Monday, August 21, 2017

A day at the fair

Some pictures from our second visit to the fair.

K.

G., L., and Y.

K.

Y. and K.

TM and L.

H. and R.

Watching A. and G. on a ride

P. and A. getting off the ride

Y.
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And I haven't done this in a few days, so here is our monthly vegetable tally:

Artichoke - 1
Avocado – 3
Basil - 1
Beans (black) - 2
Beans (navy) – 2
Bell pepper – 2
Broccoli - 1
Brussels sprouts – 1
Carrots - 2
Cauliflower – 1
Celery - 1
Chickpeas - 1
Chipotle pepper - 1
Corn – 3
Cucumber – 2
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Green onions – 1
Jalapeno – 1
Lettuce (iceberg) - 1
Lettuce (leaf) – 3
Lettuce (romaine) – 2
Mushrooms (white button) - 1
Okra - 1
Onion – 6
Peas - 1
Potatoes - 1
Spinach – 1
Swiss chard - 1
Tomato (cherry) – 2
Tomato – 5

Zucchini - 2

How is yours going?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Going, going, going

That is what we've been doing the past couple of days. Our new little town has a big festival the third weekend of August, complete with parade, carnival, tractor pull... you name it. Everyone enjoyed the parade and carnival last night, but it did make for a late bedtime. This morning, we were up early to head into Chicago for a memorial service. It was a sad reason to see M. and B., as well as lots of friends. Of course, one doesn't make the trek without doing some visiting, so we were gone all day.

I'm pooped. It's late, I'm tired, and tomorrow is promising to be another busy day. It also means I don't have a lot to say other than that.

And really, I'm popping in here not just to say that I'm tired, but to also ask you, if you are a praying type, to keep my mom and her new puppy in your prayers. A couple of weeks ago, she bought home a new little bulldog puppy, whom she adores. Then, a week ago, Daisy, the new little puppy contracted pneumonia and is a very, very sick dog. She will be needing 24-hour care if she is going to pull through. I know I... and my mother... would appreciate everyone's prayers for Daisy's healing. Thanks!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday bullets, August 18, 2017

We get closer and closer to September, and I still have no done homeschool planning. I may take a page out of a friend's book, and consider September 1 to be August 32. I can do that, right? Make summer another month or two longer?


  • It's been a week of socializing. We've made some new friends which we are very excited about, who don't live very far from us. It certainly helps this seem more like home. But for this introvert, three days in a row of meeting people is a lot. I'm tired. The grocery store trip I need to make today sounds kind of relaxing. 
  • P. and I headed over to our local community college the other day to get her enrolled. She has decided she wants to try one class at first, and has settled on French 1. Her reasons for taking French are not because she has always wanted to learn it, or because I can help her. No, it's because they don't offer Romanian, and French is the closest she could get to it. (P. likes learning less main stream languages. For a while she was working on Dutch.)
  • We have a new lawn mower. No, we didn't plan on purchasing a lawn mower at this point in time, but the tractor we inherited with the house officially kicked the bucket a week ago. It has always been a bit finicky, and was not pleasant to drive, but when the blades stopped turning, we knew its time had come. On Tuesday, a bright and shiny new zero turn mower arrived at our house. It's probably just as well. It is far easier to use than the old tractor, and will make mowing the lawn a lot quicker and easier. Plus, it can spin in circles.
  • I miss my old kitchen.
  • We visited some new friends yesterday and they have chickens. Some of my children now think that getting chickens should not only be put on the to-do list, but should be bumped right up to the top. And a certain older child, who really, really loves eggs, finally made the connection between having chickens and eggs appearing for the gathering. I'm not entirely sure she had ever really put together the live animal chicken and the eggs that came out of the refrigerator before.
  • G. sits down next to me the other day, and says in a sad and pathetic voice, "I miss doing school," and then sighs heavily. She is not the only one to feel this way. I see this as being a problem in my hopes to extend summer another month or two. 
  • Puppy Olive is now 11 weeks old and stands taller than Nefertiti. This does not thrill Nefertiti, let me tell you. I think all of Olive's growth is going to her feet and legs. Her feet are nearly as big as Kenzie's now, and her front legs are like sturdy young tree trunks. A. is doing a great job with her, and it would seem that Olive is very close to having the whole house training-thing down. Or Olive is doing a great job with A., and nearly has her trained. One or the other.
  • To catch you up on other animals, Q. is doing just fine. He particularly loves it when one of the children scratches him under the chin. He is also continuing to do his part in eating the Japanese beetle population. 
  • The wean off of R.'s seizure medicine is still continuing, and still no seizures. I still cannot tell if the reduction of medicine is making any difference cognitively, though. She does seem to be in a particularly shrieky phase at the moment. I have no idea if the two things are related.
  • We still have boxes of IKEA furniture which has yet to be put together.
  • G. likes to go around and correct older siblings' grammar. She is often correct. D. does the same thing, only in his head. 
  • I'm willing to eat crow and admit having a smart phone does make life a lot easier. But auto correct... it drives me wild. The thing that makes me want to smash it into the sidewalk is its tendency to helpfully capitalize every single contraction regardless of where the contraction falls in the sentence. So sentences end up looking like this: Why Don't you pick up some milk since We're out. I Can't get to the store right now because We're in the middle of something. Clearly whoever did the programming for auto correct missed the day in school when contractions were explained. Or capitalization. Or both.
  • Yes, my children have inherited their grammar correction habit from me, though I'm quite sure J. is as much responsible as I am.
And with that I shall leave you. Don't forget to head to my studio Facebook page and click the little 'like' button.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Starting from scratch

When you move to a place where you know no one, it can be difficult to start all over again. This is particularly true if you are a private teacher. Since it seems that the area where we've landed relies heavily on the internet for information, I have decided that I needed to create a Facebook page for my piano studio. So this is what I did last night instead of writing a blog post. For people on Facebook, if you care to, a visit to my new page, and a like would be much appreciated. If I have ever taught you or your child, and you would care to write a positive review, that would be much appreciated as well.
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Vegetable tally... last night we had pasta with pesto. I decided that even though basil is typically classified as an herb, when you use four cups of the stuff it counts as a vegetable. Halfway through the month, and we are at 29 different entries. If you want to quibble about me dividing up lettuce and tomatoes into types, then you drop the total down to 27. Either way, we are pretty close to 30, and still have a week or two to add some more obscure vegetables onto the list. Plus, as I look at it, there are some pretty ubiquitous vegetables I haven't fixed yet... such as broccoli.

Avocado – 2
Basil - 1
Beans (black) - 2
Beans (navy) – 2
Bell pepper - 2
Brussels sprouts – 1
Carrots - 2
Cauliflower – 2
Celery - 1
Chickpeas - 1
Chipotle pepper - 1
Corn – 3
Cucumber – 2
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Green onions – 1
Jalapeno – 1
Lettuce (leaf) - 1
Lettuce (romaine) – 2
Mushrooms (white button) - 1
Okra - 1
Onion – 6
Peas - 1
Potatoes - 1
Spinach – 1
Tomato (cherry) – 1
Tomato – 3

Zucchini - 1

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Dear Frustrated and Reluctant Homeschooler

It's the season when schools are starting, and thus many homeschoolers are starting their more formal learning as well. Recently I've noticed something. Maybe it's because I'm in quite a few groups where it seems that homeschooling has not been a first choice for a family, but they end up homeschooling because it feels like a last resort. These are not parents who are homeschooling because of the benefits homeschooling offers, but are homeschooling because their first options proved to be harmful to their children.

There is a big difference between choosing something proactively and feeling cornered by a lot of bad options and picking the one that seems least harmful. It's all homeschooling, but it is so interesting to me how many people can view the same thing, but with such different lenses. I see a lot of pain and frustration and feelings of failure among the 'homeschooling thrust upon them' group. Very often this group gives up on homeschooling, thinking they are not capable of doing it successfully. Maybe it's because the start of a new school year, but I've been seeing a lot more of the "Help me! I can't do this. How on earth do I do this?" sort of posts in various groups.

Whenever I find myself giving the same responses more than a few times, I think it's time for a broader audience, which just happens to be you, my dear readers of this blog.

So....

To the Frustrated and Reluctant Homeschooler,

I've been homeschooling a long time. Twenty-one years to be exact, if you include that year we did a homeschool preschool co-op with a couple of friends. During those years I've done a lot of reading. I've made a lot of mistakes. I've learned a lot about teaching my children. And I've had a few successes. My children have been all over the board in terms of ability and interest and cooperativeness. Some days go well. Some are a bust. And most are pretty average. My children learn things, become independent and capable, and my two adults are graduated from college and out on their own. I've homeschooled one young child and I've homeschooled up to nine at one time. I've seen homeschooling go from extreme fringe, where finding resources could be a challenge, to very mainstream and a market that everyone and their dog wants to sell things to. In fact, I started homeschooling only about four years after the last state in the union made it officially legal to homeschool. I've seen a lot.

Other than to make me feel old, I tell you these things because I have a long perspective on the whole process. I have felt as though I was failing my children, and have watched those same children grow up to be competent adults. As a result of this experience, I have a few things I want to share with you.

1. Stop thinking of homeschooling as a second best option. There is so much you can do with your child to facilitate learning when you have the luxury of time and freedom. You can take your child's interests and dig deep into them. You can take those interests and branch out into other things. You do not have to be tied to a text book or curriculum or time of day. If you want to spent the next 18 months learning about dinosaurs, you can. There are many, many positives to such deep learning. You are not constrained by school schedules, by grade levels, or by scope and sequences. The only limit to what you do in school is the limits of your own imagination.

2. You cannot replicate what happens in a brick and mortar school. I know that this is one of the most difficult ideas for people coming out of the school system to wrap their heads around. When you homeschool, learning just looks different. There is this tacit belief that unless the learning happened with a teacher in the front, a text book on the desk, and dozens of worksheets for homework in the backpack, that it somehow doesn't count. But it does! Learning happens all the time. Just try to stop a child with an active interest in things from learning. Children are born needing to learn and to soak up the world around them. All we have to do is direct and harness that learning. You can use textbooks if you like... I certainly make use of some...  but you actually don't need text books to learn. A child can learn without any of the 'school-y' things we mistakenly think of as learning. Education (the how) is very different from learning (the what), yet we can so easily get sidetracked into thinking the education is more important than the learning. I know people who have tried to replicate a regular classroom at home, and I cannot think of a single one who didn't become burnt out and disillusioned. Homes work differently than classrooms, even if you are homeschooling. So, if replicating a classroom is what you've been doing and it hasn't been working, the fault is not yours, but the method's.

3. Video is no substitute for a real live adult. I know I'm going to catch some flack for this, because video schooling is just so gosh darn popular at the moment. I think it's a combination of some really slick marketing, a huge dose of parental fear, and a little bit of parental laziness. Sure it's easier to plunk your child down in front of screen and call it school. Sure you don't have to do any planning or worrying, it's all laid out for you. You also don't get a lot of leeway if a child is struggling with a subject. You don't get to choose what you learn or when you learn it. You don't get to have those lovely long discussions that are the end result of following a rabbit trail you didn't plan on. No, you have to keep to the schedule. Education waits for no family. Keep moving. Check the boxes. OR you may be responsible for ruining your child, because the video people are the experts, you know. (Think I have an opinion about this?) Really, teaching anyone takes time and effort. It takes actually being there and discussing things and figuring out where the child got stuck and listening to their ideas. It takes conversation. Lots and lots of conversation.

4. Fear is the real problem. If you are homeschooling, and are feeling like a failure, I'm pretty sure that the problem isn't homeschooling, but the fear you have regarding your child. Nothing instills fear in a parent faster than thinking about that child's future. And when you are the one responsible for educating that child, the fear is doubly present. What if they don't learn? What if they don't learn enough? What if they could do better elsewhere? What if I don't know enough? What if I use the wrong schedule or curriculum or co-op? What if I ruin my child? A parent trying to help their child learn while having all of this fear running around in their head is going to be an impatient and irritated parent. Anyone who has had the experience of trying to learn something and the teacher becomes impatient and irritated knows that it is not really great for learning. And the cycle begins. A child is uncooperative or doesn't understand something. The parent feels a degree of fear over the child's future. Usually fear does not come out as fear, but sideways, and then you have the impatient parent. The child senses the parent's irritation and responds back, by becoming fearful themselves. The child's fear can come out as perceived laziness ("He won't try to do anything!") or as oppositional ("I'm not going to do that, and you can't make me!") Some children shut down. Others stop actually thinking and just resort to guessing ("I want my mom to be happy with me and I don't know how to do it.") The parent feels more fear, and the situation escalates until the parent decides that homeschooling doesn't work for their family. It's fear, not homeschooling, that is driving the behaviors.

5. No homeschooling family is perfect. Despite what you may believe based on various Pinterest boards, blogs, and books, no family homeschools perfectly. Some have good days and bad days. Some planned activities are a bust. Some days children are grouchy and uncooperative. And some days, those golden days you hold on to which don't come along all that often, things fall into place, and you think, "Ah! This is how it is supposed to be." I cannot tell you the number of times that I have planned something that I think is pretty cool, only to be met with blank stares and less than enthusiastic responses. I almost expect it now. The first few years it was pretty disheartening. I would plug away with the activity, and sometimes everyone would find themselves enjoying it, and other times it would be a slog and we would all be happy to be done with it. A few times, I even threw in the towel altogether and bagged it. Here is where perspective comes in. You can never be sure what seeds you are planting in those less-than-wonderful, slog-it-out moments. Years later, children will be reminiscing about some of the things that we did as a family, and inevitably, some of those activities that I thought were a flop were mentioned as some of their favorites. You just can't know. So you persevere, check your expectations, and hope for the best. This is a long-term endeavor you are engaged in. It will be years before you see the final results.

6. Remember you are on the same team. It is so easy to fall into the trap of making your children the opposition. Homeschooling is more of a lifestyle issue than people realize. I find there is not a lot of differentiation between what we do. Is it a family outing or a field trip? Is this a don't-understand-thing or an I'm-mad-at-mom-thing? If a child snuggles with you at the end of the day and wants to sound out the words in a Boxcar Children book, is that school? Then there are the conversations and debates at the dinner table, the child who reads classic literature for fun, or the self-described scientist who plays with test tubes. Where does that all fit in? The lines are fuzzy. When you homeschool everything is school... or nothing is school... it kind of depends on how you look at it. All that to say, if you have a child that is being uncooperative in the homeschool environment, it isn't a school issue, it is a family/parenting issue. Sending the child to school may get some math worksheets completed (maybe), but it won't solve the problem in the long run. Far more important in the life of the child is to figure out the why to the uncooperativeness and address that first. Yes, even at the expense of the math worksheets. Because in the long run, academic skills can be learned at any point, emotional health not gained in childhood is extremely difficult to gain in adulthood. As a parent, you want your child to succeed and be healthy. Figure out how to make that happen first, and cooperativeness with schoolwork will follow.

7. (And the last, I promise.) You can be on your own timeline. Just because popular culture and the public school system has declared that school begins at kindergarten when a child is five, and ends with 12th grade, when a child is 18, followed by college, with at most a gap year in between, does not mean that this is what has to happen. Is it the end of the world if a child takes longer to learn the basics? Whom does it hurt if a child goes to college later? Will five years for high school kill anyone? Really, nothing horribly dire is going to happen if a child takes longer than usual to move on with college and adult life. It's not as though a ship is boarding to take your child to adulthood, and if they miss it, that's it. If your child came to you at an older age, all this does is give you a few more years together to make up for the ones you missed. There is no rush! Can I say that again? There is no rush in raising our children. Sure, society is all for creating children who learn better, faster, smarter. It's cool to brag that your 14 year old has already finished with trig and is working on calculus. If that's where that 14 year old is, that's great. But no one is running a race, and in the long run, there is little difference between learning calculus at 14 versus learning it at 18. (And since I never took calculus at all, I can say without hesitation that people can lead full and productive lives without it completely.) There are no medals to those who finish the school race first. There is no parenting award for most on target children. There is really very little to support the idea that children can be standardized at all. We are all unique and run on our own timelines. We are all jagged in our abilities. If a child is moving at their own trajectory, there cannot be any behind or ahead at all. They are just where they need to be right then.

So much of the time, it is not really homeschooling that is the issue, but expectations and assumptions that a person holds and are not aware of. It can be difficult to struggle with the questions of, What, really, is education? How does our family actually function? Why do I think these certain expectations need to be met? What am I afraid of? It may be that in wrestling with these questions, the answers will lead a family to public school. Or it may lead to something completely unexpected. Either way, when tacit expectations have been exposed and addressed, decisions are easier to make. Homeschooling can be a fantastic choice for a family, but I often find that the families who have been extremely purposeful about their choice are the ones who are most content doing it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trying out my new toy

Well, it's not really new, but it's new to me. For a while, A. was really interested in photography and used her own money to buy herself a really nice dslr camera. I thought she took some really good photographs with it, but eventually she moved on to other things. As we were packing, she came across it again, and decided she didn't really want it. So I happily snatched it up. I don't actually enjoy taking bad pictures, and having a good camera would encourage me to actually practice. 

I've spent some time reading the manual and figuring out how the basics work, and decided before moving on to more technical aspects, I should just fool around with it and get used to it. What do you think? Better? (Don't say anything if you don't think so, because I think they are.) These are from this morning.

H.

And some of Kenzie.



Various plants growing in the yard.


This is on a medium height, rounded bush. Any idea what it is?



Since I had the camera outside, I thought I'd also take a few pictures of what our street looks like. Across the street from us is a big professional greenhouse. In front of the greenhouse is a huge yard of wildflowers to supply pollen for the dozens of bee hives they have. A couple of weeks ago, it was all blue. Now it seems to be yellow, with a lot of sunflowers poking up above the other plants.



This is what our street looks like if you turn left out of our driveway. Beautiful, huh? I still kind of pinch myself when I realize we are living here. I was also a little dismayed to see just the beginnings of a little color on some of those trees down there.


Here is a shot of the front door and porch of the house, through the trees, which is the view from the drive as you first enter. It looks kind of nice in this shot.


But when I add in a little more, you can see some of the dozens and dozens of volunteer bushes that have grown up between many of the maples. On our list is to begin to clear these out and tidy it up. It will also help to let some more light in, and hopefully cut down on the amount of mosquitoes which currently inhabit this particular spot.


Other than take a few pictures, this, plus one that looks exactly like it, are the sum total of my day. Well, when I wasn't helping children, cleaning the kitchen, taking children to appointments, etc. Two more boxes down... 8 boxes to go.

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Vegetable Tally

Avocado – 1
Beans (black) - 2
Beans (navy) – 2
Bell pepper - 3
Brussels sprouts – 1
Carrots - 2
Cauliflower – 1
Celery - 1
Chickpeas - 1
Chipotle pepper - 1
Corn – 3
Cucumber – 2
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Green onions – 1
Jalapeno - 1
Lettuce (romaine) – 2
Mushrooms (white button) - 1
Okra - 1
Onion (yellow) – 6
Onion (red) - 1
Peas - 1
Potatoes - 1
Spinach – 1
Tomato (cherry) – 1
Tomato – 2

Zucchini - 1

Sunday night was vegetable soup with alphabet noodles. The alphabet noodles were an inspired addition, because everyone was having so much eating their soup and spelling words, that no one seemed to notice the many different vegetables I had put in it. They ate more of it at lunch yesterday. Last night was supposed to be a dish with chicken and cauliflower and carrots, but those dang shelves took so long, I didn't get it in in time. Instead, we had the coconut beef curry, which he have a lot. We have it so much that I now put an entire can of red curry paste in it, and it is still not quite hot enough. When I first made it, I put in just a tablespoon full, and people were complaining they couldn't eat it. I think our taste buds have adjusted.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A rare political post

If anyone doubted that we live in a fallen world, the news from the past few days, should be enough to convince them otherwise. We like to live in our little bubbles where good things happen, where people are nice, and everything works out. This bubble is easier to maintain if you are a certain demographic, for many people both in our country and across the world, this bubble doesn't exist. What saddens me is when people assume that because their bubble is intact, that other people must be able to live in a bubble, or if their bubble popped, it must somehow be their fault. Is it that frightening to admit that we live in an evil world? Is it that frightening to admit that we may not know everything about another person's existence? Is it that frightening to admit that some people in this world get a raw deal, through no fault of their own?

It must be, because why else would people even try to make the events of the past weekend OK? Anyone who says that another human being is less than valuable because of the color of their skin is wrong. And we need to be able to say out loud, often, that it is wrong. If we do not point out evil when we see it, we are just as culpable. And if you have evil pointed out to you, and you refuse to acknowledge it, you have thrown your lot in with the other side.

I don't post about politics very often here. I don't enjoy politics. I find it stressful. I am conflict avoidant. But sometimes I find the need to make what I believe clear, because I never want someone else to assume I believe in something else merely from my silence.

Every single human being is created in the image of our Creator God. Thus every single human being is valuable. Every single human being is also infected with sin from this fallen world, and non if us is perfect. In God's eyes, sin is sin, and we don't get to hold one sin up as more heinous than another. All of us fall short of God's glory. We all matter. None is better than another. Jesus tells us to love everyone, as much as we love ourselves, even if we don't agree with them or like them or if they have done bad things to us. There is not much leeway there. We are to love other people. Period.

If you love someone, you take their concerns seriously. You do not belittle their experience. You listen. You have humility for your own positions, because you are also a sinful creation.

Political parties will not save us. Even the ones we agree with.
Political parties will not doom us to oblivion. Even the ones we disagree with.
Only God can do this, and He is in charge. Why do Christians so often seem to forget this? We know how the story ends, a political figure cannot rewrite it.

And while I believe that all lives are valuable, sometimes you have to be explicit. Yes, black lives do matter. If you are going to quibble with this, you are no better than my young children who squabble. If I tell a child I really like his drawing, I will have many other children running up to me, shoving pictures in my face, and making sure that I like their pictures, too. Just because I told one child I liked his drawing does not in any way take away how much I like my other children's drawings as well. But for him, that child with the first drawing, it is important for me to say I like his work. Just because we say one thing about something, does not mean that other things are equally true, but something that one thing needs to be said. Can we be secure enough in our Father's love that we can say that people or color really do matter? Because whether you want to acknowledge it or not, society is so often saying something different. We need to love our brothers and sisters who do not look like us. To stand up for them in the face of oppression and violence and hatred. We need to love them as much as we love ourselves and our comfort.

If you truly love and follow Jesus, you cannot stand aside and let evil pass. You must stand up to it and call it what it is. Hatred is evil.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Guess what we did today




Anyone who has ever shopped at Ikea knows instantly what we did. We made a giant Ikea run this afternoon, just J. and I. (We knew if we took people, that both the people and the boxes would not fit in the van.) This is what happens when you move out of a home with a lot of built-in storage and some of the other storage you have is just broken enough not to make the move. We were in desperate need of dressers and bookcases, which is what the bulk of these flat pack boxes are. You should have seen J. and I by the end, each trying to wheel our trolleys loaded with 100's of pounds of boxes around the store. It was a sight. We are both more than a little tired afterwards.

Now, I hope we can finally get the piles of books off the floors and our high schoolers can finally unpack their many boxes and settle in. Those three on the top floor were in the worst shape. For various reasons, The arrived with beds and little else in the way of furniture and have been living out of boxes for over a month. They have all been extremely uncomplaining about their plight, but we really needed to do something for them all.

The frightening thing (for the budget) is this is not everything that was on our list that we were hoping to find. I find it fascinating how different houses work in such different ways. We were overwhelmed with furniture in our old house, but for various reasons, much of the furniture wouldn't work in this house. We went from having too much furniture to not having nearly enough. I'm more than a little ready for this moving-in process to be done with.

Guess what J. is going to be doing tomorrow? He is so excited. [Insert heavy sarcasm emoticon here.]
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I forgot to update my vegetable tally yesterday. This new tally then represents several days' worth of vegetable goodness.

Avocado – 1
Beans (black) - 1
Beans (navy) – 2
Bell pepper - 1
Brussels sprouts – 1
Carrots - 1
Cauliflower – 1
Chickpeas - 1
Chipotle pepper - 1
Corn – 2
Cucumber – 2
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Green onions – 1
Jalapeno - 1
Lettuce (romaine) – 2
Mushrooms (white button) - 1
Okra - 1
Onion – 5
Spinach – 1
Tomato (cherry) – 1
Tomato – 2

Zucchini - 1

Tonight's vegetables were fried okra (which I love) and sauteed mushrooms (which I don't). I ate a couple of mushrooms, though, as a good example for the others. Mushrooms aren't that uncommon, but let's talk about okra. Okra is not a vegetable that is eaten very much here in the north. In fact, when I bought it yesterday, I had to tell the checker what it was, and then he had to go off in search of the code in order to ring it up. Once a long time ago, I had an African-American checker ask me what a white girl like me (it was a loooong time ago) was going to do with the huge bag of okra I was buying. 

Those of my readers in the south would probably read okra and not think twice about it. Others of my readers in the north are probably thinking, "Huh?" I may be extremely northern in many ways, but I did have a very southern grandmother (my dad's mom). She was born and raised in Louisiana, and my father grew up eating a very southern diet, even though they were living in Arizona. My father adored okra in all forms... raw, stewed (bleh, too slimy), fried... and my mother learned to cook it for him, even though it was a new vegetable to her. Thus, I grew up eating fried okra, and it is truly one of my comfort foods. Many of my children tolerate it, some love it, and at least one actively hates it. J. has learned to like it from me serving it to him so often. I think you should try it. Here's how I do it.

Fried Okra

Wash and trim a bunch of okra, cutting off the ends, and cutting it into circles. Toss it with cornmeal until well covered. (J. likes to add some salt, I don't even bother.) Heat some oil in a frying pan. Pour in the okra and stir. Cook the okra until the cornmeal starts to turn a little bit brown, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately. Hope that no one else likes it so that you can eat the whole pan.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Friday bullets, Aug. 10, 2017

It feels as though it's been a busier week around here than we've had in a while.

  • The cauliflower curry dish that we had last night was... underwhelming. And one of those dishes that ends up taking far more time than the recipe would seem to indicate. It was one of those post-8pm, European-style dinners. I'll have to try some more recipes from the book before I decide to buy it.
  • We had two park dates to meet new friends this week, and two more park dates planned for next week. They were very nice, and I'm starting to feel as though I am beginning to meet people.
  • The other day, it was that dreaded late in the day, I was making dinner time, and the younger people wanted to watch something. Somehow they ended up watching the beginning of a 3-disk documentary call A History of US. (I had kind of forgotten we even owned it.) You wouldn't think that a history documentary, done in a very documentary style would hold the attention of the 8-11 year old group, but it did. They clamored for it today as well. G. has told me several times how much she LOVES American history. 
  • Sometimes I feel as though I live in our very own little mash-up of a comic convention and a Ren. Fair. It is rare that every person in the house is actually who they are, more often they are pretending to be someone or something else. This has been particularly true since I unpacked the costumes. This morning for instance, no doubt due to the heavy dose of American history yesterday, L. was dressed as a civil war soldier, G. was a Native American, and more baffling still, K. was some sort of Star Wars/Alien/soldier combination. Which did look rather funny to next to the more historical characters to my not-yet-caffeine-infused brain.
  • Olive continues to grow and thrive. She is really a pretty mellow puppy. Here is a new picture so you can see how much bigger she is.

A. is realizing it won't be too much longer before it will be difficult to hold Olive in her arms.
  • Also in that picture, you can see that we are still in desperate need of bookshelves. I don't want to put anything on the walls over in that corner until I see how the bookshelves (still to be acquired) will look.
  • In other household decorating news, the first two days of the week were filled with having the drywall on the wall that was cut back repaired, and the baseboard molding that needed to be installed above all the new flooring put in. There were also some pretty big gaping holes in the drywall in TM's room which we inherited, and those are now repaired as well. 
  • The homeschooling culture here in the far western suburbs of Chicago is so different from in and near the city. A friend, who has also made the same move we did were talking about this today. In the city, there seems to be more of an emphasis on parent groups which meet regularly, and then activities which are an outgrowth of those groups. You get to know the mothers first. Out here, there are not really groups. There are large Meet-Up lists, there are large co-ops, there are a lot of homeschoolers, but you really have to network to find them all. In the city, everything is easy to find online. Here? I've searched for hours, and only after meeting and talking to some real people, am I starting to figure things out. It's just interesting how different things are, just 50 miles apart.
  • I'm starting to come to the realization that at some point soon, I will have to do something about planning for school.
  • My new stove is wonderful! I cannot tell you what a wonderful sound it was the other night to heat some oil in a pan, throw in some onions, and actually hear them sizzle. I cooked rice last night, and did not ruin it! Not bad for an appliance I spent a whole five minutes picking out of a line of second hand appliances. Based on some questionable water around the base of the dishwasher, it may be next in line to be replaced.
  • Life has calmed down enough that I am back on the writing rotation for my freelance job. It will be nice to start getting those little paychecks again. This also means that your respite from me hounding you to click on articles is quickly coming to an end.
Enjoy your Friday!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I may have to buy this

So for our little vegetable extravaganza this month, I checked a book or two out of the library to give me some new recipes to work with. One of them is The Heart of the Pate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation by Mollie Katzen. Yes, the same Mollie Katzen of Moosewood fame.

We tried one of the recipes from it last night... the fully loaded corn cakes. They are essentially a savory pancake made with cornmeal, and with a huge amount of vegetables thrown in. Some people weren't too sure about them at first, but everyone ended up eating them. I wasn't too sure about making pancakes for this many people, but it actually went pretty quickly, and they stayed warm in the oven. We will definitely make this again. I doubled it, but didn't double the jalapeno pepper that was called for. I think I will double that, too.

One of the things that made them particularly good was the chipotle sour cream that was suggested to go along with them. It turns out that I had some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce lurking in the back of my refrigerator, making me feel guilty, so this was perfect. Everyone, even the spice-advers, loved it, and it was great on the pancakes. (Pretty much the recipe is: take some sour cream, and mix in as many diced chipotle peppers as you like.) If everything from the book is this good, it will be well worth the price of the book.

How is your foray into the world of vegetables going? Have you tried something new? New recipe? New food? I need to find a new vegetable to try. Since I'm always trying new foods, this can be a little tricky.

Here is the vegetable tally so far:

Avocado – 1
Beans (black) - 1
Beans (navy) – 2
Bell pepper - 1
Brussels sprouts – 1
Chipotle pepper - 1
Corn – 2
Cucumber – 2
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Green onions – 1
Jalapeno - 1
Lettuce (romaine) – 2
Onion – 4
Spinach – 1
Tomato (cherry) – 1
Tomato – 2

Zucchini - 1

Tomorrow we are trying a cauliflower curry tomorrow night from the same book. I'll let you know how it is.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

What I've Been Doing

There may not be much on the calendar, but I'm making the most of it by organizing places that will probably never see this level of organization in my lifetime. I am still working on stowing everything that needs to live in the room where we're storing the school, sewing, and craft supplies. The room, I should add which now boasts a less awkward name. It shall henceforth be known as "The Studio." Anyway, all of this organization is somewhat necessary, because it is not a huge room, and I am trying to condense three rooms from our former house into one. I am so close to showing you the entire thing... but not quite yet.

I do want to show you what has taking nearly two days to accomplish. I have sorted and organized my fabric stash! See? (It's really hard to get a picture of all the shelves at once, since they are in a closet, and I can't step back quite far enough.)


This is all my fabric, folded to uniform sizes, sorted into types, measured, and put away. The larger piles of fabric are all my yardage (anything bigger than one yard.) Those cute little piles are everything bigger than a 1/4 yard, but smaller than a yard. Anything smaller was cut into squares and sorted into bags for future use.

Flannel, corduroy, wool, silk, and rayon.

Cotton and linings

More cotton, plus my pattern bins on the bottom

J. put a peg board inside the door so I could hang things...

such as my bags filled with the squares I cut, sorted by color.


But wait, the Type A, total obsessiveness doesn't stop. See these index cards? On them is a swatch of fabric and the amount I have of it, plus any other notes that I wanted to make. I hate having to open up a length of fabric to see if I have enough, only to find I don't, and have to fold it again and move on. This way, I should save myself some aggravation. Plus it should be easy enough to add to when I buy more fabric. (Which I really shouldn't do, considering how much I currently have.)

At this point, I really do think it is all going to fit, which I wasn't sure about. It helps that I reduced my craft and sewing stuff by half before the move, and as I've been organizing, have reduced it by another quarter. The next thing I need to really finish is a counter-top to put my sewing machine and serger on, and then I can show you the whole thing.
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Vegetable Tally:

Avocado – 1
Beans (navy) – 2
Brussels sprouts - 1
Corn – 1
Cucumber – 1
Edamame – 1
Escarole – 1
Green beans – 1
Lettuce (romaine) – 1
Onion – 4
Spinach – 1
Tomato (cherry) – 1
Tomato – 1
Zucchini - 1

Tonight we had roasted Brussels sprouts. It's not quite yet Brussels sprouts season, but everyone loves them. Really. There were no leftovers of them tonight. The key is the roasting. This recipe is from my sister-in-law who made them for Thanksgiving one year, and I asked for the recipe because I found myself craving them. Yes, they are indeed that good.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Trim and halve 2 pounds of Brussels sprouts. Toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet, and roast them at 400 for about 30 minutes. You should turn them once halfway through, and they should begin to caramelize. While they cook, mix up the dressing:

1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP cider vinegar
1 TBSP maple syrup (It's great with maple syrup. I never seem to have maple syrup on hand. We've substituted honey or regular syrup... something sweet.)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TBSP grainy mustard
a small clove of garlic, minced
a little salt and pepper

Mix this together and pour on top of the Brussels sprouts once they are cooked. If you want to make them even yummier, add some cooked, crumbled bacon. I love it with the bacon, but like the maple syrup, rarely have it on hand. They are just about as good without the bacon, too.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Visiting churches

We have spent the last three Sundays attending different churches in the area. One was small, and the other two fairly large. They were also different campuses of the same church, so had that added factor as well. It's been interesting.

The smallest church we've visited so far was also the friendliest. Friendly as in, people coming up and introducing themselves, telling you how glad they were to see you, asking if you had questions, etc. etc. It was also small enough that we caused a bit of a stir when we arrived. We usually cause a bit of a stir, because we are not your typical family, so we are used to that. The small church also managed to avoid falling into the 'desperate for members' feeling, which you can sometimes get when new people walk into a smaller church.

The two satellites of the larger church did not have the same welcoming atmosphere as the smaller church. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker in my book, because of where we came from. The church we just moved away from also has struggles in the welcoming department. It is always an ongoing discussion regarding what to do about it. I think it is a matter of size.

With the smaller church, everyone is well aware of who attends that church and who doesn't. It is obvious when a new person arrives, and it is also obvious if no one is welcoming that person. No one can say to themselves, "someone else will do it" because it is clear that welcoming people is everyone's job.

With a larger church, it becomes a little tougher. People see someone they don't know, and don't say anything, for a couple of reasons. The first is that people are afraid that their welcome will be mis-interpreted. They think, "What if that person I don't know has actually gone to this church for 20 years?" So to avoid potential embarrassment, they don't say anything. Or they think, "I haven't gone to this church for very long, I shouldn't be the one to welcome someone. I think that must be someone else's job." They don't feel a sense of ownership in their own church, and so they don't say anything.

How much better it would be if, even in a larger church, everyone introduced themselves to someone they didn't know every single week. You could say, "Hi, my name is _____. I don't think we've met. How long have you been attending here." The other person might say 20 years, or they might say this is their first Sunday. That's great. You've either met someone you should know, or you can welcome a stranger. You win either way.

A plus from all three churches is that our admittedly unique family has caused no outrageous comments. The most we've heard is a couple of people at different churches saying how wonderful it was that we had so many children. This is a good thing in my book.

One other thing I have noticed as we have been going to different churches, and here I want to ask for my reader's experiences. In our church we just moved away from, every week there was a corporate prayer of confession followed by silence for individual prayers of confession. It comes right after the call to worship, and I find it an important time of worship to begin by admitting to my sadly repeated failings from the past week. Confession and humbling oneself before God really does have to come first. Yet, in all three churches we have visited so far, not a single one... and these are different denominations with different worship styles... has had any sort of confession in the service. Not even before the taking of Communion in the very traditional service we went to last Sunday. I find I miss this piece of the worship service.

So tell me... is our old church unique in this, or have we just hit on the few churches who do not do this? Is it a Reformed-thing (none of the churches we have visited so far are from a Reformed theology)? Is this part of a worship service familiar to you? Does your church do it?  It seems so important to me from a theological perspective that I can't imagine every church doing it.

We are going to try another church next week. There are still several on my list, but I am feeling the need to find a church home and settle down. This more than anything will help me feel as though this is a permanent move. And then there are the four youngest people who are clamoring to go to Sunday School, and were pretty miffed last week when they didn't get to go. (It's odd visiting churches in August, because so much of church life is on vacation for the month.) Once we find a church we might want to attend again, we may try out Sunday School as well.

This whole 'finding a church-thing' is both interesting and a little frustrating. It's kind of like trying out a new seizure medicine. You can only go to one at a time, there is only one Sunday in a week, you don't really know if this is where you belong with just one visit, so feel the need to go back a few times, and so it takes a long time to get anywhere. I am not a patient person, and I just want to be able to make a decision now.
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Oh, vegetables! I almost forgot.

The tally as of yesterday:

Avacado - 1
Beans (navy) - 2
Corn - 1
Cucumber - 1
Edamame - 1
Escarole - 1
Green beans - 1
Lettuce (romaine) - 1
Onion - 4
Spinach - 1
Tomato (cherry) - 1
Tomato - 1
Zucchini - 1

I realize I forgot to add in Saturday night's meal (turkey chili and corn bread with corn kernals baked into it), so that explains why things suddenly appeared.

Last night I made green beans they way they appeared at every breakfast buffet we ate at in China. It is also the vegetable that R. and Y. ate their weight in every morning. It took me a year to perfect the recipe, but Y. has now declared that I have managed to replicate it. It's pretty tasty and something different to do with green beans rather than cook them and serve them with salt and butter... though that's good, too.

Chinese Breakfast Buffet Green Beans

Slice one onion in to strips (or two onions if you are making a lot of beans). Trim the beans, and leave them whole. Heat in a large frying pan (or wok if you own one) some vegetable oil and a little sesame oil. When the oil is hot throw in the onions. Cook for a while, stirring, until they begin to soften. Add a couple of teaspoons of minced garlic, and give another stir. Then add the green beans. You want to cook and stir this mixture until the onions start to turn brown and the beans begin to have dark spots on them. Towards the end of cooking, add in some (a couple of teaspoons?) black bean paste (or sauce... depending on what you have available.) Stir that in and heat through. Serve.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Stove raising

Yes, I know that it is barns that are usually raised, but in this case, it really was a stove. Do you remember a week or so ago, when I drove into Chicago for an orthodontist visit, and bought a stove? Well, in my mind, this seemed like a simple thing. You take out one stove, wheel in the other stove, connect it all up, and you're back to not ruining rice.

Things are never so simple in real life.

It seems that my new-to-me stove runs on a 220 line. The problem is, my old stove does not, so you can't just unplug one, and plug in another. So the new-to-me stove was sitting for the past week or so on the back porch, and I was still making crummy rice.

Then our good friend, the P Family Dad (who conveniently happens to also be an electrician), came up with a great plan. He would collect our people who were returning from their mission trip, drive them out to us (thus saving us a trip into Evanston), and run a 220 line to the kitchen so we could hook up the new stove.

It took him and J. about six hours to accomplish this feat. Things are always trickier in real life than they are on paper. It involved a lot of figuring out and J. spending some significant time down in our crawl space.


Fun, huh?

In the end we have bright and shiny new electrical boxes. I know, no one is really interested in looking at electrical boxes, but these took so many hours of work, that I feel as though everyone should appreciate them.



Even more exciting is this.


It looks like a real piece of kitchen equipment, doesn't it? Big oven, burners that have enough flame to actually cook something... and there are five of them! See..


Continuous metal burner grates (I was missing those), too.


And the oven is electric, not gas, which is always nice. I don't think you can see it in the picture above, but the oven even has a convection function. Not bad for a second hand stove, huh?

It is really all due to the P Family Dad and his generosity of time and energy. Thank you! It was a win for the children, too, as he brought many of his with him (plus his two puppies), so everyone played all afternoon with friends they don't get to see quite so often now.

I can now go back to planning stir-fries as part of our meals. Everyone will love that.

(Oh, and because there was no stove or oven for the majority of the day, and to treat our friends, we ordered pizza for dinner. I suppose I could count the tomatoes on the pizzas, but that would probably be stretching a bit.)

Saturday, August 05, 2017

In case you missed these

There have been some really good articles recently about children and trauma. If you have a child who has experienced trauma, or knows a friend whose child has, or work with a child from trauma, you should read these.

The Repair of Early Trauma: A "Bottom Up" Approach - This article references Bessel van der Kolk, one of my new favorite brain guys.

3 Reasons Traditional Parenting Doesn't Work with Kids from Trauma - This is another blog whose author is also saying the same things I have been saying for a long time.

Childhood Trauma Leads to Lifelong Chronic Illness - From the Aces too High folks

And finally, for those of you involved in public or private schools...
TBRI Classrooms - There are some great resources linked in this one.
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And in a change of subject, to a degree that will induce whiplash, let's visit vegetables for a moment.

Our tally so far:

Avacado - 1
Beans (navy) - 1
Cucumber - 1
Edamame - 1
Escarole - 1
Lettuce (romaine) - 1
Onion - 2
Spinach - 1
Tomato (cherry) - 1
zucchini - 1

Last night we had fish baked in foil packets. It's a French recipe (you're supposed to use parchment paper, but foil is just easier to fold up), and is one of my favorite ways to cook fish (when I have just basic white fish fillets.) You tear off a some foil, lay a couple of fish fillets in the center, add some vegetables of your choice, some herbs, and some olive oil, close it up, and bake it in the oven at 350 until done. We start checking it at around 12 minutes or so.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday bullets, Aug. 4, 2017

It has not been the most eventful of weeks, which can be very nice, or not, it kind of depends.

  • Everywhere A. takes Olive, someone will ask her what kind of dog she is. When A. answers, "Great Dane," the inevitable reply is, "Do you know she is going to get very big?" A. is wearying of the interchange.
  • Olive has discovered cat tails. No, not the plant, the waving, curling things on the ends of actual cats. She loves them. She thinks they are the best puppy toy ever invented. The cats do not seem to share her enthusiasm about her playing with their tails. Even Midnight, who is normally a very laid back cat, has turned around and swatted Olive's nose with his claws. Nefertiti prefers to hiss whenever Olive gets within hearing distance of her. Since Nefertiti does this with just about every creature of the house except the chosen few, it's not out of character. Given how large Olive will become, I'm all for her gaining a healthy respect for the cats now when they're all about the same size.
  • Can you stand one more item about Olive? She really is growing a lot, and possibly a pound a day as promised. I swear she can take a nap, and when she wakes up, she looks bigger. Here is a picture as a reward for reading through all the Olive news.

  • There is really nothing better than to overhear K. reading out loud from one of his books to his sisters during lunch.
  • I miss TM and P., and will be happy to see them when they return this weekend.
  • I was correct. For the past two days, most of the pretend play has involved police officers and fire trucks. And this is not just from K., but the other players as well.
  • Earlier this week, I had a brief slump when I realized there was nothing on the calendar. Nothing. Normally, I would live for weeks like this, but because I didn't feel as though I had anyone to call and enjoy my nothing with, it felt lonely. As a result, I introduced myself to a homeschooling group I just joined, and have quite a few new friends to meet. I think we will be heading to a park to meet in person next week. I liked having something fun, that involved people, on my calendar. This is saying something from an extreme introvert.
  • Today I decided that I needed to make the most of my empty calendar... well, other than wallowing in self-pity. I new if I didn't, I would look back, when life had returned to more normal and usual levels of chaos and kick myself that I wasted those glorious weeks with no obligations. So, today I decided to check-off a to-do item that has been on my list forever. I finally took the piles of scrap fabric (you know, the fabric that feels too big to throw away, yet too small to actually make something with), and cut it all into quilt squares. I now have 12 bags of different colored quite squares, in 5", 3", and 1" sizes, just waiting to be made into something. And I have no pile (a pile I actually moved) of scrap fabric sitting there, taunting me to pay attention to it. When I get a way to hang my new, organized bags, I'll share a picture.
  • The weaning of seizure medicine continues. Last week, R.'s anxiety was super high. I know that she has been taking this medicine for a very long time, and taking medicine is very important to her. She likes to take medicine, and often asks for it. When she began to noticeably take less, it made her very nervous. She is now taking a multi-vitamin which we have told her is very strong medicine, and once we started doing that, her anxiety went back down to normal (well, for her) levels. It is still too soon to tell if the lower doses of medicine will allow for better brain function, but today, she asked me in as complete a sentence as she can manage, if the food I was eating was from my dinner last night. This was far more complex thought and verbal abilities than we have ever seen. We had an actual (if brief) conversation about it. My fingers are still crossed.
  • We found out yesterday that a dear friend passed away. That would be the friend whom I visited when in Chicago last week. I am so very sad for his widow, a very, very dear friend, and I hate that I am not close enough to jump in the car and give her a hug immediately when I heard the news. Death stinks.
  • I am still looking for piano students. Starting over from scratch is hard.
  • My children are suffering from craft withdrawal. For the first few weeks, no crafting happened at all, because everything was still packed in boxes. This week, I am slowly sorting and putting away all the craft supplies, and seeing them all out is proving to be a bit too tantalizing. I finally relented a few times this week and allowed them to take a box downstairs and make stuff. Today was polymer clay, and it did buy me a couple of hours of contented and engaged children. Of course, now I have quite a few items that need baking. 
  • Finally, on to the daily vegetable month entry. Last night we had spinach risotto. We had risotto last week as well, though it was sausage, as more than a couple of my children pointed out. This is mainly because I really like it, but P. really, really does not, so if I can avoid making her suffer through it, I will. Plus, it's a great way to use up vegetables. Have you tried risotto? It's really easy, and a great way to use up leftovers. Probably the most difficult thing about it is finding the arborio rice that you must use. Here are my generic risotto instructions. I make a lot at a time, so if you are not feeding the same amount of people I am, you'll probably want to cut it in half. 
Risotto - basic recipe
Serves ~12, as long as you also have some bread or a salad or something

Prepare the broth. You'll need 12 cups. It can be any type of broth... chicken, beef, vegetable. I usually put in some red or white wine as well. Heat it to a boil, and then turn down the heat to low to keep it warm. Do this first before you begin the rice. 

Once it's keeping warm on the stove, move along to the actual rice. You will need a big pan for this, if you are making as much as I do. Chop some onions. You'll want about a cup or so. Saute them in some olive oil. Once they are translucent, add 3 C. of arborio (short grain) rice. Stir it around for a couple of minutes. Now add the broth to the rice, about a cup at a time. After each cup, you want to stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed, then add more. Yes, this rice really will absorb all that liquid. Keep stirring and adding liquid, a cup or so at a time, until the rice has absorbed it all. Serve immediately, with grated Parmesan cheese on top. 

Now, I don't recommend eating risotto without anything in it. You can add just about anything... leftover meat, whatever vegetables you have, mushrooms, etc. If you are cooking the meat, such as with the sausage risotto I made last week, you'll want to do that first, before you cook the onion. When the meat is done, take it out and set it aside. Add it back in when the broth is almost gone. For the spinach risotto we had tonight, I added the spinach in when I still had a cup or two of broth left. Stirred until the spinach wilted, and then went back to adding the broth. 



That's it. Super easy, and the vast majority of my children love it. 

Finally, our vegetable tally so far, we had a green salad tonight as well, if you're wondering where some of those vegetables came from:

Avocado (yes, it's really a fruit, but I'm putting it in anyway) - 1
Beans (navy) - 1
Cucumber - 1
Edamame - 1
Escarole - 1
Lettuce (romaine) - 1
Onion - 2
Spinach - 1

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