It was like this. Some time ago, I was pregnant, third trimester-ish, and on a mission to find the perfect gluten free mug cake.

Mission may not be the right word. It was more of an obsession.

(c) Project Courtney

(c) Project Courtney

I searched recipe sites and Pinterest. I combed through comments to triage recipes. I mixed, I microwaved, I ate. And I took notes.

Several recipes came out dry. Some grew and grew like souffle. One in particular tasted like chocolate scrambled eggs.

Friends, I wouldn’t do that to you.

Eventually, I gave up on the search, gathered my notes and made my own.

If you want just one mug cake, you’ll need to do some math. My recipe is for two adult-sized cakes or one adult’s and two kids’, because that’s who wants the mug cakes in our house. Also, I don’t have to split up an egg.

Gluten-free Mug Cake Recipe

1/3c Sugar

3tbsp Coconut oil, warmed just to liquid

2-3 drops Vanilla

1/3c Gluten-free all-purpose baking mix (I like Bisquick)

Big pinch of salt

1/3c Water

1 egg

3tbsp Cocoa powder

Chocolate chips (optional)

Mix it all together, saving the cocoa powder for last so you don’t make as much of a mess. Microwave on high 60 seconds for an 1100 watt microwave. Watch out, it’ll be hot! Top with a scoop of ice cream, or enjoy it plain.

In the process, I was terribly embarrassed by my failed attempts, so I did what any embarassed chocolate-craving preggie would do. I destroyed the evidence, even the chocolate scrambled eggs disaster. Mama can’t let good chocolate go to waste!

 

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The scene: Mister and I are watching a movie. Over the course of 15 minutes…

“We need to leave by 8:30 or 9:00 on Saturday.”

“Lady A knows all of her numbers, except she flips 9 and 6 sometimes.”

“The pharmacy said our insurance covers Frodo’s skin cream but they don’t stock it, so I hope this sample gets us through Monday.”

“I’m going to get you some meals together for the trip so you don’t get glutened.”

Et cetera…

Finally, I get a pulse from Mister. “You just had like 10 thoughts pop into your head, from all over the place.”

I suppose I wasn’t really watching the movie. As far as I’m concerned, Firefly is about space cowboys minus the cows.

“Sorry,” I reply. “My browser has a lot of tabs open right now.”

And by right now, I mean constantly.

Perhaps I can blame the space cowboy movie for not really grabbing me (I know, cult of Firefly, I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me.) but my attention is on lockdown most of the time. Just yesterday over a basket of towels I was thinking that I hadn’t folded half of a washcloth without breaking up a fight, stopping to nurse or intercepting dangerous items the older kids brought to the baby.

I think when we’re trying to take back our attention, we focus on either the things we can’t really change, like the fact that the baby needs to eat, or the big things, like cutting out activities.

I’m in the middle of a little experiment that challenges this. Instead of trying to open up time by skipping a playgroup that refreshes us all, my new Project is automating. My goal is to get all of the annoying, repetitive little things off of my radar. I want to get rid of those browser tabs that are kind of hanging around in the background, bogging down my system while I’m doing the day-to-day.

And I want to obliterate that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something.

I started with bills.

Between mortgage, 5 or so utilities, car, student loans split between multiple servicers (whyyyyy?), activity dues and other things that pop up periodically, that’s a lot to keep straight. Just the category of driving alone involves the car payment, car insurance payment, registration, and driver’s license renewal, and all happen at different times.

Now, I know that these things aren’t going to go completely off of my mind, and that’s not my plan here. All I want is to eliminate the need to remember them, and consolidate the time I spend on bills.

At first, I had most of my bills on auto-draft so I wouldn’t have to even touch them. I changed my mind about auto-draft, because, lets put it this way: computer systems sometimes have glitches. Like that time the bank took out our mortgage twice in one day 

So no more of that, unless the bill is small enough that we can still, you know, eat in the event of an error.

Instead, I’m now using the Bill Minder app (not an affiliate link!) and I spend about 5 minutes twice a month paying bills. I like it because you can set the amount, frequency, etc., and it generates spending reports.

There are other apps like Bill Minder, but that’s what I’m using for now because it suits our purposes. There are others that link bank accounts and generate much more detailed reports, if you would want to integrate your budgeting. As for me, I don’t like 3rd parties digging around in my bank accounts.

Now, when bills come in the mail, I can usually toss them right into the trash along with the candle catalogs and whatever other junk comes with them.

Check back with me – I’m planning to automate my mornings, meal planning, maintenance things, and even cleaning.

Oh, to automate cleaning. If only.

Remember, my goal is to take my memory and attention out of the equation. I’ll still have to do the cleaning – I just won’t have to remember to do it.

 

All or part of this post may be sponsored, which means I may have been paid and/or received product or services in exchange for this post. Opinions are my own.

 

I’ve said before that I’m a boring homeschool mom. No matter how fancy my worksheets are, they’re still worksheets, and they still elicit the dramatic sighs and groans.

Can you blame them? I mean, what five-year-old and two-year-old wants do sit there and do worksheets?

The beauty of homeschooling is that when the kids or I don’t like something, I get to change it, or at least shake it up a bit. While worksheets may be boring, playing with the iPhone and computer certainly isn’t. Especially when you’re two. Using big people things just feels delightfully scandalous when you’re two. So, I’m trying some computery things.

Kids Academy iPhone App for kids 5 and under

The Kids Academy app is Montessori-based, so it jives with our current educational preferences. After just a few times playing with the app, Lady A’s letter recognition has gone well beyond the letters in her name, and she’s getting much more precise with finger-tracing. Even at age five, Hoss is showing improvements. The app sped up his letter sound recall after just a few times at the Kids Academy app – a roadblock that was frustrating us both. I see us breaking through the letter sound recall wall rather quickly now.

For now, I have the restrictions set so that they can’t make in-app purchases, but I can see myself unlocking some fun activities once they seem ready to move beyond the free ones. They’re having fun. It’s free in the App Store.

K5 Learning

K5 Learning has an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students. I’ve been given a 6 week free trial to test and write a review of their program. If you are a blogger, you may want to check out their open invitation to write an online learning review of their program.

So far, I’ve tried a few of the sample lessons on the K5 learning website and I’m really looking forward to incorporating this into our homeschool dayMom sees learning, kids see cool games and fun graphics. I’ll get back to you on this one once we have a few lessons under our belts. 

 

Have you tried any of these or other digital homeschool tools?

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Comfort food just isn’t the same as it used to be.

What was once flour, butter and sugar is now just an empty space where my beloved pastas and scones and brownies once were.

I may have mentioned before that since Mister discovered his gluten issues, we haven’t really done a whole lot of the replacement foods because it’s just too heartbreaking. Brownies are gritty, bread is crumbly, pasta is mushy…it’s just not worth it.

But I’m getting better about trying new recipes. It’s been long enough that either I don’t remember what the real thing tastes like, or (more likely) I miss it so much that a close approximation to the real thing is good enough.

meatloaf

Folks, I made meatloaf without eggs or dairy that’s also gluten-free. Yes, it actually tastes good, and if you cook it right, it will stay together for you even without the eggs and bread. It’s fast becoming one of my go-to dinners because we all love it.

Once I master a gluten-free, dairy-free baked mac and cheese, my ultimate comfort meal will be complete. But for now, I’ll have my gluten free meatloaf with a baked sweet potato and call it good.

I load my meatloaf up with veggies and herbs to give it flavor, and to sneak more veggies into the kids. They’ll tear through meatloaf, but getting them to eat every bite of their vegetables takes a little encouragement. No harm done if they don’t know it’s there.

My gluten free meatloaf makes an incredible freezer meal, too. I just mix up a double or triple recipe when I’m ready to run the veggies through the food processor, and I portion them out – a dinner’s worth goes in plastic wrap and two loaves fit in a zip-top bag. Then I freeze them uncooked. When I’m ready, I’ll throw the frozen meatloaf onto a baking sheet and bake it free-form. No loaf pan, no prep required.

Want to try it for yourself?

Gluten-free Meatloaf Recipe

 

1 green bell pepper

3-4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1in chunks

1 med. onion

2-3 cloves garlic

2lb ground beef

1tbsp salt

1tbsp black pepper

1 1/2tsp paprika

2 tbsp Italian seasoning (or 2tbsp total of dried oregano, parsley, basil, whatever you have)

For the sauce

1/4c ketchup

2tbsp brown sugar

wpid-storageextSdCardDCIMCamera2014-03-31-21.37.02.jpg.jpg wpid-storageextSdCardDCIMCamera2014-03-31-21.38.31.jpg.jpg

Coarse-chop the bell pepper, carrots, garlic and onion in a food processor. In a large bowl, combine chopped veggies with the ground beef, salt, pepper and herbs. Form into a free-form loaf on a baking sheet or press into a loaf pan. Mix the ketchup and brown sugar, and set aside. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the meatloaf from the oven and brush the sauce onto the top. Return the meatloaf to the oven for another 15 minutes, until the internal temperature registers 160F.

IMPORTANT: Bake the meatloaf uncovered. The veggies release a lot of moisture when cooking, and we’d rather all the water evaporate off than water-log our meatloaf.

The ketchup glaze…fancypants, I know. Break out the white linens, right?

All I promised was comfort food and I happen to like the glaze. Use organic ketchup from heritage breed grass-fed tomatoes you lovingly squeezed yourself, if you must. Just do yourself a favor and glaze the meatloaf.

 

I’ve been a boring homeschool mom up until now. We read books, we work through  reading lessons, we practice writing letters, and we do  math workbooks.

Other than that, we play, which I think is the most important thing we can do for this life stage.

But I can do better.

We have the resources at our fingertips to make this fun. Mister and I are book heads, so between the two of us, our home collection could serve as a small country’s national library. We have the internet. We have Pinterest. Even if I’m not creative in that way, other people are and are more than willing to share their fun learning project ideas.

I had heard of unit studies as an approach to homeschooling. What is a unit study? Essentially, homeschool unit studies focus on one topic but touch on all subjects with the topic in mind. A unit study may last a few days to a few weeks and incorporate vocabulary, songs, books, movies, documentaries, science projects, math, life skills, arts and crafts, geography…whatever subjects you want to emphasize.

And the topics? Sky is the limit. Hoss chose the next few months’ topics by opening up an Animal Encyclopedia, a Plants book and a Human Body book. I’m not particularly looking forward to the centipedes one, but other than that I’m liking what he chose: carnivorous plants, giraffes, the arctic, teeth…

Some families are thorough enough with their unit studies that they can use them as their standalone homeschooling method. I don’t think I could do that – I need to be on a program with the basics like math and reading. But, it’s a possibility.

I came up with a unit study planner sheet that I’ll use to get my ideas in black and white. Of course, in the spirit of having all the resources in the world at our fingertips, I’m sharing it!

unitstudy

As a guideline, I’ll plan for my unit studies to last about a week. Of course, we’ll make adjustments if something is particularly fascinating (or a drag). I’ll have my books and DVDs ready to go, I’ll decide on vocabulary words, an art project (Pinterest!), math concepts, geography and I’ll have them make an easy snack.

Once this weather breaks, we’ll do field trips.

Oh, how I need the field trips.

Anyway, my little unit study planner sheet is here for the taking.

Do you have experience with unit studies? Even if you don’t, what kinds of projects have you done with the kiddos? Like I said, I’m calling in the reinforcements here!

 

 

 

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We’re at a tipping point.

Lady A. spends her days exhausted and cranky because I can’t figure out her optimal sleep schedule. Scratch that – I’m not even in the same galaxy as her optimal sleep schedule.

I recognize this as the process of dropping a nap. However, she needs to adjust her night sleep on one end or the other, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.

If I give her a nap, even a short one, that night she’ll lie awake in bed for hours past bedtime while her frog and princess stuffies solve the world’s problems. So, she starts the next day on sleep deficit and the smallest non-issues trigger nuclear tantrums.

If we skip the nap, she’s melting down all afternoon but will go to bed fine. However, from being overtired, she will have night terrors or wake several times throughout the night – I’m told that over-tiredness disrupts brain waves.

There seems to be an alarm clock in her head that goes off at the same time every morning no matter what we did the night before, so there’s no keeping her in bed a little longer.

No matter what I try, she does not get the requisite total sleep for her age.

I feel like I’ve tried it all – early naps, late naps, short naps, long naps, early bedtime, later bedtime. The only thing that seemed to work was when she put herself to sleep on the couch at 5:00 pm one evening, and slept until 6:00 am the next day. She woke refreshed and was happier than mama touring the Nutella factory.

But I can’t really put her to bed before dinner every night. She wants to be up to hang out with Dad, eat dinner, bathe, read…the normal early evening stuff. And, it’s not realistic for the other four of us to shut in at 5:00 every night.

For now, I’m at a loss.

Any ideas?

 

 

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“Sit there and concentrate on your breathing,” they say.

That sounds like a truckload of pointless to this ISTJ. What’s an ISTJ? It’s the Myers-Briggs personality type that puts her blood, sweat and tears into endeavors that have meaning, but will pay little attention to things that just don’t seem practical.

Now, on what planet does sitting there listening to myself breathe sound constructive?

I’ve heard lots of reasons to meditate, none of which really appeal to my practical sensibilities. First, I don’t think I’m going to find a spiritual experience while sitting in a corner. When I was young, that was called time-out and it’s about as appealing now as it was then.

Second, my exploration-of-the-self ship has sailed (my 20s are over, thank goodness). And third, barring true catastrophe, I’m an even-keeled person so I wouldn’t say I need to relax.

HOWEVER.

Harvard yoga researchers and TIME magazine tell me that meditation will improve things like immune function, memory, concentration and mental clarity.

Thinking. Focusing. Warding off colds. Those are things I can perceive. We now have somewhat tangible benefits on the table.

I’m listening.  

I plan to do a little experiment. I’ll meditate every day for a while and see what changes. No expectations, no goals. I’m just going to try it out and see what happens.

It would be super if I could remember to put the nail clippers back in the same spot after I do the kids’ claws. But that’s a combined 60 digits, so, like I said, no expectations.

 

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Declutter

We had two warm days. Comeawwwn, Spring!

I don’t know if it’s a biology thing or a psychology thing or what, but the first warm days of the year make me want to open up the spaces in my house. Perhaps it’s being outside and feeling like I can breathe again that makes me want to bring the breathing room indoors.

The space that needed some attention was my closet. It’s full, even though I almost never dress from there. I keep my most-used clothes in my drawers. And I happened to notice that I still had some maternity items hanging. A quick closet decluttering was in order.

This time around, I noticed I had a few pieces that made it through the last two decluttering escapades (it’s a process, not a one-and-done!) that I hadn’t worn them since we moved in three years ago. So, into the bag they went. I wondered what made me consider the same pieces for the 3rd or 4th time, and it dawned on me. I was trying to make keep-or-toss decisions with no real basis. It was just kind of, I want it, or I don’t.

I needed rules.

When decluttering, rules take any emotional attachment completely out of the equation. For example, thoughts like, Mister bought this for me, or I wore this at that special dinner or I paid so much for this do not even come into play. Making rules would make my irrational thoughts step aside for a while and let my brain take completely over for a while.

I came up with a few Rules for Living in My Closet. Keepers must be…

In perfect condition. 

Clothes that are stained, faded, pilling, with unraveling seams or holes must go. Sure, some things can be mended, but I tend to keep clothes for a LONG time. If my clothes are falling apart, it is probably because they’re too old to keep. Make your rules based on what you are willing and able to mend and wear.

The right size. 

Why did I have so many pairs of pants with safety pins on the waist? We tend to keep things after a big weight gain or weight loss, just in case we go back to our old ways. Or, in hopes that we go back to our old ways! Toss the too-big clothes and promise yourself you’ll stay healthy. Toss the too-small clothes and reward yourself with some new stuff if you lose the weight.

Alternatively, you can get clothes tailored, but you had better wear them after that!

Worn since last declutter.

If you’re making decisions over and over about the same piece, you won’t miss it.

Functionally useful. 

If you no longer ski, or no longer take Tae Kwon Do, or no longer compete in fencing, or if you haven’t attended a prom in a decade or so, it may be time to let go of the specialized clothing that comes with these activities.

In line with current preferences. 

I made myself a sub-set of rules based on my own preferences. For example, I got rid of tops if the hem didn’t come down to my hipline, I tossed synthetic fabrics, and I got rid of sweaters that were too hot to wear with an undershirt but were itchy without one.

You know what you’re wearing these days. Only you can make your personal preference list.

I’ve said this before – you might make a mistake, and that’s okay. You may toss something that you find occasion to wear down the line. It’s unlikely, but it happens.

The good news is, it will be fine. You’ll find, buy or borrow something else. You can’t let I might need that syndrome paralyze you before you start.

I’m doing a 30 bags in 30 days declutter, and I’ll be writing things like this along the way. Care to join me?

 

 

 

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I almost never get to surprise Mister with little just because things. He’s just too good. He takes one look at my face and knows that I ordered something and he can usually guess what it is.

So when he got into a TV show (he never gets into TV) and it ended, I saw an opportunity. And if the surprise was spoiled, then, so be it. I decided to surprise or not surprise my husband, and that would be that.

Was anyone else’s husband as into True Detective as mine was?

Or, maybe us girls can get into it too. I didn’t watch because after the kids go to bed, I do the dishes then writey write.

Mister looked forward to his Sunday nights so much that I felt a little sad when the season ended. It’s not out on Blu-ray or Netflix or anything yet, so I had to find a way to keep it going for him.

I thought he might like a book – a book that’s a mystery but also digs into social issues and gets thinky about the meaning of life. But there are millions of books – where to begin?

I turned to Reddit. If you want to get your thumb on the pulse of any topic, poke around Reddit. There’s a subreddit (essentially a message board) for everything, and you’ll find what the bees are buzzing about fairly quickly.

The True Detective series had its own subreddit, of course. I was going to ask for book recommendations, but there was already a lively discussion in progress about books similar to True Detective. There’s an upvote-downvote system in place, so the best books according to True Detective fans were already on top. Perfect.

I chose Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto, the writer of True Detective. I also chose The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

He didn’t guess.

The kids didn’t give it away.

He didn’t even know it was coming.

Usually, these things make him happy while I get ticked off that he guessed. But this time, he was happy and I was happier – because I could finally do something nice for him, and because I had a sense of triumph for sneaking this one past him.

 

 

 

Maybe I’m what would be called a “Fakebooker,” or “selective sharer.”

Fair enough. I don’t have an alarm going off at random intervals, telling me to STOP and post a detailed status of what I’m thinking or doing rightnow.

We’re all sharing only what we want to share. In my defense, I do that in real life, too. You should see me right before someone comes over, doing crazy things like wiping dust from hidden baseboards.

Not everyone gets to see everything. It’s just human nature.

Which is why, when I’m asked a certain question about something I find somewhat personal, I don’t like to answer it.

kindle

What are you reading?

Now, this is not the same thing as asking for book recommendations. It’s easy to pick a handful of books that have stood out over years of reading. I’m referring to the question posed in the moment when I have my face in a book or a Kindle.

The question is innocent enough. I mean, it’s the same as walking in while I’m watching TV and asking, hey, what’s on?

Except that it’s not the same at all.

I suppose my problem with it is that I don’t want people to read between the lines too much. And why would I think people would make assumptions about me based on what I read?

BECAUSE I DO THAT.

I strongly believe you can tell a lot about a person by checking out the kinds of books they gravitate toward. Perhaps others ask just to make conversation, but not me. If I ask about books, I’m asking what gets you ticking.

For example, right now I’m reading Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. I happen to like Gretchen’s analysis of her home life and how certain behaviors set and shift the tone.

But it would be perfectly natural for someone to assume that I’m reading it because I’m unhappy at home, which is not at all true. What I’m saying is, if I saw someone reading it, I would wonder why they’re so darn unhappy at home.

I know. Hypocrisy.

Reading fiction? What’s so wrong that I need to escape reality?

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. So, what’s the big decision?

What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam. Oh, so she wants to be successful.

Unleashing the Ideavirus by Seth Godin. Ooh, what’s the big idea?

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber. Ah, communication problems with the kids, I see?

Sometimes I’ll read a book to solve a problem, but most often I read books that I think might be interesting in their own right. So why should I assume that nobody else reads things, just because? Why do I see books as an expression of thoughts, feelings and ideas?

Nobody wants me eavesdropping on their thoughts. So I don’t ask. Just in case.