Making Better School Lunches

Lunch BagWhen I send my kids off to school I want to make sure they have healthy and satisfying lunches, along with them knowing that they are loved. Ideally, there is some thought put into their lunches instead of it becoming another chore to do day after day, which it definitely does become ever so often. To try and stay on track, I like to change it up every once in a while, to keep them and myself fresh and excited about the whole lunch process.

My latest findings have put a zing back into making their school lunch. My kids are pretty picky eaters so it can be a challenge. Trader Joe’s has mini baguettes that you can finish baking in the morning and then pack with their individual brie bites in small packages. Add some organic grapes and tomatoes, and you have a lunch that can transport you to Paris, wishful thinking I know… Trader Joe’s also sells lunch meats that are nitrate-free. We have been trying some of the different sandwich meats with their tasty sourdough sandwich bread. They really enjoy lunches with cheese, crackers, salami slices along with carrot sticks and organic apples. Another favorite are pre-made salads with their favorite lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and parmesan. Keep it cool and store the salad dressing separate so they can toss everything together right before eating.

I have been making them some fun reusable lunch bags with matching napkins. I hope they bring some color into their school days. The bags are available on Etsy. Here is a link to my site if you are interested: https://www.etsy.com/shop/livinginthefields?ref=hdr

Hope this gives you some new ideas on how to get away from making peanut butter and jelly the whole year, I have done that too…

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Vacations Make Kids Smarter – Let’s Go!

Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris

With spring break just around the corner, the news has been reporting about how travel can educate your children in different ways. I found a blog post on the topic from http://www.sheknows.com which discusses research from the U.S. Department of Education’s finding on the topic in How vacations make kids smarter. The good news is that you do not have to travel far or spend a lot of money for your kids to benefit. Even experiencing a trip to a museum or a day at the beach, can benefit your child’s overall development. I am just glad it gives me another excuse to plan our next outing!

Ideas for Different Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Unique New Year’s Traditions from Around the Globe

new years fireworks

Need some ideas for celebrating a fun-filled New Years? Check out some of these interesting traditions from around the world. Many are meant to bring in good luck for the upcoming year. Why not add some to your own traditions when celebrating? Here’s to getting your year off to a great start!

Out with the old and in with the new is a theme that comes across in many traditional New Year’s celebrations.  In Panama for instance, effigies are made to represent the old year and then are thrown into the fire to rid oneself of the past and make way for a fresh start.  Another tradition is to open all the windows and doors to let out the old air, while bringing in fresh new air.

Now, if you are looking for love, make sure you wear some red underwear to find that someone special in the New Year. If it is money that you are in need of, then yellow is the color that you should adorn.  Many Latin American countries carry on this tradition today.  Polka dots are also good to wear if you want to have prosperity in the New Year, as the dots resemble coins. People from the Philippines believe that wearing polka dots and eating circular foods, like doughnuts, oranges and tangerines help to attract good luck. So now that you have your attire planned for the evening, your polka dot dress or shirt with yellow or red underwear, let’s see what else we can do.

You probably are going to be hungry, so why not eat twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight?  The twelve grapes represent good luck in the upcoming 12 months of the year.  This tradition originally comes from Spain, but has worked its ways into many other cultures.  In Greece, a coin is baked into a cake called, Vassilopitta, whoever gets the piece with the coin is sure to have lots of success throughout the year.

If traveling is your thing, in Columbia it is a tradition to carry an empty suitcase with you on New Year’s Eve and your good fortune should send you off on that safari you have always dreamed of, or maybe that’s just me … Anyway, however you choose to spend this New Year’s Eve, and whatever traditions you hold close to your heart, let’s make 2015 a year of peace and prosperity for the whole world. We need it!

A School Day in France

french school

As we get into our own back to school routines, I thought it might be interesting to check in and see how school children in France, typically spend their day. Traditionally, the school day runs from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Schools are closed Wednesday and Sunday, and children often have a half-day of school on Saturday. Would you like your kids to have Wednesdays off but go to school on Saturdays? Many after-school activities take place on Tuesday afternoons since there is no school on Wednesday.  Recently though, France has begun to change to a more universal school schedule, with school days being Monday through Friday. This has been a difficult change for many and is still being worked out in different parts of France. Even though they have a longer school day, the schools have been struggling to keep up with other nations, which is why they are making changes.

The importance of France’s food culture begins early and school children are certainly immersed. A typical school lunch may consist of a lentil salad with tomatoes, roast pork or turkey, with peas and carrots. For dairy there is brie cheese and a kiwi for dessert.  Another school lunch might be a cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna and organic spinach.  Cheese fondue with a baguette to dip and organic fruit for dessert. There is a very interesting blog from author Karen Le Billion.  In her blog she follows a year of school lunches from a school in Paris. She calls it her French Kids School Lunch Project. You can find more information about it here:  http://karenlebillon.com/tag/french-kids-school-lunch-project/

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After school snacks are also a part of this food culture. The after school snack time is called goûter. The french word goûter is defined as either a verb meaning to taste, or a noun meaning a light meal in the afternoon. Goûter is incredibly common in France; it is similar to tea time in Britain.  It begins somewhere around 5pm, for the children when they come home from school. Keep in mind, dinner is not served until 8pm or so. Here is the catch though, it is all sweet treats!

At its simplest, le goûter includes something with bread. There are many variations but it typically includes a baguette spread with butter, sprinkled with sea salt (preferably fleur de sel) and then a sprinkling of grated dark chocolate. The baguette is put under the broiler for a few seconds to melt the chocolate and warm the butter. A pain au chocolate (basically a chocolate croissant) is another very nice option. How does that sound? My kids really would like to adopt this French tradition in our home.

Some other sweet treats that French children enjoy are Grenadine diluted with water. There is also the refreshing, Perrier-Menthe, which is Perrier mixed with a sweet mint syrup. Lastly, there is my personal favorite, Citron Presse, or fresh squeezed lemonade.

citron presse

Must head off to pick up my little ones now. Wish I had a wonderful French bakery close by, for some reason I am craving a croissant…au revoir!

Inside-a-French-Bakery

A word about Homeshooling

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When we first decided to embark on our European tour, panic set in about how we were going to educate our daughters. Yes, traveling on its own is an amazing education, but I certainly did not want to mess it up. Their education is incredibly important to us, as is their having a fulfilling and adventure full life, so hopefully we will combine the two. With lots of research and questions asked, we embarked on our homeschooling journey.

I read that it is important to find how your child learns best and then tailor their learning with that in mind. So the very first thing we did was to give them this quick and easy test and have based their lessons from this. My oldest daughter responds well to learning by reading and kinesthetics. My younger daughter is also a kinesthetic learner, as well as auditory. All of their learning types work well with traveling, thankfully. We have lots of time to read, we are on a constant “field trip” and have had the wonderful luxury to have many long conversations that we never really had time for (so sad) in the past with our busy schedules. If you are interested in finding more about the test I gave them, it is called the Vark test.

I have written about homeschooling already on this blog, but it was before we actually tried it. We now have been going for 3 months and seem to be getting into a routine. Our not so typical routine is to sight-see one day and homeschool the next. Sometimes we school for two days in a row, sometimes we are traveling for two days. We may also spend half the day out and about and half the day homeschooling. We homeschool on Saturday or Sunday too, if needed. The girls definitely like staying in their PJ’s or comfy clothes all day, and I like not having to go through that crazy morning routine, rushing to barely get to school on time.

On days where we homeschool our schedule goes something along these lines. After breakfast, we start with some warm up logic puzzles and math word problems. I picked up a few books before we left and one of our teachers gave us a daily math problem booklet. Next, they write in their journals. Usually, there is a lot to write about from their travel adventures. They also have a nature and sketching journal where we have put in leaves and petals that we have found on walks and where they can sketch castles, country flags or anything they want to put in for their memories. We will then do some languages and I have found (through my sister) a podcast called Coffee Break French to be a quick and easy introduction to the beautiful French language. There are many different languages in this series and we will most likely try to learn a little bit for each of the countries we are visiting. To know just your basic hello and thank you is appreciated and really the right thing to do. We just learned some basic Dutch and Flemish greetings. Both girls have really enjoyed learning French and would like to continue with it, when we return back home.

After languages, we usually set into the core curriculum subjects with math, science, social science and language arts. All are done online and with textbooks and workbooks. We are using http://www.time4learning.com as our basic online course and have been supplementing with other online sources such as http://www.khanacademy.com and http://www.brainpop.com. We are reading lots of books and both girls are working on writing a story using a fun online site called http://www.nanowrimo.org. They are having a great writing project for the month of November, check it out. We bought several textbooks and workbooks before we left, as well.

In addition to the core curriculum, we have been doing small reports on each country that we have visited along with art projects relating to artists from each country. This is probably my favorite part! We have studied Monet when we were in France, John Everett Millais and John Constable when we were in England, Johannes Vermeer in the Netherlands and now Jan van Eyck, here in Belgium. You can really experience where each artist was inspired by walking in their footsteps, viewing the landscapes and cities. It really adds to our understanding.

The most challenging part of homeschooling for me has been time, it takes a lot of time to plan lessons. I want to make learning fun for them and we do not have easy access to materials so we have to get creative. It is a good lesson on making do with what we have and it always turns out to be enough. I do get nervous that we are not covering everything as thoroughly as they would be in their public school but it will all work out in the long run, I am sure!

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We have two carry-on sized suitcases that have become our traveling desks. They are filled with text books, workbooks, regular paperback books, journals, files, writing and art materials along with paper. They are heavy but it is working for us so far. We also have our technological devices…Kindles, an iPad and two laptop computers, one of which lost it’s power cord (it started to smoke) so we need to fix that issue… Having all the correct power adapters are important but it really has been as simple as logging into wifi and we are off. Amazing technology!

Overall, I am happy with our homeschooling thus far. I think we are becoming better at it as we go through it. It is still a little odd for the girls to have their parents teach them though, and it is much easier for them to take advantage of us, I readily admit. We have had to lay down some rules and remind them how lucky we are. All in all though, I can honestly say that we are learning so many new things on a daily basis. I feel so inspired and alive. I see all of us growing closer to each other and connecting like never before. With their education, we are so involved that we can really fine tune areas that are needed and explore areas that they are really interested in. It is pretty great! I have never experienced anything like it.

And now a word from a special guest blogger

Here she is, my guest blogger…Lily!!! Hope you her enjoy her post!

The Farmers Market

Yesterday, we went to the farmers market and it was so exciting! While we were there we saw so many different things like pig heads cut right from the body, and I think the pig’s eyes were still in its head. We saw many other different things that were amazing! The food in France is so different than the food in the United States! I really like the food better than I thought I was going to, especially the crepes and croissants! I can see why the French brag about their food. At the farmers market we also saw so many different types of cheeses that I could not  keep track of! My sister and I got fresh croissants, my dad got an éclair and my mom got a café au lait. It was such a great experience!

More to come soon,

Lily