There is possibly nothing more inspiring to the imagination than outer space. I remember looking up at the stars as child (and sometimes as an adult) and losing myself and my troubles in the twinkling of stars. I was excited to start learning about space with my littles, and it turns out they were just as excited as I was.
I intended to start this unit, my very first “official” unit, in a logical manner, but the kids had other ideas. A few days before I planned to start, the kids caught me printing and laminating pictures of the planets, and there was no stopping them. They dove right into playing with the planets and asking tons of questions, good questions that I didn’t always have the answer to.
Despite my plans being thrown to the wind before we even started, I like the way this unit turned out. I had a list of things I wanted Drake to know by the end of the unit, which was a little silly of me. How did I expect to control what they learned?
What ended up happening was much better. They learned a TON. By the end of the unit, they knew the names of the planets, their order, and the names of many dwarf planets (a topic they were especially interested in). They knew that the planets circled the sun, and the moon circled the earth. They picked up space words and knew their meaning at a basic level: asteroids, comets, nebulas, astronaut, telescope, International Space Station, and the Kuiper Belt. Most importantly to me, my boys were inspired by the knowledge the acquired about space to ask questions and to play imaginatively.
These six books were our main sources of information during our studies of space. Well, these books and a good amount of Googling. The kids enjoyed all of these books, and we read them all many times.
The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System is a favorite. My kids love the Magic School Bus, which is pretty normal. I've never heard of a kid who didn't like them. This books is full of information. You can pick and choose how much to share because some of it is put as a side note. I appreciate this feature for my preschoolers.
The Moon Book is all about the moon. Honestly, after seeing the illustrations, I didn't think my kids would like it, but they did. It is also FULL of information, but gives opportunities to skip some if you think you child is getting overwhelmed by too much at once.
I bought the The Solar System and Beyond on clearance at Barnes and Noble a while ago. I didn't read this to the kids too many times, but it offered a great way for the kids to process information themselves. They would "read" it and talk about what they'd learned (whether it was relevant to the pictures or not)
All My Friends Are Planets was probably the boys favorite book we used. We easily read it 10 times during our unit, and I imagine we will read it frequently moving forward. It explained why Pluto is not considered a planet and why it isn't so bad. It really got the boys interested in dwarf planets.
Usborne's My Very First Space Book was incredibly helpful in explaining how humans interact with space. Topics like how astronauts spend their days and the Hubble Space Telescope are introduced in ways preschoolers can understand.
Born with a Bang is a bit of an odd read, especially to young children. It is written from the point of view of the universe and explains a lot of what happened during the Big Bang. It was useful, and the kids enjoyed, but a lot of it was over their head. I'm happy I bought it for future use.
Activities and Resources
The Solar System Bulletin Board: (Okay, not a real bulletin board, but the wall above our couch serves as a bulletin board of sorts.) I printed pictures of the planets, laminated them, and stuck them on the wall. If I did this again, I would like to make the planets to scale (or at least close).
Asteroid Belt: We used chalk and black construction paper to make asteroids. This was a quick activity that allowed us to discuss what asteroids were. After we finished, I hung them between Mars and Jupiter on our “bulletin board.”
Kuiper Belt: The Kuiper Belt is made up of chunks of ice and comets. We balled up some foil for the ice chunks and used glitter on black construction paper for comets. While we did this, I made sure to explain what a comet it was and what the tail was.
Paint the moon: Using black construction paper and textured paint (white paint + flour), we painted the moon. Drake figured out that spinning the brush made craters, which saved me trying to figure it out myself. Once again, I used this project to talk about the moon while they worked.
Cardboard Tube Telescope: I cut a paper towel tube in half and let the boys paint it with tempera paint. They used these for pretend play until they got destroyed (keeping it real guys).
Paint Space: Using a large piece of cardboard, roller brushes, and some fun novelty paint brushes, we painted space. The kids didn’t quite grasp the concept of painting the stars, but they did make some cool looking art. Drake was more interested in actually making space than Devin. If I did this again, I would let the kids do one each, and I would revisit it periodically throughout the unit to add in anything we’ve talked about.
Solar System Model: I purchased a paint your own model of the solar system, and I am so happy I did. It helped the kids understand and see that the planets orbit the sun. These models aren’t meant for kids the age of my kids though and it is sadly, no longer with us. It did survive about 10 days, and Drake treated it with care.
Watercolor Nebulas: After showing them some pictures, we used liquid watercolor paint, pipettes, and water color paper to paint nebulas. This is messy, very messy, but the kids loved it. Drake especially loved experimenting with the paint and blowing it across the page. I wish I’d put a tray under him because his page was soaked. While they painted, I talked about what a nebula was in basic terms.
Construction Paper Rocket Ship: I cut out some shapes that seemed rocket ship like, and encouraged the boys to make rocket ships with them. Devin took to it immediately, but Drake decided to make a Mario level instead. No problem.
Flash cards: This set of flashcards are awesome. They are very sturdy, come in a nice box, and the images are lovely. The only problem is they don’t have any explanations on them (like what a butterfly nebula is) so you might want to be prepared for those questions your kids will ask you. I let this kids explore these and sometimes would pull them out and see what they could recognize.
Pretend Play: This was a big one! We used a cardboard rocket ship that a family member gifted the kids for Christmas, some costumes that I’d gotten clearance after Halloween, and this felt set from Target for some of the pretend play, but to say that was all the pretend play that happened would be an understatement. I love seeing them pretend to get hit with asteroids, fly to Pluto, and spin around each other pretending to be planets. It was clear they were using play to process the things we were learning about, and it was just beautiful.
This unit was so much fun. We enjoyed it so much that it inspired me to switch to a project based homeschool! If you have any awesome space activities or resources, please share in the comments section! I’d love to hear about them and use them the next time we study space.
I want to start by clarifying that all families have different personalities, priorities, and needs. This is what is working for our homeschool at this point in our journey, but I don’t think it is the best for everyone or that there is any one best way to homeschool.
I recently posted this video about how our fall homeschool went and what I planned on doing for the spring, and then I had an epiphany, a sudden realization that I was doing this all wrong. Well, at least wrong for my family. Everything had to change.
When I decided to homeschool my children, I wanted to have a project based homeschool with hands on learning, lots of reading aloud, and tons of playing. I wanted to be able to share knowledge and experiences with my children and for them to have the freedom and space to pursue their own interests. I wanted them to move at their own pace, and to develop a love of learning.
Somehow I got side tracked from that vision, and we were doing worksheets with a side of mini projects and art, and it wasn’t working. Drake didn’t want to do it. I would pressure him to “hurry up.” I was struggling to include my younger children because the activities we were doing were difficult to differentiate. We were both stressed. It was not a good fit for us!
I was stubbornly plodding along with my plans and worksheets when we started a space unit on January 1st. The space unit was going amazing. We were loving it and we were learning so much.
I’m not exactly sure the space unit is a unit in the truest sense of the word, but we read a lot of books about space, I came up with some resources, and we made art and small projects relating to space. I didn’t do math related space activities or print out letters on moons and build words with them. All of the projects and activities were designed to better understand some aspect of space or to encourage our imaginations. (A post will be coming soon about what exactly we did during our space unit.) We had authentic learning experiences. I didn’t intentionally “dumb down” any of the information that I (fairly informally) presented, and I didn’t try to drill certain information into their heads. They gleaned what the gleaned from it. And I think this is important.
THIS was the vision I had for our homeschool. This is what I wanted for it. Authentic engagement with a topic of interest, using things we learned in play and in creating. This is when my epiphany happened, and here is what I came up with for our homeschool.
The most important thing about my new approach to homeschool is that I will not pressure the kids to do anything. I will provide opportunities for learning and creating, and if they are engaging enough, the kids will want to do them, and they usually do. This is important for Drake especially. Part of Drake’s personality, which probably stems from his Autism, is that he does not want to do anything if he feels like you’re pressuring him to do it, even if it is something he likes. He doesn’t like to be manipulated. An example of this is when he was just a toddler, I used to have to put his cup on the table where he could see it and walk away. If I tried to give it to him, he would throw it and not drink it, but if he stumbled upon it during his day, he would happily drink it. Luckily he has outgrown this particular quirk, but this aspect of his personality remains.
Continue with unit studies
We will continue to study interesting topics for weeks at a time, and we will use these topics to spark our imaginations and intellect. We will do projects, create art, and read books that relate to this topic, and we will go at whatever pace feels good.
Art and Projects
We will also do less structured art and small projects that don’t relate to our unit studies.
My kids love books and reading aloud to them is one of my favorite things to do. We read fiction, nonfiction, chapter books, picture books, magazines... basically anything in print. So we will continue to read, read, read, and I will request Drake’s help with reading as often as seems reasonable.
Invitations to Learn
Every morning I will try to set up an invitation to learn for the kids to find when they wake up. (Reggio Emilia followers would call these “provocations,” but mine will not always be in line with Reggio so I don’t want to call them that.) These morning surprises are exciting for the kids, and they like to wake up and see what mom set up for them. I can pair worksheets with these, especially for my worksheet loving 3 year old.
Outdoor play in good weather
I am not a winter person. We don’t go outside often in the winter, but come spring, we will go out as often as we can! I think Drake might be ready for some gentle nature journaling this spring.
Write for Them
I was inspired by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer to start the practice of writing down things Drake says and encouraging him to tell me stories because he enjoys it, and he likes to see his words in writing. I will do the some (probably not as frequently) for Devin.
I will consistently encourage the kids to play creatively and imaginatively. This means being on top of toy rotations and organization, as well as setting toys up in attention drawing ways, and giving plenty of suggestions.
Limiting Screen Time
In order for this all to work, I need to limit screen time because when the kids are using their tablets or playing video games they aren’t engaging in that super enriching imaginative, creative play that is so good for their brains. Now, that is not to say that video games don’t exercise their brains in different ways, and I’m not going to strictly limit their access to them by any means, BUT I find that sometimes they want their games because they are bored and just need a little encouragement to play. So I am trying my best to provide engaging opportunities to play and create throughout the day at least until dinner. After dinner they can have games if they want, but I’ve found the more I encourage their meaningful play, the more they want to do it and the less they ask for games.
Side Note: Limiting screen time would not have been possible except that I stopped limiting their access to games or tv for about a year. They played games and watched A LOT of tv for a while, and then slowly, they stopped. They got bored with it, and their relationship with it became less intense because it wasn’t something I was withholding. Now that they are not as intensely attached to their technology time, I have a much easier time distracting them from it.
So that is the plan now that I am focusing on creating a homeschool that is aligned with my values and that is responsive to the needs of my children. To some it might sound like not enough, or too much, or crazy. What about math? What about handwriting? Reading? And to all those questions, I say, it will come. In time, it will all come.
I'm not the kind of person that starts the new year off saying it will all be different, that I will change, but I am the kind of person who is always becoming, always growing and learning about myself. I don't want to be a new more. I want to be MORE me. I do, however, take the advantage of the fresh start and reflection that the new year offers, and I make some goals. Same old Kelly, still striving to become, but the goals help by giving direction.
Last year I started off by saying this would be MY YEAR. My time to shine. I will rock 2017! Well, I fell flat on my face almost immediately and spent most of the year recovering. This year I set a variety of goals, and I kept them open ended so that I would have room for error, a little wiggle room for interpretation, and I set different kinds of goals. I made some general goals that aren't time sensitive, 365 day challenges, monthly focuses, blog and video making schedule, a mantra, and a guiding word. Somewhere in here, I hope by the end of the year, I can look back and say, "Hey! I did that! Good for me!"
365 Day Challenges:
These guys make me nervous. I don't think I've ever in my life done something every single day without fail except maybe eat. But to me, challenges are meant to inspire, to be fun, and if I fail, what do I have to lose?
For 2018, I plan to rotate through a series of monthly focuses to try to reinvigorate certain goals that are especially important to me. The focuses are eating, water, exercise and creativity. This should help if I start to slip in certain areas or to keep from getting too bored in a certain area.
General somewhat random goals:
A Mantra and A word
I've never picked a mantra, quote, or word for a year before. Well, at least that I remember. It sounded like fun, and if anything, I hope that these will mean something to me in December.
Mantra: "I am rooted, but I flow." Virginia Woolf
I tried explaining this quote, and I didn't make a lot of sense. (Putting that literature degree to work!) Virginia Woolf says it best, but in short, like a tree, I want to develop a firm foundation, but allow life to flow through me like wind through a tree. I want to welcome the breeze, bend, not break, and return to something akin to my previous posture. (Good grief, I'm still not making any sense...)
I chose this word because I want to find a rhythm to my days, weeks, and months. I don't want strict schedules or rigid structure. Just a nice harmonious rhythm.
And that's it! Totally doable! (sarcasm) I expect to fail, but I hope not to. Maybe I will surprise myself? In the end, any progress I make towards these goals IS progress and if anything I will learn something about myself in striving to achieve them. What goals are you setting? Anyone else pick a mantra or word?
This Fall, just after Drake’s 4th birthday, we started a homeschool routine with him. I toyed with the idea of unschooling, but it just isn’t for us. I selected curriculum that wouldn’t take a ton of time because Drake has a fleeting attention span (Autism-related), and I tried to select things I thought he would enjoy based on his interests and learning style. We started small by only doing Math, Reading, and Writing, and our routine can take as little as 15 minutes some days.
It has been about a month and despite some interruptions due to illness, we have done homeschool just about every day. Sometimes Drake comes to it happily and sometimes it takes a little nudging, but either way, once we are started he enjoys doing the work and is proud of himself.
I’m happy to say I have already seen improvements in his attention span, handwriting, pencil grip, and overall confidence in the areas we are working on.
(FYI: I am not affiliated with any of these companies, and these are not affiliate links.)
Math U See Primer is a great math curriculum at this level for the visual learner. It is slow paced, but this is perfect for us. I’m happy Drake can gain confidence in math before we move on to more difficult concepts. If you have a math wiz, you might want to start with Math U See Alpha. This was our more expensive curriculum purchase, and I don’t regret it one bit.
My First Book of Uppercase Letters by Kumon is a hit with Drake, who loves the alphabet. It has large letters for children to trace as well as line tracing practice (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, curved). The nice big letters are perfect for the emergent writer.
We are using the READ Curriculum by The Crafty Classroom for the majority of our reading work. We don’t do every single activity in this curriculum, as some of them are beyond Drake’s ability in writing, but with some modification, he does about half of them. We are going a bit more slowly than recommended as well. The best thing about this curriculum is that it offers a variety of activities that require cutting, pasting, coloring, and writing, so it never gets boring.
We are also using The Reading Lesson by Michael Levin, but we recently took a break from it as I think Drake will benefit from getting a couple of lessons in on the READ Curriculum before we proceed with The Reading Lesson book. It is a great book for teaching reading! I just want him to gain more confidence before we proceed.
In addition to teaching Drake to read, we also do a ton of reading aloud. I read at least 3 pictures books a day to Drake, and usually many more! We also spend at least 30 minutes before bed reading from a chapter book.
My First Book of Mazes by Kumon is a treat. Drake LOVES mazes. This is one of his favorite parts of his homeschool routine. Sometimes we skip it, but I always put one in with his handwriting if he wants to do it. Usually he does.
Finally, we also do some crafty(ish) creations. I would not call myself a crafty mom, but I try to give the kids opportunities to create and celebrate through crafting. So far, simple and short seem to be the best for Drake because of his attention span. I usually just wing it or find something on Pinterest.
I hope you all found this useful. Let me know in the comments your favorite resources for your preschooler!
These vegan, Eat to Live friendly treats aren't really cookies. More like breakfast bars, but calling them cookies makes me love them more. They are Eat to Live Friendly, vegan, and delicious.
Eat to Live Friendly Pizza (no crust!)
Preheat oven to 350. Blend oats in a blender to create an oat flour. I leave mine a little chunky.Mash bananas in a mixing bowl, add peanut butter, and vanilla.Add in oats and mix until combined.Form cookies on your parchment paper covered cookie sheets and bake for 15-18 minutes.
DetailsPrep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 servings
This pizza saved my Eat to Live 6 Week Challenge. I love pizza (who doesn't?), and I needed to find a pizza recipe that was Eat to Live friendly, and satisfied my craving. Well, this pizza did the trick!
Eat to Live Friendly Pizza (no crust!)
1. Slice tofu into four square slabs by cutting down the long edge2. Dip each slab in the nutritional yeast and make sure it is all coated.3. Sprinkle each slab with the Italian seasoning.4. Lay on a greased pan or parchment paper and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.5. Remove from oven. Add a layer of tomato paste, sprinkle again with the Italian seasoning.6. Add toppings (anything you’d add on a normal pizza) and vegan cheese if you want. I don’t really love most of the affordable vegan cheeses, so I don’t usually add any.7. Return to oven for about 10 minutes to let your toppings cook.8. Allow to cool and then enjoy!
DetailsPrep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 servings
I'm calling this My Everyday Oatmeal Breakfast because I could eat this every day and never get bored of it, and most days I do eat it!, especially when the weather is cold. It is filling, warming, and satisfying.
My Everyday Oatmeal Breakfast
Combine oats and water in a microwave safe bowl and cook in microwave for 5 minutes on medium power. If you don’t do this, your oatmeal will bubble out of your bowl and make a huge mess. You’re welcome. ;) Alternatively, you can cook it on your stove top or in big batches in your crock pot.Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and enjoy.
DetailsPrep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 serving
I love this stir fry sauce! It is vegan and if you’re doing the Eat to Live Challenge then you can substitute the soy sauce for tamari or liquid aminos. It goes well with just about any vegetable and makes tofu decadent. Best of all, it is versatile. If I feel like ginger or spice, I can add it or not and still end up with a delicious meal. If you don’t like tahini, use peanut butter. I’ve even added a little nutritional yeast and balsamic and put it on my salad. You can make big batches if you plan on using it often, but honestly, it takes about 3 minutes to throw together so I just make it as I need it.
Easy Tahini Stir Fry Sauce
Combine ingredients in a mason jar and shake them up.Pour onto your stir fry about five minutes before you are finished cooking.
DetailsPrep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield:
Since becoming vegan and doing the Eat to Live 6 week challenge, I have become OBSESSED with lentils! How did I ever live without this recipe in my life? I make it, or some variation on it, twice a week most weeks. Want the scoop on the variations? Sometimes I use white potatoes, tofu, chickpeas, or cauliflower instead of sweet potatoes. I also sometimes use split chickpeas (also called chana dal) instead of lentils.
Super Simple Lentils with Sweet Potato
Put all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.Reduce heat to simmer and allow to cook, covered, about 30-40 minutes. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally to make sure you don’t completely run out of liquid and burn it (like I did).When lentils and sweet potato are cooked through you can serve with rice.
DetailsPrep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings
This is Part 3 of my three part series on my experience doing the Eat to Live Six Week Challenge. This challenge is outlined in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live. In this part, I will give an overview of how Damian and I have decided to proceed after the 6 week challenge.
No one having completed this challenge, who experienced such an improvement to the quality of their life that I did would go back to eating the Standard American Diet. Damian and I both knew we wanted to continue with a slightly less stringent version of the Eat to Live Plan, but what did that mean?
Our Life Plan:
Mostly Whole Foods
I try to exclude as much processed food as I can, and I include all the whole foods I can.
No Animal Products
During Week 6, I discovered some informational and inspiring videos on YouTube made by whole food vegans. I started learning more about veganism and plant based eating, and the more I learned, the more I was inspired to give up animal products for good. So I did. Damian occasionally (like once a month) has sushi or some other treat, but I am 100% done with eating animal products.
A Salad a Day
The HUGE salad a day keeps me feeling good, and keeps me eating right because instead of salad for lunch I would probably have something quick and easy and highly processed. I also just love salad, so it works out.
Breakfast is Boring
I keep breakfast boring. I don’t want to think about it. I have oatmeal or in warmer weather I have cereal (the less processed the better).
Cheat Days are Okay
Occasional cheat days are ok. There are vegan options in my area for eating out when we are in a rush (any one try Taco Bell’s vegan menu? It’s not half bad!), and sometimes I just want chocolate cake or french fries.
I struggled with wanting more grains than the 1 cup. I decided that it is probably fine to enjoy a bit more than that. Most days I eat around 2 cups of grains or potato a day.
So that’s the plan! I can’t say that I am great at sticking to it all the time. I have not purposefully eaten any animal products since before the Six Week Challenge, but some days I don’t eat my salad, or I have a couple too many cheat days, but life isn’t about being perfect. So this is the plan I strive to follow, and I mostly do! And it has to be good for me because I feel amazing!
Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series for more information!
This is Part 2 of my three part series on my experience doing the Eat to Live Six Week Challenge. This challenge is outlined in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live. In this part, I will give an overview of my experience during the six weeks.
I was so excited to start eating healthy (and hopefully to start feeling like a human again) that I started the challenge a day earlier than I originally proposed to Damian. We started February 28th, 2017. I was enthusiastic. Damian was skeptical, but supportive and 100% along for the ride.
This is what I ate that first day:
Breakfast: Strawberries and bananas sprinkled with ground flax seed, a coffee with almond milk creamer and unsweetened almond milk
Lunch: a huge bowl of veggie soup (barley, butternut squash, black beans, kale, cauliflower, diced tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms)
Dinner: A HUGE salad (spinach, iceberg, black beans, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, and cucumber)
Dessert: Pear and half an ounce of cashews
It was a simple way of eating, and just right for the first day of the challenge. There is a learning curve with this new way of eating. It takes time to find recipes that you love, but these basic staples will keep you satisfied until you find them.
That first day went well, and I felt great. I was starving before I ate my lunch and a little lightheaded, but that was the most discomfort and hunger I felt all day. I ended the day encouraged.
Week 1 and 2 were by no means easy, however. I fought cravings, and in between meals I would become very hungry right before it was time to eat again. I dreamed of cheeseburgers, but I told myself, I could have one in 6 weeks, and that I’d eaten enough cheeseburgers in my life that six weeks without one wouldn’t kill me.
By the end of week 2, I was noticing a difference in my energy levels. I still wasn’t ready to jump out of bed in the morning and do 100 jumping jacks, but I had more energy for longer in the day. Before starting the Eat to Life Challenge, I’d crash around 2, and I would be only minimally productive the rest of the day. Now I was still feeling energetic until about 8 o’clock. At this point, Damian wasn’t feeling any better, but he wasn’t feel worse either. So we kept going.
Week 3 was a turning point because Week 3 was by far the hardest week. I was craving pizza (ie cheese) hard core. It might have been PMS, or it could have been my body screaming out in one last hurrah for its drug of choice, who knows? But Week 3 kicked my butt. I was researching new recipes constantly, searching for something to satisfy this craving. I knew if I couldn’t find something, I was going to struggle through the next three weeks instead of power through them. That is when I came up with the Eat to Live friendly pizza. I thank the universe for this moment of inspiration because I needed it! I pushed through Week 3, and in the end, I was hopeful that I could give up cheese at least for the next 3 weeks and perhaps beyond.
What? You say in outrage! Give up cheese forever!?!? That’s crazy! Believe me, I know how crazy it sounds. At one point, I would have laughed at the idea of giving up cheese, but that was before the Six Week Challenge. More than anything Week 3 taught me that I am highly addicted to cheese (among other foods that are not good for me in the least), and when you are addicted to something it can be difficult/impossible to regulate yourself around it. Once I beat the cheese craving, I decided I didn’t want to risk it coming back with such force again.
Week 4 and 5 were much easier. I got into a rhythm with meal prep. I began making 3 days worth of salads at a time and trying to cook enough for leftovers, but this is hard to do because we all love the food so much, we were devouring it. I still fought cravings, but it was nothing like the pizza craving I had squashed, so I managed. I continued to feel better, more energetic, and to lose weight. I began to do light exercises because I had the energy to do it, and I wanted to feel stronger. Damian was shedding weight like crazy, and feeling good too!
Week 5 was a special week because I began to develop an aversion to meat. DUring the first few weeks, I was longing imagine the cheeseburgers I would eat when my six weeks were over, but suddenly the idea of eating animal flesh disgusted me. In addition, I had developed a general guideline for eating that worked for me.
Breakfast: .25 cup of oatmeal, a banana, ground flax seed, unsweetened almond milk
Lunch: a HUGE salad with beans and/or legumes
Dinner: cooked veggies which usually included mushrooms and a cruciferous vegetable
Dessert: roasted chickpeas and a fruit (sometimes I’d make these cookies or a smoothie instead)
I also developed a bunch of recipes that I loved.
My Everyday Oatmeal Breakfast
Easy Tahini Stir Fry Sauce
Eat to Live Friendly Pizza
Super Simple Lentils and Sweet Potato
Oatmeal Banana Cookies
By the end of Week 6, I’d achieved what I’d sought out to do. I was no longer depressed. I was no longer exhausted, and I’d lost a little weight to boot. I lost 12.8 pounds and Damian lost 15.3. The difference in my energy level was the most noticeable change. It was like being handed back pieces of my life. Hours of my life that had previously wasted away were given back to me.
During Week 6, Damian and I began talking about our plans for the future. How would we proceed once the challenge was over? That’s what the next post is about!
This is Part 1 of my three part series on my experience doing the Eat to Live Six Week Challenge. This challenge is outlined in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live. In this part, I will describe where I was at before I started the challenge, and I will explain why I decided to do the challenge.
I started 2017 saying that it would be a great year, my year, but it would not be the year I lost weight. I was trying to do a lot in 2017, and I didn’t want to add the behemoth goal of “lose weight” to my growing list of things to do.
Well, things change.
Halfway through February, it turned out that 2017 would be a challenging year. To explain why, you might want a little back story. In November of 2016, we happily welcomed Madeleine into our family. We love her to pieces, but she is not an easy baby. Drake and Devin were fairly happy as infants. They liked snuggles and were easily entertained. Maddie is a different breed of baby. She required a LOT of attention and constant and ever changing entertainment. To top it off, we moved into a smaller apartment in December, Drake stopped attending preschool because he refused to take the school bus, and Damian was in his last semester of his Associate degree while continuing to work full time.
I had three kids in a tiny apartment - one with Autism, one hitting the “terrible twos,” and one just a few months old. It was winter. We were stuck in the house, and I was essentially on my own. I didn’t have the time or energy to pursue any of my passions (like blogging), and I missed my husband!
I was depressed, and it wasn’t surprising. I was eating like crap and feeling like crap with frequent headaches, body aches, and zero energy. I felt heavy and sluggish. Things were bad, but I have struggled with depression in the past, and beat it back, so I knew it was possible to do it again.
We all know that in order to be a good mom, we need to be well. It is hard to nourish our children’s hearts and mind when we haven’t taken good care of our own.
But, what could I do? I knew I had to do something. Continuing the descent into depression was not an option. My family needed me well, so I had to get well. It is amazing the things we will do for others that we cannot always do for ourselves.
I struggled and I fought back. Everyday I tried to find a way to flip things around, to rekindle my joy, but there were no easy answers. I felt horrible, and the lack of energy meant halfway through the day I would crash. I’d feel tired after doing just about anything. I’d spend hours carrying Maddie around the apartment trying to keep her from screaming, and trying to keep the house clean and her brothers fed during her naps. The lack of energy was the biggest obstacle to my happiness because whenever I could get a break, I wouldn’t take care of myself, I’d collapse in a heap with a bag of chips and binge watch Gilmore Girls. (For some people, this would be considered self care. For me, it was not.)
I needed to get my energy up before I could pull myself out of depression. So, it was midway through February when I told Damian that I wanted to start eating better, and he was supportive. (It is the best to have a husband who supports me through my dreams. I am so grateful for him.) I didn’t know how to proceed. There is a lot of information out there about how to eat well. Most of it focuses on weight loss, but that was not my biggest priority. I wanted to lose weight, but it was more important that I regain my energy and eat food that was nourishing my body. I also needed something simple. I didn’t want to have to count calories or drastically restrict my calories.
In the past, I’d tried a number of different diets including Weight Watchers, the mediterranean diet, calorie restriction, vegetarianism, and even the Eat to Live Diet shortly after Drake was born. I remembered the Eat to Live plan making a lot of sense to me. It is (mostly) a whole foods, plant based diet. There were strict rules, but you didn’t have to restrict your calories and all the food on the allowed list were foods I knew would nourish my body.
The first time we tried Eat to Live, we only lasted three weeks or so. The main issue was that I didn’t know how to cook well enough to make the food good. I wasn’t an atrocious home chef, but I lacked experience especially with vegetables, and I didn’t have a food prep mindset. My inexperience with cooking did not mix well with my learning to be a new mom and my work ever changing work schedule.
Even though we failed to transition to the Eat to Live lifestyle, I began incorporating more vegetables into our meals over time, and trying foods I’d never tried before (swiss chard, brussel sprouts, beets). Over the next six months, I lost 15-20 pounds, and got pregnant with Devin. I more or less kept those pounds off, but my eating slowly began to falter, and it didn’t get any better while I was pregnant with Madeleine.
So, despite having failed in the past with Eat to Live, I still had good feelings about it. I reread Eat to Live this February, and once again it spoke to me. It was simple, no calorie counting, and I could eat as many fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes as I wanted. I wouldn’t have to be hungry. I’d also learned a lot more about cooking and meal prep since the first time we tried, and I was desperate to feel good again. This desperation would fuel me through the next six weeks.
Read about my experience during the first six weeks here.
I need to start by saying having a budget and sticking to a budget are two different things. We have a budget, and since I am nothing but honest, I’ll admit that sometimes we stink at following it. I don’t have any excuses but to say that it isn’t easy!
When I first started to create and implement a budget, I ransacked the internet looking for advice and systems that others have used. I tried enveloping, and I’ll probably try it again. It sounds like such a good idea… if you can remember to stop at the bank before you go to the food store which I never remember to do. I’ve tried apps and software which were all too complicated and cumbersome. I’ve tried just putting everything on automatic payments and crossing my fingers (not recommended).
Finally, I hit upon a simple method that works for me. It has two parts -- a homemade spreadsheet and chart. The spreadsheet (above) lives in Google Drive where I won’t lose it or spill coffee on it. You can see I have information about our bills followed by a column for each month. I put notes on the bottom like when our next car payment is due since we pay ahead. When I pay the bills for each month, I write in the amount I paid. We keep some bills on autopay -- our car insurance gives us a discount for having autopay, the boys’ health insurance is too important, and the Time Warner Cable website gives me hives. This part of my system helps me track which bills I’ve paid and which are coming up.
The paper chart is kind of like a rough copy of the digital. Once Damian’s paycheck hits our account, I pull out a calculator and start with our account balance. I deduct all the bills I need to pay out of that paycheck. I pay them online as I go, and I write in the amount I’m paying on the chart and in the spreadsheet. Some rows are left blank because a bill might not be ready to pay yet. Any leftover money, if there is any, gets allocated towards extra expenses or put towards our debt. At the end, I double check my work by adding up all the numbers in the column and check it against our account balance. This is why the chart is necessary. It shows me exactly what is coming out of one paycheck. Then I’m done for two more weeks!
I also use three simple strategies to help manage our budget.
Don’t pay bills when their due. Pay them with money from the paycheck you get after their statement becomes available. This way you’re never late, and you’re always a little ahead.
Split the expense between two paychecks for larger bills like rent. This takes the some of the bite out of those larger bills.
Budget all of your money. Know where every little bit should go. If you are lucky enough to have extra cash, put it towards a vacation fund, savings, or retirement.
Budgeting isn’t fun. It isn’t glamorous, especially when the you’re struggling financially, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Sticking to it is the hard part!
Toy clutter with two kids at this age (3 and 18 months) is overwhelming, and Devin is going through the dumping phase. It is a daily issue, an hourly issue some days! You think it’d be simple, but it isn’t. There are so many toy boxes and shelves on the market to help you organize toys, and most of them stink. See it doesn’t matter if you use a toy organizer if your tot’s favorite playtime activity is dumping bin after bin of toys.
Here’s what I need my storage solutions to do:
1. Keep toys visible. If the toys are out of sight, the kids will not play with them.
2. Keep toys from being dumped out and abandoned.
3. Sort toys by category and keep sets together.
4. Be repurposable as the kids get older.
With this criteria in mind, you can see that the typical toy organizer and toy box don’t work for me. The typical toy organizer allows for way too much dumping action, and toy boxes do not allow for organization or visibility.
If I had endless piles of cash, I would get pieces from Ikea's Trofast collection with lids or this style toy organizer, but I can’t swing the price tag of either of them.
After much experimentation, I use a combination of storage solutions to handle our toys. The $10 storage drawers pictured above are very important to our toy storage. The toys are still visible and dumping them takes effort. The drawers get dumped from time to time, but surprisingly, the kids usually just open the draw and pull out a few toys. They aren’t pretty, but they are practical and the price is right for us! We already had two in use elsewhere in the house, so we only had to buy one more. These are great for puzzle storage! I keep the puzzles separated in Ziplocs and put the bags in the drawers. I also use them for some of the train stuff, large transportation toys, and small blocks.
The inexpensive clear, plastic bins are also useful for sorting toys. Just to give you an idea, I keep our matchboxes, floor puzzles, a train set, and our music instruments in the small ones among other things. The larger ones I use for our play food, Devin’s age-appropriate toys, figurines, and a random assortment of sensory fun.
In addition, I use a few larger bins to store our train tracks, larger toys, balls, and some random stuff. We also have a toy box, but I only keep stuffed animals that the boys don’t play with in it. Its main purpose in our play space is to block an outlet. I can’t figure out how to hide.
Lastly, we have our books, which live in three large diaper boxes. We own a lot of children’s books, and with two climbing, jumping, thrill seeking boy, I do not want any sort of scalable shelving units around. In the past, I used small dollar store bins, but we out grew them. I should decorate the diaper boxes. I planned to, but I doubt it will happen. Just being honest. The boxes are too heavy for easy dumping, so if the books are out, it is because the kids are enjoying them.
Looking around, I think that is the majority of the storage solutions I use to keep the kids’ toys organized. Now if I could keep the art supplies organized!
It’s a new year, and that means it is time for a new bullet journal. (If you haven’t heard of bullet journals, you should check out the original creator’s video explanation.) I love, love, love my bullet journal. It keeps me on task and focused, and the task lists remind me that I am in fact accomplishing things on a daily basis. All around, I am more productive and happier when I’m using my bullet journal, and that is why I am sharing my set up for 2017 with you.
I decided the best way to share the pages was in a video on my YouTube channel, but below is a sneak peak of some the pages you will find!
Welcome to the family!
We are a laid back, fun, family of four living on a dime in 900 square feet. Life might not be perfect, but every moment of every day, it is beautiful.