Homeschool Series Part II: Why We Homeschool and It Works for Us

In my last post, I talked about how we have freedom in our education choices and should choose carefully what we feel is best for our families. I’m attempting to answer the popular question I get asked, “Why did you decide to homeschool?” in perhaps a round-about way.  One reason it can be hard for me to answer that question is because the reasons my husband and I decided to homeschool in the first place are not necessarily the same reasons we continue to do so. We’ve only been at this for a few years and are by no means experts, but I think our attitudes and beliefs about homeschooling have already evolved from when we first started even thinking about it.

When my husband and I were engaged and I was finishing up my student teaching in my last semester of college, he told me that if we had kids he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom and wanted us to homeschool. I adamantly disagreed on both accounts. I was finishing my degree and I planned to use it! I also didn’t know much about homeschooling but my initial thoughts were something like: weird and unusual and why would I do that? Randy’s main reasons for wanting to homeschool had to do with having a negative school experience himself, wanting his kids to know and believe the Bible before anything else, and his political leanings. Being a libertarian, he tends to want to stay as far away from heavily government funded/influenced institutions as he can. I thought he needed to chill.

For me, I never thought much about how I planned to educate my kids. I guess I assumed they would go to public school like I did. Just like I never thought much about whether I would breast or bottle feed, or what I planned to name my children… until I actually became pregnant and was forced to start really thinking about these things. And though I was against homeschooling at first, over time I can say that God changed my heart. Although I loved my job and was really passionate about teaching ESL, when I became pregnant with my first child, I had an overwhelming desire to stay home with her. At the time this was out of reach. I continued working full-time until my second child turned one, but my desire to stay home never left and I started clinging to the idea of homeschooling because if Randy wanted it to happen so bad, I was sure he’d find a way to make it financially possible. And though I don’t want to get into all the details here, as a public school teacher, I saw so many flaws in the system that homeschooling continued to appeal to me. (It’s not that I don’t care about the education of all children or that I felt that my kids would really suffer in the public school system, but my heart and mind were being softened to the desire my husband already had for our family.) Homeschooling would mean getting to teach the way I wanted and giving my kids a quality education that centered around love, family, Biblical principles, and hands-on learning. So those might be the reasons we had in mind when we agreed to pursue homeschooling, but why do we continue?

Why DO we homeschool?

The first and simple answer for me is… I just love it. For a while, I didn’t think this could “count” as an answer. It doesn’t seem legitimate. But isn’t it? If I can give my kids as good, if not a better education at home, shouldn’t I first WANT to do it? These days, it’s not a popular opinion to love being around your kids. But I seriously do. It’s not that they don’t drive me crazy at times or tire me out; but in general, I really love spending my days with them.

My kids get a one-on-one (kind of), tailored-to-them education that is fun for all of us. They might not consider everything we do fun, because there is an element of work and rigor, of course. However, we get to do hands-on experiments, outdoor exploration, crafting, reading aloud, and kitchen learning that my kids don’t necessarily consider “school”, but I know better. 😉

Another reason homeschooling really works for us now, that we couldn’t have predicted back when we began, is that our family schedule has become unique and not at all what we envisioned when we first started a family. My husband isn’t home for dinner Monday through Friday. We used to say that we would always make family dinners a top priority in our family. But now it’s family breakfast. And quite frankly, I’m not sure our breakfasts would be able to be as leisure and meaningful as they are if we all had to run our separate ways early in the morning. Homeschooling allows us to have real family time in the morning so that if the kids can’t see Daddy before bed, it’s not as big of a let down. Homeschooling allows us freedom to be flexible with our schedules in other ways–to go shopping in the morning when stores aren’t as crowded, to take field trips at discounted rates on “homeschool days”, to take vacations on “off” weeks, or go out for lunch somewhere along Daddy’s route so we can have a family lunch out! And because the rigorous parts of school don’t take quite as long when you’re working one-on-one or one-on-two, we have way more time to explore other interests. Noah borrows books on outer space from the library, and Abby is working on writing her second “book” in a series. (Yes, she is quite an ambitious little girl… look out, world!)

Finally, homeschooling forces us to do family devotions and Bible learning. I am confident that we would want to do family devotions even if our children were being educated outside of the home. But I wonder how difficult it would be–especially with our unique family schedule. We use a curriculum that builds Bible learning into the schedule and weaves it into the other subjects whenever possible. So when we have our family breakfasts we do family devotions. This year in kindergarten, each unit that Noah studies focuses on a letter of the alphabet that stands for something God made. He is learning about God’s creation, A-Z. In second grade, Abby’s Bible theme is the different names of Jesus and she has a new memory verse every other week. She also gets her own devotional from time to time to do just with me or independently, but I am very grateful that our core Bible learning is already planned out for me and we have time in our day to fit it.

Now that I’ve made homeschooling sound so appealing… (right?!)… HOW exactly does it work? What do our days actually look like? And who is this Charlotte Mason woman I applaud so much and why was she so great? That’ll be in my next post, part three. 🙂

Here we are getting ready for breakfast during the first week of school this year. Everyone had a name card that had the meaning of their name on it and Abby got a new Bible.

 

 

Homeschool Series Part I: We Have Freedom (and Responsibility) in Education Choices

I’ve wanted to write about our decision to homeschool for a while. It’s a question that often gets asked, “What made you decide to homeschool?” And I wish I didn’t struggle so much with how to answer it. So maybe the process of writing it out will help me form a better verbal response the next time someone is curious. But I also want to share the joy and beauty of homeschooling with anyone who might be looking at their kids’ education options. I don’t think homeschooling is the only or always best option, but I do think it’s a great one! And I definitely can’t fit all I want to share about homeschooling in one blog post. So I’ve decided to create a 3-part series on homeschooling. The common thread through this series (besides homeschooling itself) is that we have FREEDOM in the choices we make in how we educate our children. So I hope you will find this encouraging and maybe even a little enlightening.

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The main reasons I often struggle to answer the question about why we decided to homeschool is because I’m afraid of being judged and I fear others will think I’m judging them. But this fear is not rooted in Christ. Because of the Gospel, we have freedom to make many different choices; we are no longer bound by the law. As Christians, sometimes when we’re passionate about something, (without necessarily meaning to) we can turn it into a sin-issue in our minds, even if it isn’t one. Both Jesus (Matthew 15) and the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10) reminded us that we cannot be made “unclean” by what enters our body, but only by what comes out of our hearts and minds. I think the decision we make about formally educating our children is a lot like this. It is not a sin to choose one way or the other, though sometimes we judge each other as if it were. And though we have this freedom in Christ, it also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility to weigh our options carefully and choose what will be best for our family and children. And in a way, we all have the responsibility to “homeschool” our children, but I’ll get into that more later. First, I’d like to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding homeschooling and some of the reasons we worry about judgment…

Because we’re Christians, it is often assumed that my husband and I are trying to shelter our kids from the “evil public schools”, or that we think all Christians should be homeschooling their kids if they can. Neither of these are true. In fact, because my husband and I are Christians, we know that the only thing that can save our kids is Christ. And that because of the Gospel, we have freedom to choose the kind of education we feel is best for our children–because we believe that God works in all education modalities and there isn’t one that is best for all. Just like sharing a hobby one loves with others, I want to share the joy of homeschooling with others, but this doesn’t mean I think everyone should be doing it or should even want to. God made us all unique and all of our children unique, and that is a beautiful thing!

On the flip side, sometimes it is wrongfully assumed that homeschoolers are not doing their part to help take care of their community, or we receive judgment for not “adequately exposing” our kids to the diversity around us. But there are several ways homeschoolers can and do support public schools and help take care of their community. We donate supplies, participate in community activities, financially support community programs, and some families even volunteer their time at local schools as a family. And it’s also important to point out that exposure to diversity does not automatically equal loving kindness to one’s neighbors. That needs to be taught and can be cultivated in a variety of settings, not just a public school. Don’t get me wrong, homeschooling is difficult and does take a lot of time to prepare and can cause us to focus a lot of our attention inward while we’re working so hard for our families. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have a responsibility to our community, as well.

Are public school teachers and homeschoolers on the opposite side of the education aisle? Can we even be friends? Of course we can! And if we have the best interests of children in mind and desire a strong education for all kids, we are very much on the same side. Rather than judging or condemning each other, we should be praying for and supporting one another. As a former public school teacher, I can certainly speak to the fact that teachers need our prayers! They need prayers for grace, patience, wisdom, guidance, and stamina. And they covet prayers for their students, too. Homeschooling families need prayers for much of the same. The parent/teacher/child/student relationship can be a tricky one to navigate.

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I mentioned earlier that as parents, we all have a responsibility to “homeschool” our children. We have freedom to choose whatever mode of formal education we deem best for our family, a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. But we have the responsibility to educate our children about God’s laws, His Word, His Son, and also the things of this world, no matter where they are going to get their academic education.  We need to have an open line of communication with our kids so we can be aware of the influences in their life and set an example of what a humble servant of Christ looks like. And if we are teaching our children about these things as we should be; in a sense, we are all “homeschoolers.”

So with all this freedom we have to choose whatever kind of education we want for our kids, why on earth would anyone choose to be the one to do all the planning, prepping, and teaching math, science, history, reading, and keep their kids home all day when a bright, beautiful, yellow school bus could come and take them away for six hours a day??? I’ll get into why and how homeschooling works for our family in my next post…

10 Goals for a Year of Homeschooling

I was a little aghast when I logged onto my blog site to see that my last post was dated April 18! I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been THAT long! I never even wrote about our final author study from last school year or concluded my series on our studies. I have pictures of recipes I planned on recording here, as well, which never happened. I have no profound reason for this other than four small children, the busyness of finishing our school year plus wrapping up my work at our church. I hope to write more this year about food, homeschool, and life but I’m not making it an official goal because my goals this year revolve more around DE-stressing, not adding more to my plate. 🙂 So let’s just say hopefully you’ll hear from again soon and on a more regular basis, although I’m making no promises.

I wanted to start our school year by recording some of my goals for the year, so here I am. These aren’t academic goals for my children, these are goals for me as their teacher, and our school year in general. So hopefully when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or discouraged, I can come back to this and remind myself what I set out to do at the start. And if they provide any other homeschool mamas with ideas, encouragement, or wisdom, then I’ll be doubly blessed.

Goals for My Homeschool Year

  1. Connect with my children. We [loosely] follow a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling for the most part. She was a HUGE advocate for getting to know the children you are educating and treating them like people with opinions of their own. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the time you get to spend with your kids. I would be squandering that gift if I let our days pass by simply trying to get stuff done and not paying attention to what my kids are thinking, feeling, exploring, and learning. I do not want to sacrifice this grand opportunity to really get to know my children in order to finish the page, book, lesson for the day.
  2. IMG_20180819_071453058Schedule “margin” into my routine. I’m a planner. It’s pretty easy for me to set a routine and it’s not too difficult for me to stick to it. But what I don’t do often enough is schedule the “margins.” I’m learning to do this with time it takes to get ready or get somewhere. With four young kids, I’ve learned that it will take more time than I think it should to get out the door. So I plan for that. It’s a little bit harder to do with my school schedule, but my goal is to get better at it this year. Then I don’t have to get frustrated when a math lesson takes longer to complete than I expected. My kids sense my frustration, which leads to them feeling like they failed or at least, let me down. By scheduling “margin”, I hope to avoid (or lessen) these feelings of frustration on both ends.
  3. Remember to re-evaluate. This year will be my first year following an official curriculum for more than one child. My son has always been able to sit and listen in on his big sister’s schooling, and he has had his own little books to complete as well. But this year he’s more “official” and I’m a little nervous. So I want to remember to re-evaluate periodically. I need to re-evaluate our schedule to make sure both kids are getting the amount of time with me they need. I’ll need to re-evaluate our days, and maybe even our curriculum. I never want to become too set in my ways that my children suffer simply because I’m trying so hard to make something work that just isn’t working.
  4. Remember that I have nothing to prove. This is a tough one. The homeschool world has come a long way and so has acceptance of the idea. But in many cases, homeschooling is still considered unconventional. This leaves many homeschool mamas feeling like they have to prove they made the right decision. We feel like we have to prove that our kids are learning just as much, if not more, than traditionally educated children. We feel like we have to prove that they’re “being socialized” enough. And we have to prove that our children are enjoying every single day of this homeschool journey and THAT’S what makes it so “worth it.” But the reality is, not every day is a joyful journey. Just like anyone else’s school days, some are good, some are better, and some are pretty terrible. And you know what? My children’s and my identities are rooted in Christ alone, not other people’s perception of our homeschool. And I believe that He called my husband and I into this particular education style.  I do think that parents should weigh the education options they have and if they have a choice, choose the one they feel will be best for their kids and family. But we all have freedom in that choice because of the Gospel. WE are not our children’s saviors and homeschooling is not going to “save” my kids… from anything. (Other than maybe having to wait in the snow for the bus to come! One of the many things I love about this choice.) 😉 Only God can do that. So I need to remember that all of this is for His glory; not mine, and not my kids’.
  5. Be flexible. I should really try to be more flexible in all areas of life, but particularly IMG_20180820_124821840the homeschool front. I recently read Sarah Mackenzie‘s book, Teaching from Rest, and loved every minute of it! Along with the idea of scheduling in margin, another thing I gleaned from the book was to be flexible with my plans because #1: they may not be God’s plans and therefore, don’t matter; and #2: who can predict exactly what will happen over the course of the year/month/week/day??? A recent example of this was the way we started our school year. I had planned on starting with Abby (2nd grade) on Monday, August 27. Noah would start kindergarten on September 4. But then we were invited to a lake with a homeschool group for August 27 and the weather for that day and the following days looked gorgeous. And it just so happened that the week prior, our van was in the shop and the weather was pitiful. So Abby and I had a “soft start” a week early while we were stuck inside and didn’t make it a big to-do like the first day of school usually is. That freed us up to enjoy the next week outside and with friends. It wasn’t what I planned the beginning of our school year to look like, but it was definitely for the better. I hope I can continue adjusting with such ease as the school year progresses.
  6. Read-aloud ALL THE TIME. Okay, so this honestly stresses me out just a little bit. That’s because there are SO MANY great options for read-alouds and there is absolutely no way we can get to all of them! Right now, I’m reading 3 different chapter books aloud to my children. Abby is reading her own chapter book (and frequently requests to read chapters aloud to the rest of us) and I have 2 books going on my own. Not to mention the picture books we read before Emmalyn and Eli’s nap times. It is overwhelming, but in the best way. We are so fortunate to have so much great literature at our fingertips. I know I can’t get to every single great “classic”, so I’m not going to make that a goal. It would turn into a list I felt I had to follow and I’d stop re-evaluating and being flexible with our reading time in lieu of checking books off a list, and I don’t want that to happen! So I just want to read aloud as often as possible and make sure we are never without some interesting book to immerse ourselves in!IMG_20180812_191552991
  7. Pray always. This is another continuous “goal for life” that almost goes without saying. But sometimes it doesn’t, so I wanted to make sure I did. 😉 (Did you get that?) I want to make sure my plans align with God’s plans for my family and our schooling, so I need to stay connected with him. And while it’s easy to remember to turn to Him for the big things, sometimes I overlook the little things that could easily turn into big things if I don’t give them to God first.
  8. Get enough rest. I’m talking about me, here. I’m useless to the children I’m supposed to be caring for and teaching if I’m staying up too late planning, reading, or watching TV and not getting enough sleep. Even though I’ve always known I needed it, this has never been easy for me. So I’m making it a goal to make sleep a priority.
  9. Put the phone away. I have seriously cut back on screens for myself and my kids lately. It’s usually not that hard to do when the weather is nice. But specifically, I haven’t had Facebook on my phone in months and I really limit my log-ons these days. I love it. Days that I don’t go on Facebook at all are the best days. And take a look at goal number 6! How do you think we have time to read all those books? We’ve also been playing a lot more board games lately, which we love. But my phone can still be a hindrance to school time if I’m texting a friend, checking email, or hopping on Instagram. And since I no longer need it for work purposes throughout the day, it goes in the bedroom behind a closed door during school. We have enough distractions with the little ones running around, I don’t need to add to them myself.
  10. Take regular “field trips.” This year we’re studying U.S. History in 2nd grade and I feel so fortunate to live in New England during this time! Such small states so close together, and lots of American history right in our own backyard! So this is a more year-specific goal, but I want to take full advantage of our flexible schedule and prime location. I’m excited for a great school year!

Pictures from our lake day on what would’ve been our first day of school. So glad we opted for flexibility! 🙂

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I’m so glad she’s developed such a strong love of reading!

1st Grade Author Study: Patricia Polacco

I adore Patricia Polacco’s books! I think the first one I every read (as an adult, anyway) was Thunder Cake. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to read it to my children and then actually go through the process of making the cake ourselves. There are many things I love about homeschooling, but one of the biggest is that my kids and I get to experience things (books, in particular) together. We are not limited by such tight schedules and other constraints. So when a book has a recipe included or a fun activity, we can make it!

With this author study, I wanted to focus on the journal aspect of the unit. Most of Polacco’s books are about her own life. This gave me the opportunity to really highlight the skill of “making connections” while reading. (Fellow teachers, this unit is a “Text-to-Self”, “Text-to-Text”, and “Text-to-World” paradise!) So rather than do cross-curricular activities or “cutesie” crafts with each book, we simply journaled about the stories after we read them. The reflections in my author study journals have always been the same. But in our past units, we have glossed over some of the questions or didn’t do a journal response to every book because I didn’t want to bog Abby down with the weight of them. But now we’re near the end of 1st grade and she’s capable of more mature thinking and her writing stamina has increased greatly!

Some of Polacco’s books deal with more serious situations and many of them are suitable for upper elementary students. (The Lemonade Club is a good read and about two characters struggling with cancer, Thank You, Mr. Falker deals with some severe bullying.) But I liked that Abby and I could talk about these topics through the lens of story plot and literature. Some of the books we read and enjoyed include: My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother, Chicken Sunday, The Lemonade Club, Babushka’s Doll, An “A” From Miss Keller, Thank You Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, and more! Here is the link to the printable author study journal I created: Polacco Author Study Journal Pages

Of course we made a “thunder cake” according to the recipe in the book, but there was no thunder when we made it, so it wasn’t genuine. Ha! Abby also has plans to make a “keeping quilt” with her Mimi–we’ve already picked out the photos for it! This was a fun study and Polacco’s unique, auto-biographical style brought a fresh perspective to the the collection of authors we’ve studied thus far.

If you want to take a look at any of the author studies we’ve done this year and get free printable downloads, click the links: Eric Carle, Laura Numeroff, Jan Brett, Dr. Seuss

Mission Accomplished: Leftovers

 

I’ve never been one to eat leftovers. I don’t really enjoy microwaving old food, even if it “reheats well.” But I also have a propensity to cook way too much food for a meal! (I’m hoping this trait pays off when I have 4 teenagers in the house.) These two characteristics of mine don’t exactly “gel.” Luckily, my husband has always loved eating leftovers and will feed them to the kids, too. But now that our evenings are getting busier with extra curricular activities, leftovers are becoming a regular and essential part of our dinners. Sometimes the meal can just be reheated on its own (a big pan of baked sausage rigatoni needs only to be thrown back into the oven for a bit and maybe a little extra sauce added to the mix–delish!) but other times a little creativity is needed to “transform” the leftovers into something seemingly new and exciting. I was particularly proud of last night’s transformation…

IMG_2131Mondays have become one of our standard leftover nights since Abby has paint class at 5:00. Sundays I like to make a big after-church dinner so I can usually get away with serving those leftovers on Monday night and my week starts out with an easy dinner. So Sunday I made a marinated pork loin, rosemary-sweet potato risotto, and balsamic broccoli. As someone who doesn’t LOVE pork to begin with, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about these leftovers. There also wasn’t enough pork to go around a full second time.

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I applaud the leftovers eaters of this world, truly! We need you in order to stop the food waste! I just can’t seem to get excited about this scene…

Starting with the broccoli, I dumped it into a small baking dish and added some frozen corn. I sprinkled it with a little shredded cheese, crumbled crackers, and poured some melted butter on top–voila! Baked at 375* for about 15-20 minutes and we had a small broccoli casserole. For the kids, I served this with “Cap’n Crunch Chicken Fingers” from Ree Drummond’s new cookbook (thanks again, Kristen!). I made these once before and they are an instant hit! So the kids enjoyed some chicken and broccoli for their supper.

For Randy and myself, I got a little more fancy. Risotto is a very cheesy, creamy, sticky rice. To me, leftover risotto screams RICE BALLS! So I shredded the leftover pork in my food processor and mixed it in with the risotto. Using my melon baller, I formed little round balls, about the size of small meatballs and then stuck them in the fridge to firm up. You could also “flash-freeze” them for 10 minutes or so, but I knew I had time before Randy got home from work so they’d be in the fridge for a couple hours. Then I dipped the firm balls into an egg wash, then bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese (you can never have enough cheese, in my humble opinion). I fried the balls in the same oil I used for the chicken fingers, which was also leftover from our sweet potato fries we had Saturday night! See, it pays to not square away your leftover oil right after use. 😉 I actually attribute my quick change in dinner plans to said oil staring me in the face Monday afternoon. Ha!

I beamed with pride as I presented Randy–who was expecting microwaved pork, rice, and broccoli–with a dinner of fried risotto balls (dipped in Thousand Island dressing) and broccoli casserole. I, myself, opted for a salad with a few rice balls on the side. I needed that burst of freshness to balance out the density of the leftovers. Still wouldn’t call myself a “leftovers” person, but I’m thinking I might have a chance at “Chopped: Leftovers!” That’s all I’m saying. 😉

A Sense of Accomplishment

Do you ever put off a small task for so long that by the time you actually complete it such a big weight is lifted off your shoulders and your feeling of productivity is disproportionate to the rather small size of the job itself? No, just me? Okay. I can accept that.

Example: We have a very small dual fish bowl with a divider for our 2 betta fish. I HATE cleaning it. It takes all of 5 minutes, but I still don’t like doing it. So when I intend to clean it out, I move it to the counter by the sink. And there it sits. Just staring at me every time I go to the sink. Taunting me. And still I let it sit for a week or more before I finally clean it out. Then, I feel an immense amount of accomplishment and as if I don’t need to do anything else that day. That 5 minutes of cleaning really took a huge weight off my shoulders. I’ve done so much today! Cereal for dinner, everyone!

When I was a girl, my mother taught me how to cross-stitch. (She taught me many other crafty things as well.) I really enjoyed completing little embroidered pictures until the day I picked one that was way too tedious for my child-level of patience! I’m pretty sure she warned me that it would take too long, but I wanted it anyway. It was a picture of a little girl in a pink dress holding a pot of roses. And she had dark, curly hair. So much dark curly hair! And that’s where I started. After weeks of working with just brown tones and feeling no sense of nearing any kind of completion, I gave up. I put the piece aside and again, it taunted me every time I looked at it. It was a reminder that I had quit, I failed, I shouldn’t have picked it, my mother had wasted her money on it for me, and I couldn’t move on to a new project or I REALLY would have quit. It sat there all four years of high school. Then, when I was packing up to start my freshman year of college, I secretly packed it in my car. I was an adult now, gaining my independence. I wasn’t going to let this uncompleted task hang over me. I finished the piece that year and paid to have it custom framed and presented it to my mother for Mother’s Day, or her birthday, or a combination of the two! 😉 It now hangs on the wall in my parents’ bedroom and I’m pretty sure she changed the entire color scheme of the room to coordinate with the picture.

I love the feeling of accomplishing something–no matter how big or small! Don’t we all? I can’t stand to see a task truly go uncompleted and since the cross-stitch project, I can’t recall a single project I haven’t completed. Although, I also haven’t picked up any new cross-stitch since! Ha!

IMG_2052Last week I got to experience another sense of accomplishment when I completed Elijah’s baby blanket! He’s almost 6 months now and I started at the beginning of my pregnancy, but at least it didn’t take 4 years! It’s actually not the longest it’s taken me to do one of my children’s blankets, either. Noah was about 9 months when I finally finished his. Abby was 3 months. Emmalyn is the only one whose blanket was actually finished before she was born. And in the process of completing my own children’s blankets, I made 6 others for friends’ babies! We don’t plan to have any more children ourselves so in a way, I feel like this chapter in my life is closing, though I can’t say that I’ll never make another baby blanket or crochet anything ever again. And I still enjoy the process, thankfully! Or maybe I’ll pick up a new hobby soon…

 

Either way, I’m glad to have this particular blanket done because it was a brand new pattern for me and quite a challenge. “Why did you decide to pick something new to you for your FOURTH baby when you have way less time on your hands?!” my husband asked. “Because I like a challenge.” And even more, I LOVE completing a challenge–even if that challenge is 2 bettas staring at me from the countertop for over a week. 😉

A Fresh Start… (Reflections on the Whole30)

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Me: “Something’s been weighing on me. I need to change my diet and I’m thinking about doing the Whole30 again but I’m nervous it’ll make my milk dry up. I don’t know, maybe I should just give up sugar instead. Thinking about this is keeping me up at night.”
Randy: “If I were you, I’d give up whatever was keeping me up at night. Forget the Whole30! Do it later when you’re not nursing anymore.”
Me: “Yeah, you’re right.”

A few days later…

Me: “I bought the Whole30 book. I think I’m gonna do it. I’m going to start when Lent starts and I’ll continue giving up sugar for the entirety of Lent.”
Randy: “Ok.”
Me: “I’m hoping this just really helps me change my eating habits. I don’t feel like we eat healthy enough.”
Randy: “We eat healthy enough. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking you don’t make healthy, well-balanced meals for this family. We eat healthy. You just got into bad habits for yourself because it’s hard to take care of yourself after taking care of 4 kids and everything else. So if you want to do the Whole30, I support you.”

So after that resounding vote of confidence (yes, I have an awesome husband) I did a lot of reading and planning, and jumped into the Whole30.

IMG_20180303_180132657My main goal in starting the program was to break my sugar addiction. It’s easy (and fun!) postpartum to start eating a lot of sweet, comforting, baked goods. People bring dinners and desserts, you snack on sweets to “ease” the burden of being so darn sleepy all the time. Feeling weary from tending to children all day long? Need a little escape? Chocolate in the bedroom. Or bathroom. Or in some corner where there are no children. I know, we all do it. But for me, it became a real problem that needed to be addressed!

I’m not the type of person who can easily say, “I’m just going to start eating less sugar” or “I”m going to start making better food choices.” I need a concrete plan with defined and measurable goals. How about 30 days with no sugar, grains, dairy, or legumes? Strict ground rules. I can follow that.

IMG_20180216_202926193So the Whole30 means absolutely no added sugar, no grains, no dairy, and no legumes. It means reading a lot of labels. And for me, it meant a pretty drastic change. Here’s what my “food” routine used to look like:

  • cereal (no matter how “healthy” you might think cereal is, it still usually contains quite a bit of sugar) and coffee with creamer for breakfast (or pancakes, eggs, or waffles)
  • sip my “sugary” coffee through the morning because I’m oh, so tired (if there are baked goods in the house, I’ll snack on one of those, too)
  • feed my kids lunch and inevitably nurse the baby at the same time and help feed the toddler, leaving nearly no time for my own lunch
  • pick at the kids’ lunches, and/or whatever is EASY to eat all afternoon because I’m starving–i.e. crackers, cheese, pretzels, cookies, processed, prepared foods
  • eat a well-balanced dinner, but probably over-indulge because I’m hungry from lack of “real” food all day long
  • glass of wine or dessert or evening snack (as a “treat” now that the kids are in bed)
  • sip water all day long, but not enough

Sound familiar to anyone? My guess is that it’s pretty relatable to those who have young kids they’re trying to take care of. And for me, it needed to change.

IMG_20180217_122754782Being on the Whole30 forced me to prioritize my diet. I took a long, hard look at the way I was eating before and it all changed.

Nursing mothers need 500 extra calories a day. If you’re eating junk, that’s not that hard to come by. That could be an afternoon venti latte! But it shouldn’t be. Before, I may have gotten those extra calories in an “empty” form. But going on the Whole30, I had to become very intentional about eating extra food to keep up my milk supply because my calories were automatically going to decrease by cutting out the junk food. I planned out 5 small meals a day for myself and worked hard to make sure they were prepared everyday. Long story short, all was well for myself and my little man and he’s still nursing great!

IMG_20180216_204247222Now let’s talk about the emotions of it. It’s hard for me to deprive myself of something without feeling sad or almost indignant… I’m an adult, after all! I should be able to eat what I want, when I want! So I decided to think of this experience instead as a food adventure. In purchasing the Whole30 book, I instantly had about 100 recipes at my fingertips of different foods I might not otherwise attempt to make or try. I ended up having so much fun trying out new recipes and making my own dips and dressings, although it was a lot of work. This way of thinking helped me not feel as “deprived” of the foods I love.

So I made it through the 30 days… the results? In addition to my milk supply INCREASING and feeling so much better about the quality milk I could feed my baby, I, myself started feeling much better overall. Not to mention, I lost 22 lbs! I learned that I CAN make the time to prepare a healthy lunch for myself and I need to; it prevents me from feeling hungry in the afternoon and snacking so much. I learned that I CAN make yummy treats for my family and friends without having to overindulge myself. (THAT was hard, believe me. But I did it!) I have rekindled my love of black coffee! I used to drink my coffee black until I started having kids and wimped out. I still love my creamer, but I don’t think I’ll be as dependent on it anymore. I can now whip up a morning egg for myself in no time and that can be a great alternative to cereal, even on a morning when I’m in a hurry. And instead of sipping coffee all morning long, I more quickly switch to water and then make myself a smoothie as a morning snack for an extra dose of fruit and spinach. And THAT’S a much better way of getting those extra nursing calories I IMG_20180218_131700198need!

And now that the 30 days are up, where do I go from here? While losing weight wasn’t my primary goal, it certainly is a pretty nice perk! I know I’ll probably gain some of it back once I start adding in my precious pasta, cheese, and the occasional sweet, but the goal is to maintain some level of what I accomplished these past 30 days. I’m still off sweets through the remainder of Lent, so that’s a start. I’m keeping my favorite Whole30 meals in my recipe rotation for weeknight meals, and going to continue making good lunches for myself. I’ll be cutting way back on sweets and evening snacks as I’ve come to appreciate a nice cup of tea, instead. And while a strict workout routine is hard to stick to with a baby in the house (because I love my sleep and already am not getting nearly enough), I am keeping at it as much as I can. And I’m totally stoked about a Fitbit Challenge coming up through Randy’s work which we can both participate in for a cash prize at the end of 60 days! We get to keep our Fitbits, too!

IMG_20180307_172910855Will I ever do the Whole30 again? Maybe! I’m certainly not intimidated by it anymore and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in retraining my thinking about food as a “reward” or “escape” from crazy kids. 😉 But now that it’s over, the real test begins… wish me luck!

Considering doing the Whole30 for yourself? Here are some of my tips:

  • Buy the book! I didn’t mention this above, but I attempted the Whole30 twice before and failed both times, for different reasons. And while both reasons were very valid and easily justified, I think not having the book to help guide me through was a contributing factor to making it easy to quit.
  • Make a plan! Plan out all your meals, and also have a plan for what you’ll do when you REALLY want a treat that you can’t have. For me, it was helpful to constantly have fresh fruits I love and nuts at my fingertips for snacking. 
  • Buy some “replacement” items for fats and seasonings you would otherwiseIMG_20180302_212403374 use but now can’t. I recommend: making your own mayonnaise and keeping it on hand, having balsamic vinegar, ghee or clarified butter, coconut aminos (replaces soy sauce and is a great flavor addition to many meals), and dry mustard (goes in many DIY dressings for salad). You’ll also want plenty of onions, garlic, ginger, lemons, limes, and herbs throughout the Whole30.
  • Be ready for the “yucky” feeling in the beginning if this will be a more drastic diet change for you. It will pass. You’ll get through it!
  • Pregnant or nursing and want to do the Whole30? Again, buy the book! If you’re pregnant, you need to be careful about eating too much protein, and the book has some great suggestions. Nursing? I planned out 5 meals a day to ensure that my calorie intake would be ample enough but about a week in, I gave up the extra two meals and found it sufficient to just snack on fruit and vegetables instead of having a full-on second lunch, etc. I had Fenugreek seed on-hand (helps milk supply) and started taking it around week 3, but only took it once a day instead of 3x a day and I found it helped enough. And now I don’t need to take it anymore. I also made sure to get my multi-vitamin daily as well as a fish oil supplement (Randy and I have always taken one anyway) which is really beneficial while nursing, too!

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