Thursday, September 29, 2011

To homeschool or not to homeschool?

That's the question I have been asking myself even before I became a mother. I hoped to be blessed by motherhood one day and I did want to make sure I covered all my bases. I'm sure, many women would be able to relate with me on this one - we want to make sure we know what's ahead of us and we want to be properly equipped. This gives us security and peace of mind, does it not?

Educational options in America are numerous and that might be confusing to some people. Especially those who grew up in a different environment. There are public schools, private schools, charter schools, oh and homeschool too. I grew up in Russia where approach to education was simple - public school, same level of education for everyone, no options - period. It wasn't until I moved to the US that I even heard of homeschool. I was quite astonished by the idea. It seemed like an almost impossible task to me. Even though I did get my degree in teaching ESL, isn't that ironic? I'm a teacher by profession and I want's sure I was up to the task of educating my own children.

It seemed to me like the idea of homeschool was a bit excessive. It's way too much pressure on the mom, I thought. Having to deal with kids after school is hard enough, dealing with them all day while being their mom and the teacher seemed very stressful. I spoke to some moms who homeschooled their 4 or 5 kids and did very well, and I spoke to those who couldn't handle it after trying for a year or who and were happy with their choice of private or public school. I left the whole search at that point but ever since our little girl was born this question became more pertinent. And even though she's still a baby it seems like a good idea for me to begin looking into options for her education. After all, time flies so fast... In other words, I'd rather be prepared.

My husband and I have recently watched 'Waiting for 'Superman'. This film is a good summary of the current education crisis in the US. It was quite a wake up call for us as parents. For those who have kids and are at least somewhat concerned about their education, it's a documentary that should be on your 'must see' list.

On the one hand, homeschool seemed the stressful and the hard choice. Kids do need exposure to other kids, they need to develop their social skills. But I sending my kids to a public school didn't seem like a great option either. I have worked at a public school, I know what it's like. Having my precious little ones exposed to the peer pressure, naughty kids and oblivious teachers just isn't worth it. I am not saying that all teachers don't care, in fact, there are many great teachers out there. But the chances that there will be a bad teacher or one that simply doesn't care are much higher. I know from my own sad experience that one bad teacher can really discourage a child and do some serious damage to their desire to learn. 

The are a lot of problems with our education system but the biggest one of them all, in my opinion, is the unions. Maybe back in the 1940s unions actually helped and protected teachers. But I don't think that they are necessary any more. In fact, I believe they contributed enormously to the fact that the US education produces poor results despite of being among the most expensive ones. Thing is that thanks to unions bad teachers are still working out there and there's no way for a school to fire a bad teacher. And the good ones cannot be rewarded for their performance either, also thanks to the unions. Anyway, I am going too much into details here and that is not the point. Since I don't want to take the chances of exposing my kids to people who don't deserve to be called teachers teaching them myself seems like a better option. After all, who else would be as concerned about the quality of my kids' education as their mother? 

Having looked at all the options, considered their pros and cons I came to the conclusion that homeschool might not be a bad idea after all. What really gave me some confidence and encouragement was some practical advice from those who have done homeschool successfully. I am glad that there are moms out there who like me decided that educating their children themselves was the best option for their family. I am also glad and very grateful that they are not keeping all this rich experience to themselves and are readily sharing knowledge with others. A series of posts on Simple Homeschool blog was the last thing I read and it did give me so much hope and encouragement. Now I am looking forward to the time my girl reaches school age instead of dreading it :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Freshly Pickled Cucumbers

Anyone who has been raised in the context of Russian culture knows what these are. And by Russian culture I mean the general post soviet union countries. Malosolnie ogurchiki - yum!

I have been craving these for some time now. Their taste is quite unique, not at all like regular dill pickles that can be found in almost any supermarket. I would say the taste is something right in between the fresh cucumbers and those pickles from the jar. These are slightly soft yet crunchy, very flavorful. It is a wonderful addition to mashed potatoes, or, as a matter of fact, any potato side dish.

The recipe is very simple. All it takes is
- 2-3 lbs of fresh cucumbers (preferably persian), halved or quartered lengthwise
- 1 bunch of fresh dill
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, halved
- 1 teaspoon of whole allspice berries
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 quart of hot boiled water

Place half of the dill on the bottom of a dish or a jar you'll be making your pickles in (I used a cast iron casserole), sprinkle half of allspice over the dill, then lay out your cucumbers and garlic tightly. Cover with the rest of allspice and dill. Place a small plate on top and press firmly to keep the cucumbers nicely packed (this will help you make sure your pickles are completely covered with water and not floating around). You can use a paper weight or anything small and heavy over the plate to keep it in place.

In a separate dish dissolve salt in hot water and pour it over the cucumbers. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. After that your fresh pickles are ready, just drain them, discard the herbs and refrigerate. They should be good for about a week if refrigerated. Although, I don't think that mine are going to last a week :)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Aaaaah, Aromatherapy

I've always been very fond of all kinds of nice smelling stuff, cosmetics, perfume, home fragrance, cleaning products that make everything smell nice, etc. Little did I know that most of those things pose serious health risks because of the chemicals used to create all these nice smells. Sad truth is that most of the products listed above, especially cosmetics which we all love to lather ourselves with, have an abundance of artificially created fragrances and all other kinds of chemicals in them. Add everyday exposure to that and your risk of serious health issues is guaranteed. Just pick up one of your favorite lotions or your kitchen counter cleaner and read the ingredients. Go ahead, read it. What's the problem? Can't pronounce most of the words on that ingredient list? That's exactly what I am talking about. If you're like me, there's very little chance you can remember which of the chemicals are safe and which are closer to toxic when you're barely able to pronounce them.

So my rule of thumb is the simpler the better. Better yet is if you make it yourself. Some may say it's too much hassle. But no one is talking about making anything complicated. Good things are often simple. It was with that thought in mind that I began learning about essential oils. When I was pregnant I made anti-stretchmark oil for my stomach and hips. This oil blend was based on jojoba carrier oil, included 25 % of rose-hip oil(very rich with vitamin E which improves skin elasticity), a few drops of chamomile oil, lavender and patchouli. The result? I don't have a single stretch mark! For those nay sayers who would object that some people have more elastic skin - I'll tell you a secret - I had a few stretch marks before from losing a few pounds ;) So I knew that could be my problem, that's why I made the oil in the first place! Well, another thing is to be consistent using it daily, once a week won't do most likely.

Since I have a 9 month old who loves to crawl everywhere exploring her surroundings I make sure my floors are squeaky clean. After all, she puts those hands back into her mouth right away. Since I got rid of most of my harsh chemical cleaning supplies a while ago I had to come up with a good enough alternative, something that cleans and disinfects. My solution was 1 gallon of water, 5 drops of lavender oil, 5 drops of lemon oil. I wash the floors like that every other day and don't need to worry about chemical residue that might be licked off the floor by the crawling baby. The reason why I picked those two oils is that they both have a very strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal action. They are also not very expensive and quite safe (some oils are rather toxic and must be used sparingly). The rooms smell very nice for the next few hours as well.

Which brings me to my new take on home fragrance. I've always loved all those nice smelling candles and air fresheners. Again, same danger - they are full of hormone disrupting, cancer causing and immunotoxic chemicals. The safe solution? You guessed it - essential oils. The best part, you create your own fragrance, just the way you like it. For me that is a big plus because I am very picky about smells. Most of those scented room fresheners are too strong for my nose. So a tea light candle in a diffuser and a few drops of oil mixed into water work really well for me.

Another plus of using essential oils is that there's a certain health benefit to their use. It continues to amaze me how many different uses same oils can have, especially if combined with others. Just a few examples:
-lavender oil (my most favorite) is a very powerful antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, sedative. It really works for headaches, by the way. In combination with chamomile and Shea butter it is a wonderful ointment for sunburns - soothes and helps the skin heal.
-chamomile oil is a good immunostimulant, antibiotic, anti-inflamatory, sedative. It helps with insomnia, especially in combination with lavender oil. In combination with myrrh oil in a base of almond oil it works miracles healing diaper rashes, cracked skin, minor cuts and scrapes. I simply love this oil because of how versatile and effective it is. I have also been using it in baths for my baby since she was a newborn.
-eucalyptus oil has strong antiseptic and anti-fungal properties and is very effective with all kinds of breathing problems such as asthma, stuffy nose, coughs, etc.
-ti-tree oil is a great tonic, also strong antiseptic and anti-fungal. It is safe to use undiluted, works wonders on warts, pimples, sores and other yuckity-yucky stuff. I found it very useful for insect bites, it takes off the itch right away.
Again, these are just a few examples. There are so many more and with more useful healthful properties.

Shopping for the oils is not that difficult either. Most places like WholeFoods, Sprouts, local health food stores carry a good selection. And if there's something you cannot find in a store there's always numerous places to order from online. Here are some of my most favorite ones and the reasons I like them:
100% Pure Essential Oils (free shipping option, periodic sale discounts)
AromaLand (free shipping option, email coupons)
Mountain Rose Herbs (very wide selection, periodic sale discounts)

Now as far as cost it might seem like quite a luxury because some oils get quite expensive. When i began creating my selection of oils and the necessary accessories (like droppers, little glass bottles, etc.) I ended up spending slightly over $100. Some may think 'Yikes! Maybe I'll go buy that Clorox after all'... But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Of all the stuff I bought, I still have most of it. In the last year the only thing I reordered was lavender chamomile oils. That is because I use them the most, for about anything. So if you do your calculations, using some oils a few drops at a time does make your supplies last for a long time so in the end it doesn't come to cost you a whole lot. Frankly, I believe over time it comes out to be about the same as if you were to buy any other type of cleaners and cosmetics. Besides, some stores or websites offer discounts, sales and coupons. For instance, right now there's a coupon for

So, go ahead, give the essential oils a try. I can say for myself that I'm not going back to the artificial chemicals and I'm sticking with aromatherapy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Teething Challenge

Amelia's latest teething episode has definitely added to the noise of our busy life. With all the guests and their little ones needing my attention I also had my own child in seemingly a lot of pain. It was what they call the 'good' kind of pain, although, I don't think it really matters for a 9-month old baby. Frankly speaking, it looks like a great many adults seem to struggle distinguishing between those two types of pain either, the good and the bad kind that is.

Up until a few days ago our baby seemed to have no serious teething issues - her first 3 teeth came out one by one with no major hassle, just a bit of runny nose and a bit of Hyland's teething gel on her gums. So I thought that's how it goes for her, her teeth come out easy. That's how it's going to be, I thought. I was wrong.

On Sunday (that was day 1) I noticed that she felt warmer to the touch than usual so I checked her temperature: 99.4 F. Then I did what every mom would do nowadays - I googled! Turns out that is considered a low-grade fever, not much to worry about. So we just figured, there's no other symptoms - she's teething that's all. She seemed normal otherwise, just playing the way she usually does, smiley and cheerful. She did seem to want more attention at times, just to be held in my arms, clinging to me like a little chimpanzee to his mama. I do enjoy those moments so it wasn't a big deal. She woke up a few times at night, nevertheless, she looked rested the next morning.

Day 2 passed by with no unusual events. Amelia was a bit crabby, but other than that she played and acted normal. The fever began rising towards the evening. By bedtime it was slightly over 100 F. Then my girl began waking up crying and the fever reached 102.8 F when I began seriously freaking out. I was about to start calling my doctor when I talked to my sister-in-law and she told me about her experience with her baby a few months ago. It was very similar. So we googled some more. This time together. After having read some information on Dr. Sears' website and a few more sources I calmed down a bit. It turns out that many babies have similar teething symptoms and sometimes the fever gets really high. My heart goes out to all those moms who share their experiences on forums and blogs. It is such a tremendous help and encouragement for me as someone relatively new in this role. Really, I don't know what I would have done, probably would have bothered my doctor a whole lot more than I do now. I guess, she should be thankful too for her peace and quiet :)

And so I began thinking how to help my child, how to ease her pain. I am not an advocate for drugs (we don't even have baby tylenol in our home!), I'm more of a believer in homeopathy and natural medicine. So I put a moist towel on her forehead. I also made a cooling compress for her - soaked a receiving blanket in a solution of lukewarm water with a bit of vinegar. I undressed my baby to her diaper and wrapped her into that wet blanket. Another layer with a soft big towel to keep her warm and just held her like that for about 15 minutes. She began falling asleep shortly. When I removed the compress her fever dropped 1.3 degrees and was in the 100 range again. All in all, there wasn't much sleep for either of us that night. I am not sure how my husband got through the day at work! Towards morning the fever went down more and Amelia was able to get some sleep. She slept on my chest. That's something she hasn't done since she was a few weeks old. It was a nice treat, to sleep with my baby on me, breathing peacefully.

In the morning of day 3 the fever was at 99 degrees and kept going down during the day. By bedtime it was normal again and I was very happy. I looked at my daughter's gums to see how her tooth was doing and I saw 3 of them that had just cut through! No wonder she was in such pain. So in the past few days she has been a bit fussy, refusing her food at times. I guess it still bothers her. But she's happier, that makes me happy too. Isn't it funny how your life is so dependent on your child when you're a mom? I never realized that until I became one. This makes me appreciate my mom so much better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Meaning of Hectic

Past two weeks were a good example of what hectic looks like for me. I didn't even have time to read through my emails, hang around on Facebook, check the article updates from or, as a matter of fact, to just sit down and blog. Even though my head was buzzing with ideas. Oh well, what's a busy mom to do, right?

One of the exciting things was that my brother-in-law with his family came down from the Bay Area for a visit. Their baby-girl is a few months older than our daughter and I was super excited to get to spend some time with my sister-in-law whom I normally see only a few times a year. We had a ton of fun together - went to the beach with the girls, had them play together in a mini-pool in our yard, went for walks and shopping or simply enjoyed some down time while the girls would nap. It seemed like the babies had fun too, squealing with excitement at the very sight of each other and then following each other around the room - looking for ways to get into trouble! Wonderful time and very busy too.

Before I knew Labor day weekend came around and we had a big family get together for an afternoon barbecue. It started out as a few families coming together to hang out and then it grew to include some more family so we ended up with a party of 11 adults and 3 babies. It was quite a chaos, I must say. Being the control freak that I am, especially when it comes to my kitchen, I was stressed out to say the least. It was good that the other ladies were helping. The guys were in charge of the grilling part which was nice of them. Too bad it took them a long time to have the food ready. We ended up eating what was meant to be lunch at 4 pm! I was so hungry that my vision was beginning to get blurry :) Either way, we had a great time, the babies played together in a pool and seemed to have fun too. Although it was hard to say who had more fun - the babies or their parents hovering around them :) The day turned out great.

A few days later our guests went home, the house got cleaned up, things came back to their usual way and I sighed with relief. Not that I didn't enjoy these past two weeks, no, that's not what I am saying. It just seems like after so much going on, lots of people around it feels really good to go back to normal. Maybe I'm an introvert? They say extraverts are those who get their energy from associating with other people while introverts find it within themselves. I have noticed that lately the latter is more true of me. Being around many people drains me, I feel tired after. It used to be the other way around before, back before I was married. Maybe that's because I am getting older?