Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vegan, Kosher, and Meaty Chili and Salad Buffet and Other Vegan Foods

Dear friends,

This past week, we had the immense pleasure of hosting my mother and my niece for several days.  We had a blast going to Sea World for two days, celebrating my grandson's birthday party, and more.  Of course, all of our fun also involved plenty of food, but the twist is that my niece is a vegan.  She doesn't eat any animal products, such as meat, milk, eggs, honey or any of their byproducts.  So I took a visit to Aldi to see what I could find, and we also bought a lot of food at Walmart and Publix after she arrived. 

The first night, I planned a chili buffet and invited the whole family, including my adult daughters and their families.  We kept almost all of the ingredients a la carte so people could choose what they were able to eat. This doubled for good kosher options, too, since my oldest daughter's family eats a minimal-meat semi-kosher Mediterranean diet.  Our chili fixings were seasoned chili beans, black beans, diced tomatoes, garlic spaghetti sauce, sauteed peppers and onions -- as well as non-vegan ground beef, baked beans with bacon, and shredded cheddar cheese.  We set out salad ingredients like spinach, romaine lettuce, carrots, croutons, and sliced cucumber.  The girls also made a fresh fruit salad with green apples, peaches, pineapple, etc.  We let each guest butter their own french bread as desired, since butter is non-vegan.  For drinks, we made lemonade and added in some Tazo peach tea.

My grandson loves his meatless chili, fresh fruit, and French bread.
We had lots of leftovers to put away in the fridge.
It's a good thing we have stackable Rubbermaid!

We dipped into these for snacks a few times while she was here,
then mixed all of the chili stuff together for dinner tonight.

Another night my niece fixed herself a Boca burger
and made one for me too.  It was good,
and so much less fat than a beef hamburger!

Not all veggie burgers are vegan.  Some have egg in them.
You have to look at the ingredient list.
When we were at Sea World eating in a restaurant,
we had to ask for the ingredient list when ordering.
Yes, the Garden Burger is vegan.
Fresh produce can be expensive,
but it is pretty affordable at Aldi.

Soy milk, almond milk and cereal for breakfast.
She also ate a lot of peanut butter on flat bread, 

as well as vegan protein bars like the Lemon Zest Luna Bar.
When we went to my grandson's birthday party, 
my daughter offered ice cream made from coconut milk 
for the vegan option.
For sweets, Oreos are now vegan.  Yum! 

Snack foods!
I had to check the labels of all of the packaged foods

to make sure they didn't have any meat, egg, dairy, or honey
hiding in the ingredient lists.  Some crackers have milk or cheese in them.
The vegetable chips were scrumptious, especially
with salsa or with red pepper or chipotle hummus.
We ate a lot of mixed nuts and cashews, too.
The girls made a salad and veggie dinner one night.
The chips are Pringles multi-grain,
served with red pepper hummus.

Not all of the salad dressings are vegan - 
certainly not the creamy ranch!

Artistically served!
There you have it -- a little healthy hospitality!  It really doesn't take that much extra effort to accommodate our menus to the special dietary needs of our guests, and I think it lets them know we care and that they are welcome in our homes.  For another post on vegetarian hospitality, in this case for international student guests who are Hindu, read Our Thanksgiving Indians.  If you'd like to read another post featuring hummus (with directions for making it from scratch) and decorative salads, here you go: Love, Love, Baby Love and Food Love, Too!   For other buffet style meals, see: Baked Potato Night and Other Buffet Meals at the Knowles House.

For healthier eating (at least some of the time!)

Virginia Knowles

Linking at:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Busy Summer for Mom: Organization, Education, and Fun

Dear friends,

I was thinking of calling this post, "Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig" since some of my kids were in public school this year and now they are home again for the summer.  But then I realized that a lot of moms who read this blog are home schooling all of their children, and it would be more like, "Home Still, Home Still, Jiggety Jig."  Not quite the same effect, eh?  
Anyway, here we are at summertime, and as much as I would like to do nothing except piddle around at my leisure, there is stuff to do and, as the mom, I'm the one to get it rolling.  Here are a few things that moms like me have to cram in, along with some helpful web sites...

Keep kids' brain waves active. This includes reading for pleasure, going on field trips, learning a new skill through hands-on projects, sharpening their techie skills on the computer, or reviewing basic academic skills.  For the latter, some of us have unfinished curriculum left over from the regular school year that can tide us over, or you can buy a colorful workbook from Sam's Club or your teacher supply store.  Then there is also educational software, either on-line (much of it free) or on CD-ROM.  There are still plenty of educational shows on PBS, too, as well as a closet full of educational videos.
Wading in Lake Lily
Make sure the kids get in enough outdoor time for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.  I am quite content to have them play outside with neighbors, ride their skateboards, dig around in the yard (as long as they fill their holes and wipe their feet).  It would be nice if the digging included planting a garden, but maybe that's  a bit ambitious right now.  Sure sounds noble, though.  We can go to local parks and playgrounds, too. I said we'd spend a lot of time at the YMCA this summer, but I haven't been really good at that yet.  If you can't afford a YMCA membership, you can apply for a scholarship based on income and family size.

    Take some trips as a family, or send the kids on them.  Two of our boys are at church camp in North Carolina right now, two of the younger kids are going to VBS day camp at church next month, and one daughter is flying out to San Francisco for several days with my mom and my niece.  We'll tuck in a beach trip or two, and maybe head out to Rock Springs to go tubing.  One of my daughters is a Disney employee, so she's been taking her brothers and sisters in free two or three at a time.  There are all sorts of freebie and cheap activities in our area.

    Plan ahead for the next school year.  For me this means, first of all, deciding who is going where, whether it is home school co-op or public school.  It's not set in stone yet, which is sort of unsettling for me.  I used to be a "over my dead body will my kids go to public school" sort of mom, especially since I've home schooled 10 kids over a 20 year period, and I've written the books and blogs about it.  But when the time came for some of them to go, public school was a Godsend, and I really have no major complaints about our experience. It's different for each family, actually even each child, each year.  I just wish I already knew exactly what to do this next year. Oh well.  At some point in the next few weeks, I'll just have to take whatever wisdom and insight I have (after consulting with husband, children, and other trusted peeps) and call it like I see it.  As I learned last year, you can put kids into public elementary school after the year starts or pull them out before it ends.  I did both -- one starting in November, two starting in January, and one back out in April. I do know I am teaching an English class in our home school co-op, so I need to finish picking out the books we will use.  I will also compile a list of all of the curriculum my own kids will need so we can get it ordered on time for classes.  If we were not doing the co-op, I would have even more fun planning my own history unit studies.  I loved the year we took off to just do our own thing, but unfortunately I can't do that this time.  

    Make adjustments for special needs.   You will have to plan your school options extra carefully if you have children with learning disabilities or mental health issues such as dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, OCD, Down Syndrome, autism spectrum, auditory processing disorders, speech/diction difficulties, visual tracking problems, sensitivities caused by food allergies, etc.  You might not even be aware that there is a problem or just be chalking it up to general quirkiness, but try to clue in to the symptoms and do your research. Don't hesitate to get extra help from an educational consultant or counselor.  If you don't have insurance and can't afford counseling, speech therapy, or opthamology that your child really needs in order to succeed, I strongly encourage you to apply for Medicaid or, in Florida, the state-subsidized Kid Care insurance.  Even if you home school, you can often get special ed services like speech therapy a la carte through the public schools.

    Make appointments with doctors, dentists, counselors, educational consultants, etc.  This is prime time to get it done.  Next week we have seven appointments in a three day period, and that's not even everything we need to do. 

    Archive or discard last year's school papers and workbooks. Whether it was from home schooling or from public school, we don't need to keep it all.  After 20 years of school with 10 kids, we simply can't keep it all. This paper wrangling has been a huge job for me, and I've given up on doing it like a perfectionist, having everything in chronological and subject order.  Unless it is something they personally want to look at later, like an interesting history or science study, I just pull it all out of their notebooks and folders, throw away anything I don't think I'll need for an official paper trail, and stuff the rest into big brown 9x12 envelopes.  Then I'll find a box or bin to stash it in and put it in the storage room.

    Art supply shelf
    (missing a few bins)
    Organize the house, room by room. I have especially been working on media like books, DVDs & VHS tapes, photo albums (digital or print), CD-ROMs.  I finally set up a desk for myself, which you can read about here: A Desk for Mom.  In our dining / resource room, I moved the art supplies and drawing books to a different set of shelves to make them accessible.  (Each kind of item -- colored pencils, crayons, markers, stencils, colored paper, decorative edged scissors, etc -- has its own bin, but sometimes they disappear to other rooms.) The books are a never ending challenge around here, especially with a six year old who is still in the extreme scattering stage.  Do I still really need all of those (over a thousand?) books anymore?  Those full bookcases organized by subject are a home school mom's pride and joy, but I'm just not feeling that compulsion to keep all of it.  I want to simplify and only keep what we will really use rather than just stand there and admire it and yet feel guilty that we're not reading all of it and probably never will.  We've been buying more clothes at thrift stores lately, too, so I need to go through our old stuff and get rid of or store a lot of it.   Some web sites and my blog posts about home organization:

    Revamp the chore schedule and work on other responsibilities like personal hygiene.  I made a handy chart for each child so they can earn an allowance for the first time -- but we have (pitifully) pretty much forgotten to check it off.  Maybe we'll get the hang of it.  I'm great for making plans and charts and lists, and not always so great about following through.

    I hope this has been helpful and not too overwhelming.  Frankly, I feel overwhelmed just thinking about all I still need to get done in less than two months left of summer with my wild and crazy kids.  And maybe that's where you are too, or maybe if not you, someone you know.  Maybe you can help them out. Maybe someone can help you out.  Sit and talk about curriculum, scheduling, learning disabilities and/or family dynamics.

    As for me, I am taking my summer step by step, a little here, a little there.  Yes, I have to keep with the school prep and laundry and cooking and child training (and retraining) and all of the other daily stuff, but I'm also trying to give myself a chance to breathe and relax before I plunge headlong into the full school schedule of autumn. I'm looking forward to my mom and niece arriving this evening for almost a week, and all of us celebrating my grandson's birthday party this weekend.  I'm looking forward to flying up with one of my daughters to a family reunion and seeing a lot of my sweet relatives in Maryland and Pennsylvania next month.  Bright spots mean a lot.

    In the middle of everything, I am especially trying to renew my hope, enthusiasm, clarity, and vision for mothering and home schooling.  How about you?

    Virginia Knowles

    Tuesday, June 19, 2012


    Mom: "Would you like some cuddle time, sweetie?" 

    Melody: "No, but I want some chocolate!" 

    Yes, she likes to eat.
    It's a compliment from her to be compared to food.

    Melody: "Mommy, you're my Cinnamon Donut Roll!"

    Mom: "You need to go in your room and clean up." 

    Melody: "Would you stop talking about cleaning my room? I'm getting stressed!"

    Melody, impatiently waiting to use my iPod: 
    "You're going to take hours.  By that time, we'll be old people!"

    What does she do with my iPod?
    She takes these silly pictures of herself...

    From my daughter Rachel: "Melody is a teacher today."

    Melody: "Do you want to do minus or expedition? 
    It's called expedition because it has an 'X' in it." 

    Rachel: "You mean multiplication?" 

    Melody: "Yeah. Mupticilation."

    Other posts in my Melody Moments series:

    With a Melody in my heart,
    Virginia Knowles

    Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    Sunlight in Storms

    Hello friends!

    It's "sunlight" week at the P52 Photo Project but I'm taking a little different twist in that I'm not taking a picture of a sunny day.  Life isn't always sunny.  Storms blow in unexpectedly, as is the case in this series of pictures.  Even though it is getting dark because of night and storm, there is still light, and it is sunlight.  I like to think of that when life is getting rough and dark.  There is still light from God. I just have to look for it and try to see by it.

    I had driven my boys down to Baldwin Park for youth group and spent the next couple of hours in Subway munching on cookies and reading.  The sun was setting by the time I picked them up a little after 8, but you couldn't really see it because a storm was suddenly rolling in.  I loved the dramatic lighting, so the first shot was taken in the parking lot adjacent to the church office. 

    A few minutes later, I pulled over next to Lake Baldwin to snap a few more pictures.  The lightning flashed in  the distance, but I wasn't able to capture any of it on my iPod, which doesn't "do" that kind of light well anyway.  This is a beautiful place to walk in better weather, with a path all the way around.  I think it's about 3 miles?

    This photo is almost impressionistic in its style.
    I like the way the tree branches seem to be reaching up,
    cradling the leaves.

    Just minutes later, the rain poured down.  I like the effect of the water and light through the windshield, courtesy of the iPod, which like I said before, doesn't "do" light well.
    By the time we got home,
    just 20 minutes after leaving Baldwin Park,
    the rain torrents made driving visibility almost zero.
    The photo quality is technically terrible,
    but I still like the effect of light and shape.

    Our sideyard walkway, so wet and dark that
    I can barely make out where to step.

    My husband took this picture of a
    normal sunset of Lake Baldwin the next day.
    He texted it to me and I set it as my wallpaper.
    He knows how much I like sunsets and clouds. Pretty!

    While we're doing sunsets, just three more pictures I took on June 1.  My husband and I went out to dinner at Jason's Deli and shot the first two photos from the parking lot afterwards.  Yes, that is a rainbow in the first one!  The third one is from the Sam's Club parking lot when we stopped for gas; the reflection in the foreground is from a puddle and in the background is ReStore (a thrift store operated by Habitat for Humanity

    If you would like to see more sunset with clouds and lake pictures, click here: Weekend Gratitude: Lake Sybelia at Sunset, Lake Lily at Dusk.

    While we're talking about storms, I ran across two articles I wrote years ago about handling crises in life.  They are good encouragement for me right now.  Here the links with short excerpts from each:

    Preparing Our Children for the Storms of Life"The storms of life will come and go, but will your child be prepared or be blown away? In some ways, home schooling shelters children from many storms of life – appropriately so!  In other ways, it can prepare them to be even more effective in dealing with challenging and disappointing situations.  This process takes effort on the parents’ part as they try to discern the balance of sheltering and preparing." 

    Tough times? 

    "Enduring tough times can enable us to connect more completely with those around us, either because we are finally desperate enough to ask for help or because we finally understand enough about their struggles to show a little extra compassion. There are new choices, too… We can stop placing such stringent expectations on others, and instead guard against our own unhealthy reactions toward those who disappoint us. We can humble ourselves enough to seek God's guidance, rather than just plowing ahead with whatever solution seems most efficient at the moment. We can survive with less clutter and start to appreciate simple blessings. Our lives can become less compulsive and more compelling. We can become real, authentic, sincere people, rather than cold, hard, shallow shells. We can allow ourselves to feel and grieve and then move on, instead of covering it all over with a superficial happy face. That's when the deeper peace and joy come along -- as the inner calm right in the middle of the tempestuous storm." 

    Grace to you in the middle of it all,
    Virginia Knowles

    This post will be linked Saturday morning (June 16) at: