Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tips for Planting the Summer Vegetable Garden

Here in southern New Mexico, we pass our last frost date near the beginning of May, so it is time to plant the summer garden. This will be my family's 9th year of vegetable gardening, and in that time we have learned many lessons on what makes gardening successful here. Every location has its own unique challenges, yet there are some basics that every garden needs, including good soil, the right amount of water, and plenty of sunshine.

Plan It Out

Each year, before we start planting, I take a little time to plan out the garden. When it comes time to actually plant, there are always a few deviations from the plan, but the initial planning gets us started in the right direction. When planning our garden, I make sure to do each of the following:

  • Take stock of old seeds - We always seem to have some old seed packets from previous years of gardening. We typically find that most of the old seeds will still germinate well for a few years beyond the "Best By" dates on the seed packets. If we're unsure, sometimes I will test a few seeds to make sure they will germinate by planting them in a small pot indoors where I can water them daily in the weeks leading up to our last frost date. 
  • Plan for companion plants - One way to help plants thrive is to plant "companion" plants which are mutually beneficial to each other. For instance, tomatoes will benefit from being planted near parsley and dill, and would enjoy the afternoon shade offered by sunflowers. Basil likes to be planted near tomatoes. For more ideas, check out my article on companion planting with herbs
  • Get a rough idea of plant placement - We always make sure to plant the summer garden in a location with at least 6 hours of sun per day. Although we've tried experimenting with raised bed gardening and container gardening, we have found planting in the ground to be our most successful method for summer gardening. To reduce pests and diseases, we also make sure not to plant the same type of plants in the same location year after year. Based on the expected size of each type of plant, I will make a rough plan of where different types of plants will be located.

Prep the Soil and Add Compost

Good soil is key to a flourishing garden. The ideal soil will have plenty of nutrients for the plants, will drain away excess water to prevent root rot, and will also retain enough moisture to keep the plants from drying out too much between waterings. Although I have experimented with several no-till methods, I generally find it beneficial to turn over the dirt in my garden annually down to a depth of about 12-18 inches. This ensures that the ground is not too hard-packed so that roots can easily grow, and it also helps to mix nutrients evenly into the soil since certain areas may have been depleted by previous plantings.

Overly sandy soil drains too quickly and the plants can dry out too much, whereas areas with a high clay content in the soil can have the opposite problem of draining very slowly and becoming very hard-packed (which makes it hard for roots to grow). Since the native soil in my garden area is very sandy and highly alkaline, I amend it each year to improve its nutrient-content and water retention. Compost and peat moss are both excellent additions to my garden soil. [In places where the native soil is acidic, peat moss would not be a good addition to garden soil (since it is highly acidic)].

Compost is my favorite soil amendment, as it adds many nutrients to the soil as well as humus (which helps with water retention). Compost can be expensive if purchased by-the-bag, but by having an active compost pile it can be produced at home with vegetable scraps and yard waste. Another good option to check into is whether or not there is compost available at the city landfill. In my area, we can get compost for free at the city landfill.

At our house, we let our chickens do the work of composting for us.
Using a method I learned about in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, we have deep mulch in our chicken coop, which consists of leaves and other dried vegetation from around our property. The mulch combines with kitchen scraps and chicken manure to make compost. The chickens do most of the work of turning and mixing the compost; I only occasionally need to turn over the soil under the roost areas where the manure can start to pile up. Because we live in the desert, I do need to water the mulch fairly regularly in the hot months to ensure that the compost is moist enough. With this deep mulch method, I was able to harvest 5 wheelbarrows full of beautiful compost to be used in our summer garden this year.

Each year, I add more compost to my garden so that over time, our garden soil is improving year by year. One caution when using compost is to make sure that it is fully composted before planting vegetables in it to ensure it will not burn the seedlings. A good general rule of thumb is to amend the soil with compost and then wait 1-2 weeks before planting.

Get to Planting

Once the soil is ready, we can start planting! Some plants, like tomatoes, are planted individually with plenty of space between plants. Other plants, such as corn and beans, are planted in rows. And then squash, cucumbers, and melons are planted in hills. Seed packets for each type of plant include instructions for how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart they should be spaced.

We typically plant everything from seed except for tomatoes. When transplanting tomato plants, it is a good idea to plant them much deeper than other seedlings. The bottom of the main stem (which includes some leaves) should be buried in the ground. This will give the tomato plants a head start as roots will grow off the main stem.
This year, the edible plants we're growing will be:
  • Tomatoes 
  • Pumpkins 
  • Cucumbers 
  • Sunflowers and Marigolds 
  • Sweet Potatoes 
  • Watermelons
  • Green Onions
  • Carrots 
  • Bush Beans
  • Basil, Thyme, Oregano, and Rosemary

Make it Beautiful with Flowers

Planting flowers in the vegetable garden makes the garden beautiful to look at and it aids the vegetables, too. For instance, sunflowers can provide late-afternoon shade for tomatoes, marigolds can benefit strawberries, and zinnias can attract lots of beneficial pollinators. Nasturtiums are also great to plant as bugs are more attracted to them than to the veggies. My daughter, especially, loves to plant lots of flowers in our summer garden.

Set up the Watering System

Where we live, the yearly rainfall is only 8-11 inches so supplemental watering of the garden is absolutely required. I have experimented with many different types of watering systems for our garden, including sprinklers (which end up using the most water), watering with a hose by hand (which I find time-consuming and laborious), and drip irrigation (which doesn't work particularly well in our very sandy soil as the water drains straight down rather than spreading to an area around each emitter). Thus far, my favorite watering methods are using soaker hoses and/or sprinklers in combination with an automatic timer. In areas where the soil has more natural humus content, drip irrigation may be a good match.


Once we are done transplanting and our seeds have started growing well, it is highly beneficial to apply a layer of mulch to the garden. Mulch helps to keep the ground from drying out too much, and it also keeps the plants off of the moist ground. I have successfully used alfalfa hay, shredded wood, broken down sticks/vegetation from our property, and pine needles as mulch in our garden. One key is to make sure that I apply the mulch over the top of the soaker hoses, which allows the moisture to be retained very well in the ground.

Get the Kids Involved

Gardening is an integral part of our homeschool curriculum. When kids are involved in the garden, they gain an appreciation and understanding of where their food comes from. It teaches them about the life cycle of plants, lets them feel responsible and confident, and gives them skills for their own gardening endeavors as they grow up.

My children have each had their own gardening space in our family's garden since they were 3-years-old. As they grow older they are given larger areas to garden in each year. Many family memories have been made when we are working alongside each other in the family garden. And my children are immeasurably proud when they get to harvest food for our table from their own gardens.

Watch it Grow and Enjoy the Harvest

Once our garden is planted, it's time to enjoy watching it grow until the foods are ready to harvest. Years ago, a friend gave me the great idea to keep a gardening journal. Each year, I record what was planted, when it was planted, and how it faired. This helps me keep track from year-to-year of what worked best, which specific varieties did not tolerate our climate well, etc.

Vegetable gardening is beautiful and healthy way to be involved in the production of healthy foods. It allows us to celebrate the seasons as we observe the cycles of growth, abundance, and decay. For our family, gardening is a tradition that enriches our lives as well as our relationships with each other and our land.

Do you have a vegetable garden? What are your favorite things to grow?

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Poutine: French Fries with Gravy and Cheese (gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Last semester when my family "visited" Canada on our homeschool world trip, we discovered poutine, which is essentially french fries topped with gravy and cheese. This semester, while focusing on the United States,we discovered that poutine is also a treasured food in the northeastern states. New Hampshire even has a poutine festival!

When making the homemade oven fries, I use a combination of refined coconut oil and sunflower oil. Coconut oil is über healthy, but its smoke-point is too low to use it alone. By combining the coconut oil with sunflower oil, the overall smoke-point of the oil is higher so I can achieve a nice crispness to the fries by cooking them at a high temperature.

Poutine is not gourmet, and not even particularly pretty, but it is SO good! My family does a happy dance every time I make poutine. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do.

Serves 3
Make the Oven Fries:
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Wash and dry the potatoes. Remove any bad spots. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise.
  3. Slice the potatoes thinly, a bit less than 1/8-inch thick. Spread them out on two baking sheets. I like to put the smaller pieces (from closer to the ends of the potatoes) on one baking sheet and the larger pieces on another baking sheet, since the smaller ones tend to cook faster.
  4. Drizzle the sunflower oil over the potatoes. Add the coconut oil, and mix all around to make sure the potatoes are well-coated with oil. I find that using my hands work best for this. 
  5. Spread the potatoes back out to make sure they are in a single layer. Sprinkle with finely ground Celtic sea salt.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the potatoes are starting to brown. 
  7. Remove the potatoes from the oven (one sheet at a time) and flip over the potatoes. Then swap the placement in the oven (whichever sheet was on the upper rack should now go on the lower rack). Bake again for ~10-15 minutes longer. The smaller fries will tend to cook faster than the larger ones, so they'll probably be done a few minutes before the larger fries.
  8. While the fries cook, prepare the gravy as described below.
  9. As soon as the potatoes are done baking, sprinkle them again with salt.
  10. Place the cooked fries on a paper-towel-lined-plate to drain off most of the excess oil. 
Make the Gravy and Prepare the Cheese:
  1. Cut the cheese into smallish cubes and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. 
  3. Whisk in the rice flour and allow to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Whisk in the chicken bone broth. Add the salt and bring to a boil. (My homemade chicken broth is not salted. If you are using salted broth, make sure to reduce the amount of salt accordingly.)
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for a few minutes to let the gravy thicken.
  6. Reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, until the fries are done.
Assemble the Poutine:
  1. Divide up the fries evenly onto plates. Do NOT eat any fries yet, or you'll never stop 'cause they are addicting!
  2. Top the fries with the Mozzarella chunks.
  3. Spoon gravy over it all. There will likely be a little leftover gravy, but better too much gravy than not enough.
  4. Serve and enjoy! Some perfect accompaniments would be marinated cabbage salad or a green salad topped with honey mustard mayo dressing.

*Traditionally, poutine is made with cheese curds. However, I can't purchase cheese curds locally at any of the stores where I shop, so I have substituted Mozzarella. 

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Homeopathic Remedies for Treating Vaccine Reactions

Although my husband and I have made an informed decision not to vaccinate our own children, I believe that the decision of whether or not to vaccinate is a fundamental right of parenthood. For parents who choose to vaccinate, or for people who are compelled to vaccinate by law, I wanted to share information about how homeopathy can be used to treat vaccine reactions.

Click Here to View Vaccine Flyer

Vaccine Reactions 

The unfortunate truth is that vaccine reactions do really occur. Sometimes the negative effects are obvious, and other times the effects take longer to develop and have a detrimental effect on long-term chronic health. According to the National Vaccine Information Center [1]:

 "Some vaccine reaction symptoms include:
  • Pronounced swelling, redness, heat or hardness at the site of the injection;
  • Body rash or hives;
  • Shock/collapse;
  • High pitched screaming or persistent crying for hours;
  • Extreme sleepiness or long periods of unresponsiveness;
  • Twitching or jerking of the body, arm, leg or head;
  • Crossing of eyes;
  • Weakness or paralysis of any part of the body;
  • Loss of ability to roll over, sit up or stand up;
  • Loss of eye contact or awareness or social withdrawal;
  • Head banging or onset of repetitive movements (flapping, rubbing, rocking, spinning);
  • High fever (over 103 F)
  • Vision or hearing loss;
  • Restlessness, hyperactivity or inability to concentrate;
  • Sleep disturbances that change wake/sleep pattern;
  • Joint pain or muscle weakness;
  • Disabling fatigue;
  • Loss of memory;
  • Onset of chronic ear or respiratory infections;
  • Violent or persistent diarrhea or chronic constipation;
  • Breathing problems (asthma);
  • Excessive bleeding (thrombocytopenia) or anemia."

Can Homeopathy Really Help?

Homeopaths have long known that there are specific homeopathic remedies that can help counter the negative effects of vaccines. For instance, in the 1800's homeopathic remedies were found to work well to counter the negative effects of the smallpox vaccine. J. Compton Burnett M.D. even wrote a whole book filled with cases where homeopathic Thuja was able to reverse vaccine-induced damage in his book, "Vaccinosis and Its Cure by Thuja", published in 1884 [2].

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only. 

Thuja - The Top Remedy for Ailments From Vaccination

Homeopathic Thuja occidentalis is the remedy most often considered for ill effects from vaccines. As described by Catherine Coulter in Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines Vol. 3, "Although it was originally noted for its helpful effects in negating smallpox vaccine reactions, "Thuja has proved to be invaluable in a number of the wide range of physical and neurological disorders whose onset can be traced back to the time of inoculation: repeated middle ear infections, eczema, asthma, enuresis, chronic nasal catarrhs or diarrhea, sleep or eating problems, head-banging in infancy and excessive rocking in the older child. It is either the prime remedy for a particular affliction, the cleanser after inoculation, or a supportive remedy to Silica, Sulphur, and others" [3].

Dr. Margaret Tyler also wrote of numerous cases of vaccinosis cured by the use of homeopathic Thuja in her book, Homoeopathic Drug Pictures [4]. Some examples from her book include the following:

"Small girl, ever since vaccination, pustules on legs, or alternately, when these disappeared, epileptic fits. Thuja quickly cured.  
"Small boy, purulent onychia [infection in the fingernail], very intractable. Nail removed and thumb healed. Then abscesses in different parts of the body, till it was discovered that he had been eight times vaccinated by a persistent and conscientious G.P. Thuja promptly ended the trouble... 
"Years of incapacitating headaches in the mother of a very noisy family of young children. Much vaccinated. Was given Thuja. This was some thirty years ago. Seen recently. 'Never had a recurrence of those headaches.'"
Clearly, Thuja is a hugely beneficial remedy for dealing with negative after-effects from vaccination.

Other Helpful Remedies

Beyond Thuja, homeopathic Silicea is one of the more prominent remedies for dealing with vaccine reactions. Silicea is known to have helped with post-vaccination convulsions, nausea, diarrhea, skin eruptions, and swelling of the upper arms. Other remedies such as ArnicaLedumCalcarea carbonicaMezereum, and Sulphur are also known to be helpful in treating vaccine reactions. The homeopathic form of the vaccines themselves has also used by some homeopaths with good success, such as using homeopathically potentized DPT vaccine. Some more remedies that can be helpful after vaccination are described here and here.

The whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, which is the "P" in the DPT, Tdap, or DTaP shot, is known for producing more negative after-effects than other vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website acknowledges that "mild problems" occur after the DTaP shot in up to 1 out of 3 children, and also lists "moderate" and "severe problems" which are known to occur in lesser numbers [5]. In Portraits of Homeopathic Medicines Vol. 2Catherine Coulter recommends the following uses of homeopathic remedies to counter the negative effects of the whooping cough vaccine:
"If the parents decide to vaccinate the child against whooping cough, homoeopathic remedies can play a significant preventive role in mitigating the vaccine's ill effects. Several procedures are possible. Hypericum, the principal remedy for nerve injuries, can be administered in medium potency prior to the injection, thus minimizing damage to the central nervous system. Shortly after the injection the remedy to give is Ledum ('ill effects from punctured wounds': Boericke), also in medium potency, to counter the ensuing high fever or inflammatory reaction. Thuja can also be administered preventitively, to avert or minimize future ill-effects of vaccination; it should be given soon after the shot, before any symptoms have developed.
"If the child reacts violently to the vaccine (high fever, high-pitched screaming, excessive drowsiness, fainting, convulsions, holding of breath, etc.), either Ledum should be repeated more often or other remedies should be tried: Belladonna for the high fever, Chamomilla for "arrested breathing suddenly in children' (Kent), and so forth." [6

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only.  

Dosing Information

As a general rule of thumb, 30c is a medium potency that can be used successfully for most people. However, for newborns or anyone with hypersensitivities, lower potencies (such as 6c) may be more appropriate.

Typically, if there is no obvious improvement within 3-4 doses of any particular homeopathic remedy, the remedy should be discontinued.

With all homeopathic remedies, the least number of doses is always the best. Anytime there is a noticeable improvement, dosing needs to be slowed down and observation is key to determining when to give any further doses. Homeopathic remedies work by stimulating the body to heal itself; once the body has started healing itself no more remedy is needed unless the symptoms start to regress (or unless there is a plateau, where the symptoms get better to a point but then stop improving).

Disclaimer: The uses of homeopathic remedies described in this article are provided for educational use only.  I am not a doctor or licensed healthcare professional. I am a homeopathic practitioner whose services are considered complementary and alternative by the state of New Mexico. The uses of homeopathic remedies described herein are provided for educational use only.  


[1] National Vaccine Information Center, If You Vaccinate, Ask 8! What You Need to Know Before & After Vaccination, retrieved from
[2] Burnett, J. Compton, M.D., Vaccinosis and Its Cure by Thuja; With Remarks on Homoeoprophylaxis, The Homoeopathic Publishing Company, London, England, 1884.
[3] Coulter, Catherine R., The Child and "Vaccinosis", Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines, Vol. 3, pp. 107-116, Quality Medical Publishing, Missouri, USA 1998.
[4] Tyler, Dr. M.L., "Thuja", Homoeopathic Drug Pictures, pp. 1012-1024, B. Jain Publishers Ltd., New Delhi, India 2004.
[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Possible Side-effects From Vaccines, retrieved from
[6] Coulter, Catherine R., Silica Appendix, Portraits of Homoeopathic Medicines, Vol. 2, pp. 102-106, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, USA 1988.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Wyoming Baked Beans (grain-free : gluten-free : dairy-free : nutrient-dense)

My children and I are continuing our homeschool unit on the United States, and that means I have the opportunity to find more family favorite recipes from the regions we are studying. The latest recipe is Wyoming Baked Beans. I created this recipe the way I often create new recipes: by looking at several recipe variants of a dish and then mish-mashing them all together in the way I think will appeal most to my family's tastes. So I would say this recipe has been inspired by recipes for Wyoming Baked Beans, rather than being an authentic recipe for that region. 

Wyoming Baked Beans combines beans, beef, bacon, and vegetables, with a tasty tomato-based sauce. This dish could be a main course or a side dish. Everyone in my family enjoyed this recipe. 

Wyoming Baked Beans
Serves 6-8
  1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with plenty of filtered water and the baking soda. The beans will soak up quite a bit of water, so be sure to add plenty. Cover and allow to soak overnight. This important step reduces the phytic acid antinutrient in the beans.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a medium-large pot, cover with filtered water, and bring to a boil. Skim off and discard the foam. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stir in 1 Tb salt, and cook until the beans are soft, about 1.5-2 hours. Stir occasionally.
  3. Drain the cooked beans, reserving the liquid for later use. 
  4. In a large (4 quart) oven-safe pot, sauté the bacon for a few minutes until the fat has been rendered (melted). Meanwhile, chop the onion.
  5. Add the onion to the pot and sauté in the bacon grease for about 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, chop the celery and carrots.
  7. Crumble the ground beef into the pot. Add the carrots, celery, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper.
  8. Brown the ground beef for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the ketchup, molasses, allspice, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Stir to combine.
  10. Sprinkle the sucanat over the meat and vegetable mixture. Stir in the ketchup mixture and 3/4 cup of the reserved bean liquid.
  11. Put a lid on the pot and bake at 300 degrees for about 1 hour 15 minutes. If the beans look too dry, stir in a bit more of the reserved bean liquid. Remove the lid from the pot for the last 15 minutes of baking. 
  12. Remove from the oven, stir the pot, and allow to cool a bit before serving. Marinated cabbage salad and/or fresh vegetables dipped in homemade ranch dressing pair well with this recipe.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Classic Chicken Soup (grain-free : gluten-free : nutrient-dense)

Soup is one of my favorite things about the cool months. I love how simple and nourishing soup can be, and how it can be a complete meal in one pot.  It seems like every year, there is one soup I keep coming back to again and again. This year it's Classic Chicken Soup.

Moist, tender chicken with lots of veggies and just enough salty broth - this is my favorite soup this year. My husband and daughter eat this soup just as it is, while my son and I often like to eat it with a scoop of nutrient-dense white rice added in. Either way, this Classic Chicken Soup is super simple and super yummy.

Classic Chicken Soup

  1. Chop the onion and celery. I always use my favorite Wusthof knife for chopping soup veggies.
  2. In a 4-quart, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter. Add the onions and celery, and a little sprinkle of salt. Saute for 8-10 minutes over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. A bamboo spatula works great for this step.
  3. Meanwhile, peel and chop the carrots. (I love my Rada vegetable peeler!)
  4. Add the carrots, chicken thighs, and broth to the pot.  Season with salt and pepper. I use about 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper and 1&1/2 Tb of salt (but use less salt if your broth is salted; my homemade broth is unsalted). Nestle the chicken thighs down into the broth and bring to a low boil.
  5. Skim off and discard any foam that rises to the top of the broth.  Then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer.
  6. Simmer for 35 minutes, until the chicken thighs are cooked through.
  7. In the meantime, slice the mushrooms. Cook the (optional) nutrient-dense white rice in a separate pot.
  8. Remove the chicken thighs from the pot and place in a large bowl to cool.
  9. Add the mushrooms to the soup pot. Taste the broth and adjust the salt/pepper as desired.
  10. Once the chicken has cooled long enough to handle easily, remove and discard most of the chicken skin. If you like boiled chicken skin, leave the skin on by all means. But I prefer to get rid of most of the skin at this point. (The dog is happy with my decision since it means he gets to eat chicken skin with his dinner.)
  11. Use a fork or your hands to remove the chicken from the bones.  (I save and freeze the chicken thigh bones until I have accumulated enough of them to make a pot of homemade chicken bone broth.)  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  12. Add the chicken back to the pot and cook just long enough to warm it through.
  13. Serve and enjoy! If desired, add a generous scoop of nutrient-dense white rice to each bowl.

What is your current favorite soup? Does your favorite soup change from year-to-year, like mine, or is it always the same?

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Daughter's Orthodontics - Three Year Update

I've received a few requests lately to post an update on my daughter's journey with her orthodontic treatment.  

My daughter, Alina, is almost 10 years old, and she's been using an orthodontic appliance for nearly 3 years. We started Alina's orthodontic treatment early so that we could make the most of her growing years. Rather than using braces, which are well known to not work very well in the long-term, we are using an orthodontic appliance designed to stimulate the palate and jaw to grow larger.

Despite a nutrient-dense diet, Alina's palate and jaw did not naturally develop large enough to accommodate her adult teeth. After researching alternatives to braces and talking with an excellent pediatric dentist who specializes in developmental orthodontics, we decided to use a plastic myofunctional appliance made by Ortho-Tain.

How Alina Uses Her Orthodontic Appliance

Alina wears her Ortho-Tain orthodontic appliance every night while she sleeps. Because we started her treatment early, she does not need to wear the appliance during the daytime at all (whereas if we had waited a few more years before starting, she would have needed to wear it at night as well as for a few hours in the daytime).  Alina tries to remember to bite down hard on her appliance a few times whenever she puts it in her mouth, to strengthen the muscles in her mouth and jaw and further encourage her palate to enlarge.

Alina has been very cooperative with this whole process and has done a fantastic job of wearing her appliance. Her orthodontist is very pleased with her progress and gives her all the credit for being the one to do the work of wearing the appliance and following his instructions.

Our Results From Three Years of Treatment

Over the course of her orthodontic treatment, Alina has progressed through three sizes of orthodontic appliance. This means that her palate and jaw have grown significantly so that she was able to progress to increasingly larger appliances. Currently, Alina has lost 8 baby teeth.  Based on the size of her adult teeth, the appliance Alina is currently using may be the last one she needs (but we will know more when she loses more of her baby teeth).

And now for the pictures!

Pre-treatment (April 2014) - Alina's baby teeth have no space between them (minus the one spot where she is missing a tooth)

February 2017 - Her beautiful smile, after almost 3 years of orthodontic treatment

There is more space for her adult teeth on the bottom now compared to in the last update I posted
There is plenty of room for all of her adult teeth thus far

For information about our journey into orthodontic care, check out the rest of the articles in this series:  


Have you tried any alternatives to conventional orthodontics? What were your results?

Monday, February 13, 2017

5 Things That Are Making My Life Easier

I wanted to share a list of a few things that are making my day-to-day life easier lately. Most of these aren't dramatically life-changing, but they are things that save me a little time and effort. #3 actually is a life-changer for me, and I'll describe more about that below.

1. Laundry Sorter

I do laundry throughout the week, so that it never turns into a huge, time-consuming job.  Until recently, we used a plain old laundry basket for our dirty laundry. Each time I was ready to start a load of laundry, I would have to spend a few minutes sorting out the laundry for the day. It wasn't a huge hassle, but I felt like there was room for improvement.

A few months ago, we splurged on a 4-section laundry sorter.  This may not seem like much of a splurge to many of you, but for me, spending over $30 on a non-essential laundry sorter seemed like a big deal.

But you know what? This laundry sorter was totally worth the money. It saves me a few minutes each day when I do laundry, and our closet is much tidier, too, without the inevitable piles of sorted laundry. I love the convenience of our new laundry sorter, and the 4 compartments help me in making sure our clothing colors keep looking as they should. (If there is interest, I could also blog about my system for laundry that keeps our colors looking good, spreads the workload throughout the week, and works well for my sensitive-skin family members.)

2. Larger Butter Dish

Nutrient-dense butter is an essential part of my family's healthy diet. In the winter months, especially, I find that KerryGold butter has the richest yellow color (and this color indicates the presence of nutrients, especially carotene and vitamin A).

Since KerryGold comes in a 1/2-pound block, previously, I had to cut the KerryGold butter in half in order to fit it in my butter dish. However, I received a lovely new butter dish for Christmas that is big enough to easily accommodate a full block of KerryGold butter. Now we can keep a 1/2 pound of butter on the counter and ready to easily spread on toast or muffins. This is one small convenience that is making my day-to-day life easier.


I've been using for several years now. I love that this site has high-quality, free yoga videos with excellent instructors, and I love that there is a great variety of videos available. There are many videos to choose from ranging from Beginner to Advanced, and from just a few minutes long to over an hour long.

I've been doing yoga once or twice a week for awhile now, but recently I was feeling a pull to make yoga a more-frequent part of my life. This year, DoYogaWithMe hosted a "Transform Your Life 30-Day Yoga Challenge". In completing the 30-Day Challenge, I learned that:
  • daily yoga is possible, even with my busy life,
  • it is worth it to make time to occasionally do full-length (60+ minutes) yoga classes, 
  • in addition to being good for my physical health, doing yoga frequently leads me to greater mental and emotional well-being, and
  • starting my day with yoga right after waking is a fantastic way to get me in a good mindset for the day ahead.
Even though the 30-Day Challenge is over, I've been continuing to do yoga every day, and it feels great!  I presume that there will eventually be days that I skip yoga, but for now, this is a habit that is enriching my daily life and making it easier for my life to feel balanced and whole.

4. Uber-Strong, Foldable Grocery-and-Errand Bags

Because I only grocery shop every two weeks, I tend to buy a whole cart full at a time. My reusable bags end up crammed full at the grocery store, or crammed full of library books, and with such heavy usage I tend to go through reusable bags fairly quickly. Many of the bags I have tried wear out and have to be thrown away in about a year.

About a year ago, I was gifted with a couple EnviroSax bags, and they are amazing! EnviroSax bags have a weight capacity of 44 pounds (!!), they easily fold up small enough to fit in my purse, they are beautiful, and they have held up without any signs of wear in the last year. I loved those bags so much that I asked for some more for Christmas, and was so happy to throw away my old bags (which were literally falling apart). My EnviroSax bags are now my go-to bags for groceries, library books, trips to the park, and more.

5. Knife Sharpener

Since I spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen, my knives get dull fairly often.  I've never taken the time to learn how to properly use a whetstone or rod knife sharpener, but thankfully I don't have to. We've been using a Wusthof 4-Stage Knife Sharpener for awhile now, and have had great results with it.

This knife sharpener works especially well for us because it has separate knife sharpeners for Asian and Standard knives. My beloved Santoku knife gets sharpened with the Asian sharpener, and the rest of our knives are sharpened with the Standard sharpener. This knife sharpener is very quick and easy to use, and it fits easily into a kitchen drawer.

Do you have any favorite products or websites that are making your life easier lately?

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Grain-Free, Nut-Free "Cornbread" Muffins (grain-free : nut-free : gluten-free)

My family is exploring the cuisine from different parts of the United States as part of our homeschool unit on the United States.  One common feature of the cuisine in the Southeastern USA is cornbread. Given that two members of my family have grain sensitivities, I decided to develop a new grain-free "cornbread" recipe. This recipe can't truly be called cornbread since it contains no corn, but it is a great grain-free alternative to cornbread that can be served alongside soups, chili, and beans.

In developing this grain-free cornbread recipe, I departed from my usual use of ground nuts for grain-free breads. Indeed, I have already developed a popular recipe for grain-free sandwich bread based around coconut flour and ground nuts, and that recipe has been likened to cornbread by quite a few.

In this new recipe, I was looking to create a lighter version of grain-free bread, so I based this recipe around tapioca flour, coconut flour, and arrowroot starch. I chose to add a little sugar to the recipe, to make this recipe more like my favorite cornbread which has a hint of sweetness. Because of the tapioca flour, this cornbread has a bit of springy texture, just like gluten-based breads, and the muffins hold together very well.

This recipe was an instant success with everyone in my family.  It makes a wonderful bread substitute to serve alongside a main course, and both of my kids have chosen to eat it at other times of day as well (such as for breakfast).  I like to serve this bread slightly warm with a pat of butter on top, just like I would serve cornbread.

Grain-Free, Nut-Free "Cornbread" Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat once melted.
  3. Combine the tapioca flour, coconut flour, arrowroot, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium-large bowl. Whisk to combine and break up any lumps.
  4. Lightly beat the eggs and milk kefir together with a fork. 
  5. Pour the egg/kefir mixture into the dry ingredients and beat well with a mixer. Add in the melted butter and beat until everything is well-incorporated.
  6. Line a muffin tin with paper cups. I like to use If You Care Unbleached Baking Cups because the muffins don't stick to them.
  7. Scoop the muffin batter into the muffin cups. A 3-Tb scoop works well for this.
  8. Bake the muffins at 350 F for about 23-27 minutes, until the tops are golden-brown.
  9. Allow to cool a few minutes. 
  10. Serve the muffins and enjoy! I like to top each muffin with a small pat of butter, just like real cornbread muffins.
  11. Refrigerate any leftovers and re-warm for a few minutes in a toaster oven before serving.

Do you enjoy cornbread? Do you have any favorite regional foods from the USA?

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Teaching Life of Fred Math, Including Tips for Teaching Children of Multiple Ages Concurrently

What is Life of Fred?

Life of Fred is an engaging story-based math curriculum spanning from elementary school all the way through university math courses such as calculus and statistics.  For the elementary years, Life of Fred includes ten books in the elementary series for 1st-4th grade and three books in the intermediate series for 4th to 6th grade. The beauty of Life of Fred as a math curriculum is that it is humorous and fun for kids.  Rather than focusing specifically on math concepts and then having the child work through problem after problem like a traditional math curriculum, Life of Fred instead weaves the math concepts into the story of Fred's days.

Fred is a 5-year-old math genius who teaches math at a university in Kansas. He lives with his doll Kingie in his office at the university. Although Fred is obviously precocious in math, he is lacking many other life skills and accordingly he often ends up in strange situations (such as when he adopts 30 dogs to save them from being euthanized, or when he ends up being swindled out of all of his money by a con-artist).  In addition to the math concepts, many other concepts are woven into Life of Fred books as well, such as the differences between carnivores and herbivores, details about the Orion constellation, and basic information about nutrition.

After each chapter of the book, there is a short section titled "Your Turn To Play".  This section generally includes a few math problems as well as other questions related to the content of the chapter. As the books move on from the earliest elementary books, "Your Turn to Play" also often includes a "Row of Practice" that can be used to reinforce the math facts (such as addition and subtraction facts).

a random page from one of the Elementary Series books


Our Experience With Life of Fred

We've been using Life of Fred in our homeschool for over 4 years. We are currently working through the 7th book in the elementary series.  My children LOVE Life of Fred.  They ask to read it often, they enjoy the math problems, and they find the bizarre storylines to be very entertaining. I use Life of Fred in addition to games, everyday math, and a few other math read-alouds for teaching elementary math without a traditional math curriculum.

spontaneous answer to the question, "What do you think of Life of Fred?"

My daughter will be 10 years old in March, and my son will be 7 years old in a couple weeks. Because my children are 3 years apart in age, their math comprehension is not at the same level. Instead of reading two different Life of Fred books to match up with their math skills, I just read one Life of Fred book at a time, continuing to progress through the books even though some of the math concepts have moved beyond my son's level.  That doesn't mean that my son doesn't get to learn math through Life of Fred; rather, I customize their experience with Life of Fred so that it works for both of them at the same time even though they are 3 years apart. 

Tips for Teaching Life of Fred to Children of Multiple Ages

When teaching Life of Fred to kids of multiple ages concurrently, I try to keep in mind three principles:
  • Avoid the Glaze
  • Inspire, Not Require
  • Customize the Math Problems


Avoid the Glaze

While my children generally love Life of Fred, sometimes there may be a math concept introduced that my kids are not ready to engage in. I can tell if a concept is a bit too abstract or complicated if I see the "glaze" on my kids' eyes.  For instance, in the early elementary books the author keeps bringing up the idea of cardinal numbers versus ordinal numbers.  This concept is one that I can tell my children are uninterested in or not ready for yet, as they get the "glaze" over their eyes whenever it is mentioned. I don't think this concept is important for them to know at their current ages, so I just skip over those parts and skip over any problems in "Your Turn to Play" that focus on that concept.  There is plenty of time for my children to learn about the cardinality of numbers as they get older (and, indeed, that same concept is introduced later in Life of Fred: Fractions, which is one of the middle school math books).

When reading Life of Fred to kids of multiple ages, sometimes the glaze will only be present in the younger children.  At those times when I note that my son's eyes are glazed over (or he seems otherwise uncomfortable) but his older sister is still engaged, I make sure to reassure him that this particular concept is just for his older sister, and that he'll be ready to learn about it later.  That gives him the confidence to be okay with not understanding the concept, and then I can proceed with teaching it to my daughter.

(As a side note: I think that avoiding the glaze is very important in other subjects in addition to math. Because I am endeavoring to create a Love of Learning in my children, the glaze is a signal for me to know when it is time to back off.  Sometimes the glaze just means that the student is tired and not ready to engage at that particular moment, but other times it means that I need to back off and wait a few months before coming back to that concept.) 

a random page from one of the Intermediate Series books

Inspire, Not Require

"Inspire, Not Require" is one of the 7 Keys of Great Teaching, and applying this principle to our math studies is a crucial part of keeping math enjoyable for my children. I know from previous experience that forcing academics in our homeschool is detrimental to creating a Love of Learning in my children. In applying the principle of "Inspire, Not Require" to our use of Life of Fred:
  • I don't require the children to participate in Life of Fred.  However, they enjoy it so much that they request it often.
  • Both of my children have had periods of time when they did not want to participate in the "Your Turn to Play" section at the end of the chapters. I've given them the freedom to choose whether or not to participate. When they choose not to participate, I just work out the answers to the problems on a dry erase board so they can observe.
  • I am working my way through my own math studies and reading math classics myself. I am working my way through the middle school Life of Fred books as a way to refresh my memory before jumping into the Life of Fred high school and university level math books. In this way, I am leading out by showing my children that math is important enough that I am willing to spend some of my free time brushing up my own math skills. When they see me working on my own math skills, it often inspires them to do the same.


Customize the Math Problems

When we get to the "Your Turn to Play" section at the end of each chapter, if both children have chosen to participate, my younger child gets first dibs at answering each question. If he declines a question (usually by saying "too tricky"), then his older sister gets to answer the question. Because I keep things light and fun, with no pressure, my son has no issue with saying that he can't do a particular problem. If there are no questions that I think would be appropriate for my son, I will make up a few so that he has a chance to participate.

Once we've worked through the questions, if there is a "Row of Practice" to do (for practicing math facts), my son will answer any that he can and the rest will go to his sister. In the books we are currently using, none of the problems are appropriate for my son, so I will make up a few problems for him to solve while his sister works through the problems from the book. In this way, both children are able to participate as much as they want to, and I am able to individualize their math lessons even though I am reading from only one math book for both of them.


How We Use Life of Fred

In case it is helpful, here is a run-down of how we use Life of Fred in our homeschool.
  • A few times per week, I read Life of Fred out loud while the kids eat breakfast. 
  • Because we do our morning chores right after breakfast, reading Life of Fred during breakfast gives us a nice little interlude of learning in the middle of our morning routine. This also helps to break up our school time into smaller chunks, which works better for keeping my children's attention.
  • Both of my kids like using small dry-erase boards to write out the answers to their math problems.
  • If neither of my kids feels like writing out the answers to their problems, or if their hands are too messy from eating, they will just answer the problems out loud.
  • Often, when they are done with their own problems, the children like to quiz me with math problems they come up with. They can come up with quite tricky problems for me to do, such as one where I had to use the order of operations and eventually ended up dividing 2,187 by 26,500. Sometimes they like to use calculators to check my answers. 
  • When there are periods of time during which my children aren't interested in me reading Life of Fred to them, I don't force it. I know that they will always come back to Life of Fred, and it's okay to take an occasional break.  Nonetheless, we've already made it through three Life of Fred books this school year.

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

26 World Picture Books

When I posted a list of our favorite world fairy and folk tales, I promised to also post a list of our other favorite picture books from our Homeschool World Trip.  These 26 picture books span 6 continents and 14 countries.  I have found picture books to be a wonderful way to engage my children in learning about other countries and cultures.


Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship is a sweet tale about a friendship between an elderly giant tortoise and an orphaned baby hippopotamus. My children loved reading about this unusual pair.

The Circle of Life: Wildlife on the African Savannah is a large, full color photography book filled with amazing photos. My children pored over this book, soaking in all of the details.


South Africa

The Dove is a story of a grandmother and granddaughter who are struggling to get by after a flood. My children loved hearing about the ingenuity of the granddaughter and how it was able to put food on the table.



Madeline has been an adored character for both of my children since they were toddlers. While we were "visiting" France, they loved re-hearing these classic stories of Madeline's life at a French orphanage ad her escapades in Madeline and the Gypsies. 

The Story of Babar tells of an orphaned elephant who runs away to live in Paris. My children giggled along as Babar decked himself out on clothes and learned how to fit into Paris society.


My children enjoyed seeing the sites of London in The Inside-Outside Book of London. It includes many of the popular sites, such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, as well as everyday places such as an umbrella shop and a bus.

Madeline in London continues the tale of Madeline and her friend Pepito, the son of the Spanish ambassador.  My children enjoyed this Madeline book just as much as the others, and it included sites of London that they were able to pick out as we read.

Out and About is one of my favorite children's books to read aloud. It includes short poems about everyday life in England, taking us through the seasons and showing many ways that kids can play outdoors. We especially love the illustrations in this book.


The Caribbean

The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle is a fascinating book that tells of how a mangrove seed floating in the ocean can create a habitat. This book was an excellent addition to our World Trip that showcased some of the Caribbean flora and fauna.


The Great Kapok Tree is a great book for discussing care of the environment with children. Both of my kids liked hearing the perspectives of the different creatures who relied on the kapok tree, and this book was a good addition to our study of Brazil.

Rainforest is a large book of full-color photographs of rain forest flora and fauna.  This photos in this book are breathtaking, and many of them offer up-close details that are amazing to look at. My children and I loved looking at this book.


Corn is Maize is a book that weaves together both science and culture.  This book details how corn grows as well as its uses by native peoples in the Americas.  This book gave my children a better understanding of this important food source while we studied Central America.




My children were fascinated by Family Pictures and In My Family. These two books show snippets of traditional Mexican life, ranging from birthdays to wedding celebrations to everyday family activities. The text is printed in both Spanish and English. 












Caribou Song is a book with striking illustrations that tells of a family and their experience with a herd of caribou. My children waited with bated breath to see if the children would be injured by the caribou, only to breathe a sigh of relief and joy as the magic unfolded.

Scaredy Squirrel is a germa-phobic, meticulous animal who tries to control all the risks in his world. This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious, and had my kids begging me to read it over and over again. The other books in the series have proven to be just as entertaining.





Are We There Yet? tells of a family's long road trip around Australia. My children liked learning about the different sites in Australia and had fun watching the family as they adjusted to life on-the-road.





The Perfect Sword tells of a master swordsmith and his apprentice, and their search for the right owner for the perfect sword they have created. This book served as a good character study for my children.

Kamishibai Man is the story of a man who performed paper theater for children, yet he was slowly made obsolete by up-and-coming technology.  In the end, the Kamishibai Man is once again telling a story, and this time there is a crowd ready to watch. This story was a nice reminder of the simple, beautiful life of the past. The illustrations in this book (as well as others by Allen Say) are gorgeous.

Tea with Milk tells of the author's mother, May, who lived in San Francisco as a young girl but then moved to her parent's native Japan.  Back in Japan, May felt out of place and homesick, caught between two cultures.  This interesting narrative captured the interest of my children as they watched to see what would happen to May and how she would finally find home.






The Littlest Matryoshka tells of a set of nesting dolls, created by a craftsman in Russia and eventually sold in the United States. The littlest nesting doll becomes lost and separated from the others, and my kids were so happy when she was finally reunited with the rest of her doll sisters.





The Empty Pot reads like a folktale of ancient China, weaving the story of Ping, a little boy who loves flowers. When the emperor sets a challenge in order to select the next emperor, Ping is not able to make his plant grow, and yet his courage and honesty show the emperor that Ping is the only one worthy of being the next emperor.

Daisy Comes Home is the story of Mei Mei and her six happy hens. The illustrations in Jan Brett's books are always a delight, and her entertaining stories are always a hit with my children. In this book, Daisy the hen is lost, and Mei Mei finally finds her and brings her back home. Both of my children love any books featuring chickens, since we have our own flock, and this book set in China was an interesting twist on the theme.




Same, Same But Different is a cute story, telling of penpals who learn about the many differences between life in India and life in the United States. The penpals find that, although their lives seem very different, they are also similar in many ways.

Finders Keepers? A True Story of India tells of the author's journey in India, wherein his lost wallet was returned to him by a young boy. The boy adamantly refused to accept any reward for returning the wallet, as the idea of accepting a reward for just being honest made no sense to him. I could see the gears turning in my children's heads while I read this book, as they thought about the deep lesson of doing right just because it was the right thing to do.

I hope this list of picture books is helpful in finding good resources to teach children about different places and cultures. Do you have any favorite world picture books?

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