t h e m a y f i l e s is foremost a family blog, chronicling everyday life. Life including natural, healthy eating (with recipes thrown in at random), home educating (with ideas popping up sporadically), an attempt to homestead on .2 acres (with very meager yields), raising 3 of 4 children with a rare genetic disorder, and lots of highly personal family triumphs and failures. You may also find an eclectic array of musings on politics, exercise, sewing, emergency preparedness, backyard chickens, and religion. This blog isn't a campaign to glorify anyone or anything. Just simply a record.


Best Holiday Whole Grain Baking Tip

Tis the season for oodles of baking!  Let's do it the healthy way.   Don't be afraid to substitute whole grain flours for all of the refined white flours in your recipes.   A delicious blend of whole grains like kamut, spelt and hard white wheat can give you a beautiful baking flour.  You can still make a light, delicious treat, even the most refined addicts will enjoy.  You can also make a great consistency cookie.

The Best Whole Grain Baking Tip 
for the Holidays:

When preparing whole grain baked goods, like cookies and cakes,  DON'T OVER-MIX!!    

This is the most crucial aspect of the process.  Mix all of your other ingredients first and finally add you whole grain flour.  Just gently stir until combined.  It is critical NOT to mix vigorously.  If you do, the gluten will be begin to develop and you will end up with tough/doughy/ treats, not appealing to anyone.

If you've had a difficult time cooking with whole grain flours like wheat and kamut and spelt, don't give up.  Try again following this rule.

I remember the first time I tried to make cookies with whole wheat flour it was disaster.  My cookie dough had the texture of bread dough.  It took me a while to figure out what I was doing wrong.  However, once I learned, I never have an issue with heavy or tough baked goods using whole grains.  And even better, people can rarely tell I'll used whole grains and not refined flours.

The exception to the rule, is of course yeast breads, which we want to mix like crazy in a machine.

For some great holiday cookie recipes using whole grains and only natural sweeteners  click here!


Healthy Holiday Whole Grain Sweet Bread

Naturally Sweetened, Healthy Whole Grain 
Cinnamon Roll Recipe with Glaze
This season I decided to loop my braided bread into a wreath.  The girls and I thought it turned out beautiful.

These are my whole grain take on a recipe I grew up making and delivering during the holidays with my mom "Candy Cane Bread.  I use my basic Whole Grain Bread recipe with just a few alterations.  I think I posted this four years ago, but my recipe may have morphed a bit in the last few years.  The new Xylitol Glaze is a far healthier non-dairy, low glycemic index, low calorie option.

"Candy Cane Bread" (Makes 4-6 Canes)

Whole Grain Sweet Bread Dough:

Combine in Bosch (or similar) Mixer:
9-10 cups of whole grain flour (I put equal parts kamut, spelt and wheat in my grinder and blend them all together) 
3 T saf dry instant Yeast  (make sure you are using a dry active yeast!)

 6 cups Warm Water

Mix, until a paste-like consistency.  Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

2/3 cup Wheat Gluten 
1/3 cup Braggs apple cider vinegar
2 T Salt
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½  cups Honey 

Turn mixer on to speed 1.  Add whole grain flour just until dough begins to pull away from the sides of the mixer.  (Usually around 5-9 cups)  The dough will still be fairly sticky.  Mix on speed 1 or 2 for 5 minutes.  Cover mixer to prevent dough from climbing out of the bowl.  

Unrefined Naturally Sweetened Cinnamon Roll Topping:

Butter  (just enough for a light coating)
Unrefined Natural Sweeteners (click for a mini tutorial of natural sweeteners) of your choice.  I like to combine and liquid and a granular sweetener.

           Great Combinations:
Agave and Sucanat
Barley Malt Syrup and Xylitol
Brown Rice Syrup*  and Sucanat
*I am using this less because of the concerns over arsenic

Divide dough into 4-6 parts.  Roll each section of dough into a long rectangle about 6"x18".   Spread a thin layer of butter on the dough.  Then add a drizzle of a natural sweetener of your choice ( i just make one long swirling "s" the whole length of the dough.  Sprinkle on a granular natural sweetener like sucanat, xylitol or coconut sugar.  Finally sprinkle cinnamon on generously.  

Braiding the Dough

Using kitchen scissors or a pizza cutter, cut strips about 1/2 inch wide along each long side of your dough rectangle.   Cut in about 2" on each side.  You should have about a 2" strip of uncut dough down the center of your rectangle.

Criss cross dough strips, alternating sides. 

 Cover and let rise until they have doubled in size.  This will take anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on the temperature of the room.  

Preheat oven to 325 degrees convection or 350° bake.  Bread will cook 25 minutes depending on your oven.  When bread tops are golden brown, remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.  Butter tops of bread.  

Low Glycemic Index, Low Calorie, Non-dairy Xylitol Glaze:

1 cup xylitol
2 Tbsp cornstarch

*For an extra fun holiday feel, color your glaze with a few tsps of fresh spinach juice!

Put xylitol in a blender with cornstarch.  Blend until powdered texture is attained.  Add just enough water for desired spreading consistency.  I just put it in a plastic bag, snip the corner and have a perfect pastry bag.  Spread over bread.  It will melt if hot, but will harden like a regular sugar glaze when cool.



The Craft/Computer/Sewing/Bathroom...the Multipurpose Room I Guess!


 The downstairs bathroom when we bought our home incorporated a shower.  It wasn't clear what the purpose would be.  In some ways I can see the value in having the shower, especially with an unfinished basement, however, we knew it would serve little to no use in our current situation.  It had a linoleum floor and maroon formica countertops.

We decided to remove the shower to make room for a craft room of sorts.  The original idea was to have the room exclusively for sewing.  We were going to build in a desk and office work station in the family room.  That became cost prohibitive, so my craft room became the logical place to put the computer.

We actually enlarged the space in the room by removing a shallow china closet that was adjacent to the dining room and framing it into the craft room.  We stoppered the shower plumbing at the floor level.   

This a view into the room before we cut the window.  

I knew the room wouldn't be nearly as desirable without a window, so we added the largest window we could in the space 3'x4'.   Light makes the biggest difference in a home for me.  This window lights the entire back entry hallway.  What was once a dark corridor is now filled with light, also helped by the addition of a 3/4 glass door to the back yard.  

I can sit at my desk and look out one window to the backyard and look out the door and see out my bay window into the front yard.  This visual and light connection from front to back is one of the best things about my home.  Made possible by the shallow depth of the home and the open floor plan.

Number one love of my Multipurpose room...close to the action but hidden away! 

We agonized over the connection between my "multipurpose room" and the half bathroom.  Because of the location of the electrical outlets and the very small footprint of the "bathroom" part of the room, I was concerned about a door making both sides awkward.  I thought a pocketdoor would be the solution, but there was some venting which could not be moved and the door would have taken nearly 6 inches of space, where space was at a premium.

However, I was also worried about the awkwardness of not having a door.

In the end we decided to leave it temporarily open and connected and worry about adding a door later.  It was a good decision.  Clearly in a new construction we would have planned things differently but the connection is rarely an issue.

I love this room.  It is one of the most used places in the home.  We have all our mail sorting, bills, homeschooling junk, schedules...The desk is big enough for 2 chairs (I just can't afford to buy them now;) ) so 2 people can work comfortably at the computer.  It is an excellent station for homeschooling.  The kids are very close to the piano and kitchen (in other words all of the action) but we can still close the door to hide mess and for acoustical privacy.

After we moved into the house, we realized one very large blunder.  We had not switched the door swing.  It swung into the room and blocked the drawers and the printer.  It had to be changed immediately.  Eventually I would love a wireless printer I could hide somewhere, but for now it's fine.

It is phenomenal how useful a space that is 6'8" deep and 8'4" wide can be!


Homeschooling Curriculum Choices for 2012

An un-staged mid-day moment.  Melted my heart.

Homeschooling Plan of Attack for 2012-2013

        Each year our homeschooling morphs into something a little bit different and a little bit unique.  Knowing this, I always try to remain undogmatic in my philosophies, knowing that circumstances and individual needs are in constant flux.  What is right one year may not be right the next.  This year Ellery (9) and Callista (7) are at home full time for their academics.  Emmett (4) is attending preschool 2 days a week and Berkeley (2) moves from wildly roaming around dancing and singing, snuggling and reading, to her favorite activity of looking at family picture slideshows on the computer.

         The elementary school didn't seem to fit our family's needs this year.  The girls' admitted they wanted more neighborhood social experiences.  They have strong social interactions in church and gymnastics but wanted to get to know a few more girls in the surrounding blocks.  Soccer was their choice of a solution.

With everyone at home so much, I knew I needed to find some things a bit more scripted with less preparation required on my part.  I decided to switch several of our programs and also try some online courses.

Charter School Enrollment

         Ellery and Callista are both enrolled in a charter school.  I am at liberty to choose their curriculum but I have to submit yearly plans, goals, and submit assignments and learning logs every two weeks.  It is a bit of a hassle but I receive $1450 of educational reimbursement funds which offset a great deal of the expenses associated with homeschooling.  The children will also be responsible for taking the state tests at the end of the year, which makes us beholden to the state curricula to some extent.  In theory their scores don't matter but I want them to have a successful experience taking standardized tests.  The charter school provides a website link called "Study Island" for state test prep in Math and English. It is fairly engaging for the girls.  They spend an hour or two a week on this site, to make sure they are familiar with any important catch words or obscure concepts I may not teach them.


Math this year we are tackling online.  I have mixed feelings about it so far.  Callista is using a program called Odyssey.   She has already completed the 2nd grade and is working on 3rd grade.  Ellery is using a program called ALEKS.  She has almost completed the 4th grade portion, but I don't feel she is at mastery level.  Both programs, I feel are weak in assuring mastery.  Callista's program teaches concepts quite well.  Ellery's has no teaching per se, usually I end up having to teach her each new concepts.

I like that to some extent they can work independently and we have a very tangible record of their progress in the form of periodic assessments.  I feel they will have no problem taking the state tests, as this curricula is tied to the state and common core.

I miss teaching them math, but I found it quite difficult to teach all subjects.  I'm not sure if I will choose math as their online course next year or not.  Maybe I will rotate.


I have been dedicated to the Writing Road to Reading/Spaulding Method and Spell to Write and Read for a couple of years.  However I feel most days it became too time intensive.  I decided to brake English up into several smaller divisions.


Instead of trying to use our spelling words for grammar study I am using the Well Trained Mind series of First Language Lessons.  Callista is using Level 2 and Ellery is in Level 4.  These books are demanding but engaging as well.  I have learned a significant amount as we move through them including diagraming sentences and direct objects, predicate nominatives etc.  The programs include excellent poetry selections for memorization.   Callista's are a bit below her level, because she is so familiar with poetry and memory work. I just give her extra poetry and she often learns Ellery's as well.
The Level 4 is intense but superbly chosen.  It may prove difficult if your children are not accustomed to poetry.

The programs are divided into 100 lessons.  We do around 4 a week.  Sometimes less for Ellery because the lessons are longer.  They are completely scripted so they require no forethought.  I actually love this.  I don't always follow the script, but many times I do.


I used Writing with Ease, also part of the Well Trained Mind program, last year, but I did not order the workbooks.  This year I ordered the workbooks.  It was an excellent choice.  I don't have to search through books looking for sentences containing adverbs etc.  All the literature selections are provided.  The programs have 4 day weeks, each with a specific theme or book.  There is copywork, narration and dictation.  Callista is using Level 2 and Ellery Level 3.  The Level 4 was too difficult.  The first dictation is an entire paragraph.  (It is read to the student 3x.  The student repeats the selection back and then writes it down from memory.)

I trust the Bauers programs.  Their literature selections are phenomenal.  The intellectual rigor is demanding.  This approach to writing, grammar, history is unmatched in my opinion.


What I miss most about the Spell to Write and Read program was how it grouped spelling words in such a manner to evoke the most creative writing.   I also love the beautiful sentences it provided for introducing the spelling words.  However, mastery was not stressed.

The spelling program I chose this year is Spelling Power.  It is an excellent time efficient, mastery driven program.  There are several levels of review built into the program.  The idea is to introduce new words for only around 5 minutes a day.   The children are tested on words they miss each day and continue to be tested on them until they spell them correctly the first time.  Then review lists are often given which include the most frequently misspelled words.

My complaint with the program is the word grouping are very uninspiring.  I may move to try to combine the two programs.  I'm not sure how it would work out.


The very first year I homeschooled Ellery for a partial day in first grade I used the Sonlight curriculum. I loved the heavy focus on literature, but felt it was thin on the mechanics.  This year I decided to order nearly all of the Independent Reading selections for 2nd-4th grade and the Read Alouds corresponding to Early American History, which we are studying this year.  All of them have been fantastic.  However, I find Callista is still in a bit of limbo between introductory chapter books and "real" chapter books.  She isn't quite fluent enough yet to just love and become absorbed in a longer book.

Reading aloud is my favorite part of homeschooling.  If ever the tension level gets too high, my best solution is to pull out a book, snuggle on the couch and start reading.


We love the Story of the World.  It is always my girls favorite part of the day.  We are currently in Volume 3.  The children remain engaged and love the maps and coloring pages.  I rarely have time for all of the activities but whenever we can we squeeze them in.


This year we are finishing up our Noeo physics study units as well as our Science in a Nutshell kits.  I wish I had more time for Science.  I love it so much, but usually we only tackle it once a week.  We also will be doing the Science Fair this year.  Of course my favorite!


Bertha our Spanish tutor comes 6 hours a week.  Four hours are instructional.  Bertha is a fabulous teacher.  She love children and teaching.  She includes Mexican History, Math, Fashion, Dancing, Singing, Science, Grammar, Art etc. in her lessons.  The girls do not speak well, but their comprehension is increasing rapidly.  I feel it is a very worthwhile addition to their education.

Emmett and Berkeley get in on the action as well.  Emmett plays with Bertha's two grandsons (Spanish speakers) which come along.  The one hour break gives me a nice moment of respite to work on dinner, pay bills, run an errand, or take a shower.  On Wednesday's Bertha stays with the 2 little ones while I go to piano lessons with Ellery and Callista.


Ellery is attending a drawing class and Callista a pottery class at the local Arts center one hour a week.   With only one other student each in their classes, they are like private lessons.  We have had the same teacher for 3 years.  The girls love her, receive technical training from a true artist, and produce high quality pieces.


Both girls are enrolled in sewing this year at the "Cute as a Button" sewing school.  Our neighbor also joined their class.  The student teacher ratio is 4:1 so they turn out excellent work.  Ellery keeps her sewing machine set up in her room and is constantly making all sorts of creations from flower embellishments, headbands, and pillows, to skirts.


Gymnastics continues to be the main sport for Ellery, Callista, and Emmett.  Ellery attends 11 hours a week, Callista 9 hours and Emmett 3 hours.  This is a huge time and financial commitment.  However, no matter how many times we re-evaluate we always decide this is the right decision for our children.  The Myriad benefits include:

* fabulous friendships with their teammates

* strong healthy bodies

* tough competitive environment

* building grace and confidence, especially under pressure

* overcoming and facing tough scary things

The 3 children also enjoyed soccer for the first time this fall.  Ellery and Callista had a great time and caught on quickly.  We could barely get Emmett to run :)


Music is last on my list but is one of the cornerstones of our homeschooling.  We practice everyday, and at an intense level.  It is the most trying of our pursuits on my patience and the girls attitudes.  Practicing is just plain hard.  However, because we have uniquely devoted so much time and attention, the girls progress has been astounding.  I don't say this to brag or gloat or glorify.  It has simply been the result of a long concerted, dedicated effort.   It is something within the grasp of anyone, if they make the decision.  Our homeschooling puts us in a unique situation to devote the necessary time.  We practice during the school day, beginning at 7:15.

The reason I've invested so much in music, is I feel the lifelong joy this will bring to my children and those around them is unmatched by anything else, save reading.    If anything teaches perseverance it is mastering a musical instrument.  I've found I can learn many things as an adult but the time intensity of this pursuit puts it out of my reach.  And so the oft repeated words, I swore over and over again to my mother I would never say, come out, "I wish I never quit piano lessons."

The expectation of practice is well established.  Emmett keeps asking when he gets to start.  For my personal sanity, not until the summer after kindergarten.  That time line has worked quite well for both of the girls.

Ellery continues to study the flute.  She enjoys having a second instrument.  She practices independently and so is not progressing as quickly.  Callista is begging to begin the cello.  However, it is expensive to buy the instrument and pay for lessons, so we are holding off until the summer, most likely.

The charter school actually offers semi-private instrument lessons at a local music store, which are paid through state funding.  It is something I am looking into as a possibility for their second instruments next year.

So there it is.  It looks a bit overwhelming and seems that way when I write it all down.  Somehow, day  in and day out it all works and we stay relatively sane.  It is surely not something that works for everyone, and I don't claim it is the best way, only the choice we've made for our family right now.  


Christmas Adornments

I've always wanted a house with wreaths and candles in the windows.  Our house fit the bill perfectly this year.  I ordered the candles on the internet a month or so ago.  I bought the wreaths at Big Lots and the ribbon at Costco.  Unfortunately for the snow business we are having another balmy, California winter.  The kids and I hung the wreaths and hunted for our tree in 65 degree temperatures.

    Also on my list of Christmas decorating dreams, a flocked tree.  We found a family who actually grew this ponderosa in their backyard.  It was affordable and had just the charm I was looking for.  The girls were sold the moment they laid eyes on it.   They said it was so fancy we just had to have it.

 An added plus, a flocked tree doesn't have nearly the maintenance.  It came nailed to a 2x4 stand, and needs no watering.  The needles also won't drop.

Berkeley happened to be very helpful in hauling this one onto the truck and through the door.  She made sure to keep a hand on it at all times.  

No fancy ornaments, but who needs to adorn a tree that is innately so beautiful?

If you look carefully you can just barely see the lights in the windows.


Books that Changed Me

This isn't a post of intellectual or any other form of snobbery, but only an expression of my hope that others can find the same joy and journeys in literature as I do.

"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky 

I can only compare this book to the Bible in its power to demand self reflection.  Dostoevsky brilliancy is unmatched by anything I have read.  His books have a disturbing way of making me probe every belief I've clung to.  Sometimes in this book I wanted to reject God and religion completely.  Other times I wanted to throw it on the ground.  I find myself drawn in some ways to the most vile of characters, but in so doing I am forced to expand my circle of understanding and sympathy just that much more.  I wish in one fell swoop my heart would soften but it needs constant reminding.

I'm amazed by the life of Dostoevsky.  He was by all accounts dysfunctional on almost all levels.  And yet his novels clearly show me God can use any person as His instrument.  God bestows His gifts on His children in all times and places regardless of any earning.  History seems to pound this lesson into me, over and over again, be it Mozart or Joseph Smith.

Dostoevsky raises so many questions.  He answers none of them.  Maybe that's why his novels force me to think beyond my comfort zone and leave me so hungry.

"The God Who Weeps"  by Fiona and Terryl Givens

If freely admit I have a crush on this man's brain.  For three years I have followed his work, read his articles and books, and listened to podcast interviews. Mormon history is fraught with so many troubling things.  Joseph Smith is one of the most complex historical figures in 19th century America. God and religion themselves can be messy and difficult to make philosophical sense of.  At times, I figuratively have to jump ship.  It's always been this way for me.  I have this strange dichotomy of faith and doubt.  Whether I was 14 and reading "Doctrines of Salvation"deeply disturbed by the complete dismissal of Scientific reasoning or 19 sitting in a dark corner of the Special Collections library in college surrounded by 20 dusty books on polygamy (I don't think they were flying off the shelves much at BYU). Terryl's work has helped me wade through what can seem at times just too murky.  He describes true faith as impossible without equal compulsions to believe or disbelieve.  Faith is first and foremost a choice.

"The God Who Weeps" was just published and coauthored with his wife.  It is a theological treatise on the "Mormon" God they believe Joseph Smith introduced us to.  I am on board.

The Givens' describe a God who is perfect because of his vulnerability, not power.   Life is not about creating an account of good deeds or ordinances, instead it is about learning to expose ourselves and our hearts as God does.  Becoming Godlike is not about becoming powerful but about becoming vulnerable.   Weeping.  

There is a beautiful chapter on the pre-existence which tackles head on the theodicy (or the problem of an omnipotent God and the existence of pain, evil...etc).  For me, it provided the most intriguing and honest answer.  It wasn't anything I have ever learned being a mormon all my life, but it was brilliantly clear to me in the scriptures and doctrine once elucidated.

I love the Romantics.  Givens is a professor of Romantic literature.  He draws literary and historical parallels from myriad personalities and faith traditions, which enhance the understanding of God Joseph introduced us to.

A few tough issues or scriptural incidences were glossed over or omitted.  However it is not a long read, nor does it claim to be exhaustive.

A fascinating corollary to reading this book was the insight it brought me about some of the brutality of Christianity through the ages.  The girls and I just waded through some of the most disturbing times in Europe including the Crusades and Holy Wars.  I have a small inkling on how they used the God they understood as justification for their atrocities.  That God I dismiss.  I don't know how much liberty we do or do not have with God to create or understand Him in a way that brings us the most peace.  It may be offensive, or pompous.   I'm not sure.  But for someone like me, if I can't understand my religion and my personal relationship with God with a bit of flux it may give way completely.

There was also a time in my life when I could "shelve" things for later.  I must be going through a mid-life crisis of some sort, but that won't work right now.  I don't know all the reasons.  I have a brain which never puts my keys or phone in the same place, writes down a recipe, or remembers to fill the car up with gas.  A brain which forgets to temper its enthusiasm and passion in conversation (leading sometimes to unintended offenses).  But, this same brain is giddy trying to solve a math problem or dive into a new ocean of research.

I unreservedly recommend this book, especially to all those searching to find a God they truly want to adore and worship with their reason and their heart.   For me it is on the right course.

Other Books I've Recently Read Independently or With my Children:

"The Witch of Blackbird Pond" by Elizabeth George Speare  This is an insightful introduction to early American history and Puritan society.  It gently helped my girls understand the dangerous prejudices of religious fanaticism rampant during the 17th century, and kept them eager with just enough romantic drama.

"Johnny Tremain" by Esther Forbes I felt I had the inside scoop on the American Revolution in this novel.  The history was excellent and didn't feel artificial or overly romanticized.  As a historian writing a children's book, Forbes brought well earned historical insight right along side an emotionally intriguing plot.  

"Walk the Worlds Rim" by Betty Baker  This book provided an interesting perspective on the Conquistadors and the exploration of the Southern United States and Mexico.  It is something I have little knowledge and I enjoyed experiencing it through the eyes of an adolescent Native American, in his own coming of age journey.

"The Candymakers" by Wendy Mass If you are in the mood for a little mystery, this is a clever, well written, plot driven book.  Neither Ellery nor I could put it down.  Much to Callista's chagrin, the two of us independently snuck it off and read it outside of read-a-loud.  "Mommm!  That is so unfair!"

"Carry On, Mr. Bowditch" Jean Lee Latham  I am so grateful Latham chose to immortalize this man's life.  He was fascinating and brilliant.  Against odds, he contributed quietly but profoundly to society.  This book provides an excellent example of perseverance and positive ambition.

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand  (Not appropriate for children) I simply couldn't get on board with the unbridled capitalism and humanism of this book.  I recommend it because of the complex and thorough argument Rand presents for the virtue of such a society.  Unrestrained capitalism becomes the utopia inside a dystopia of government regulation and dependency.  However, Rands utopia for me, left much to be desired.

"Angel Prayer" by John Johnson  I was given this book at book exchange.  Reading the inside cover, it wasn't one I would probably have chosen off a shelf.  However, I was pleasantly surprised.  The plot was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages with equal doses of mystery, crime, romance, and self-discovery.  I think at this particular moment this book spoke to me because of an overriding theme of develop a beautiful heart.  A beautiful heart being a vulnerable one.  The protagonists life is presented contemporaneously and in flash back.  We see he's had opportunities to become vulnerable yet missed them.  It takes tragedy for him to understand he must weep and hurt to become the kind of person he sees in others but cannot see in himself.   Too often I miss the small opportunities in my life to open my heart and weep more.  When the circumstance is so acute or expansive, the birth of child, the health of a loved one, the rejection of a friend... it can't help but be transformative. I have these.  I need these.  But I think if I look a little closer I have these opportunities everyday.  Why not try to a little better everyday?  Count me in.