Enjoying Allergy Friendly Foods

Enjoy the FlavorWe first learned of my oldest son’s food allergies when he was 11 months old, and reading through the results of the allergy test was overwhelming. How could such a tiny creature be allergic to so many things? It was difficult but we eventually found a set of allergy friendly foods he liked and didn’t make him break out into hives or throw up.

As he got older, though, he quickly began to notice all the different foods he couldn’t have, and while he does understand that those foods will make him sick (and could kill him), it still bums him out because the kid loves to eat. Sometimes he helps cook my breakfast, and standing over the frying eggs, he’ll usually take a deep breath in, and ask me if he’ll ever be able to eat them because they smell so yummy. I know, heart-wrenching. Thankfully, over the past seven years more options have become available as he has outgrown three out of his 10 allergies.

For this week’s #ETHANproject challenge to Enjoy the Flavor, I knew I had to make something for him. There are few things that encourage him more than when I take the time to make him his special food, and the boy loves breakfast. Our go-to option is usually Van’s line of gluten-free, dairy-free and egg-free waffles and French toast. But he loves when I make home-made pancakes, with the help of pancake mixes from Arrowhead Mills and Cherrybrook Kitchen,  and Ener-G Egg Replacer of course. To change it up, we added Enjoy Life chocolate chunks, and of course they loved it. At least he’s not allergic to chocolate, because, let’s be real, that would be tragic.

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One of the challenges with feeding someone with multiple allergies is that the variety of pre-packaged store products are limited because you are bound to find at least one of those allergens in just about everything. And if you’re not a kitchen guru, then you feel even more limited in your food options. That’s why I’m grateful for people like Laura from Petite Allergy Treats. This woman pours her heart and soul into crafting delicious allergy friendly recipes from scratch, making things like eating pizza possible for my little one. This week we tried Laura’s Fudgy Gluten-Free Egg-Free Brownies, and they were beyond this world. You can’t even tell they’re vegan (we used almond milk instead of cow’s milk). Plus, they were really easy to make.

I was originally planning to make them myself and surprise the kids, but there’s something about me being in the kitchen that always attracts attention. Maybe it’s because I’m not the one who usually cooks, so whenever I get spotted taking out pots and pans (and I’m not making coffee), I get bombarded with “What are you doing, Mami? Are you going to cook something? Is someone coming over? Are you making something special?” So, as soon as I took out my ingredients, the party got started in the kitchen.

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Enjoy The Flavor 4 Enjoy the Flavor 5-1 Enjoy the Flavor 6That is exactly how they left my kitchen floor. And, just like that, they were gone for like a whole 10 seconds before the barrage of questions began again: “Are the brownies ready yet? How long do we have to wait? Why is it taking so long?” Somehow they managed to survive the whole 30 minutes it took to bake them, but I think they’d agree that they were definitely worth the wait.

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Best of all, my son loved them. Actually, he’s asked me every day since then if I can teach him how to bake them. I guess he doesn’t want to wait until the next time I’m in the mood to whip something up, and I don’t blame him.

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We’re well into summer now, but it’s never too late to Enjoy The Here And Now with the #ETHANproject. We’re just finishing Week 3’s challenge to Enjoy The Flavor, but you can still share your stories on social media using the #ETHANproject hashtag, or on the ETHAN Project Facebook Group. You can also stop by the #ETHANproject Blogger Linkup to see what everyone else is doing.

Week 3 Challenge Grapic



Enjoying the View from Below

A Day in the Life of Your Child | #ETHANprojectBeauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say.

Week 2 Graphic VIEWBut this beholder right here had not been seeing much beauty. Lately I felt as though my little princess was turning into a little monster, being a menace to innocent bystanders (mainly me) as she carried on with her daily business of exploring and challenging boundaries. People talk about the Terrible Twos and the Terrorist Threes, but this stage I like to  call the Ominous Ones. It’s like a big bad sign of things to come. And, then the boys keep nagging at each other about the most insignificant things, like who stole who’s chair at the table and how one of them unjustly took a toy his brother was just playing with (two days ago!). Can’t we all just get along? Please?

Don’t get me wrong, of course I love them. I adore them. They are blessings, arrows in my quiver. It’s just that it would be nice if we could go a day or two without refereeing disputes about who gets to play with which Lego piece, or chasing and redirecting a 20-month old training for Extreme Toddler Sports. By 10:30 a.m., I’m exhausted, wondering how much longer till nap time.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to have a “mindset” change and hit the “reset” button before I lost my mind. But, how could I learn to appreciate – and even enjoy – our days through their point of view? Then I wondered, what would happen if I strapped the GoPro camera on them for a couple of days? I’m so glad I did it. Let’s just say it was nothing short of amazing. I feel like I gained so much insight about my family and home after watching the hours of video we recorded. Check out some highlights here:

Using the GoPro was the next best thing to being a “fly on the wall” around my kids. This is what I learned:

1. My room is a disaster! I know that’s not what I should be gleaning from this little experiment, but goodness! On the plus side, I did end up cleaning it up, and now it’s more like an organized mess. If you watch carefully, you’ll see me *trying* to organize and de-clutter.

2. I need to smile a whole lot more. I didn’t realize how serious I look all the time. And it doesn’t help that I’m constantly taking things away from the baby, telling her not to do something or correcting the boys about their behavior. No wonder Daddy’s the favorite! As a result, I decided to smile like a beauty pageant contestant at home. This has been met with some confusion from my boys, but I am determined to be more pleasant.

3. My kids are cool. Seeing how they play together or on their own showed me that playing truly is learning at their age. Plus, I was reminded that while they do have their arguments, they do have fun together.

4. My house is busy. Most of the footage was taken while I was doing something else. Seeing all that goes on in my house while I’m busy myself was a reminder that there is a lot going on at all times. There is never a dull moment and chaos is the new normal. To expect anything else is just silly.

5. I finally know why my house is always a mess. There are tiny creatures undoing all my work! It was crazy to see these children of mine just pick up a piece of paper, a toy (or a coconut), take five steps, drop it right there on the floor and keep going on their merry way.

6. A Jack Johnson soundtrack and a little video editing can work wonders for my perspective!

Week 2 of the #ETHANproject is now done, but the week’s challenge to Enjoy the View definitely was eye opening for me. If you’re not already following the #ETHANproject, you still have another eight weeks of challenges to help you Enjoy The Here And Now. Join us by visiting the Grounded and Surrounded blog.

And make sure you get started on the Week 3 Challenge: Enjoy the Flavor. Yum!

Week 3 Challenge Grapic



Hip Homeschooling

Be Intentional this Summer with the #ETHANproject Challenge

School is finally out and the summer sun beckons. This is usually the time of year when the nerd in me likes to sit down with a copy of the South Florida Parenting Magazine, my library’s summer program schedule and other city and regional calendars I’ve collected. Then, over a cup of coffee, I intently review these, jotting down in my planner all the fun and exciting things we’re going to do over the next few months. (Please tell me I’m not the only who does this!) Somehow, life usually ends up happening, and next thing you know, it’s September, summer has come and gone in a blink of an eye, and I’m scrambling to get ready for the beginning of school, wondering what happened to all my grand plans.

That is why I’m excited to team up with a lovely group of moms to challenge each other to ENJOY the HERE and NOW. To not get caught up with the To Do’s and responsibilities, but to make the most of our summer. ETHANproject Schedule Image (for your readers)During the 10-week ETHAN Project, we’ll have a different challenge to complete each week with the goal of reminding ourselves to focus on the things that truly matter. If you also want to be intentional with your summer, please join us! All you have to do is follow the weekly schedule on the left, and for each challenge, post on the ETHAN Project Facebook Group what you did. You can also share pictures and posts with the #ETHANproject hashtag on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. The idea is to encourage and give each other ideas on how to slow down, and once a week, do something to make it a memorable summer for you and the kids.

You can click here to download an overview of the challenge.

Challenge 1 GraphicWeek 1 Challenge: Enjoy Friendship Once you have kids, making and keeping friends becomes difficult. It’s not that most moms don’t want to have friends, it’s just that there never seems to be enough time. Even when you plan a play date, you end up spending a considerable amount of time chasing after little ones who want to explore all the dangerous things around them. Or, just when you think you have a few minutes to call a friend, your kids decide this is the best time to get into an argument the way only siblings can (“I didn’t!” “Yes, you did.” “No, I didn’t!” “Yes, you did.” “NO I DIDN’T!!!!!!!”) And still, friends help us stay grounded and put together when we feel like we just might crumble under the pressures of motherhood. We need friends, and that’s why I’m glad that the #ETHANproject kicks off with this challenge.

It couldn’t have come at a better time because I’ve been planning the details of my upcoming Birthday Weekend Getaway Extravaganza with two of my best friends since my college years. With the exception of a women’s retreat at church, I’ve never had a girls weekend AC (after children), so I’m beyond excited. Plus, after my first year of homeschooling and being with my kids all day, every day, I can use some time to recharge – vegetate by a beach somewhere, have some fancy uninterrupted meals and stay up all night talking, not because of a feverish kid. And, what better time to celebrate than my birthday? We’ve been talking this week about what we’ll do, and I’m quickly learning that we can’t cram all the things we ever wanted to do together into one weekend. (Maybe we shouldn’t bring our sewing machines so she can finally teach me to sew cute little dresses for my daughter.) We have one more week to go before our little adventure, and whatever we end up doing, I know we’ll have a blast.

I hope you join us in the #ETHANproject 10-week challenge, and let me know how you choose to Enjoy Friendship this week. Leave a comment below or join us in the ETHAN Project Facebook Group.  You can also visit the Grounded and Surrounded blog each Friday for a recap of the favorite stories from the week and a blogger link-up. ETHAN Project Challenge-1-Enjoy Friendship Description


Are you interested in becoming an #ETHANproject BloggerClick here for more information.

10 Cool Finds at the Homeschool Convention 2

Ten Cool Finds at the Homeschool Convention

10 Cool Finds at the Homeschool Convention 2This time of year in the homeschooling world is known as “Convention Season.” All throughout the country, conferences attract thousands of homeschoolers looking for inspiration and direction from a myriad of speakers and fellow moms and dads in the trenches. One of the biggest perks of these events, though, is rummaging through the Vendor Hall.

Yes. The Vendor Hall – where curriculum junkies get their fix as they visit the many stands featuring the latest books and resources designed to simplify your homeschool and make geniuses of your children. You’ll even find magical oils promising to smooth over the hardest of days and the toughest of students. The Vendor Hall at the Florida Homeschool Convention was HUGE with over 200 exhibitors, and while it was nice to see some of the more well-known companies, I really enjoyed meeting the smaller and lesser known ones offering unique products. In case you didn’t get a chance to go to a local convention near you, here’s a list of 10 of the most interesting ones I found last week. Check them out below and let me know what you think in the comments.

1. Blaze New Trails: Adventure Curriculum. Now, you might be wondering what exactly is an “adventure” curriculum. It took me a bit to wrap my head around it. Is it English? Is it Math? Science? Well, it’s all of those and more. Essentially, Holly Giles takes you through a year of adventurous activities aimed at getting you to reconnect and explore the outdoors, and experience the many lessons you can learn in your community and your own backyard.

2. Kapla Blocks and Toys. These blocks are the epitome of simplicity, and can fool you into thinking that there’s not much you can do with hundreds of identically-sized wooden blocks. A quick look through their website or Instagram account, though, and you’ll see that truly you’re only limited by your imagination.

3. Kingstone Comics. With three boys, I was naturally attracted to this booth. Tons of Bible and inspirational stories, devotionals, and even apologetics, all in graphic comic-book style.

4. Science Made Simple Lab Books. Some of the best people to learn from are those who are passionate about what they do. Mike McKee is one of those guys, and his passion is science.  He’s put together a set of very affordable Science Labs designed to fill the gap he finds in most science curriculum – the failure to instill an inquiry-based approach to learning. Mike, or I guess I should say Professor McKee, is currently the Associate Director for the Undergraduate Program in Photonic Science and Engineering at the University of Central Florida, and has been the director of the Florida Science Olympiad for the past 17 years, growing the competition from a mere 8 teams in 1998, to over 160 elementarymiddle and high school teams.

5. Jim Hodges Audiobooks. Here’s another guy who’s passionate about what he does – recording historical stories into audio books, something he began after retiring from a career in the Navy. Chatting with him at his booth, I learned that he’s a history buff and likes to make sure the stories he records are historically accurate, which is a great because you’d be amazed how much history kids pick up by just listening to an exciting story.

Side Note on Audio Books: Audio books are like a little kept secret of the homeschooling world, and my pre-homeschooler self would never have thought of using them, especially to listen to classic literature. But I’m letting this cat out of the bag! Do yourself a favor and invest in audio books (or check them out at the library). There’s nothing like driving around all day in a quiet car full of kids, not because they’re napping but because they’re listening intently to a story. You’ll arrive at your destination, and they’ll say things like, “Mami, can we stay in the car and listen some more, please?!?” And all will be right with the world.

6. Skrafty: Homeschool Minecraft. If your kids have begged to use Minecraft, like mine have, but you’ve been apprehensive, like I have, then this might be a solution for you. Skrafty is a family friendly community that offers games and survival and creative Minecraft worlds. They also offer classes that players can take in History, Science, Math, Language Arts, and Bible. They have strict community rules and filters meant to maintain a family friendly environment even for the youngest of players.

7. Homeschool Spanish Academy. There are probably thousands of companies out there that sell resources and curriculum to help your kids learn a second language. I know, because I’ve been looking. However, the best way to learn (and retain) a new language is immersion, which can be difficult if it’s not your native tongue. With Homeschool Spanish Academy, you get one-on-one instruction from certified Spanish teachers, who are native speakers based in Guatemala, via Skype. Lessons can be as often as you’d like, and you can sign up at whichever time is most convenient for you.

8. ShatterPoint Entertainment. What Lego Accessoriesbegan as an assignment for their child’s homeschool class, sparked a love for storytelling, and almost 10 years later has resulted in two Lego stop-animation movies (Jericho: The Promise Fulfilled and Wars of Humanity) and a series of Lego brick accessories. Of course, I had to buy some of the Lego accessories for the boys – a roman soldier, a philistine, an angel and a dragon.

9. Mutasia. Discover this fun little world of mutated and mixed-up animals. The illustrator, Ryan McCulloch, was at the booth and his energy for their books was contagious. They have story books and chapter books, and even stuffed animals of the different characters.

10. The Picture-Smart Bible. What I liked about this Bible curriculum is that kids learn the Bible not by reading lessons, answering a series of questions and doing a related craft, which seems to be standard for many others out there. Instead, kids draw their way through the Bible. Each page has simple drawings they trace and color in as you teach the lesson, highlighting the main points of the story or Bible book. When finished with the whole curriculum, the student has their own Bible made of each of their drawings.

Do you have a favorite curriculum or resource from a smaller or lesser-known company that you’ve found useful in your home education journey? Please share below!

Why We Homeschool

Why We HomeschoolToday is the start of the 2015 FPEA Florida Homeschool Convention, the largest homeschool conference in the nation with some 17,000 attendees (plus many of their families). This is my first time attending, and as I soak in all the energy, it’s hard to believe a year has passed since we first started looking into homeschooling. All those months we spent mulling it over, analyzing every possible angle, researching pros and cons, and praying for wisdom and guidance. And here I am, a year later, doing it. If this were a Facebook status, it would say “I am feeling accomplished” with some assortment of emojis.

Looking over the conference agenda, I can’t decide which classes to pick. So many good ones. I’m also reflecting on how I came to be here in the first place. No, not as in by way of the Turnpike. But, as in, how did I end up a homeschooler? As a family, we get asked this question constantly. Sometimes people are curious, intrigued or even perplexed. Why would any one choose to homeschool? I can’t speak for other homeschoolers out there, but here are some of my reasons, in no particular order:

Education is more than just learning information. Schools can be very linear in their definition of education, focusing on reading, math, science and the like. And while those are great and very important, there is more to a person than the amount of facts they know. I want to use these formative years to focus on molding their character – for them to understand their place in this world, to know and love God, to be kind, to be passionate, to be respectful, generous, hard-working, creative. Being home with them allows me to teach them these things as we go about our day and our schooling, when they have energy and are attentive, rather than trying to squeeze these important life lessons when they get home from a long day at school.

“One Size Fits All” doesn’t apply to Education. Honestly, it shouldn’t to clothes either, but let’s just focus on education for now. Not everyone learns the same way, and not everyone expresses knowledge in the same way. Most people I talk to agree on this point, yet, traditional schooling by default favors certain types of learners – those who can take in information passively, can sit for hours without fidgeting and are great test-takers. My oldest is one of those “perfect” students. Since preschool, many a teacher have told me how they wished all their students could be more like him – quietly learning in his chair, following any and all rules, while patiently waiting for direction from the teacher. And yet, I feared 12 years of this type of schooling would only reinforce his “compliant” tendencies and not challenge him to step out of his comfort zone. Because, let’s be honest, Life doesn’t always favor those who passively and quietly wait.

Then there’s my six-year-old, who is the complete opposite. When he was three, his preschool teacher cheerfully pointed out one day, “He loves to ask questions!” I chuckled inside because I knew that was code for, “He’s overwhelming me with questions!” Yes, this boy questions and challenges everything, even things that are in his favor. (“Mami, but why don’t we have to eat vegetables today?”) That’s who he is, constantly wanting to understand and push the boundaries around him.

My four-year-old, on the other hand, doesn’t even know there are boundaries. Life is a party and Fun is his goal. He has a constant need to be moving. My fidgeter. In addition, he’s a Summer Baby, and would be one of the youngest in his class. Maturity not being one of his, uhm, strengths, I envisioned future parent-teacher conferences… “He is a very sweet boy, Mrs. Broderick, but he doesn’t stay seated, or listens and gets easily distracted.”

I didn’t want their particular personalities to hinder them in a class-room setting. At home, I can leverage their strengths, and challenge them to grow in the areas they are weakest in.

Testing. This was a big one for me. While my oldest was in K and 1st grade at our local school, I kept hearing how the emphasis on testing was not only going to get worse, but that they were going to start pushing it earlier than 3rd grade. Sure enough, this year testing has been all over the news nation-wide, and it truly is tragic. I’m not against the general idea of testing, after all, when they eventually have jobs, their employers will most likely administer performance evaluations. However, testing has become the end goal and not a tool to measure the child’s real learning and growth. And, when did it become acceptable to pressure 9- and 10-year-olds to the point of physical and mental stress, because the future of their schools’ funding and teachers’ raises rests on the results of their tests? Just like the Pearson math problems, it doesn’t add up for me.

The State of Florida has different expectations for your kids, depending on your race. Yes, that’s right. There is after all a supreme race, and it is Asian. Congratulations if you’re Asian! The State hopes to have about 90% of your kids at reading level by 2018. African-Americans, however, with a goal of 74%, get the short end of the stick. Are your kids multi-racial, like mine? Sorry, no goal for you. You must choose to be American Indian, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic or White. Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learners, and Students with Disabilities are the other categories with specified goals. But don’t worry, according to Florida’s State Board of Education Strategic Plan: “Continuing on this trajectory, all students will be proficient in reading and math by the 2022-23 school year.” (Sorry Class of 2021!) That is, of course, if they don’t modify the goals once they review it at the end of this year, after the new assessments are fully implemented (or rejected.)

Now, I’m not against goals. I like having goals. I think they’re very important and provide guidance. But, why choose race to breakdown academic goals? Why not just break them down by age groups or grade level? My strategic plan at home is much simpler. I only expect them to give me their best work in whatever it is they’re doing.

One of my kids must invent an ‘app’ that will make us rich. Seriously though! How will they ever have time to do that with all that homework? All kidding aside, being at home we can use our time wisely. The actual “schooling” doesn’t take more than a couple of hours versus the six they’d generally spend at school (plus the hour or two they’d spend on homework). This gives us plenty of time to explore their interests and passions. Most days, this would be building Legos at my house. But, my oldest has suddenly become fascinated with electricity, sparked by a few books he read on Benjamin Franklin. Truthfully, pre-homeschooling, I don’t know if we would’ve had the time and energy to discover this.

I want our family to be strong. Life today is very demanding and even puts a strain on the family unit. Most careers take up more than the traditional 40-hour work week, and with technology, there are no clear boundaries of when work starts and ends. You’re always one email away from needing to log on. School itself also takes up the whole day for the kids, and as they grow older, homework and sports take up the rest of their time. Most weeks I felt like we were just trying to survive until the weekend, when we’d have birthday parties, weddings, more sports activities and church. Leaving virtually no time to relax and just be together as a family. You know, so you can actually get to know each other and learn to love each other deeply, not just because you’re related.

Deciding to homeschool did not happen overnight, but these were certainly some “nudges” from God that led us to question our views and thoughts on education. It has been eye-opening to redefine our long-held beliefs, but certainly worth the journey. I encourage everyone, whether you homeschool or not, to sit down and think through these things and have your own goals for your kids’ education, and not just delegate it to the State. Especially if you’re not Asian.


So, what about you? What are some of the reasons you’ve chosen homeschooling or traditional schooling? Have you ever thought about having your own goals and standards for your kids’ education?

Comment below!