflap as first, but DO NOT cut yarn.  Knit back across.  Using knitted cast on, cast on 24(26) stitches, knit across other earflap (from stitch holder), then cast on 14 (16) more.  You should now have 56 (64) stitches.  Join, being careful not to twist, and marking beginning of round.  Knit 1 1/2 inches from front brim.

***  for non-earflap-style hat, start here, if doing earflap hat, ignore the portion between the *:  Cast on 56 (64 stitches) using black yarn, then join, being careful not to twist.  Work k2 p2 rib for until work is 1 1/2 in long.**

Switch to yellow yarn.  You will be working three (four) yellow stripes (and  consequently two (three) black stripes).  Each needs to be 3 rounds wide.  Please keep in mind color changes every three rounds while working the next steps.  I should have used a jog-less jog but didn't.  You can see where the change-over is on the hat.  I'm pleased with it anyway (and so is my son... though ecstatic might be more accurate for how he feels about it) but you may prefer to use one.  After last yellow stripe, remember to cut the yarn so you can weave it in.

Work until hat is 4 1/2 (4 3/4) inches from the front brim.  Work one round.

Next rnd: *K5(6), K2tog.  Repeat from * around (48(56) stitches remain)
K next two rounds.
Next rnd: *K4(5), K2tog.  Repeat from * around (40(48) stitches)
K next two rounds.
Next round: *K3(4), K2tog.  Repeat from * around (32(40) stitches)
K one round
Next round: *K2(3), K2tog.  Repeat from * around (24(32) stitches)
K one round
Next round *K1(2), K2tog. Repeat from * around (16(24) stitches)

CHILD SIZE ONLY: knit one round then next round *K1, K2tog repeat from * around (16 stitches) t


Both sizes should now have 16 stitches.  The rest of the instructions for the hat are the same for both sizes (except the finishing).

Knit two rounds.

Next round: *K2tog.  Repeat from * around (8 stitches remain)
Knit two more rounds.
Next round: *K2tog.  Repeat from * around (4 stitches remain)
Knit two more rounds, then cut yarn and pull through all stitches.

Finishing: (earflap style only) Pick up 68 (76) stitches spread evenly around entire brim and around earflaps.  Cast off.  Weave in ends.

For ties, I used the twisted cord method:  I took a long length of yarn (I didn't cut it from the skein until I had made the cord), maybe 2 ft or so, and folded it back so it was 4 ft of yarn forming a loop that I would be twisted together.  I didn't do multiple like in the linked video because I didn't want it too thick, especially since the yarn is so thick already.  I twisted the "loop" end while holding tight to the end of the yarn and where it was folded back to until it was twisting up on itself.  Instead of tying off at this point as in the linked video, I used a crochet hook to pull the loop end through the bottom of the earflap, and folded the twisted portion in half and held the loop end and the other end together.  Then I just held it up and let the hat spin until it was well twisted then tied it off.  Repeat on the other side trying to make them the same length.

As an alternative, you could just do a simple braided tie or an i-cord tie. 

Happy knitting!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reading (or Vocabulary) Charades

My 5 year old is THIS close to reading. He gets the basic gist, can sound things out well, but struggles with paying attention long enough to do so on words he doesn't already recognize or that are too long.  He has a fair number of easy sight words under his belt.  Things like "up" and "is" and "and" are pretty well integrated.  Unfortunately, he is completely uninterested in books at his level.

The books he wants to read, of course, are his sister's Goosebumps series, which were popular with her during the "spooky halloween" stint.  He wants spooky books, too!  We didn't have any spooky books at an appropriate level.  Or even mildly spooky books.  Or even a book about vampires.  So I looked around online and found these easy-to-read spooky tales and ordered a few from amazon, but they were still beyond him.

Finally, after struggling all weekend on 3 pages  of the level 2 Star Wars book that he was enthralled with (he loves those droids... and really all robots), he gave in and let me try easier books with him but he wants to pick them.  Does he pick them in order?  Noooooo, that would be too easy!  Anyway, I got him to a point that I can work with him on it, at least.  In order to give him some success with reading, I decided I'd start with reviewing the harder words on flash cards.  Many of these he could say on the first guess, and others were harder for him to decipher.  After adding each word, I had him go through all the previous words he had done, pointing to each word as he said it, until we had all the tricky words practiced multiple times.  Next, I planned to have him read the book, but he kept getting caught on a few of the words.  Instead of just pushing through, I thought maybe doing something with a bit of kinesthetic sense added in would help him to remember the words more easily.  So, I came up with the idea to have him act out each word after saying it.  I held all the cards myself and would show him one and he had to say the word and then act it out.  Of course, this lead to giggling by both of us and I think he had a great time with his final practice for the words.  Some of the words (like pond) were harder to act out than others, but that just really added to the creativity and fun.  It also made sure he knew what words like "trot" meant, since it's not a word that comes up in our daily lives too much.  I think this would also work great in a classroom, and could even be fun into the upper elementary grades for spelling or vocabulary words.

When we finally read the book, he flew right through it, only getting mildly stuck once.  WOOT!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chicken Mole "Tacos" with Cilantro Lime Sour Cream

Yesterday was my husband's birthday, so I made his favorite dish: Chicken Mole Tacos... or as my husband puts it "the most delicious thing on Earth."  Mole (said mol-ay - like the end of the word "guacamole") is a kind of Mexican sauce involving chocolate.  It is not sweet, but instead is rich and savory and delicious.  My first exposure to it was once when I was visiting Ithaca, NY.  My mom and I stopped for lunch at Viva Taqueria, where they had it on the menu.  I had heard of it, but never tried it before so I went for it, of course.  I couldn't wait to see what this savory chocolate dish was all about.  Well, it was fantastic, cravable.  I was talking about it for weeks afterward.

Fast forward a few years and I was completely craving it, but we didn't want to drag the kids to Ithaca just for that, so instead I decided to try and make it.  I did some basic research online and the recipes either seemed ridiculously complicated or I couldn't see how they could possibly end up tasting like what I wanted.  Back then, we ate it on a flour tortilla as a taco, but now, as you can see, we just make a pile of it all on our plates.  It's perfectly delicious either way.  My husband and kids like to put it on a bed of refried beans, but I prefer it without.

I hesitate to call this paleo/primal because the few chocolate chips in it are not, but you could easily add a squeeze of honey instead to get that slight sweetness it seems to need.  The sour cream also would not be paleo, but would count as primal, I believe.  We serve it with guacamole and cilantro on top.

Anyway, here is the recipe I came up with.  It makes enough mole sauce for the five of  us for two nights, so I generally freeze half for a faster dinner on another night.  We have made it with chicken and pork and both meats are excellent with the sauce.

Mole Sauce:
2T olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic
3T chili powder
3T cumin
1 can green chilies
2T cinnamon
2c chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
2 large or 3-4 small chipotle chilies (dried, chopped)
3T almond butter
1/2c semi-sweet chocolate chips
3T cocoa powder
salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat oil to medium.  Add onion and saute until onion is beginning to be translucent.  Add chili powder, garlic, and cumin.  Keep stirring so garlic doesn't burn and let the spices meld - a minute or two.  Add green chilies and cinnamon and saute until liquid from green chilies is fairly dry.  Add chicken broth and diced tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients.  Stir well and heat thoroughly.  You want to give it enough time for the dried spices and chilies to rehydrate and fully flavor it.  If the sauce is very thin, cook down until it's a bit thicker.  If sauce is too thick add water until it's thin enough that you can blend it without trouble.  Think thick ketchup.  Put sauce in blender (or use a stick blender) until pureed.  Set aside.

Cilantro Lime Sour Cream

1 c cilantro, chopped
1 c sour cream
2 T lime juice
sprinkle of salt

Put most of the cilantro in a bowl to be used as topping for your tacos.  Put a couple tablespoons worth into sour cream.  Add lime juice and salt.  Mix up.

Shredded Chicken

For our family of 5 we use a couple pounds of chicken thighs for this and I cook them in the pressure cooker.  I imagine you could do it in the crock pot, too.  We get boneless, skinless chicken thighs to make shredding them easier.  I put them in the pressure cooker, cover with water, add a bit of salt and then bring to pressure for 7 minutes and then let it sit for 7 minutes before releasing the pressure.  The entire idea is that you need the chicken to be ready to fall apart on it's own.  As a side note, in a pinch, the water from the chicken can be used in the mole sauce in place of chicken broth, but it doesn't give quite as full a flavor.  Once the chicken is cooked, I put it in batches into my stand mixer and let 'er rip.  I love this - it has saved me so much time over the year that I've known it.  I found it out from this pin on Pinterest.  Takes all of five minutes or something instead of 30 minutes with a couple forks.  After that, I mix in a bit of the mole sauce to give it a bit of flavor.

Beyond that, we just use the Wholey Guacamole brand guac because I'm lazy like that.  And then my husband makes margaritas!  YUM!

Friday, August 17, 2012

DIY Reusable Montessori Dot Game

I think the dot game is yet another brilliant method of  teaching high level math to kids.  Maria Montessori seemed to have a special kind of brilliance for taking difficult concepts and making them concrete.  The trouble is that it seems they're expected to use their dot game paper for one single math problem... and then what?  Recycle it?  This gets expensive (AND WASTEFUL!) very, very fast.  Especially when your daughter thinks the dot game is about the coolest thing ever and wants to do it all.the.time.  That's what you want, but not when it drains your pocket book!  I had been just printing it off and letting her use it that way, but then we went through a phase where she was sort of uninterested in doing any school at all and since it's summer I just let it be for a while.

Starting up again, I wanted something fun and exciting and nice to look at.  So I broke out my old scrapbooking stuff and found a pretty "dot" paper.  I printed off a copy of the dot game paper from this site and cut it out.  I stuck it on with tape because I didn't want to take the time, but if I had it to do again I'd use a glue stick or something to stick it on since it does seem to pop up a little funny in the middle of the paper.  Then I stuck on the letter stickers to say "The Dot Game".  Finally I used self adhesive laminating sheets to laminate it and then cut off the excess.

She's using embarrassingly large dry erase markers in the appropriate colors, but I'd like to get some that are a better thickness for the size of the dot game.  These are just what I happened to have on hand.

I love that I don't have to print off a thousand copies of the dot game paper and my daughter can math to her little heart's delight!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Another Shoe Review: Merrell Barefoot Run Dash Glove

After having the Pace Glove and overall appreciating it's flexibility and minimal nature, but noting the damage the road was doing to the sole, I decided that I really wanted to try a minimalist road shoe.  I chose the Merrell Barefoot Run Dash Glove because I already knew what to expect from Merrell, at least in terms of their barefoot line.   I was not sure about it though, because I wasn't really thrilled with the look of it from the pictures on their website.  When it arrived, it was much cuter than I expected.

The Dash Glove seems a bit stiffer in the sole than the pace glove, but there's still a fair amount of ground-feel.  I can't really call it "stiff" though, because you can still roll the shoe right up in your hand.  The grooves are not as deep as the pace glove, but I haven't had any trouble with traction on the road, even in wet conditions.  I also kind of like the motif on the bottom - sorta looks like toes.  I guess they're getting all in on emphasizing the bareFOOTness of the shoe.  It seems to be holding up well to the road, so far, but I guess we'll see how it goes over time.  I've been running in them a few times a week for a couple months.
The main differences between the Dash Glove and the Pace Glove seem to be (aside from grooves on the bottom) that the laces come up higher on the foot and that the top has more coverage with fabric that is a bit more waterproof.  I will say that the fabric on the top seems to keep my feet fairly dry, especially compared to the pace glove where my feet get soaked with any rain or dew on grass or whatever.  I've been pretty pleased with that.  Who wants to run with wet feet?

The laces do come up much higher on the foot than in the dash glove - good inch or so further.  When I first put the shoes on, I didn't really like this fact too much.  It felt awkward and uncomfortable initially.  After about 5 minutes of running, my feet settled in and the laces adjusted enough to be much more comfortable.  I actually find I can get a better fit with these than with my Pace Gloves.  They still open up fairly wide to get your foot in.  I don't have super high arches, or anything, but they're very easy to get on, despite the higher lacing.

As with much of the women's line (but not the men's, so I'm not sure why this is the case) they have the elastic bits along the back.  I'm really growing to appreciate that, though.  I'd still like to know why they do that for the women's and not the men's.  

The inside is sewn with no seams so it's very comfortable to wear sockless, though the reason I prefer a toeless shoe over vibrams is that it's easier to just get cheap (toe socks are expensive!), thin socks and keep from having to wash my shoes all the time.  It's also, of course, warmer for winter or cooler weather running.

Basically, these are very similar to the pace glove in many ways.  I encourage you to check out my pace glove review to catch a more full description of what I like about them.

I'm trying to think of downsides and I'm not coming up with any other than not having a ton of color selections that I love.  I did buy a half size up but it hasn't seemed to shrink like the dash gloves did.  I haven't had to wash them as often (helps that I'm not running in mud), though, so the same deal may apply. 

Overall, I love this shoe and it's my go-to for running.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Homemade Ketchup and Yogurt Cheese

For the past couple years, I've been making ketchup at home instead of buying the store-bought version of ketchup.  I started because I wanted to avoid the amount of sugar (and high fructose corn syrup) in regular ketchup (and the preservatives, etc.) and just basically to eat high-quality food.  Since then, however, I've found that making a fermented recipe means my ketchup has probiotics in it!  What an easy way to get probiotics into my kids daily, while cutting out the sugar they were getting in the store-bought ketchup!  Beyond that, I've heard store-bought yogurt has hidden gluten in it.  Basically, it keeps making more sense to make my own, as I learn more.  As an added bonus, I get  yogurt cheese out of the experience, too!

Originally, I had tried a recipe from DIY Delicious by Vanessa Barrington, but then I found the fermented ketchup recipe from Nourished Kitchen.  I had been on a learn-to-ferment kick, anyway, so I dove right in.

Don't be surprised, if you taste it pre-fermentation, that it's NASTY.  That was my experience, anyway.  I tasted it thinking "hm, wonder what to expect" and it was not at all appealing.  So, since I had made it already anyway, I figured there was no harm done in letting it sit in a cabinet for a few days and then seeing if it had gotten any better.  And WOW!  After fermenting it was fantastic!  Now, I will admit, I am not generally a huge ketchup person, and neither is my husband.  This was mostly for my kids. After making this fermented ketchup, though, we were both curious so we tried it out.  My husband now uses it as his go-to condiment!  Totally worth the time and effort.

I make a double batch each time, because we go through it pretty fast.  Also, I use canned [organic] tomato paste (oh the shame!) for the convenience factor, and it generally needs a LOT of thinning out from the raw apple cider vinegar, so when I make it, it has a lot more vinegar than what the nourished kitchen recipe calls for... and it's still not really thin enough that I could reasonably put it in a squirt bottle.  I tried that... it was a fail.  I'd also like to highly recommend using wide mouthed mason jars for this because it can be a bit difficult to get into a narrower mouthed jar.

The bonus is that in the process of making ketchup, I get some yogurt cheese.  Why?  Well, I use yogurt to make the whey for the recipe.  If you're sensitive to dairy, you can try using goat yogurt to make whey - that worked pretty well when my son was dairy sensitive.  Alternatively, you can buy "vegetable starter culture" and avoid the milk all together.

Making whey is very, very easy.  Simply line a colander with some cheese cloth, then dump in some yogurt.  I used a store-bought grassfed yogurt that we really like, but you can certainly use homemade or whatever else.  I wouldn't recommend greek yogurt because it's already been strained, which is why it's so thick and creamy.  Then just cover it, put the colander into a bowl and stick it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, take it out and in the bowl you'll have whey (a yellowish looking liquid) and inside the cheesecloth, in the colander, you'll have yogurt cheese (also known as labneh).  Depending on how long you strain it, it'll be thicker or thinner.  Greek yogurt is obviously not strained too long because otherwise it'd be a lot thicker and more cream cheese-like.

Now, what do you do with yogurt cheese?  You can add it to recipes to make it creamy.  I like to make boursin with it in place of the cream cheese.  You could simply spread it on a bagel or something as if it is cream cheese.  You can make veggie dip with it.  I basically use it in place of sour cream or cream cheese (depending on the recipe).  Delicious!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Merrell Barefoot Life Wonder Glove

Merrell now has a line of barefoot shoes that include a number of casual shoes (!!!), and because, who DOESN'T want to feel like they're barefoot all the time, I bought a pair.  Now, looking on their website, I see they also have boots and fun looking shoes for fall!

I appreciated the look of the "Barefoot Life Serene Glove", but wasn't sure I wanted the ribbon going around my ankle.  Instead, I went for the "Barefoot Life Wonder Glove"... in "mulberry"!  Hooray for bright pink shoes!  Actually they're not as bright as I expected them to be, but they're still plenty noticeable.  I've decided shoes are now officially a netural (no matter what color), so I wear them with everthing.  Haha!
The wonder glove is extremely comfortable.  It seems more flexible, to me, than either of the Merrell barefoot running shoes I own, which is a bonus.  The fabric on the sides is very thin, similar to the fabric for vibrams in thickness, but the toe and heel is leather.  I'm not sure this would be a reasonable shoe to wear if there's water on the ground or if it's cold out, but it's been wonderful for summer.  It's also cute enough that I can wear it with nicer things or with jeans or shorts.  Looks especially cute with jeans.  If I worked, I'd totally wear it to work.

It seems nearly all of their women's line has that elastic by the ankle.  I'm not sure why that is, but it is reasonably comfortable and doesn't really bother me as I expected.  The elastic is fairly stiff and not really pulling into your ankle, as it looks like it might be in the pictures.  That's something I recall being worried about before I bought any of their barefoot shoes.

The sole is, as I said, thin and flexible (you can roll them right up in your hand), but with a decent amount of grip, so you don't have to worry about sliding around.  It's also rubber, so not a problem in slippery polished indoor floors.  As you can see, it's a vibram sole.

I've been wearing them daily, with no sock or anything, for a couple months, and have yet to detect a stench.  They supposedly are treated to slow bacterial growth, but I do wonder how to clean them when they do start to smell.  Of course, this would be a problem with any shoe you typically wear without socks.

Really, my only negative on this shoe is that the cross strap occasionally pulls the shoe over a little and I have to scoot it back.  That is, it sorta feels like it's on sideways.  It's not a huge deal, to me, though.  Overall, I love them and am looking forward to getting other varieties of Merrell barefoot casual shoes!

**Edited to add**

My shoes started getting pretty stinky, so I asked merrell how we should clean these.  They said they do not recommend sending them through the washer, but that I could use a typical sandal cleaner.  What I did instead was dump a bunch of baking soda in them and then dampen it with some water and use that to gently scrub any crud off.  Then I rinsed with apple cider vinegar.  I followed this up with water rinse and then let them dry in the sun.  It's not a perfect fix but it's cheap and made a big difference in the funk.  :)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Sneaky E

This past school year, I have been working in my kid's tiny school, helping out teaching various things.  One day, a few months ago, I was working with the kids on labeling various classroom items and this required sounding out the words.  Every time, the silent e on the end of a word caught them up, so I realized they needed a bit of an explanation on what the silent e does.  After a moment of thought (and completely on the fly...) I realized that I could make this concept interesting by describing the silent e as being a little bit sneaky.  Kids love when things are sneaky!  So I explained that on the end of some words, there's a "sneaky e" and it pokes the vowel and makes it say it's name.  So, it pokes an O and make's it say "OH!" or maybe it pokes an A and makes it say "AY!"  The kids thought this was pretty funny and thus went about focusing on finding the "sneaky e's" and discovering what letter it could be poking!.

The concept has really stuck with my almost-5-yr-old year old son.  He LOVES those sneaky e's!  It's been months and he still talks about the sneaky e and laughs about how they poke the other letters.  Earlier this week, he was practicing some of his sight words and we realized that the sneaky e on the end of the word "have" was not doing it's job.  This was hilariously funny to my son.  He looked at me very seriously and said "I have an idea.  We could write the words and then draw an arrow going from the sneaky e to where it pokes the other letter!"  I got him some paper and this is what he did:

The most interesting thing to me, though, is that he is normally pretty averse to doing any fine motor development, but was willing to write this.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Run Pace Glove Review

I've been running in minimalist shoes since I started the couch-to-5k last February (so almost a year and a half), and though I've run a fair bit in my Vibram Five Fingers Sprints, most of my running has been done in my Merrell Barefoot Run Pace Gloves.  I'm actually on my second pair because the rubber vibram sole of the first pair was worn down.  I expect this is because I was mostly running on asphalt and the shoe is designed to be a trail shoe.  Though I love it for trails, I just tend to run more on asphalt.  Obviously I like them, or I wouldn't have bought a second pair, I thought I'd put out my review for other people who might be considering them.  I actually haven't been running in them as much lately because recently I bought Merrell's Barefoot Run Dash Glove, which is actually made as a road shoe.  I plan to review them once I've put a few more miles on them.

Overall, these are very comfortable.  I like wearing them with thin socks, because then I don't have to wash them so frequently, but it's not necessary.  The inside is pretty much smooth and comfortable, but then, I haven't been in a long run with them without socks, so take that with a grain of salt.

I do recommend buying a half size up.  I find they seem to shrink/form to my foot.  It's nice in terms of getting a foot-hugging experience, but my first pair I had to trade out for a bigger pair because  they were starting to become too tight.  I should say, though, that it may be because I started out running in them when I started barefoot running and my feet have overall grown a bit from gaining muscle.  My second pair started out feeling HUGE and seem to have become much more form fitting, though.

  • compared to VFFs, you're looking at a much more conventional looking shoe - you can wear whatever cheapo socks you already have and don't have to spend money getting uber expensive thin toe socks
  • very comfy
  • good grip in mud
  • easier to fit than VFFs, and you can find it locally (my local Dick's Sporting Goods carries it), thus you can try it on and make sure it's the one you want.  I do live in kind of a small area, though, so it's not so easy to find Vibrams around here.
  • If you have weird shaped toes (that wouldn't fit in a VFF toe shoe well) you can still wear them.
  • Easy to wash and because I can wear them with socks they don't get as stinky as my VFFs 
  • There's not much fabric or padding to them so they dry really fast... great if you're doing, say, a mud run.

  • I'm wearing out the sole running on asphalt.  I guess this is normal, but it happened sooner than I expected.
  • the laces don't come up as far as other shoes might so if you have very small heels/ankles or you are running in thick/deep mud you  may have some sliding-out problems
  • Weird elastic on the rear of the collar - seems like almost all of their women's barefoot shoes have them.  I was skeptical of this at first, but it turns out it's not a big deal at all - the elastic is fairly stiff so it really just moves with you a little better.  I'm not sure I feel this is a con anymore, but I thought I should address it.  Maybe I should have labeled this section "quirks"
  • the toe is coming slightly unglued, but it's not bad, so far.  
  • Another quirk is that when you first put them on, you kind of feel like your toes are hanging out over nothing.  Almost like they're hanging over a ledge or something.  It's a very weird feeling and I was a little worried about how that would be while running when I first tried them on, but it was not noticeable at all once running.  Over time the little bit of padding they do have wears down (or possibly I just got used to the feeling) and I'm not sure this ledge is even there anymore.
  • These shoes have a lot more to them than vibrams.  If you're new to barefoot/minimalist running, definitely try it completely SHOELESS a few times to make sure you have a reasonable stride before running in these shoes.  It's a little bit shocking, the difference between completely bare and these shoes.  Still very minimalist, zero drop, you can curl them right up in a spiral, but NOT barefoot.

 Overall, I obviously like them a lot.  I definitely would buy them again, but I think I'm going to use them mostly for trails from now on.  If you run mostly on asphalt, this shoe may not be for you.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New recipe I'm working on...

Grain-free pop-overs.  The first go round was great on crust, but the inside was not perfect, so I have more baking to do, but here's a teaser.  (ignore the awful backsplash, we just moved to a new place and it's kind of a fixer upper!)

**** EDITED TO ADD*****

Well, since it's taking FOREVER for me to tinker more, and it seems like every time I think I'll have time it's 100 degrees in my house so I don't want the oven on, I figured I'd post the recipe so far.  I'll adjust it more when I get time, and post again.  So anyway, here it is!

Grain-free Popovers:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 c mozzarella cheese
2 c tapioca flour
3T olive oil (I'm thinking this should be one or two tablespoons, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet)
1/2 t salt

Put mozzarella in a food processor and process until it's fairly finely chopped.  Add eggs, milk, olive oil and salt.  Process again.  Add tapioca flour in small portions and mix until thoroughly blended.  I then baked them at 425 for 10 min and then dropped the temperature to 350 for 40 minutes, but I was thinking it might be better to drop it to 325 for a bit longer... but the lower amount of oil might take care of this problem on it's own.  So there it is!  Please let me know how that went, if you try it!

DIY Montessori Globe

Last week was my kids' last week of school at their tiny montessori school.  We can't afford next year's tuition for my kids, so I am officially starting homeschooling now.  I'd like to keep within the montessori style mostly because I LOVE the montessori math curriculum.  It's just so brilliant!  Also because my kids are just sort of used to that style now.  I'm not married to the rest of the curriculum, though I do like it.

Anyway, I was scouting out Michaels' looking for ideas for things and came across this globe:

It's just a small (maybe 5 inch diameter or so?),  presumably paper-on-cardboard globe that has just light brown for the land parts, though it has some darker and lighter areas to show the mountains and such, as well as the names of the various countries and borders drawn in black.  The kids saw it immediately and were all excited to have their own globe at home, and my immediate thought was "hey, I could make this all sorts of montessori!"... and it cost me all of $1.

This project was super easy.  All you need is permanent markers in the appropriate colors and then carefully color in each continent. I think if you didn't want to see all the borders and country names, you could probably use paint pens, but they're much more expensive and I sort of like being able to see what's underneath.  I already had the sharpie markers in the right colors, too, so that was lucky.

Colors you need:
Europe -  red
Asia -  yellow
Africa -  green
N. America -  orange
S. America - pink
Australia - brown

Antarctica did not need to be colored because it was pretty much white to begin with.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vibram Five Fingers "Sprint" Review

I know there must be thousands of reviews of VFFs out there, by now, but I just thought I'd throw my input out there.  I've been running in my sprints (off and on, they're not my favorite at this point, but they were my first minimal footwear) for about 15 months.  Here's my take on it:

I will preface this by saying I've only tried two kinds of minimal shoes (at this point) for running - my VFF sprints and my Merrell Barefoot Pace Gloves.  Aside from that I've run completely without shoes, so that gives you an idea of my experience.  Generally I run 3-4 miles per run, although I've just signed up for a half-marathon, so I'm excited to see how my barefooting holds up!  I've worn my VFFs trail running, street running, and also for hiking/general walking, not to mention just casually.

Most people's first question is "what do they feel like??"  Well, they feel basically like wearing gloves on your feet.  They're not difficult to get on if you have any ability to move your toes, though there's a slight learning curve - the first couple times were a little weird and I needed to use my fingers to guide my smaller toes in, but now I'm pretty used to it and they slip on easily.  The fabric is thin, about the thickness of the material in a woman's bathing suit, though not quite as stretchy.  Before I ordered them, I thought the pictures always looked a bit puffy, as if they're made out of maybe neoprene or something, so I was a little shocked to find this out when I received them.

I'll concede that probably some of the problems on here may, or even certainly do relate to the style (the "sprints" vs. other styles of VFF)

  • These shoes are very thin and flexible.  You can literally roll them right up.  Really easy to pack to take with you on vacation or whatever.
  • When wearing them you can feel little bumps and rocks in the road, though not enough for it to be uncomfortable.  Still, a lot of ground feel, thus, very similar to barefoot - more similar to barefoot than my Merrell barefoot pace gloves.
  • It's easy to spread my toes.
  • They LOOK really cool and get asked about a lot.  This can be a con if you like to hide, but I kind of like the opportunity to enlighten people.  Sometimes their faces look horrified and they say "WHAT IS ON YOUR FEET?" though and I reply with sort of a meek "uh... shoes?" but that usually leads into a discussion of how they feel and why I would wear such a thing and whatnot.  
  • Though the toes fit my toes well, occasionally they twist when I'm running and feel sort of funny (not a huge issue, but I do squirm my feet around while running once this happens and lose focus)
  • I'm not a huge fan of the velcro.  It sticks to things sometimes (like if it's in a bag with other stuff), and occasionally it cuts in/chafes my skin if I haven't worn them in a while.  I'm considering trying one of the types of VFF that is a bit more like a sneaker.
  • The heel slides down, but when I pull it up, the sides cut into my ankles and are uncomfortable.  I think it's possible that I should downsize, but here's a picture of what I mean: 


             See how the blue velcro is touching the top of the sole in the first picture (and not in the     second)?  That is a bit annoying while running.  I noticed that the newer style they've made        some changes to this part of the shoe, so it's possible that that is no longer an issue.  I do know         that in other VFF styles, the heel cup is more like a sneaker, which would fix this issue entirely, I expect.
  •    The infamous VFF stench.  Funny because the first couple months of using them I didn't really get much of the stench... but oh boy, yes, now I get it.  And ew.  It's possible that they've managed to fix this in the past year, too... 
  • This is minor since these have so much ground feel, but running in them is still different from running barefoot.  If you only ever run in minimal shoes, you should give completely barefoot a try if for no other reason than to see the difference.  I mean, these are *really* minimal and I can feel rocks and stuff through them, and it's still somewhat different than running completely barefoot.
  • My last complaint is that these don't have enough grip on the bottom.  They only have thin little razor slices in them.  I'll admit that this is completely due to the style.  Other ones have more grip... and honestly more grip, I assume, would result in less ground-feel, but these are not shoes I would recommend for a lot of trail running.  They slide in mud... not exactly what you would want for a trail run.  If you're set on VFFs for trail running (which I was), definitely check out some of the other styles with more grippy bottoms.  Totally would be worth it, and again, I'm seriously contemplating getting those.
Anyway, so that's it!  Would I buy sprints again?  Hmm... I think they'd be great water shoes or for water sports, definitely.  For me, however, I would prefer something with less velcro and with a better heel cup/collar.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Family Harmony

fightless, whineless tv zombies
So, this week was the kids' week-off for spring break.  I have to admit, I was terrified.  They wear me out just in the hours they are home from school.  This is how I usually deal with their fighting and whining:
  1. Turn on TV. 
  2. Enjoy fightless, whineless tv zombies.
  3. Berate self for not being a "better" mother.
  4. Rinse, repeat.
Pretty sure I'm not the only one.  However, this week I promised myself I was going to do better.  Private school is expensive and I am hoping (perhaps to my own detriment) to homeschool them next year, since I'm not that thrilled with their private school, either.  I decided we would have a no-tv week, to try and practice/prepare for homeschooling.

My first plan, to compensate, was to start them on a bunch of chores, to give them a sense of ownership in our house, so a couple days ago we sat down and talked about what  chores they'd like to do and came up with way too many for them to be expected to do daily, so I scheduled it out over the course of a week.  My kids are 6, nearly 5, and 2, so we had to scale back a bit from the grand chore scheme they had come up with.  I made sure that the chores they had were age appropriate things that I knew they could do (and had done in the past).  I wrote the chores on a chalkboard, and change the chores daily (except make bed and help clean up, those stay).  It seems to be going well so far,  but I was still getting a lot of whining and fighting.  That would be when I came up with something sort of strange and shockingly simple out of the blue.  It could be something brilliant, but possibly it only works with my kids... or possibly only for a few days, we shall see, but so far it's worked beautifully.

So, what is it??  WHAT???

I realized what we needed wasn't my screaming at them to stop screaming at each other.  This seems like a no-brainer, but this is what it had come to in our household.  What we needed, I thought, was some way to impress upon them that when they're whining, or arguing for the sake or arguing, or whatever, it was ruining something that could be great.  It was ruining our family harmony.  So we sat down and I defined "family harmony" to them and talked about how great it would be if we all worked together and had some wonderful family harmony.  They agreed that it would be awesome.  So then I explained that family harmony is something we all have to work on.  If we all just argue for the sake of arguing, or start screaming when someone does something we don't like instead of discussing it reasonably, we'd never have any family harmony.  Beyond that, sometimes we have to actually compromise, that is, do something you don't WANT to do or not get everything YOUR way every time, just for the sake of family harmony.  I pointed out times that I had done it in the past, and times that I recall that they had compromised and things went more smoothly than other times when they didn't.  We have discussed compromise before, but only from an individual perspective... not from the family harmony angle.  So after a nice long discussion about family harmony, I asked them if they thought we could all work toward this this week.  They seemed sort of excited at the prospect!

Since that discussion, whenever they start fighting or whining (with the older two, the 2 yr old still doesn't get it, of course), I go to them and say "but, is this worth fighting over or is family harmony more important?"  or "do you think you can compromise on this one for family harmony's sake?" or something along those lines.  The kids are responding astonishingly well.  There's only been a couple times when we had to figure something else out, but *gasp* I actually had the energy to work with them on it because I wasn't so exhausted from dealing with all the fighting!  I'm thrilled!  I totally have my fingers crossed that this will work long-term.

Hope that helps someone else.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Elana's Cinnamon Bun Muffins (and transformation to paleo "mug" recipe)

I have a new favorite go-to sweet: the Cinnamon Bun Muffin from Elana's Pantry! I made them this morning (without the frosting) and my kids gobbled them up. OMG, they're so good. I prefer to use honey in place of agave and melted butter in place of the oil she uses, though, but I'm sure they're wonderful the way the recipe is written, too. Look at the texture! It's so nice to get a nice fluffy muffin when using no xanthan gum or gluten. Gotta love that... and it's technically "primal" though if you use a different oil (probably would be fabulous with coconut oil) you could call it paleo, though I'd warn you against basing much of your paleo/primal diet on this because of how much honey is in it.

I've even tweaked the recipe to be one of the wonderful "mug" recipes - instant microwave gratification! Here's my tweak of the recipe:

Mug Muffin:

2 Tbl butter, melted
1 Tbl (or so) honey
1 egg
1 tsp of vanilla
1/3 c almond flour
2 tsp coconut flour
a pinch of baking soda
a pinch of salt

Mix the wet ingredients together (make sure the melted butter is not hot before you put in the egg!), then add the dry ingredients. Mix well, and then microwave it for 1 1/2-3 minutes or until the top looks no longer squishy/wet. I'm sure it'll depend on the microwave.

1 tbl butter cut into pieces
a drizzle of honey
a sprinling of cinnamon

While the mug muffin is still hot, put the butter pieces on top and let them melt. If they're not melting very well, you can put it back in the microwave for 10 seconds or so. Drizzle on honey to taste, then sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. Enjoy with a spoon while warm!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Let's talk birthdays!

Since the last post I made, we have discovered that the milk intolerence I discussed previously was actually caused by a gluten intolerance. How, you may ask, did we find this? Welllllll... my husband found out he had an autoimmune disease and it was recommended that we cut gluten for him. Turns out it made a huge difference in his pain levels, so we have kept it, ever since. SO, for a while we were dairy-free AND gluten (and most grains) free. Six months later, I decide to take the plunge and try out the paleo/primal diet, for health reasons. Within A WEEK, my anxiety went away and most of my depression symptoms. I was shocked, but obviously thrilled. Sure enough, if I have more than a bite or two of something containing gluten, I get anxiety and insomnia for the next few days.

Of course, after that, we sort of automatically started cutting out most of the gluten for the kids. Then, after a couple months of being mostly gluten free, Oliver (my older son with the supposed dairy issue) is handed a couple pieces of cheese (uh, by me - total mommy fail), but NOTHING HAPPENED. We were shocked and assumed it was a fluke and continued with our dairy-free lifestyle for several more months before we decided to try him on the dairy again. It seems that being gluten-free can heal up the "leaky gut" enough so that the dairy no longer bothers him. The weird thing is that it takes more than one dose of gluten to get much of an effect, but used to only take a tiny bit of dairy. Anyway, so now we're mostly grain-free (I've found that most non-gluten grains bloat me terribly), and not dairy free, though I've become fairly adept at dairy-free cooking since we were dairy AND gluten-free for almost a year!

So, anyway, I'm sure you're all wondering where this is going. My second son (third child), Avery, had his second birthday last weekend! I made wonderful "triple chocolate cupcakes" from Elana Amsterdam's "Gluten-Free Cupcakes" book. I love her site, too. TONS of grain-free recipes that *gasp* actually taste good! Who knew you could get complements from grain-eaters saying "Well, I could go gluten-free if it was all going to be like this!" Needless to say, it was well worth the purchase of that book. Highly recommend.

Last summer, for Oliver's birthday, however, I was in the midst of trying to be gluten AND dairy free. That's when a bit of magic happened! I received my copy of Martha Stewart Living and on the cover was a fun, spectacular, beautiful cake! And it happened to be DAIRY AND GRAIN FREE!! I had to go for it, of course. Turns out it's also delicious and totally worth the time and effort. FYI, if you make this cake, don't use huge papayas. I used like 1/2 of one papaya's juice and it was too much and made that layer a bit too icy, but the other layers I made were wonderfully light and creamy. Delicious!