Monday, September 30, 2013

Pondwater, Polynomials, Philosophic Discussions, and Pizza

This week marks the halfway point in our Classical Conversations Challenge II semester, and I can hardly believe it.  This is my second time to tutor this level, and I really enjoy the hands-on nature of the curriculum ~ even though biology and algebra II are a challenge for me.  Actually, the entire curriculum is quite challenging for me and for the students.  There are seven seminars in the course of the day including:

  • Latin II (I hired out for this seminar this year.  Latin I is all I could manage and stay sane and feed my family regular meals.)
  • Algebra II
  • Biology
  • Western Cultural History (art, music, and Francis Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live?)
  • British Literature
  • Logic
  • Debate

Biology seems to be the favorite seminar of most of the students.  We perform experiments in class almost every week using microscopes.  Our recent lab was to culture pond water samples over the course of the week that were fed egg yolk, rice, soil, and hay.  It was very exciting to watch bacterium propel itself around under the microscope, and find various types in the various water samples.  It was not so exciting to SMELL those samples every time I opened my coat closet with its warm, dimly lit atmosphere!

This week we'll be headed back to the same pond area and hiking on the Robert Frost trail in order to find various kinds of mushrooms and and other fungi.  We'll return to the classroom to observe spores and gills, etc, but not before eating a picnic (and wild mushroom free!) lunch together and stopping in at a local bakery-cafe at the trail head for a pastry and drink.  It's nice that biology gets us out of the classroom so often, because classroom time can be really intense... in the photo above where everyone is taking a test on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which was our second novel or epic poem to read.  Beowulf was first, and BOTH are such great stories.  The kids are a bit tired of Old English, though, because after those two poems we read The Knight's Tale from Canterbury Tales. Oh well, now we're on to Pilgrim's Progress and Gulliver's Travels, exploring the genres of allegory and satire.  I really love this reading selection.  Next up will be Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Pride and Prejudice and MORE!  They read about one novel a week, and write an essay on each one.
Cooper demonstrating multiplication and division of polynomials with his $1 nerd glasses from Target.
I think he's jealous of my new specs!
Though we've only practiced this once, Francis Schaeffer's worldview course provides great material for a Socratic Circle.  Below, the students were given a topic/chapter and then left on their own to explore the ideas Schaeffer's writing put forth, namely the shift in worldview that can be detected in much Renaissance artwork.  I was really proud that they so easily carried on the discussion for MANY more than the ten minutes I gave them as a goal for keeping the discussion going.  Sharp kids, I tell ya!
Socratic Circle
Our first debate was two weeks ago.  The resolution was that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) should be abolished.  They all read a book called State of the Arts this summer which encourages Christians to participate in and appreciate the arts, but also helps give a godly, biblical standard for discerning what art is worthy of our appreciation. 
Panel of Judges.  Look at those stern faces!
Cooper's team was arguing for the affirmative, and so tried to give compelling evidence as to why this organization is not worthy of taxpayer money.  They focused on the fact that the organization often gets used as a political tool as it did recently when it was urged to promote ObamaCare in some way. They did a wonderful job in front of an audience of parents and siblings as well as a panel of tough judges!

Cross Examination by Sara
The opposing team also did a great job in naming the merits of the NEA, and breaking down the facts about how much of our tax money actually goes to the organization.  Their argument was for reform and more judicial funding. The affirmative team won, but just by the skin of their teeth.  If fact, one judge chose the negative team as the overall winner.  Everyone learned, though, that you can not do enough research, fact-gathering, and THINKING in order to get a big picture understanding of the overall issue and argument!
That was one intense day for Cooper to be sure.  We had to fly out of the classroom door directly after the debate to get him to a Cross Country meet out-of-town.  Afterward, he was totally exhausted from research, workouts, anxiety, and the pressure of performing.  He did a great job with both though.  I was really proud of him!
Go Coop!
Making sure two kids are prepped for their Challenge courses on Tuesdays, and getting myself ready to teach make for fast, intense, crazy weeks, but I am so thankful for this opportunity, and totally sold on this curriculum.  Thankful, too, for the friendships it allows.  Several of the families have opened their homes for debate meetings or simply a pizza and movie night, and that has been so wonderful!  We're taking a turn this week by having Coop's class over for pizza, s'mores, games and maybe a movie.  Hoping for a nice fall evening and lots of great fellowship!

Now... essays are graded, progress reports completed, and now I'm off to study my logic book...and buy groceries for the week!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ Prada and Paleo in NYC

This experience and post should definitely be filed under "things you never thought you would do," because spending three days in NYC for the purpose of going to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is most certainly a thing I never thought I would do.  Actually, I'm not sure I even knew the event existed, so it would have been impossible for me to even imagine such a thing, but I love NYC (not as much as Boston, but still...), and a friend from church was in need of a traveling companion, so I decided to go.

My friend, Nicolette, is enrolled as a student at the University of Art and pursuing a degree in fashion design.  Due to an essay she wrote on a clothing line she would like to design (a classy, modern one for plus sized teens), she was chosen to go to NYC for a class with a world-famous fashion illustrator AND given tickets for a runway show featuring top students from her school ~ the only school that has a runway show at the famous event.
When we arrived at our "boutique (and WAY too CHIC for my $19.99-outlet-store-Banana-Republic-sundress) hotel" ~ The Hudson, our room was not ready, so we HAD to go to the Terrace Bar for a cool drink and amazing city views.  It was gorgeous.

We realized pretty quickly, though, that Nicolette was actually a bit late for a book signing by the famous fashion illustrator (can't remember her name, but that's her in the sunglasses signing the book of the man with red dress pants!) who would be her instructor the following day, so we hopped in a cab and headed to Lincoln Center ~ me still in my magenta Banana Republic sundress and flat brown strappy GAP leather sandals.  Pretty sure my hair was in a pony tail, too. At least I wasn't in shorts, and I had some jewelry on, because as you can probably tell from the photos it was ANOTHER. WORLD.  They were handing out free samples of electronic cigarettes at the door.

Hudson Terrace Bar
High heels with lots of ankle straps or crazy high and clunky platform shoes, expensive handbags, and cigarettes seemed to be the fashion theme for women.  For men it was mostly skinny jeans, pointy leather shoes, scarves, and cigarettes.  Cigarettes were definitely a thing. (Looks cool and suppresses appetite, I learned.) Hair, too.  Everyone's hair was perfectly coiffed, spiked, curled, and pouffed.
To plan the trip, we met at Starbucks here in town a few days before, and over coffee decided to take in a Broadway show while we were there. Since Nicolette has seen "Wicked" many times ( I still haven't!), we opted for a new one called "Big Fish."  You may have seen the movie a few years back, but I never had.  It was GREAT, and I'm really glad I watched the movie the night before leaving for NYC, so I could follow the story better and appreciate how they managed the MANY flashbacks included in the movie.  But I'm always fairly mesmerized by live stage productions.  You may remember that I cried BOTH times I saw Mary Poppins on Broadway.  Happy tears.  Amazed tears.

Before the show, we ate in one of the hotel restaurants.  A very hip atmosphere, it was mostly fancy burgers and salads, which will work for the new paleo lifestyle, but then I saw that their french fries were made in-house, and could be served with a fried egg on top and a side of truffle aioli mayonnaise. Some people would say that potatoes don't really fall into the paleo category, but many do, and I really wanted to try these "Thrice Cooked Fries."  Fortunately, Nicolette also follows a high protein, low carb, no sugar diet, so searching for food was easier.  The fries, the egg, and mostly the mayo were incredible!
I had the following day mostly to myself, since Nicolette had class.  I got up early and went for a run around Central Park, stopping occasionally to take pictures with my phone. (Brand new iPhone user here!) Later, I met my oldest friend from elementary/middle/high school, Mike, for lunch.  He works on Park Ave, and had made reservations at a wonderful steak house ~ The Strip House.  Our families have met up in the city several times over the years, but this time it was just the two of us doing as much catching up as you can possibly do in two hours.  And the restaurant was perfect for eating paleo.  I had a filet mignon salad. It was basically small strips of extremely tender filet mignon served over thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes and arugula with a house balsamic dressing.  Perfect and delicious, too!
He headed back to the office for a conference call, and then I strolled down 5th Avenue drinking iced coffee, browsing through some of the famous shops, and just enjoying a sunny, 80 degree afternoon in the city.  I loved these banners at two different churches along the way.  I thought the "OMG" sermon series on the book of Psalms at First Presbyterian Church was especially clever.  I made my way all the way back to Columbus Circle and stopped in the Argo Tea Cafe for a Green Tea Ginger Twist which was sparkling water, green tea, lemon, and ginger with a bit of honey sweetener. So good!  Then I sat in the sunshine in Central Park and called Robert to tell him about my day, and hear about his trip to Texas.  We had missed each other coming and going that week!
After Nicolette's class, we walked to the Time Warner Center and grabbed dinner in a box from the Whole Foods downstairs.  I had grilled chicken thighs, sautéed green beans, and roasted plantains.  We got dressed for the big fashion show that evening and BARELY made it back to Lincoln Center in time.  What an experience!  I've seen bits of runway shows on TV, with their seemingly emaciated, bare-faced, models, and outrageous, impractical clothing and this was no different.  The models all wore wigs with matching cuts, and I'm pretty sure smiling is not allowed.  Evidently striking a pose is a thing of the past, too, because the models walk straight ahead at a quick pace, and make sharp angled turns at the end of the runway.  Almost militaristic and robotic, but somehow not.

 Nicolette looked beautiful and wore a cute Mod Cloth 1950's-style dress and carried a Kate Spade purse that looked like an old radio. I did my best in a lacy, grey, $29.99 TJ Maxx dress that I bought two summers ago for one of the ten weddings we attended in those three short months. I did get to wear my Nine West platform pumps, though, which I love but rarely have an opportunity to use in my day-to-day-middle-aged-homeschool-mom-and-pastor's-wife-life. ;-)
And as if that were not enough thrill to last us for several months at least, we spent Saturday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Nicolette had been encouraged to take in one of the local museums, and make some sketches for future inspiration in her fashion designing, and I am certainly not one to say no to a trip to The Met ~ or really any art museum for that matter.  Nicolette had never been to The Met, and so it was fun to experience it through her eyes and with her excitement.

I enjoyed taking photos of artwork done by artists we are studying in the Western Cultural History seminar of my Challenge II class in order to show my students ~ Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Eyck, and Durer to name a few.  We ate lunch in the museum cafeteria ~ salads from the wonderful salad bar, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and water for both of us.

I am continually amazed at the adventures the Lord allows in my life, and for the most part, they are such precious and joyful gifts. (Some of His adventures are not quite as welcome as this one, but I suppose those are also gifts.) I am also continually amazed by the people the Lord has placed in my life.  It was wonderful to see an old friend and hear about his kids who are the same age as we were when we met, and spending time with Nicolette gleaning from her wisdom, people skills, perspective, and passions was a great blessing, too.

Who knew the whole church planting call to New England would involve such food and fashion adventures as these.  I know for sure that this is part of how the Lord extends the grace needed to continue the journey, and for that I am very thankful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ One Month of Paleo

It really started several years ago, this toying with the idea of restricting my diet even MORE than it already is, but this magazine that I bought to read on the plane to Texas last month included the compelling evidence I needed to make me stop toying and start practicing.  I'm sort of scared to even tell you about this, because I know there are a few of you out there who are already suspicious of dietary "restrictions"and "special diets" and might be thinking "Isn't she already 'high maintenance' enough?" I read a hilarious post about Whole Foods the other day, and it includes a funny line or two about "special diets" and not being wealthy enough to afford one, etc. ~ Ha! (Attention: There are some inappropriate parts/words in the article, though, so please beware.) Anyway, I know it may come off as trying to be "in vogue," but I can assure you that my (or "our," as you'll see) decision to try the paleo diet is simply about feeling better physically and emotionally, getting properly nourished, and avoiding problematic foods. 

Honestly, it's also about honoring God in our bodies, and being more able to worship and serve Him due to the wisdom He keeps revealing to us.  Isn't it "the fool" in Proverbs who knows the right thing to do, but stubbornly refuses to submit ~ scoffing at wisdom principles and exhortations? Please don't hear me say that the paleo diet is the godly diet, though. I'm just responding to His seeming wisdom and leading in my life! This is exactly how the Lord revealed to us that Cooper had Celiac disease ten years ago THIS MONTH, which led to the healing of our entire family, for which I remain so very grateful (The boy was so sick!)

And really, it's not just food.  The "diet" encourages an entire lifestyle ~ of the caveman variety, and it's based on the fact that, evolutionarily speaking, humans have not been eating grains, legumes, or processed foods for very long and can't efficiently process or use them.  We also haven't had artificial light for very long and our post-post-modern late-nights, early-mornings, crammed schedules, and excess screen time are really not doing us any health favors.

Before reading this magazine, it was the cookbook Nourishing Traditions that got me thinking.  Recipes for meat and veggies, others for legumes and grains only after they have been soaked and sprouted, and lots of very interesting research on the need the body has for fats started the mental toying ~ or should I say ruminating?  It touts butter as a superfood, and has a recipes for things like bear meat and liver. Cholesterol?  Dietary cholesterol should never really raise the body's cholesterol levels dangerously.  If you have high cholesterol, it's not necessarily what you're eating, but typically some other health issue, this cookbook/nutritional research book explains.

And then there were the friends doing CrossFit (Hi, Deanna and Joanna!) and posting yummy paleo meals on Facebook ~ or even publishing their own cookbooks! I listened to their experiences and wisdom, as well as friends who were doing the GAPS diet (gut and psychology) and it all made perfect sense to me.
Kale Coconut Pear Smoothie
I picked up the Paleo magazine, not because I was necessarily ready to take the plunge into the diet, but because it had an interesting article about Celiac disease listed on the front cover. Even after being diagnosed with Celiac disease and taking gluten totally out of my diet, it took me quite a while to heal and reverse the symptoms ~ about 3 years, really. And even then, I still reacted to highly "starchy" foods like white or brown rice and corn ~ feeling extremely full and looking like I was nine months pregnant after every meal due to immediate bloating. If I eat eggs, bacon, and potato I'm fine, but when I eat California rolls with white rice or GF muffins in the checkout line at Whole Foods due to a hunger attack, I'm suffering for the rest of the day ~ even if I drink a bottle of kombucha or kefir to boost the probiotics to help with the I-know-better-starchy-food-digestion.

For years we've had a "no cereal for breakfast" rule at our house, because inevitably, one hour later everyone's back in the kitchen due to dropping blood sugar levels and looking for some real food, because that's what starches do ~ they turn to sugar and only satisfy temporarily.  Eating toast?  Have a fried egg with that!  Bagel? Load it up with cream cheese!  Pumpkin Muffins? I'll cut up some grapefruit and heat up some sausage to go along with it!  Cereal is simply a snack around here ~ and not a very good one, in my opinion. You see, I've always had my suspicions about proper nutrition, if only from personal experience and "gut" reactions ~ of the physical and intuitive type.

Anyway, the signs and admonitions have been there all along, and after doing some reading and researching, I'm pretty convinced that the paleo diet and lifestyle which includes exercise, sunshine, proper sleep, and good stress management is optimal for health and nutrition.

So this means.... no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no soy, and NO SUGAR

What does that leave? Beef, Chicken, Pork, Fish, Wild Game, etc., vegetables, fruits, nuts, and oils.
Paleo Blueberry Muffins, Lemon Bars, Banana Bread, Berries & Nuts, and Sweet Potatoes with Egg Scrambles
I started sharing some of the magazine's information with Robert on the flight south, and he was as compelled as I was.  In fact, he said that if I did it, he would do it, too!  Now, this is the guy who really enjoys a brownie with coffee or a bear claw with breakfast, but he, too, was experiencing some negative effects from sugar intake = roller coaster blood sugar and fatigue (Do you know HOW HARD your body has to work to process white sugar?  VERY.), so he was ready to plunge into the caveman lifestyle with me.  It makes it so much easier and enjoyable to have him on this journey with me!

Did you know that high carb diets have been linked to Alzheimers Disease? (not to mention Diabetes, and several other auto-immunes.)  So many interesting connections to mental illnesses and the ADD/Autism spectrum with carbs and diet, too. Did you know that legumes and rice have very high phytic acid contents that attaches to protein making it inaccessible to the body? (which is why soaking and sprouting is encouraged)  You would be frightened to know how "vegetable" oil is made, or the effects of soy on hormones. I have learned so much about nutrition in the last ten years since being diagnosed with Celiac, and the information regarding the Standard American Diet (SAD), is just as the acronym describes.

So, what have we been eating?  Well, here's a sampling from the last month:

B- Egg & veggie scramble, sausage
L-Turkey in lettuce wraps, plantain chips
D-Chicken Soup & Salad

B-Coconut Berry Smoothie with almond butter
L-Chicken Salad, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes
D-Beef Stew, sliced carrots, red peppers & paleo blueberry muffins

B-Veggie omelet, bacon
L-Apple slices with almond butter
D-Ground beef patty, lettuce, avocado, red onion, sweet potato

B-Paleo banana bread, berry/spinach smoothie
L-Hard-boiled eggs, sliced carrots, guacamole
D-Chicken thighs, roasted broccoli, cantaloupe

B-Sausage & egg scramble, clementines
L-Shredded leftover roast beef over cauliflower "rice"
D-Curried Chicken tenders, green beans, salad

There's definitely a bit of a learning curve, and honestly, I don't like the idea of eating that much meat, but my tummy and I feel better, and I've got to re-program myself to understand what is truly nutritious ~ i.e. animal products nourish much better than beans and grains.

One thing that has been difficult is running.  On my first run after beginning the diet, I had to stop after 3-4 miles. We usually run 6-7 miles three mornings a week together, and I run 5 with a friend on Thursdays, but I could not keep going that day.  It takes a while for your body to learn to fuel itself with fat rather than carb, but the brain eventually catches on and tells the rest of the body what to do.  And there's so much fascinating science behind all of that, but this post is already getting toooooo long.

I haven't even given you a new paleo recipe.

Here are a few links for now:

Paleo Almond Muffins (pictured above with blueberries baked in)
Baked Egg in Avocado & MORE
Grilled Steak with Summer Veggies

We are not enforcing this diet on the kids, though.  They think we're a little bit crazy, just like you might by now!  Have a good weekend, and maybe next week I'll tell you about my adventures eating paleo in New York City!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Completing Her Quest

It's mid-September, the leaves are beginning to change, the apple orchards are all open for picking, the farm stands are selling corn AND cornstalks for seasonal decor, and I am not so happy about all of this.  It's too soon! I do love the fall (really nothing like fall in New England), but I love the summer more, and it was just too short and went by too fast and had too many activities packed in to truly savor it ~ or blog about it, or read blogs, or respond to comments, or...

But a lot of special things happened this summer, and I've not told you about one of the most special.  Some of you know that Kayla was working on a Quest all last year between her 12th and 13th birthdays.  Maybe you read this post about the challenges she was asked to accomplish over the course of the year.  And maybe you also read this one showcasing a few of those completed challenges.

Well, she finished (almost!) ~ and last month we had a special dinner party to celebrate!
Some of the books she read and Bible studies completed as well as some of her artwork.
Kayla made the guest list which contained close friends and a few special women in her life.  We set a pretty table, made a yummy dinner and gluten free cupcakes, put all of Kayla's special projects on display and sent our guys off to eat dinner out (Chipotle) and watch a movie (Percy Jackson).  After eating dinner, we played a round of The Game of Things (Kayla LOVES games), and then each older woman in attendance shared on one of the following topics, all virtues displayed in the life of the Proverbs 31 woman:

Health and Strength
Skills and Hard Work
Abby shared about the privilege of serving the Lord ~ as well as a very special way Abby herself was served by a woman in India who really had "nothing" to give.

 "Think about God's love for the least and the lowly. The world avoids the awkward, the annoying, the smelly, but God doesn't. Listen to the spirit with fearlessness, Kayla!" ~ Abby

Lois also shared about the privilege of serving  ~ both a specific story from her own college days in which she had the opportunity to help a student with cerebral palsy, and also a story about Darlene Rose, who was a missionary to New Guinea during WWII.  It was a raw and compelling passage about Darlene's husband's feet which had been bloodied by walking through the jungle without shoes in order to fulfill God's call, and from a book which Kayla had read for her Quest! Perfect!
Christie shared about rewards, and told a story from her own life about striving for earthly rewards in athletics and the approval of her coach. Then she shared about the reward of knowing Christ now and being with Him eternally.
 Cindy shared about wisdom and told a story about a breakup that she experienced. She explained to Kayla that though it was a painful time, the Lord grew her in wisdom about herself and navigating future relationships.  So perfect and practical!
Izckra shared about strength including specific stories from her own life about losing her parents and other hardships.  She told Kayla "Life will not always be pink," or "rosy" as we Americans would say, but that pain can be brought as an offering to God, and that His strength is sufficient. Jenna shared about a godly view of work and Sarah M.(via email!) shared about wisdom as well.  Some gave Kayla small gifts that helped to reinforce or illustrate the virtue about which they shared, and one of the most creative gifts was this from Sarah A.:
 Miss Abbott has been Kayla's Classical Conversations Director for the last several years, and these flashcards are a spoof of the vocabulary cards Kayla had to memorize in her Essentials classes. (Mrs. Plotczik will be proud!)  The set contains HAND DRAWN cartoons (much like the silly IEWriting ones) illustrating different kinds of strength a woman will need and can depend on the Lord for.  So great!
So thankful for all of these very special ladies and their willingness to make such a significant contribution to Kayla's life as she grows into womanhood. So proud of Kayla for putting in a year's worth of very dedicated effort to complete all of her Quest challenges.

Next Up: Back to School, A Month of Paleo Living, and a trip to NYC for Fashion Week (really!)
(Well...if I can somehow achieve a balanced schedule now that we've started school for the year and there is a bit more of a predictable weekly routine!)