Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Letter to Governor Brownback- please stop the insanity

I sent this via email and snail mail to the Kansas Governor office. My pessimism says no one will read it. So I'm sharing it with you. I want someone other than my husband to hear my frustrations and sadness. So here is my letter to Governor Brownback expressing my deep sorrow over the state of education and funding in Kansas

Governor Brownback,

I'm writing you about my deep concern surrounding education and educational funding in your state. Let me introduce myself, my name is Kristin Saner and I am a native Kansasan.  I was born in Kansas, raised in Kansas, went to college in Kansas, got married and gave birth to my three boys in Kansas. Five years ago I moved away to pursue graduate education. Now I long to move home. In fact I was exploring buying a business in Hesston, which is near my family and friends. Sadly your policies and new laws, which continue to cut funding to education, terrify me so badly that I decided that I cannot  move home at this time.
With 3 boys in elementary school, I am looking at what public schools offer for kids. I’m a huge advocate for public school, which provide education and opportunities to not only my kids but all our kids. These kids are our future. I know Kansas teachers are working hard day and night to make the education system the best it can be for the kids they teach. I hear about the daily struggles from friends, about how they are attempting to persevere. The reality is limited funding and resources continue to be huge barriers for both teachers and students.  My heart breaks knowing that friends, who have dedicated their lives to teaching, must face these barriers on a daily basis. But, at the end of the day, I have to look at what's best for me and my family. While all the teachers and administration staff where I currently live have their own barriers and hurdles to cross, I feel we are making positive strides for the education my kids are getting. I cannot say the same for the schools in Kansas.
Governor Brownback, your policies have made it so that I feel I cannot move home. And I wonder, if I feel this way how many other thirty something adults dismiss our state as a place to makes roots?  How many other born and raised Kansasans  went somewhere else to pursue an education but don’t move back due to your policies? How many people look for a place to raise their own families but dismiss Kansas due to the current state of the education system? How many young families currently living in Kansas are fleeing because they feel their kids would be better off elsewhere? Listen to your people, Governor, for I know that they are working to fix your mistakes. They are trying to provide the best for our kids with what limited resources you have left them. I can only hope and pray that in the coming years things will get better. I pray this for my friend's sake, for my friends kids, for the families I don’t even know.  Selfishly I pray for my own sake. While I can't in good conscience move home now, I still long to do so. And I desperately hope, in a few years time, I can feel that it is safe for me to do so.

A Homesick Kansas girl

Monday, February 15, 2016

2015's Top Played Tabletop Games at Our House

With it already being February of 2016, I figured it was a good time to record what the kids' favorite games were in 2015. Heaven knows this year will bring about a new list. With new games coming out all the time, topped with my job at a game/comic book store, topped with my participation as a Double Exposure Envoy Herald, our game selection is always growing. It's fun to introduce games to the boys. And the boys love gaming. So here are the top games they played this last year.

Disclosure: At the start of 2015 my boys were 5,6, and 8 with birthday celebrations in August and November.  I say this because while games always have a suggested age on them they don't always give you alot of information as to what that means for how kids will respond to them. These are games my boys love and often play by themselves now. They may or may not be good for your family ;)

This game was a big hit this year. I often found it out on the floor as the boys left it after being called away for meals, school, bed, you name it. For the most part this is a dice rolling game. You get a fun cardboard monster with stand and corresponding health and life tracker. You roll 6 dice with have six different symbols, you then choose which dice to keep and which to re-roll over 3 successive rolls. The goal is to the be the last monster standing or reach 20 Victory Points. It's great for boys. The monsters are colorful and fun and the mechanics are really simple. There is some reading. There are energy card which you purchase by collecting energy cubes. That being said these cards are face up and can be read out loud by one player for all to hear. The biggest obstacle for my boys: trusting their oldest brother to read the cards so that they knew it's advantages.

As with all Munchkin games is satirical card game that parodies super heroes and villains.  If you've never played Munchkin, here's a summary from BoardGameGeek.com
Munchkin is a satirical card game based on the clich├ęs and oddities of Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. Each player starts at level 1 and the winner is the first player to reach level 10. Players can acquire familiar D&D style character classes during the game which determine to some extent the cards they can play.
Fair warning because it's satirical some of the cards can be edgy. Take the spray painted on body suit for example.  Mostly it all goes over my boys head. They like it cause they get to be super heroes fighting the bad guys, gaining treasures such as ray guns, jet powered pogo sticks and others. Plus Munchkin is a game that encourages you to team up for one move and betray your opponent in the next. What boy doesn't love to gang up on his brothers?
We purchased the Munchkin Level Playing Field which includes a board and munchkin tokens. This helps the boys keep track of their level plus has a place to put the draw and discard piles. It has been a very very helpful addition.

More toward the beginning of last year top favorites included Tenzi and Zombie Run! Both are quick, easy games that are a lot of fun. Tenzi is a dice rolling game. Each player has 10 dice that they roll until they all match the same number. The goal is to be the 1st player will all the dice the same. You then yell out Tenzi! Lots of fun. All chance. And of course your own rules such as only rolling with your non-dominant hand, or no thumbs. :)

Zombie Run is a card game where the goal is to have the lowest score. If you have played Rat-a-tat Cat its the same concept only without any special power cards. You have 4 cards in front of you. You can look at 2 at the beginning but not after. Then you draw a card and either discard it or change it with one of your own. Once you think you have the lowest score you yell out "I got Brains" and count of the total. Aiden especially loves this one. While it hasn't got alot of play lately it was a bit hit earlier in the year.

While this game showed up in a stocking Christmas 2014, it wasn't until early that we finally sat down to play it. Fluxx in any form is tons of fun. It's the ever changing card game. If you have never played a Fluxx game, the basic rules are draw a card, play a card. The card then change the rules and goals of the game. Allowing you to draw more cards, play more cards, change what goal wins the game. You then work to collect Keeper card in front of you to match the goal. But as we said the goal is always changing. Fun and fast! Star Fluxx's theme integrates Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr Who, Firefly and Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy into the cards. So the goal could be Time Traveler where you need the Time Traveler and the Time Machine Keepers to win. Or add in Creepers, bad cards that don't allow you to win unless the goal specially call for them, and have a goal of Evil Robots where you need  Evil Creeper and the Robot Keeper to win. This game often gets played a round or two just before bed.  Aiden is a big Fluxx fan. When he visits me at work he loves to play the original version and Zombie Fluxx from our demo library. 

Small World is a great Risk like game. You have a race with a special power that you use to conquer regions to gain coins/points. The more areas conquered the more coins. After a set number of rounds (which changes depending of the number of players) the person with the most coins wins. Running low on troops or just not happy with your race's ability to conquer? Place your race in decline and pick a new one. Now start conquering all over again. There is a great random element that allows for lots of replay. The special powers are paired with the race cards each game, meaning this game we might have Seafaring Giants and Merchant Wizards and next game we could have Seafaring Amazons and Mounted Ratmen. Another thing to love about this game is it offers two different boards: a smaller board for 2-3 players and a larger board for 4-5players. This means the game lends itself very nicely to 2 player games. So Ian and I can sit down and play a fun game, and later we can all as a family sit down and play. This is another game that I often find set up on the landing upstairs or even in Ian's room. They play all the time. And Small World Underworld is on our ever growing must have list.  

Exploding Kittens is a game of Russian Roulette with Kittens made by the creators of The Oatmeal. Game play is really simple. You play cards from your hand to gain advantage; either see what cards are coming up, make your opponents give you certain cards, skip your turn, or make your opinion take a turn in your place. After you have played any cards you want you draw a card to end your turn. If you draw an Exploding Kitten your out. Unless you have a Diffuse Card which allows you to place the Exploding Kitten back into the deck. Counting cards IS allowed . ;) It mindless fun, but the cards are hilarious. This is the Oatmeal though. So you have cards such as Attack of the Back Hair, Nope Sandwich with Extra Nope Sauce, TacoCat, etc. The boys find the cards funny, and love trying to  make their brothers pull the Exploding Kitten cars. 

A few other top games include Ticket to Ride, Castle Panic, Spot it, Flash Point, Five Crowns and the ever present Chess. And like I said our library is always growing. And I imagine this year will bring a new list of favorites. Already some new games being added to the mix are Boss Monster, Castle Panic Wizards Tower and Batman Fluxx. Plus there is the every growing list of games we love to own but don't that include Formula D. King of New York, Dixit and several more.  Gaming is such a great way for us to sit down and spend time together. And it makes me happy to find the boys sitting around a table playing a game during time at home.  What games do you find yourself connecting over?

Happy Gaming!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Menu Plan Month- A month of meals

Is it really February already??? How time flies when you're having fun. Or something to that effect.

Last months' planning of a month worth of meals worked out so great I'm doing it again. Really, it was so nice to have a plan, know I had all the ingredients (cause I did all my shopping immediately after my planning) and know that things were going to be taken care of. It made my life less stressful and it made things easier on my husband who has to feed kids 3 to 4 of the night out of the week. We won't go into why I have to plan and get everything ready. It's our reality and sometimes it's just easier to go with what works than to fight.

Biggest hit meals last month were the crock pot pulled pork from Living Well Spends Well , and shakshuka from  Nourish Atlier

I figured I should fess up for a moment. While I'm not one to reinvent the wheel, I also don't follow recipes to the T. While I almost always link to others recipes, I hardly ever follow their steps exactly. I tend to view recipes as more as guidelines than rules. I say this because this month especially I'm going to be deviating from what is written on the recipes. I may even take the time to post about how I changed things up and how it was received. We'll see.

Reminder: I have a kid who eats gluten free. So I always substitute corn starch from flour, use GF noodles instead of wheat and make sure that the meal does not contain gluten when I serve it. I realize this doesn't help you if you are new to a gf diet because I'm not giving you instructions on how to do so as well. But it does show that it's almost always possible to rework recipes so they work for you and yours.

February's Menu 
Week 1
Monday: leftovers -clean out the fridge day
Tuesday: Slow Cooker Mexican Rice
Wednesday: Broccoli Cheddar Soup in the crockpot
Thursday: Baked Egg Ham Cups with tater tots
Friday: Fend for yourself
Saturday: Crockpot Pulled Pork, chips, carrots
Sunday: Popcorn Cheese and apples

Week 2
Monday: Frito Taco Pie- use Pillsbury's Gluten Free pizza crust
Tuesday: Crockpot Rice lasagna 
Wednesday: Crockpot Ranch Onion Chicken, roasted potatoes, peas
Thursday: Sweet Potato and Chicken Hash
Friday: FFY
Saturday: Groundnut Stew in the crockpot- original recipe from More with Less Cookbook- going to see if I can convert it to the crockpot. More information to come later
Sunday: Popcorn Cheese and Apples

Week 3
Monday: One Pot Shrimp and Rice 
Tuesday: Crock pot Ham and Bean Soup
Wednesday: Crock pot Coconut Chicken Curry- recipe to come later
Thursday: Lo-mein 
Friday: FFY
Saturday: Crockpot Lentil Casserole - original recipe found here
Sunday: Popcorn Cheese and Apples

Week 4 
Monday: Sweet Potato, Bacon and Sage Pasta
Tuesday: Crock pot Pesto Minestrone 
Wednesday: Crock pot Beef and Broccoli- served over rice
Thursday: Pizza Braid
Friday: FFY
Saturday: Leftovers
Sunday: Popcorn Cheese and Apples

Need more inspiration? Check out Organizing Junkie and all the linked menus there.  Happy meal planning!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Navigating comics for kids

Back in September of 2015 I started working for a new comic book and game store in Elkhart, In. Secret Door Games is a great small shop that offers comics, a wide verity of board games, trading card games, and role-playing games, books and toys. Before starting work here I read most of my comics in graphic novel format. Which meant that I read them much later than when they first were published. Now I can follow a handful of series as they come out. :) Good for me. Good for the store. My kids too before would check out graphic novels at the library, and still do to be honest. The library was and is great. I know that books in the kids section are safe for them to read. Graphic novels in the teen section I thumb through before allowing them to check out. And only I read graphic novels from the adult section.

Now that we have access to single issue comics the boys naturally want to read what they see in the shop. That's all great, but navigating what is appropriate for them (age 6,7 &9) is a bit of a challenge. So here's what I've learned and things to keep in mind when looking  to buy comics for kids.

Know your comic book publishers, their websites and their rating systems (if they have one). As you probably know the two big publishers for superhero comics are DC and Marvel. Each one of these have their own rating system. Knowing what their system is will help you figure out if you are okay with your kids reading certain story lines. To find their rating system visit  http://www.dccomics.com/ratings  for DC and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marvel_Rating_System for Marvel
Both DC and Marvel have a kids websites (click the name for the link) Visiting those and seeing what comics are advertised or offered there can be helpful.

For my boys, I feel safe letting them read Marvel comics rated T or All Ages. Anything else I have to read first and most times I just say they have to wait till they are older.  Current favorite is The Totally Awesome Hulk and Avengers Assemble Season 2.  DC I'm only okay with them reading E rated comics. My frustration is that there are not alot to choose from and I find that the art in DC is more gory than I think necessary in the T and T+ comics. But that's a rant for another time.

Sadly IDW doesn't have a rating system. While they have great titles for kids including Classic Disney lines such as Micky Mouse and Donald Duck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and My Little Pony, the only way to know if they are appropriate for your kids is to pick them up and read them. Basic illustrations can give you a clue though. There are several TMNT story lines and the cover illustration often foreshadows how dark the story line is.  But the only true way to know is leaf through it. Some of my boys favorites are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Amazing Adventures, and Angry Birds.

I love Dark Horse and Image comics, but most of their story lines are not suitable for kids. I cannot speak for teenagers though. That I'll leave up to the parents of teenagers. Although as a scary thought I'll be there soon. ;)

There is a website that can be very helpful. Kids Comics has lots of great links, games and previews for kids. This is a great way to see some of the kids titles out there and who publishes them.
Don't be afriad to talk to the friendly staff at your local comic book store. They will have knowledge of many of the comic lines they offer and can give you some detail about story line, violence and such. Be sure to express what you are looking for, and what you are trying to avoid.

Comic books are not only fun for kids and adults alike, they are a great way to get kids, especially boys, to read. Just check out this great article from GettingBoystoRead.com  We here at the Earthmama household are quickly growing our comic book collection and loving it.

Let the comics abound!!

Menu Planning- Meals for the rest of January

Confession: I have NOT menu planned in a year or more. This has meant lots of frozen pizza, eating out, and panic, scrambling nights of "What do I cook?" This is made worse by the fact that 3 to 4 nights a week I'm not home for dinner due to work. Since my husband doesn't cook (ie hate cooking), I'm often left feeling guilty that I didn't plan ahead.

Well it's a new year. Sure we are already over a week in, but that doesn't mean I can't start anew. And rather than just plan my week of meals, I sat down and planned the rest of the month of meals. The internet and Pintrest are my friends. :) And should be yours two. So here it is. This months meals. Let my husband say he can't cook now. Blah! I won't believe it. Cause I have it all planned. All he has to do is follow the instructions.

January Week 2
Monday: Chicken pot pie from More with Less
Tuesday: GF Orange chicken over rice, frozen green beans
Wednesday: Asian Chicken Salad (using leftover orange chicken)
Thursday: Roasted Squash Lasagna, frozen peas, GF Pamelas Bread
Friday: Fend for yourself Friday! (this just means that they can have leftovers or frozen pizza. I'm leaving it in my husbands hands)
Saturday: Crockpot Pulled Pork, chips, carrots
Sunday: Cheese Corn Chowder from More with Less

Week 3
Monday: Italian Wonderpot, frozen peas
Tuesday: Crockpot Porcupine Meatballs in mushroom sauce, rice, frozen green beans
Wednesday: Midweek meal at church
Thursday: Creamy Pasta with Bacon and Peas
Friday: Fend for yourself Friday!
Saturday: Crockpot Mexican Tortilla Pie
Sunday: Popcorn Cheese and Apples

Week 4
Monday: Shakshuka
Tuesday: Porcupine Meatballs in tomato sauce over pasta, frozen corn
Wednesday: Crockpot Fajtas and toppings
Thursday: Southwest One Pot Wonder (use leftover chicken)
Friday: Meatball subs using meatballs from Tuesday
Saturday: Curred chicken and coconut rice, frozen peas
Sunday: Coconut chickpea curry over rice (used leftover chicken)

Originally I started meal planning due to the lovey lady over at Organized Junkie. You can check out her meal plan plus tons of others by visiting her blog at orgjunkie.com.

Here's to eating well with less stress. And of course being able to answer that age old questions "What's for dinner?"

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why you should read Tales of an Earthmama in 2016

It has been way to long since I have blogged. But 2016 is a new year, and I am committed to sharing my journey. But you may be thinking, so what? What does this blog have that's different? Well to be honest maybe nothing. Doesn't mean following won't be a joy. So here are some reasons I think you should follow my blog this year. :)

1) A household of 3 boys in Elementary school is never dull.
                 When I started this blog I had a toddler and a baby, was tandem nursing and cloth diapering. The journey was crazy, and now my 3 boys babies have grown into 3 boy kids with all the challenges that entails. I will be reflecting on how to continue to connect with my boys now that they are no longer little and cuddly.

2) Raising geek kids while maintaining the innocence of childhood for a while longer
               My husband and I firmly live and breath geek culture. We are both Star Wars, Dr. Who, and Star Trek fans. We are both into board games. He loves video games, mostly computer. And I love comics, mostly Marvel but I do love Batman, Catwoman and Wonder Woman. :) However as awesome as geek culture is there is lots of violence and gore, not to mention sex. Balancing what's safe for them to see  vs what needs to wait till they are older is a difficult process. We are not always right, but we try hard to find the right balance for our kids and our family.

3) Learning to balancing the desire to work with the desire to be present in the kids lives
                After 6 years of being a stay at home mom, I now gladly work outside the home. I have discovered that I need outside work. It allows me to nurture me which in turn allows me to be more fully present with my kids. But there are challenges. We constantly struggle with how to balance two working parents schedules with kids schedules and activities. As the boys schedules continue to change and grow this struggle will only continue.

4) Keeping a healthy diet, while creating easy, fast meals for our busy lives
                The goal has always been to eat healthy and local when possible. I will still be reflecting on meal planning, finding the right balance between healthy and fast, easy meals. In addition we still have one gluten free kids and the challenges that come with that :)

5) Trying to support public schools while fighting to make them better
              I'm a big supporter of public schools. But they are by no means perfect. If fact, their is much to desire in terms of my kids education. Follow us as we figure out how to fight for bettering our schools while still be supportive of our teachers and school staff who work hard withing the limitations they are given.

Overall you should follow me for your own reasons. If something I reflect on catches your attention there is your reason. Truth is I don't have a perfect life. My house is messy, my kids are loud and fight alot, and I often what to pull my  hair out. But my journey might help you. Whether it allows you to see you're not alone, it helps you as you parent your own growing little ones, or just makes your laugh, smile or say "I hear you," I hope you take something good away. Come join me on this journey.