Monday, July 27, 2015

Parenting by the Seat of My Pants: Civilizing the Barbarians, Montessori Style

"Veronica, you have the table manners of a wild boar," Isabella informed her sister at dinner one night. It's true. Veronica approaches each meal as though she were trying for the Guiness world record for the most food smeared on one body. She isn't alone in this pursuit. All toddlers do it. Isabella herself, when she was VeVe's age, once managed to destroy an entire outfit with one chocolate chip, a feat that has gone down in the annals of Griffith history. 

Still, it called my attention to the fact that my standards had clearly slipped too far. You know how, when you have a baby, people are always telling you, "Loosen up. Enjoy the ride. They're only little once." That kind of advice, while true, is best aimed at a different sort of mom. I have always been more likely to stop and smell the roses than stop and clean the bathroom. There's only so loose things can get before they come apart. 

I decided to return to my roots. My mother was a legendary preschool teacher, and I, myself worked for a while at a Montessori preschool. I know that kids can be civilized. My older kids are downright useful. 

My first goal was to find nice, kid sized tableware. Something nice enough to elicit careful attention from preschool aged children, but inexpensive enough that I wouldn't cry if they broke it. I hit up the thrift store 40% off sale and bought dessert plates, punch cups, creamer pitchers, tea cups and saucers, pretty table linens and vases, most of them for under $.50 a piece. 

The effect was almost instantaneous. The kids started sitting more quietly. They said please and thank you. They cleared their place when they were done. 

The boys learned how to hand wash and dry dishes, taking care to do a thorough job. 

I bought this Raskog cart at IKEA to store our new treasures and make moving dishes back and forth a less harrowing experience. The entire cart can be pushed from the sink to the dining room, or from its spot by the wall to the table for easy place setting. 

We also bought kid size tools for cleaning. We found a stick vacuum with a telescoping handle at a thrift store tgat, when the handle is down, is the perfect size for a young child. We set up a mop, broom and crumb station in the corner of the dining room, and we have been getting the children to help tidy after meals. 

Isabella quickly discovered that preschoolers need guidance for sweeping or they speak the mess around. She made a sweeping guide out of painters tape to help them focus their efforts. 

Even our resident wild boar is beginning to mend her ways. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cheap and Easy Sandwiches

As part of our lessons on budgeting and cooking, I am having the big kids calculate the cost of some of our favourite foods. The idea is to amass a list of cheap meals, that are easy enough to be made ahead and assembled by a kid or a mom with more toddlers than arms. 

Sandwiches are an obvious choice for lunch, but lunch meat is kind of expensive and peanut butter and jelly is good, but it would get old day in and day out. 

Some cheap sandwich ideas:

-Egg salad with dill
-Deviled egg salad (same ingredients as deviled eggs, but in an egg salad) 
-Cucumber and cream cheese
-Cucumber and hummus
-Hot cheddar with fresh apple and Dijon mustard (see above)
-Blue cheese and ricotta spread with fresh apples
-Cream cheese mixed with green onion and fresh veggies
-Veggie cream cheese spread (I use Pioneer Woman's recipe) and fresh veggies
-Cheddar roasted garlic cream cheese spread with veggies
-Tuna melt
-Salmon spread 
-Peanut butter and bananas
-Cream cheese and watercress
-Butter, radish and salt 
-Butter and sweet onion (don't knock it until you've tried it. I first had these when my friend and I put on an advent tea. I was immediately addicted.) 
-Peanut butter and apple
-Baba ganoush and veggies on pita
-Skordalia (a garlic potato spread) and pita
-Tomato and cream cheese (really good on a toasted everything bagel) 
-Grilled cheese
-Grilled cheese with mozzarella, dipped in pizza sauce
-Caprese on baguette (cheaper in the summer when the tomatoes and basil are home-grown
-Open face toasted mozzarella with fresh tomato and a mix of black olives, red onion, olive oil and salt (again, good in the summer) 

 An assortment of open faced tea sandwiches can use up this and that in your fridge. These are watercress, cucumber, radish and raspberry with honey butter or cream cheese and honey. I'm not sure which. Cinnamon butter (butter whipped with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon) is good with fresh fruit also. 

I realize that in list form this could seem complicated, but if you make the spreads ahead of time, they last several days. In the end, branching out from the usual ham and turkey helps to stretch the creative muscles and use up what you have.