an existential educational crisis: montessori vs. homeschool vs. public school

momnivore's dilemma

I feel like I’ve been told there’s no such thing as Santa. Everything I thought I knew about children has been turned on its head.

I’ve spent the past two weeks observing the most incredible scenes of early childhood education in two private Montessori classrooms here in Chicago.  I’m just coming up for air.  And what better place to sort out my thoughts, than this here blog.

What I observed: children engaged, happily moving about their business-without disruption, without chaos. Frankly, I cannot think of any public or private school classroom I taught in that even came close to what I saw in the past two weeks.

In particular, the school I saw today, was basically the gold standard of what education should look like.  Natural light, natural materials, children given the freedom to move, explore, create, and be.

I mean, we are talking chills up my arms, choirs of angels singing-that good.  So, good, I’m considering selling an organ.

The problem?

The price of course.

But, something in my stomach, says, the money will appear somehow, magically in my bank account, and poof, this educational pipedream can become a reality.

Now, a quick digression-

I’m happy with Moose’s placement for this year, his teacher is far beyond my wildest hopes.  Someone needs to make a movie about this woman running Moose’s class.  She’s like Jen from I Heart Organizing meets the most brilliant special education guru ever.  I’d love to really know how she does it all:Manage 10 IEPs with such grace, patience, and persistence.

It’s not the Moose I’m concerned about, dear readers.

It’s this little fella in my house.

Monkey.  My defiant-booksmart-wild-all boy-Monkey.  Who according to CPS guidelines, is supposed to start kinder when he turn 5.  Late July.  Just before school starts.  Moose started kinder at nearly 6.  5 is just so young.

momnivore's dilemma

Issue being:Monkey is really taking off in terms of his academics. He started reading last week.

At age 4.

I know I can challenge him at home.  I’m mean, duh, come on.  I’ve taught every age, grade, level, reason, and season.

My toughest student is Moose, but that’s another post.  But Monkey, he loves to learn.  He’s easy to work with.  And direct.

But, it’s the methodology that’s in question here.

I learned quite a bit of my observations at the Montessori schools I visited.

And me thinks these Italians are onto something.

It’s truly eye-opening.  So, eye-opening, in fact, I will not shut them until I’ve read every book on Montessori.  Every blog.  Ever article.

I want his education to be self-directed, not the hellish experience we had at his school in May.  Public schools here in Chicago are presure-cookers of teaching to the test and common core and classrooms of 35.  Not ideal for a kid with some sensory struggles.  His academics are well-above where they should be, but in a big ocean of a class of 35, I think all hell will break loose.

No, I know it will.

See Moose escaped that pressure cooker.  His class has ten kids.  He has a sensory room.  His teacher is the cat’s meow.  I’m blessed.

Monkey’s in a decent spot now for PreK 4, but man, I’m talking the bigger picture here.  It’s a lot to chew and consider.

Frankly, in public school differentiation of instruction is a unicorn.  Sure, all teachers try their best, but in all reality: YOU HAVE A CLASS OF 35.  Out of those 7 hours, how many minutes are really getting into your child’s head?  Truly, consider that.

In a Montessori classroom, differentiation is EVERYWHERE.  Today, I saw a 4 year old working on multiplication boards at one table, one little boys working on identifying nouns in a magazine with a cut and paste activity, and two little girls working together on a massive geometric solid task that would have had 6th grade teachers applauding.

I wanted to rise and give a standing ovation at the end of observation.

Not to say all things are evil and bad in traditional school settings, but we all have the same end goal, just VERY different ways of attaining it.

As a parent, I take my role as “teacher” or “directress” in Montessori lingo, very seriously.  In fact, teachers will come and go, but as their mother, I am the force.  The OG.  The CEO.  I’m the first in line when the excrement hits the fan.

Long before I was a mother, I understood this in my early 20s, fresh out of grad school, ready to change the world!

One thing I will always cherish from my teaching career was a professional development session I attended headed by author Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook.  Out of the many insightful things he said during those hours: this stuck with me the most nearly a decade later:

Jim Trelease quote

And frankly, I cannot go back to my notions of leaning and education after seeing the gold standard.  Montessori has taken my brain and given it a nice talking to.

Even if I can’t send my boys to private Montessoris that are more than my mortgage, it’s time for momnivore to hit the books and shake things up-educationally speaking around here.

And of course, my friends, I will share.

My best,




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How to Clean Microfiber Sofas: A Cautionary Tale

how to clean microfiber

Age the age of 23, still young and clueless, and clearly in a red phase, I bought not one but two red microfiber sofas. Picasso had a blue phase, right?  I had a red phase with leopard pillows.  It was like Guns and Roses circa 1987 up in here.

Things like children and pets were not on my radar at that point, but dinner parties and drunken nights in with friends were.  Those nights often involved a lot of wine, chocolate fondue, and other foodstuffs that led to spills.

The saleswoman promised, “It’s such an easy fabric to care for! It will survive years of wear and tear!”

Lies, all lies.

how to clean microfiber

I’ve read “the pinterest” where promises of rubbing alcohol, baby wipes, and tears of a unicorn will clean said microfiber beasts.  I’ve sat late night, with small rubbing alcohol pads, and bristle brushes attempting the remove the years of filth from small children and a messy Boston Terrier named Doodle.

never buy microfiber sofas

These attempts at repairing the microfiber to its original state just made it worse.

Truly worse.

Have a look for yourself.

This is my microfiber sofa, ten years in, in the alley behind our home.  On my 34th birthday, mind you.

cleaning microfiber sofas, how to clean microfiber sofas

Putting this out for the junkman ranked right up there with graduating from grad school and the births of my sons.

The best way to clean microfiber is to remove all traces of it from your life if you have small children or slobbery pets.  After a decade of living within a microfiber prison, we’ve moved on to more wipeable, kid-friendly fabrics.

Like what I did way back when to my microfiber-covered dining chairs.  (That DIY gave me back hours of my life).

If you ever want children, cats, or dogs-opt for either 1.) leather 2.) some vegan form of leather or 3.) something with a slipcover you can wash.  That’s it.  Don’t let some salesperson convince you otherwise.

Look them in the face and tell them lies, all lies.

As I type this right now, my new sofa-in it’s neutral color and wipeable goodness stares me back and winks, “Hey there, I’m what you’ve been dreaming of for the past six years”.   It’s like getting hit on by Brad Pitt.

The energy we expend hating things in our home isn’t worth it.

So rid yourself of the beast. The energy vampire, if you will.  Let microfiber be dead to you.

Stay tuned later this week of the reveal of my new sofa.  A decade in the making.



Off to recline on my new sofa,


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The Happiest Birthday Ever. #fua

momnivore's dilemma

All of the worry.  The dollars spent.  The countless trips to Whole Foods and the farmers’ markets.  The endless ruined gluten-free experiments.  The prognosis and proclamations by stuffy doctors.  The trying this and the trying that.  And the what the hell, let’s give it our all.  The let’s scale back and let it be.

Amid all the energy and time, I still deep down inside had negativity and guilt at my core.

The guilt that I was never doing enough.  That despite it all…the fear he would never get better.

That is all by the wayside.

Enter an era of different hope.

I’ve released those negative feelings, and it seems we are turning a new corner.

Tonight, on his 6th birthday, my son spit in the face of his “label”.  Moose opened presents for the FIRST time.  He actually knew what his presents were.  He blew out his candle.

momnivore's dilemma

And that, my friends, is the stuff of unicorns and rainbows.

The stuff I was told at age 3 would never be for my son.

Here at the estate, we don’t take NO for an answer.

May year 6 bring grace, hope, and more progress.


I’ve posted twice in one day.  A world record.  I’m back from the blogging dead.

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a boy named Moose turns 6

moose as a puppy

So, you become a mother, and you think YOU are going to teach your child everything you’ve learned.  You are the director, and they are your mere apprentice.

moose as a puppy


This young man, has taught ME more about life than I could ever teach him, and for that, I am humbled.


In honor of his 6th birthday today, here are six things he’s taught me about life in the past 6 years.


1.) You can weather anything.  Whether it’s an autism diagnosis, sitting at your father’s funeral with a 6 week old baby, YOU are strong enough to deal with it all.  Punch through the days, and be grateful for all you have.

2.) Question everything you know.  Never take anything at face value anyone in positions of authority say: be it doctors, teachers, or therapists.  Read the fine print.  Then read the fine print’s fine print.

3.) Food can heal and destroy.  But question this too.  Research and study, use your body as your lab.  If the government or marketers recommend it, it is most likely not in your best interest.  Support local, organic, non-GMO, and food as our grandparents knew it.  The truth is in the margins.

4.) Take the time to slow down and honor your body.  Saying no to invitations and obligations isn’t horrible, it just makes you a realist.

5.) We all learn differently, on our own timetable.

6.) Health is much deeper than medicating symptoms.  It’s much deeper than cabinets of supplements.  It’s a quiet story in our being, written in our genes, written in our choices.  We are just scratching the surface of that.

That being said, Mr. Moose, I’m proud to be your mother.  I’m grateful for all that you have taught me, and continue to teach ME each day.


Happy 6th birthday,


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Doodle & Sketch: A Dream Come True

Over the past 6 months, I relearned skills from college: photoshop, digital art, and parts of me pushed by the wayside.

One of my favorite teaching jobs yet was my time as art on the cart teaching 20 sections of art each week for K-8th grade here in Chicago.  Sure, it sucked being without a classroom that year, but the lessons learned still remain with me nearly a decade later.

I watched children create and grow at every level, every day.  It reinformed how I looked at the world visually.

In late May, over at The Classroom Creative, Karen (who was a high school art teacher for well over a decade) and I took a leap and started making our own clip art.  That turned into hand-illustrated products for teachers.

Need season labels for your calendar area?  Make a clothespin with an arrow on top, affix to the right season, and you have yourself a simple season chart!   Free Printable Seasons Labels  #freebie #seasons

(freebie over at TpT)

Recently, we started illustrating word walls.  I took on the task of Halloween. Karen took fall.  For two weeks straight, I drew late into the night.  Well, late like 10:00.  I’m an early bird these days…



As those emails pour in, the little “beep” of my inbox on my Mac, with a “product sold” brings me a joy I cannot even begin to express gratitude for, truly I am so humbled.  My art, my ideas, and my years of experience are going to help classrooms, not only in America, but internationally.

Kids using my art, my words, and my ideas to learn…it’s just wow.  Teaching beyond the classroom, I guess.

Something that starts as a doodle, a sketch, and morphs into something a young child looks at, learns from, something that saves a teacher or homeschooling parent the gift of time, this, my friends, this is what I am meant to do.

The flipside: I miss teaching.  Terribly.  I miss the hush of the classroom during read-aloud.  I miss the theatrics, and the energy.  Being in an environment where literacy and learning are paramount.

I miss the classroom life.  But the demands of the classroom, and the demands of having a son with autism, mixed with my own health struggles…I know it’s not time to return. I was the teacher in my 20s that poured in heart, soul, and 200%.

In terms of my health,  I’m doing so much better, but I still have a ways to go.  As does Moose.  I need to keep my priorities at home.

For now, taking all my years of experience combined with my passion for learning, literacy, and art…this is my happy place, in a part-time way in between school drop-off and therapy-pick-ups, while dinner’s in the oven, and while I’m in the line at the grocery:

The early morning is my space and time now. A strong cup of coffee,  finally mastering Photoshop, my sketchpad, a conversation with Karen that results in incredible ideas, and watching my little business grow and grow.

It’s work without being work.

the classroom


This post is a part of project graveyard.  A month where I attempt 31ish days of writing about things that I’ve wanted to finish, address, etc.  to make life easier.

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Step Away from the Drive-Thru… (free printable)

I made this printable ages ago, in hopes of inspiring you all to make changes in your diets and lifestyles.  I never posted it.  If you want to make a lifestyle change, this is where I suggest you start.
Pretend the drive-thru doesn’t exist.
It’s healthy for your body and your pocketbook.
Simply drag to your desktop and save.
As a part of Project Graveyard, the month
where I post what’s been sleeping in my draftbox.
In health,
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Halloween Gravestone Craft

diy gravestone halloween craft idea

Truth: I’ve had these stryrofoam gravestones sitting in my Halloween stash for a few years. Okay, maybe ten years. Each year, I plan on making them suitable for the outdoors. Then October 31st rolls around, and they return to their respective Halloween containers.

Finally, I took the whole 5 minutes this craft took me, and now I have a kid-friendly graveyard on my frontlawn. If some neighborhood kids decide to trash it, then I’m out a few bucks.  These are the garden-variety gravestones you’ve probably seen at your dollar store.


diy gravestone halloween craft idea



materials circle button-002

-spray paint in silver

-E6000 craft glue

-paint sticks or shims

-cheap stryrofoam gravestones from The Dollar Tree


I won’t insult your intelligence here, but the secret is that E6000 glue.  It’s waterproof, which is key for most rainy Octobers.

Simply spray paint the gravestone to get rid of that cheap dollar store look, glue a paint stick or shim on the back about mid-way down, and drive that stake into the ground once your craft is good and dry.


diy gravestones craft for halloween

As a part of The Nester’s 31 days project, in which bloggers from all genres write about a topic for 31 days…I chose to be more general this year.  Project Graveyard is a month where I tie up loose ends in my home and creative life.  Finally, I have some outdoor Halloween decorations.


Stay tuned for more!



If you want to see last year’s 31 days (it’s all about Halloween…stop here!)

31 days of Halloween crafts, recipes, activities, ideas, stories, and projects at momnivore's

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31 Days of Project Graveyard

Last year, I committed to writing for Nester’s 31 days.  By mid-month, I was exhausted about writing about Halloween. Writing 31 days straight about anything, is well, a lot.  Especially, now given my new early bird status and this work-from-home gig. Frankly, I’ve neglected this blog, as I have been up to my eyes over at The Classroom Creative.

This year, I’m going to broaden my topic to kickstart what is high-blogging season for me…with Project Graveyard.

project graveyard

It’s all those nagging little things you hope to do, that never make the top of the to-do list.  It’s all the drafts I have sitting in my blog.  It’s unfinished business around the house.  It’s all those baby books I’ve never gotten around to.

The concept came from a studio I used to take classes at about a decade ago.  The owner would host open-ended night where you would bring alone unfinished projects.

So, this month, marks the start of my 34th year.  Today, actually, I’m 34.

What better way to mark the start of a new phase, than to complete something small each day.  Something small that nags you…those little energy vampires.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a simple Halloween craft that I started two years ago for my front lawn.

Never got around to it, until today.


See you then,


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Why I Started Eating Dairy Again

reintroducing dairy into your diet

I’ve been having an affair.

With dairy.

For those of you who are new to the blog, we (my sons and I) went GFCFSF about three years ago and consequently, kicked dairy to the curb.

After a few years “off the hooch”, you may find me eating a stick of butter on occasion.

It started rather innocuosly, about a year ago.  I started making homemade ghee, which is basically claifiied butter with all the autism-scaring casein protein removed.  And many, did it take the hell of GFCFSF cooking up a notch.  I was making a batch every week or so.

And then, I added butter back in.

Then, cream.

Then, grass-fed dairy.

reintroducing dairy into your diet


The, cheese, oh cheese, your pea-protein CF vegan substitues can’t hold a candle.  Well, maybe some of the cashew cheese from expensive vegan restaurants in my dear city, but my gosh, cheese.  You’ve got a hold on me.

Well, not really.

I could quit it again without problem.  If I could quit coffee, gluten, soda, and still live to tell about it?

Sidenote: I’m back on coffee again, just not pots of it.  Not daily.  And my adrenal glands like me better now.

So, why did I choose to put dairy back in?

Well…several reasons.

1.) Reducing PUFAs (Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids) and other funky chemcial additives in the “alternative milks”.  Carageenan alone is a reason to run from the cartons of almond and coconut milk.  There’s some weird ass ingredients in the boxed store-bought milks, and I don’t think they are real food or necessarily good for you.

2.) Butyric acid is high in butter and good for the gut, yet, naysayers will scream “casein” and other inflammatories in milk to counter this point.  But, I feel better, so that’s my barometer.

3.) My body temperature was sucking in th 97s and I was cold all the time, so adding dairy back in, according to ayuvedic principles, would warm me up.  I’m toasty now, and metabolizing things so well.

4.) Homeopathy has brought a lot of healing to all involved in our household.  The premise of the type of homeopathy we practice doesn’t restrict foods, so after a few years of giving GFCFSF the old college try, it was a temporary diet at best.

What does scare me is some of my family think this is tabula rasa for feeding my kids all the crap they can.  I’m still the food police. There are some brands I trust, and some that I don’t.

I trust grass-fed over organic. Period.

So, for now, we are changing our diets yet again.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  We learn, screw up, and change things along the way.




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on work and motherhood

balancing work and motherhood

Last year I took a leap.  I started a business with a friend.  And that little website The Classroom Creative has grown ten-fold over the past year, and now we have a LLC, an accountant, and loads of ideas and to-do lists.

Nicolette Lennert of momnivore's dilemma and the classroom creative1

In short, it’s allowing me to combine all my loves: teaching, developing curriculum, helping others, drawing, graphic design, and writing.

Working again was something I both wanted and needed to do for myself, but unlike my years in the classroom, I needed to do it on my own schedule and my own terms.  I’ve “leaned in” to what I need: flexibility, being my own boss, while building something with potential that’s limitless.


Returning to the classroom wasn’t an option for me.  I know plenty of mothers who can handle their homes and their classrooms, but given the situations my family, I simply couldn’t. Now well into my 30s, I know my parameters and the amount of stress I can handle. Managing Moose’s autism and attending to Monkey’s needs as well, far exceeds that of a “normal” motherhood.  I know that and honor that.

balancing work and motherhood

Being the dedicated teacher I was in my 20s and the mother and woman I need to be in my 30s are two identities that can’t be meshed at this point.  But, deep down inside, I miss the classroom.

In the quiet of the early years of motherhood, I had a yearning to work, but I couldn’t see balancing the stress of a classroom of 30 with two small children.  After the “Big A” hit our house when Moose turned 2, I understood that my role as mother  was more important than any career, but still something nagged at me.

Moose age 3 at Easter

So, I ran a small tutoring business for a few years when my sons were very young, and it keep me sane enough.  It was very part-time, but the pay was great.  One of the mothers whose son I tutored for many years, said to me, “I see you doing something much bigger.  Honestly, I do.”

That little vote of confidence stuck with me many years later.

I know that my little business will grow into a much bigger business.  I can single-handedly dig my family out of the debt that four years of autism and its subsequent bills demolished.  I am blessed to work with an incredibly talented art educator, Karen, who is beyond talented in the visual arts.

I know I couldn’t run this operation alone.

By biggest hope is that one day, with enough financial means, I can reach out and help families who really need it. My husband and I want to start that non-profit WE PICK UP THE PIECES.ORG I daydreamed about awhile ago to help families with autism and other developmentally disabled kids.

It’s not the right time to start it now, but one day soon,

I will.

For the past six years, I’ve learned to look at myself outside the definitions of work.  To see what I really want from life.

To take lessons from my children, and apply it to my life’s purpose and mission.


The age-old debate on motherhood and work rages on in the media and even in the whispers between friends who are on opposite sides of the fence.  But rather wasting time and energy worrying about societal expectations and the legend of the supermom, we simply need to “lean in” to that little voice.

If that little voice tells you to break glass ceilings. Do it.  If it tells you to stay home with your children: Do it.  If it tells you to find some happy medium: Do it.  If it tells you to take a nap: Definetly do it.

I’ve learned, over the past decade, what that little voice says, can and will change from year to year.


Thanks for reading,


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