Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Chapel

My children's school does a wonderful job honoring veterans as part of their Veterans Day chapel.*  Each grade memorizes and sings the song for one of the branches of the military, there is a ROTC color guard from the local public school, and veterans are invited to speak, one per branch.  The service ends with a slide show of relatives, mostly grandfathers now, who have served in the military at one time or other.   Best of all, the service is packed with family members.  It is one of the most uplifting things I do every year.

This year we had some wonderful messages delivered by the servicemen.  I thought I'd share a little of what we heard: 
  • Unity.  You can't win a war alone, and you need buddies to get you through the big things and the little ones.  And you are always stronger when acting in unison.
  • Be a first responder--look for those opportunities.  The Coast Guard representative told how proud he was to be among the first to answer the call in emergencies like the Haitian relief and Hurricane Katrina.  He gained strength by remembering that he was not only being the hands of the United States, but also the hands for Jesus, when helping people in grave need.  He encouraged the kids (and us!) to be first responders for Christ.
  • "It's another good day above ground."  Ha.  We adults laughed, even though the kids didn't really get it.  But further:  Act consistently and be faithful.
  • Be courageous in little things, and you can learn to be courageous in big things, when you are truly needed.
  • Finally, from our beloved principal, words from the Bible that our country would do well to take to heart:  "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."  2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)
An excellent service, and a wonderful experience for the kids.  You can tell they truly admire the men and women who come dressed in their uniforms to talk to the kids.  

Note to the upper grades, though:  PLEASE do this with the older kids!  Don't let their love of country and respect for service evaporate as they get older and "wiser."

*Yes, I am a homeschooler, of one of my kids.  The other three attend private school.  This chapel is for the elementary kids at the school.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Changing My Perspective

"Do you have to run your miles this week?" This is my husband asking J, our sixth grader, about PE over dinner.

"No, Dad.  I don't have to.  I get to,"  J says with a wink.  So of course I ask what's up with that.

Turns out, my sons' PE and track coach has a way with words.  When the boys at school complain about [insert unpleasant PE-related activity here], he replies, "No guys, you don't have to--you get to!" 

J is rolling his eyes while he tells me this, but the truth is that he absolutely adores Coach Ross.  So does M.  And I can tell you why--this young man sees his students as his mission field.  Every day he is excited to see those boys, to help them improve, to watch them grow.  Middle school boys.  I don't know how he does it, but I am so grateful that he does!

The funny thing is that Coach Ross is right.  Try it.  The other night I got up from the dinner table.  "I have to do the dishes" became "I get to do the dishes."  And so I thought about the blessings I have--the food my husband ably provides, a lovely home to enjoy a meal in, my sweet kids gathered around the table.  Heck, hot clean water to wash with, and a dishwasher to really get things clean.  My life is full and it just took changing one word to see it even more clearly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Google Reader

I am so late to discover many, many neat little tools.   Recently I came across Google Reader.  Or rather I started using it.  I had known about it, but it weirds me out a little to use Google for so many things.  Yes, I realize that Blogger is a Google Platform!  Anyway, I made the plunge.

Do you use it?  The idea is that you make a list of blogs on Reader.  Then Google keeps track of them and automatically updates when one of them posts something new.  Love that!  I am always finding neat blogs that I visit once or twice, and then I forget about them.  Now I don't forget.

I'm sure there are other readers out there, but right now Google suits me.  Here are some of my favorite I follow on Google Reader:

One of the best parts of this is that some of these are less frequent posters, like me.  Now whenever one of them posts I can find out, and don't need to remember to visit the URL.  And if you have a good mix on your Reader, then you always have something interesting to read.

You could even--shameless plug here--add my blog to your Reader!  Just add my URL,, to your subscriptions.   And then once in a while you can read something, interesting or not, from me.


I'm not good at consistency with my blog, as you might have noticed.  Last year I tried to blog every day in November about what I was grateful for.  I made it maybe six days.  Not that I'm ungrateful.  Just inconsistent.

But the lovely Three Thinking Mothers are only being grateful once a week this month.  I can do that.  Here goes:

I am grateful that I was given hands to help others and the means to do so.  Wednesday evening my boys and I went downtown to serve dinner at a homeless shelter.  Their Boy Scout troop takes responsibility for this twice a year, but this was my first time going.  Actually, my first time ever working at a shelter.  I'll be back.  The picture is just a few of the lasagnas I plated that night.  I didn't take other pictures, just because I didn't.

Since this is a once-a-week post, let me add:  I'm grateful for a wonderful Boy Scout leader who pours his heart into leading these boys, and for the numerous assistant leaders.  They provide so many opportunities for the boys to camp and do things I'm not crazy about.  We tend not to do those things as a family because the girls and I are, well, girls, and we like warm water and flush toilets.  Plus I love knowing the boys are part of a group of really nice young men.  Thank you, Danny McCranie!

The innumerable blessings that allow me the luxury of providing food for others, the time and transportation to get there, the home I get to go home to while these men sleep on a mattress in a gym, a life that (so far) has not led me into circumstances where I would need a mattress on a gym floor...grateful.  A good way to start the month.

Linking up:  

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick-or-Treat is almost over...

Did you have a lot of kids?  We're up to about fifty right now, and I haven't had any in about 15 minutes, so I'm thinking it is almost done.  Last year we had 64 kids come by--yes, I counted!  I had a freak-out moment about twenty minutes ago, afraid I wouldn't have enough candy, but my wonderful next-door-neighbor rescued me with some bags of Hershey's and Milky Ways.  So now, if there are leftovers, well...
Halloween's always more fun with friends!
The kids looooooove Halloween.  We had our Mummies for dinner tonight (thanks, Mary!),

and then took a few pictures.  In a few minutes they'll come tearing back in with full bags.  We'll give them a few minutes to start their most favorite part, The Barter.  This involves sorting and counting and then trading and trading and trading.  It takes days.

This year J held a "Halloween Boot Camp" for his little sister D.  This involved laps around the yard with a four-pound weight in a pillowcase:
It's not every day you have two hot dogs and a queen running around in your back yard.
There was also jumping in your Halloween shoes, maximizing the candy grab, and a discussion of the departure procedure from "interior" and "exterior" doorways.  But the most important part was the discussion of the barter.  Here is the board that J had D make:

When she arrives home, she's supposed to sort her candy into the categories listed on her poster.  This will make her better at trading.  Or that is what J says.  We'll see.
That's Anansi the Spider making an appearance at our front door.  Gotta love when History ties into the holiday!
Happy Halloween!  Time to blow out the pumpkins:

And now, finally, on to Thanksgiving. Time to get my wonderful turkey out, start planning my husband's favorite meal of the year, and lament how once again I'm not doing NaNoWriMo
Hang on, Tom.  I'm coming! 
Oh, and of course I have to "check" the candy, you know, just to be sure...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I got to go to Barcelona last weekend.  Eighteen hours on the plane for three days with my husband in a lovely city--definitely a fair trade-off.  I won't do a travelogue in this post.  Rather, I want to share one of the most wonderful places I have ever seen.

This is La Sagrada Famillia--The Cathedral of the Holy Family.  See the cranes?  It is not done yet.  It was begun in the 1880s, quickly taken on by Antonin Gaudi, and won't be finished until 2026 or so.  I didn't have high expectations:  I thought Gaudi was a show-off, and I didn't think I liked "Modernista" architecture.  I'm so, so glad that I was wrong.  Imagine being invited to stand inside daVinci's "Last Supper" or a Bach requiem.  Gaudi created an ethereal masterpiece of art and worship.

I have been few places where I felt that the appropriate posture was prostrate.  This is one.  Everything about the cathedral is built to point to the majesty of God, the amazing love He has for us, the lordship of Jesus.  I mean everything.  I'm afraid my pictures don't do it justice.  Most of the time it felt distracting to have my camera out.

The West entrance tells the Passion story.  The hard, brutal sculptures are intentional, not merely a reflection of the time in which they were made.  Gaudi, while he didn't sculpt them, gave general instructions for the angular figures with minimal detail.  There is so little detail that small gestures become important, like the Jesus' face leaning against the column in exhaustion.

But the scene is also hopeful.  Jesus is up there, very high between two of the bell towers, ascended already to heaven.

The East entrance, greeting the sun every morning, shows all of creation in celebration of the Birth of Jesus and the Holy Family itself.  One of my favorite scenes here was Joseph and young Jesus together (the picture on the left).  Joseph is remembered throughout the cathedral, something not done very often.

Inside, the nave rises up among columns that look like they are taken straight out of Tolkien.  Gaudi had pioneered these organic hyperbolic arches and curved columns--they give you the effect of being inside a giant forest.  And the sound is incredible.  The organ was awesome, played for a too-short time while we were there.

I return again and again to the idea of Gaudi's that his project should not be limited to only his ideas. Rather than leave plans for every single detail, he left general ideas, planning for later generations to participate in the design of the cathedral.  That was very important to him. The stained glass windows, with their careful selection of color but modern pattern, are a great example.  (Gaudi indicated the color choices but left the actual design for later.)  Incidentally, the east- and west-facing windows have slightly different color schemes.  I think the west, on the left, is more oranges and reds, moving to just a little blue up on the top.  The east-facing window has far more blue, the color of water and life.  (I could have them backwards, but I think that is right.)

Looking back at my pictures, one other thing comes to mind:  isn't it good to know that modern man hasn't lost his ability to make something beautiful and grand purely as a gift to God?  This is a worthwhile pursuit.

The official site is here.  Pictures much more beautiful than anything I could take!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Two months in.

Usually when I'm quiet on my blog for a few days the problem isn't too little to say, it's too much.  I don't know where to start, or, rather, I need to start with something that I'm not really proud of.  I need to start with things that may not sound so nice, or so happy, or so perfect.  That's where I am.

D and I are almost two months in to this homeschool thing.  In case you're wondering, we haven't had any moments of "Oh, Mommy, I've always wanted to study (fill in the blank: birds, horses, ancient Sumer)!  Thank you, oh, thank you!"  First, my seven-year-old doesn't call me Mommy anymore, sadly.  Secondly, she is completely uninterested in anything beyond about twenty minutes.  Pushing string, I tell you.

There are times that I wonder why I'm doing this.  And then there are times I am certain that it is a good way to spend our year.  I compare it to what I know my other children are getting at their private Christian school.  Some of what I provide is not as good: faith formation and religion, for example.  I place a huge premium on surrounding my children with people of faith who can share their views either explicitly (in class) or implicitly (as they lead their lives).  Not everyone can do both.  I think I lean toward the second, and so I know D is missing out.

Science is another great example.  My children's elementary science teacher is without a doubt one of the best natural teachers I've ever met.  She has boundless enthusiasm and curiosity, although I suspect that it is easier when you don't have to live with your student.  I guess I had thought there would be more natural curiosity from my daughter.  Had there been, we might have been okay with the open-ended science curriculum we started the year with.  Three weeks ago I broke down and bought a science curriculum, complete with "notebooking journal," so we could just fill in the blanks.  It is fine. 

But.  That word.  I have to share that the history we are doing is, without a doubt, light-years better than the social studies she would have had at school.  We are doing real, live history, starting at the beginning--nomads, Mesopotamia, the beginning.  We read myths and look up tours of ancient cities on the internet.  We have a chicken mummifying on the kitchen counter (week four, no smell--remarkable!).  She's written in cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and she can tell you the difference between a good king like Hammurabi and a bad one like Shamshi-Adad.  (Ha--so can I!)  She can find the areas we are studying on a world map.  And today we were putting together a time-line of the things we've studied so far, giving her a picture of how the events fit together.  Here is what is bothering me most:  when did we as a society decide NOT to teach this, and instead to teach "My Community, My City, etc.?"  And then--what have my other kids missed out by not learning history in this way?  This bothers me a lot.

The other huge difference from school that I've seen is in our grammar/writing experience.  The emphasis in our grammar curriculum is on memorizing (we are on our second poem of the year right now), and on looking at passages from books to learn parts of speech.  Similarly, the writing curriculum places an emphasis on reading and imitating excellent writing, rather than serving up boring, banal passages that meet some specified word count or reading difficulty.  For example, D's copywork this week was from the wonderful Misty of Chincoteague, and next week's study will include Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow."  D actually checked out Misty today from the library based on reading the selection in our text.  This approach seems to me to make so much sense:  how better to learn to write well than to read and copy well-written sentences?  We do lots of illustrating, so creativity is still important, but the pressure is off the student to create original sentences from idea to word to paper until they are older.  Why is this so different than the "mainstream" approach?

So there you have it, homeschooling as it looks at my house from the vantage point of an early Friday evening on the porch with a glass of wine.  Some very good, some less good.  I have more to share, and now that I've broken my writer's block I'll probably post a half-dozen things in the next two days.  We'll see.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wisdom of the Average Joe

Are you watching any debates, following the straw polls?  I am, as you might have guessed.  I think it is particularly interesting to watch what the inside-the-Beltway types think versus what my friends, piano teacher, and other average interested citizens think.

So, here.  Herman Cain is unelectable.  That is the conventional wisdom.  Could he be elected?  I don't know.  I do know that I've been listening to him off-and-on for many years, and I've always thought he was smart and plain-spoken and sincere.  He spoke at a Tea Party gathering here in my little town in 2009:

And here's his "Thank You" following that shocking straw poll victory in Florida this weekend:

I love the way he always says "we" and not "I."  This is way bigger than one man.  It is modest and generous.

But I started with the average Joe.  Remember Joe the Plumber?  Here's a refresher:

Well, meet this year's Joe the Plumber, Chris the Truck Driver.  (I've cribbed the videos from Disrupt the Narrative's post!)  Earlier this month, Ford released a new commercial. You've probably seen them:  the person thinks they are going to go answer a questionnaire and they end up walking into a press conference.  This one was aired--I remember seeing it once--and then apparently it was quickly pulled out of the rotation.  Why?  Take a look:
Now it seems that Ford has pulled the ad because of White House pressure.  Yes.  A private company was asked to quit running an advertisement by the White House.  And they complied.

Well, you might have guessed that the guy in the ad is real.  He is, and he's recorded a little more about his involvement with Ford:
A real, average person who just wants the government to stay put and out of his life, and out of the lives of all of the rest of us.

(Okay, before we go further, let me say that I am well aware that Ford had government-backed loans back in 2008 and 2009.  But GM took money and broke their contract with their bondholders, subordinating bondholder claims on assets in order to reward the UAW.  This hits close to home:  my parents were some of the thousands who owned those bonds.  I owned a Suburban for nine years, and we loved that car, but when the time came to replace it there was no way I would buy a "Government Motors" car.  Sad but true.)

It rings true when unscripted, un-handled regular citizens step forward and speak up.  I think we would do well to listen for more of this, and each one of us has an obligation to speak up.

Back to Mr. Cain.  His honesty is refreshing, and he comes across as un-"made" by the media.  I am looking forward to the next couple of months as we watch this campaign unfold.  For now, I think I'm going to go over to and make a donation.  Regardless of the outcome, I like Cain's message and delivery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our new old evening ritual

Please allow me to invite you into my home on any given weekday evening around 9:15.  The kids are upstairs, mostly in bed.  Maybe someone is still packing up for school the next day.  I am just sitting down:

Several years ago I bought my piano because:  (1) I had always wanted one; (2) it fits in the room--according to ME and not the decorator; (3) it is beautiful to see and hear.  I started taking lessons alongside my children so that I might at least pretend that I merit such a beautiful instrument.  Getting practice time in during the day was tough, though, and so I had to figure something else out.  My sweet husband one day suggested that I just practice after the kids went to bed.  (And while he did the dishes!) I was afraid that the noise would keep the kids up.  After all, sometimes practicing the piano means practicing the same two or three phrases over and over and OVER.  But no other time presented itself, so one night I sat down.  Would you believe no one complained?

That became our ritual for a couple of years--I'd play the piano after the kids went to bed, no matter how loud the music I was working on.  I came to look forward to it, and, much to my surprise. everyone else did, too.  I kept up with my music until I'd had the shop open for about four months.  I quit playing so I could knit and knit and knit--samples of all kinds, and those extra minutes with my eyes open were important!

I don't have the shop anymore, you know.  But I haven't started taking lessons again, either.

About a week ago, sweet little P came to me and said, "Mama, can you play piano while I go to sleep?"  Oh, my heart melts just writing that.  I hadn't touched the keys in about a year, but my fingers remembered far more than my head did.  I sat down and played for twenty minutes or so.  The next morning, she told me that she liked it but that I hadn't played long enough.  Okay, so thirty minutes seems to be enough.  No one else complained, and on night three, I actually heard a "Yay!" from my oldest as I completed a long Beethoven sonata.  (Yes, I asked, and he liked it--he was cheering for a good piece, not that it was over.)

Our evening ritual is back.  My children again are being played to sleep.

Stop by any weekday night.  I don't take too many requests, and you probably will unnerve me if you sit and watch.  But if you'd like to lay on the couch in the family room and listen, well, that would be just fine.  And I'll be here for thirty minutes or so, longer if I like what I'm playing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A little of everything

Lots going on, but quite a few things have caught my eye just enough for a few lines:

Does our President have a Messiah complex?  I hadn't thought about it in reading the transcript of his remarks in North Carolina, but today I heard it:          
My first thought was from John:  "If you love me, keep my commandments."  But, yikes!  Jesus said that.  And I also thought of the exchange at the end of our Lord's earthly ministry:  "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."  (It was longer than that.)  It just seems wrong, very wrong, to be talking about politics alongside the words that Jesus said, but I'm just pointing out how very odd Obama's words were. I don't think I know anyone who has ever framed a request like that.   (I think this is reportable.  You know, in case you feel like it or something.)

Meant to post this back before 9/11:  Read the Gettysburg Address and think about United Flight 93 as you do it, especially the second and then the third paragraphs.  It works.  It is amazing.  Lincoln's words are American Scripture.

Solyndra keeps getting bigger and bigger.  I blogged about the beginning of the unraveling here.  This remains something to keep an eye on.  It is interesting that in the Congressional hearings this week the officials attempted to blame the Bush administration.  Yes, the loan guarantees were one of the many things that Bush did that I was not in favor of.  But this particular company had red flags all over it, and was only pushed through when Rahm Emmanuel started jumping up and down.  It happens that an employee called the Mark Levin radio show, just as a caller.  She said everyone knew the plant would fail.  Here is a link to the call.  Hmmm....

Since the name wasn't taken yet, Rep. Gohmert introduced the "American Jobs Act."  Wait--isn't that the President's bill?  Why, no, that one still hasn't been introduced.  This one is from a Texas Republican who saw the name hadn't been taken yet, so he jumped in.  His bill is two pages and basically repeals the corporate income tax.  Juvenile?  Yes, I suppose.  But I love this kind of thing!  And, um, Mr. President?  Congress can't pass a bill until someone introduces it.  You might want to check on that.

What is with some of the college football teams and their uniforms this year?  I mean, really, Maryland?  Really?

Speaking of that, my wonderful husband shared with me that Texas may try to join the ACC.  Seriously?  That's the Atlantic Coast Conference.  I think that to legitimately be in the ACC that you should be within spring break distance of Florida or South Carolina.  Just because.

Beautiful, well-written, interesting article on President Bush (43).  This is fascinating because the author doesn't agree with Bush, didn't vote for him, but still manages to see him as a human being.  It's a long article but well worth the time it takes to read it.  (found via Instapundit, because he has all the good links)

Khan Academy!  We love it.  D did math on it the last two days.  Sal Khan's blog is here, and make sure to read this post.  I have an undergraduate engineering degree, and I know I would have approached my education differently had it been more project-based, as he advocates.  I can only hope this is the direction that lots of education is going.

Why am I so late to the Firefly party?  Thank you, Netflix!  If you haven't found this little gem of a program, check it out.  We finished all fourteen episodes but still need to watch the movie. 

That's it for now.  Now you have a glimpse into exactly how random my mind is!

EDITED:  Apparently I'm not the only one who heard a reference to Scripture in Obama's statement.  I just saw this at the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Me! Me! Me!

Would someone report me?  Pleeeease??  Pretty please with sugar on top?

(ht: no one of any import...thanks!)

I think I know what I'm looking for.

Of course, as a certified political junkie I've been watching the Republican debates and reading about the various speeches and "jockeying" going on.  I've also been watching in disbelief as our President touts his "jobs" bill which he announced about a month before he really announced it.  (In a joint session of Congress, uh.)  Oh, did you know the bill STILL isn't before the Congress yet?

But I like principles, not procedures, and I've been thinking about what I want out of my candidate.  To me, taxes are the central issue.  Tax philosophy reveals a lot about a candidate.  So here is what I've decided is important to me:

  1. The rate of participation in the income tax should go up.  I think that every wage earner should pay something.  Currently, only 51 percent of wage earners pay an income tax.  (I am not considering Social Security-related withholding.)  We live in a beautiful country, and it is indeed a privilege to support our Republic.  The amount could be minimal, even $25, but the message it sends is that our country has value to every single person.
  2. The tax code is not the place to pick winners and losers.  No loopholes, no magical deductions or tax credits.  Do those things away from the tax code if you need to offer incentives or loan guarantees.  I would even be willing to give up the mortgage tax deduction here--no need to favor homeowners over renters.

That's it.  Everyone pays a little, and we are taxed cleanly. 

Amazingly, the tax code has remarkably little effect on the amount collected, which hovers around 18% of GDP.  The only way to raise more money is to raise the GDP, otherwise known as "growing the economy."

Sometimes I think we get so caught up in the "who is rich" and "I want mine" questions that we lose sight of the first question we should ask:  what is the purpose of the tax code?  Presently the tax code is a tool to separate winners and losers and to provide incentives for certain behaviors.  I am looking for someone who recognizes that streamlining the tax code would be a first and enormous step in easing the regulatory burden on small and mid-size businesses.

I don't have a candidate yet--not sure if I ever will!--but I wanted to share my primary criteria for evaluating all of the candidates.

P.S. On a related note, Darryl Issa (who is rapidly becoming my favorite Congressman) released a report today on the regulatory "tsunami" that businesses and all of America have been subjected to.  Haven't had time to read it yet.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Really, I made this one early...

Tuesday, as a matter of fact.  Then the week got away from me, and here I am a day late.  Anyway, on to my weekly French Fridays with Dorie post.  Again, though...a food stylist's nightmare!

"Creamy, cheesy, garlicky rice with spinach" is our recipe this week.  Now, is there any part of that title that doesn't sound appealing?  I know.  We were practically licking the plates.  Next time I'll make a double recipe.

The idea is a French risotto, with no wine but cream and a generous amount of Swiss cheese added before serving.  Made with arborio rice, this can't help but be sticky, but the cheese just adds to it.  I added some sauteed chicken breasts and we had kind of a one-plate meal.  Our weather here had given us an unexpected taste of fall earlier this week, and so this rich dish was perfect for a (slightly) cool evening.

My one complaint, a quibble really, is that there isn't a counterbalance in flavors to the richness of the cream and rice and cheese.  I think next time I will substitute about 10% of the broth for white wine next time.  There WILL be a next time.  Thanks, Dorie!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reading Out Loud

The lovely ladies over at Three Thinking Mothers are posting about read-aloud books this week, which gets this post off of the back burner for me.  It's one I've had in mind for a while.

We used to read chapter books with the kids all the time.  Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, others I've long forgotten.  And then, one day, we didn't.  I don't know why we stopped, but I realized that we hadn't read together in a very, very long time.  It made me sad and a little wistful.

As I was doing some reading in preparation to homeschool D, I came across this book:  The Read-Aloud Handbook.  (Honestly, I think Mary told me about it, since she is my trusted source for a million different wonderful things.)  Jim Trelease advocates for reading aloud at all ages, even teenagers.  And especially, especially my elementary-aged kids.  He also gives some fabulous recommendations for books for all ages.  I knew D and I would be reading aloud a lot, but I loved the idea of all six of us gathering around a book and sharing it again.

I showed the book to my husband, and he agreed.  I quickly took over the reading duties in spite of wanting to sit and knit--call it the frustrated actress in me.  We started out with a Rudyard Kipling classic, Rikki Tikki Tavi, this summer.  We were hooked.  I would have returned to more Kipling (it is a short story) but we were headed to Boston and I adore E.B. White, so it was Trumpet of the Swan for us next.  Oh, how I will treasure the memory of reading about crazy Louis the Swan as we were gathered in the little living room on our houseboat in Boston Harbor! 

Next up was Lassie, the real book which is nothing at all like the sappy television show.  I had to hand that book off to my husband just a couple of times because I was crying so hard, but it was absolutely marvelous.  In fact, I think that one was easier to take as a read-aloud because the dialogue is written in dialect!  I got to try out my Yorkshire, London, Edinburgh, and North Scot accents because that is exactly how the book is written.  Great fun for dog lovers and anyone who loves a good adventure. is incredibly sad or moving at times.  The poverty, injury, and death are not whitewashed, but that seems to respect the kids more.  In not cutting that part out, somehow the author has communicated that life is tough but the child can handle it.  We were all so sad at certain parts of that book.  Truly, I have tears in my eyes thinking about one particular chapter right now.  The ending is beautiful, too--just keep the Kleenex handy.

And so we have moved on to Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff's fabulous retelling of the Illiad, complete with beautiful illustrations.  My middle-school boys actually spied this one as soon as I brought it home from the library and devoured it on their own.  They are thoroughly enjoying hearing it out loud, too.  The girls like the story best when there is less killing and more about the ladies, but too bad for them that we are in some pretty heavy battle scenes right now.

What is it like reading with "older" kids, meaning ages 13, 11, 10 and 7?  Much better than you might think, and so worth the effort.  Everyone can sit and listen with minimal fidgeting.  And our books can be a little more interesting for the grown-ups.  It truly is a peaceful way to end the day--all six of us pile onto a sectional sofa and listen.  The biggest disruptions are at the beginning of each evening while every jostles to get "their" spot.

We have adapted very quickly to our new routine.  Sharing a book is sharing an experience.  While I don't homeschool all the kids, this is a way for us to have at least one shared experience every single day.  I really love that.  It also gives me some control over what is going into their heads.  (This week, murder and mayhem.  Next week, hopefully something lighter.)  I also have some issues with the assigned novels at my kids' school, so this is a great way to round out what they are exposed to.  As a matter of fact, I chose Black Ships specifically because D and my 6th-grader J are both learning ancient history.

The Read-Aloud Handbook was such an encouragement to me to jump back in and reclaim some of the warm times we had as a family reading books together.  I have made it a part of any baby gift I give, too.  It was good to hear that older kids want to be read to.  It is even better experiencing it first hand with my own!

Next up...I'm thinking about something funny like the "Great Brain" series.  No cryin', no killin'.  Just some smarty-pants boys.  Or there's always Roald Dahl...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summery Corn Soup

Yum!  This week's French Fridays With Dorie is Corn Soup.  The verdict:  LOVE.  The bright, fresh taste of this soup makes it a great way to highlight fresh-from-the-field corn.

I didn't have field-fresh corn, but the corn at Publix was on sale and really good this week.  Hooray!

My children kept walking by the bowl of fresh corn kernels and snatching some.  They were amazed at how sweet and tasty raw corn is.

The soup cooks with the cobs in it!  I've never done this before, but it must make the soup even corn-ier.  It looked absolutely beautiful simmering in the pot.  After cooking, the cobs are removed and the soup pureed.  Hooray for immersion blenders!

Finished and plated with just a little bacon and some extra corn kernels.  (I had to hide my little stash from the kids while the soup was cooking.)

The verdict:  Bill and I loved it.  D, the youngest, ate two bowls.  The other three kids ate it but weren't crazy about it.  I do think they prefer chunkier soups to pureed ones.  Next time I might leave it chunky and add ham or shrimp to make it more of a full meal soup for the kids, and then they would eat it.

I usually make corn chowder in the winter, using potatoes and cheese.  This version, missing those two ingredients, is very light and clean-tasting.  We will be making it again!


Solyndra, a "green" company which produced solar panels, declared bankruptcy and closed its doors this week.  Just like that, $535 million of federal government money, in the form of loan guarantees, is gone.  That is $535 million taken from taxpayers who were engaged in pursuits that generated wealth and then transferred to a company that used it up.

The doors of this company are shut, and there is no more money left. 

Have you ever tried to generate wealth?  Not earn a wage, but start a company and make something of it?  It takes an enormous amount of work to create $100,000, $1 million, $10 million.  Enormous energy, creativity, and guts.

And yet...the government fritters away millions and billions of dollars in poorly-run programs and favors to connected fundraisers.  Money that is husbanded carefully in private companies is funneled into programs where $1 million is a rounding error.  Here is what bothers me:  There is no respect for the amount of work that the tax dollars represent.

We hear "$10 million for this program" and "a billion for that one" bandied about by people who have never tried to make that money themselves.  They have made high incomes, even in government, but they are very isolated from the actual work and guts of making something that creates wealth. 

In Solyndra's case, one prime investor was also a key bundler for the the Obama campaign.  The Department of Energy hasn't been entirely forthcoming but it looks as though corners were cut in the approval process for the guarantee.  And this is not an isolated case.  When you have more than $700 billion to give away, you find yourself with a lot of friends.

You know, Warren Buffett has been awfully outspoken lately about wanting to pay higher taxes.  In the end, I can't believe this (former) capitalist really believes that giving our government more money to spend on companies like Solyndra is truly the best use of his money.  If it were, why would he not have invested directly in it? 

I wonder if the administration had a wider variety of backgrounds in top administration positions, would we see such a cavalier attitude toward business, particularly the small businessman.  This is an aspect of the upcoming Presidential campaign that I will be paying a lot of attention to.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Seeing homeschooling everywhere

Do you ever learn a new word, and then suddenly you hear it everywhere?  That is how I feel about homeschooling.

I found this over at Walter Russell Meade's blog (via Instapundit):
Life in school is life in bureaucracy.  You follow the rules, do what you are told, and rewards follow.
The real world was never very much like that, but the parts of the real world that look most like school (like for example law firms, universities and government and private sector bureaucracies) have their heads on the chopping block.  By the time today’s students are in their forties (and that is MUCH closer than you think, kids), most of those organizations are going to morph into something very different.  Or they will die.
Inmates who spend a long time in prison become institutionalized; they adapt so well to the conditions of prison that they can no longer function in the free world.  Something similar can happen to students.  From age six or even younger, students are immersed in a predictable world that runs by the rules.  Then you get out of school — and expect that this pattern will continue.  If you go to a good law school and do well, you will become an associate at a successful firm.  Do your job well, work hard, obey the rules and wash behind your ears and in due time you will make partner.
Professor Meade was talking about heading to college, but it sounds like a pretty good argument for homeschooling.  I want to raise my children to be thinking, purpose-filled adults who make things happen rather than waiting their turn.

I also happened to read a very controversial book this summer, Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto.  Oh, Lord, I was agitated about this book for weeks.  Gatto, a retired NYC school teacher, makes the argument that the system is designed to create followers, not leaders and certainly not independent thinkers.  He argues that the only truly beneficial education for a child is one-on-one child focused.

I don't go that far, but I think the system is screwed up, to put it mildly.  There are too many administrators, too much paperwork, and too much money in too few hands.  Truly local control is fiction in public schools.  And unfortunately, the public school influence is all but impossible to avoid in the textbook industry and the general mindset even in the best private schools.  (Three of my kids are in a school I really do love.  This book was very hard for me to read.)  I'm not faulting individual teachers here--I know plenty--but they would agree that the system is really messed up and getting worse.

I have a disagreement with one part of that quote up there.  Meade says that government jobs which the schools are preparing their students for are disappearing.  I totally disagree there--government is one of the few growth sectors in employment. 

Just one more way I'm seeing homeschooling portrayed in the positive light.  A great big echo chamber on the internet, I guess.

Edited:  Just this morning, I was over at Pajamas Media--NOT a homeschooling site, by the way--and found this.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A day to take stock

This began as a post about where I was with our little homeschooling adventure, but I rethought it.  Today is my birthday and seems to be a better day than most to assess where I am.

A year ago I was running my shop, ferrying my kids to lacrosse and Scouts and church and horseback riding and school, and feeling buried in the process.  I loved my shop so much, my customers and employees, I loved the process of considering what lines to bring in or drop, anticipating what my customers would love or loathe.  I loved providing a place of community for them, watching them gain skills and confidence, and grow friendships around the big table.  It was very rewarding in so many ways.

I loved seeing my kids grow, too, but somehow they could be put off in favor of the shop.  That sounds terrible but it is true!  Our house continued to grow messier and messier while I focused more energy on my business.  My friendships outside of the shop suffered greatly, too, something I am still very sad about.  I don't know how to recover from that.

But during this last year I realized how very busy I was, with things outside of my home.  Ecclesiastes tells us that everything has a season.  I was running away from my season of child-rearing and home-making.  Maybe that is too strong.  But the shop had become my catch-all excuse for leaving things undone at home and anywhere else.

Moms who work, my hat is off to you.  I don't know how you do it.  But that is another thought for another time, or post.

The last year saw so many incredible blessings.  We had some fantastic vacations (and here and here), genuinely wonderful times to relax and enjoy each other.  Somehow my husband's business has continued to prosper in spite of the economy and increased government interference.  We've gotten to help start a new church and form new friendships there.  Of course, the biggest event in my life this year was selling my shop, a remarkably seamless transaction with a dear friend and excellent businesswoman. 

So this year finds me starting new adventures:  I am homeschooling our youngest child, and I bought a horse for myself back in July.  My girls and I are looking forward to competing more as the year goes by.  I am paying far, far more attention to what my other three children are studying and reading at school, unfortunately for their teachers!  My house needs a lot of work; nearly three years of benign neglect doesn't sound like much but with this many people the clutter and mess can quickly be overwhelming.  I even find myself sitting down at the piano and playing more, something I had all but stopped a year ago.

As I write this, I have to stop and observe what an extraordinary man my husband is.  He is steady as a rock, and not only tolerates every wild hare I have--he encourages them!  "Enable" is probably a better description.  He offers advice and support, and even when things don't go so well he is always my biggest cheerleader.  I am so lucky to have him.

So there we have it:  a quick take on my life over the last year.  I would say that this looks like one very very good year.  I wonder how the next year will pass, what in the world God has in store for my family.  Happy Birthday to Me!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

An American Classic a la Francaise

French Fridays with Dorie...Hamburgers this week, and they were terrific!  Thank you, Dorie, for including this one in the book.

Here is my finished product:

No challenge for a food stylist there!  This is a grilled burger, with the oh-so-French additions of red onion marmalade, a cornichon-caper-tomato blend, and shavings of Parmesan (okay, Italian but close).  The verdict:  wonderful!  Two lucky kids even got to take the leftovers for lunch the next day, with nary a morsel left for hungry Mom and Dad.

Here is what I learned from this recipe:
  1. Gherkin is the English word for "cornichon."  Yes, I had to look it up.
  2. My Cuisinart Mini-Prep food processor is not worth the space it takes up in the cupboard.
  3. A vegetable peeler is my new favorite way to slice Parmesan cheese.
Thanks for a great recipe!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All that and knitting, too

Finally I'm getting another post in time for Ginny's Yarn Along over at Small Things.  Love her blog, and wish some of the zen-peace that seems to emanate from her blog would take hold over here at 302.  But...

Here's what I'm knitting:

This is untouched since last week.  I only need to bind it off, and I need to do that TODAY.  It is promised to someone for a display.  The pattern is LazyKaty (ravelry link), and the yarn is the Zauberball sock.  I like this very much, but somehow have used 1/3 less yarn than the pattern calls for.  I am afraid that this means the little piece will also be 1/3 smaller!

And here is what I'm actually working on:  a sweet cardigan from Easy Kids Knits, in navy blue so that P can wear it with her school uniform.  Cascade Ultra Pima--great wearing yarn, less fun to knit with because my finger is still messed up from a horse several weeks ago.

And reading...I just put this on my Kindle:

Lord, my blood pressure.  I can only do this one is small bites, but it is worth reading!  Fascinating, truly.  Highly, highly recommended reading as we continue in this economic malaise.

I also picked up G.K. Chesterton's collected writings when Amazon had a Kindle special.  It was something insane like $2.99 for 36 books and writings of his.  I'm reading the Father Brown mysteries alongside Reckless Endangerment, little puffs of fresh air among the greed and despair.  Chesterton has a way with words that you just don't hear in more modern writers.  Here is one of my favorites:
The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.  

May you have many miracles happen to you this week, and may you have the wisdom to notice.
Edited:  I noticed my picture of Reckless Endangerment wasn't showing up.  Here's another one.

Look what we are doing!

D and I are now through two weeks of homeschooling.  So far we have

painted cave-style as we studied early man,

made rock candy for science,

 and made sentences using "linking" verbs.

We've also read six books that I've counted (so far) and narrated several.  D has memorized a poem that she'll say tonight at dinner ("The Goops" by Gellette Burgess) and she has copywork and narration firmly in hand.  Not to say she's an expert, but she is quickly getting the hang of it.  Our writing book places huge emphasis on narration first, and then dictation and copywork to learn to write.  There is only creative writing as the child wants, and so far D isn't a fan.  We've learned to play Yahtzee and Mexican Train dominoes.  We've also played many, many games of "99 or Bust!"

D is still loving being at home.  She is as content as I've ever seen her, truly happy.  That isn't to say that she doesn't push back--there is plenty of that!  But I am so grateful for the opportunity to see her grow and learn, first-hand.

I want to post more about having kids in both homeschool and private school, and how they compare, but this is getting long and so I will do a second post about that soon.  Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

French Friday catch-up

Just to be clear, I made this dish last Friday.  I even ate it for lunch on Friday.  But then we went to Alabama, where there is no internet, and I couldn't share it.  Yes, the internet does exist in certain parts of Alabama, but not in the corner we retreat to.

Then I couldn't find the camera cable to share the images of my tasty but unattractive dish.  Then I couldn't find the camera.  Yes, I could have shared my description, but those finally, here it is, Eggplant Caviar from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.  Pictures like this make me understand why there was no photo in the book:

Even though this is a food stylist's nightmare, it was very tasty!  Roasted eggplant mixed with garlic, herbs, oil...delicious.  I have had this before--Dorie says it is similar to baba ganoush but I truly didn't see any difference at all.

One thing that the recipe didn't mention:  eggplants give off a ton of water!  I drained my mashed eggplant twice before combining it with the other ingredients, and it was still quite wet.

I'm already looking forward to this week's recipe:  Hamburgers!  My husband requested them especially for his birthday dinner, and they look worthy of a special occasion. 

(This post is part of French Fridays with Dorie, which can also be found on Facebook!)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Words mean things.

I've been thinking about the word "entitlement."  We hear it bandied about a lot these days, as in "slashing entitlements" or "keeping entitlements in check."  Screams of protest when "entitlements" are threatened, and yet to say someone has an "entitlement mentality" is an insult.  But what is an entitlement?

As usual, I went to a dictionary.  An "entitlement" in the legal or government sense just means that the government lays out the qualifications for receiving a particular payment or benefit, and if you meet those requirements, you are then "entitled" to the payment.  Think of it like a contract:  if you enter into a contract with another party and fulfill the conditions set forth in the contract, you are then entitled to payment as stipulated in the contract.  That's it; there are no further rights involved or created. 

But in "real life," an entitlement is something you deserve because you are, well, YOU.  If I am entitled to something, I have a right to it.  Oh, there comes that word, a right.  And if something is a right, then it can't be taken away.  See how that happened?  You fulfill the requirements of an entitlement program, so you are (legally) entitled.  But that isn't how we non-lawyers talk, so you feel entitled to ("deserving of, having a right to") the benefit.  And so if someone touches those entitlements, they are trampling on your rights!  All because the legal definition doesn't match up to the everyday usage of the word.

Personally, I always thought that only Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs, because you could only have benefits if you or your fiduciary had paid into them.  Then you had a "right" to those programs because of the social contract that Social Security represents.  But that is wrong!  Do you see how I was confusing a right to something with mere entitlement in the legal sense?

It turns out that an entitlement program is just a government spending program that imposes restrictions on the category of person/company receiving the money.  Social Security and Medicare, yes, but also unemployment, food stamps, agricultural price supports (I despise that one), and a host of other programs. 

We must let go of the idea that entitlement program recipients somehow have a right to payments which continue for all time.  There are no rights involved.  The language problem also means that two different classes of government payments get combined into one thought.

It seems that we need to have two labels, not one.  The first would apply to the benefits that you have paid into, like Social Security or military retirement.  For those payments, what you eventually receive has some relationship to the amount you paid in.  Maybe just "Benefit."  Maybe something else.

The second label goes to all the other payments that the Congress comes up with.  For those, I'm in favor of "Other People's Money," or OPM for short.  Just to make it crystal clear where ALL of that money has come from. 

What do you think?  Any other ideas for a change in language?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A cautionary tale

I'm telling about what happened as a public service.  Maybe you will avoid what happened to us.

My son broke our brand new television this weekend.  The 60" Samsung that hung on the wall in our newly-finished basement is no more.  It was a careless accident; he lost his grip on the Wii controller and threw it smack into the television.  Gone.  Just like that.

I'm sharing this because I had no idea it was that easy to kill a television.  What can you do to avoid this?  Maybe nothing, but there are some things to try to lessen your chances.

First, think about the proximity of the seating to the television.  It happens that the sofa is kind of close to the television here.  (I know, then why is it 60"?  It worked in the room, trust me.)  So the possibility of something hitting the screen just goes up.  Actually, the seats are fine, but I have (just) discovered that the boys like to stand in front of the sofa to play their games.  Maybe we should have taken the sofa out and just had those low "gamer" chairs that my husband hates.  The idea here, though, is to be aware of how close those controllers get to the television!

Second, MAKE the kids wear those wrist straps.  I have to say, I thought they were using them.  I always use them!  They are there because the stupid controller can fly from your hand and hit something or someone.  USE them.

Next, think about a plasma versus LED.  We have a plasma TV in another area, and upon further inspection I think it wouldn't have broken quite so easily.  Of course, I could be wrong.  But think about it.

Finally, consider the warranty when you buy that television.  We weren't "suckers," so of course we didn't purchase any warranty when we bought the TV.  Now, I haven't checked the details to see if a warranty would have covered something like this accident, but I'm assuming it would have.  I'm going to consider it the next time we buy something like this.

Yes, not much technical information here.  I wanted to let you know this is possible!  It had never even occurred to me.  And then, one day, THUD, and there went our awesome television that we watched while my sweet husband and I played pool in the evening. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cured Salmon? Must be French Friday.

Back again!  Kind of.  I forgot to read ahead.  This week's recipe is "Salmon and Potatoes in a Jar," as always found in Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.

This recipe involves very little cooking--great for summer!  The salmon is cured in a salt/sugar mixture, then packed in oil with onion and carrots.  The other jar holds boiled tiny potatoes, also in oil with vegetables.

But.  The recipe takes a couple of days since the salmon is cured, not cooked.  Unfortunately I waited until Friday to find this out!  So here is my salmon at the beginning of the curing stage.

Tomorrow we will pack it in oil and then hopefully try it by Sunday.  I don't think this will be going to the church picnic on Sunday, though!

Updated on Sunday:  We tried it, one liked it!  This wasn't as universally disliked as the Gnocchi dish we made a few months ago, but only the cat liked the salmon.  It was truly beautiful packed in the jar, but really not good beyond that.

The potatoes packed in oil and vinegar were delicious.  I'll probably be eating that for lunch later this week.  Oh, well.  This is what French Fridays are all about!

The First Day

Did you love the first day of school when you were a kid?  I did...pristine school supplies, carefully chosen outfit, and butterflies.  The butterflies only lasted until I figured out how nice/mean/easy/hard my teacher would be, while the outfit was usually way overthought, and those school supplies only stayed pristine until we actually had to start learning something.

My kids feel the same way, except they wear uniforms.  This is everyone with their start-the-year Smarties.  It isn't a great picture because, frankly, I got so teared up that I couldn't really see through the viewfinder:
When did they get this big?!
 M is a 7th grader now and J is in 6th grade, so we now have two middle-schoolers.  P started 4th grade, while D is in 2nd grade.  And that isn't D's uniform, because she doesn't have one this year!  Wednesday was our first day as a homeschooling family.  I suppose that also means it was my first day as a teacher, too.

On our first day, we did Bible, spelling, math, and grammar.  We read the first bit of her history book, and D completed a time-line of her life.  She also started interviewing family members for a "Family History" booklet.  She ended the day with free reading time.  She was happy, and I was exhausted!

Yesterday we did science instead of history.  I've gotten a really neat science book (Real Science-4-Kids) but I think while it's nice outside we'll spend a lot of time doing nature-y things.  So we spent some time in the yard yesterday, pulling weeds and trimming flowers.  We also found two really cool animals in our yard and identified them.  Here is one of our friends:

D is loving having Mom all to herself.  At least twice she's said "I love homeschool!" just out of the blue.  But I have to say, we are a little intense together, and I think we will find our way to a routine that works for us.  We had a stressful day yesterday (involving many moving parts, including a trip to the ER) and late in the afternoon she just had a total meltdown.  So she is sleeping in today while I finally write this.
First Day flowers and an apple.  My husband is trying to get in good with the teacher.
As for me, I know I am falling prey to the worry that many homeschool moms have:  that I'm not doing enough, and that she'll fall behind and somehow not learn something critical to her getting accepted to the college of her choice.  That is something I just have to relax about.  We don't have to everything every day.  That is my new mantra, I think.  Or, maybe this:
Yes, I know, I've used it before.  But it works.  Sanity later.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Slinking back to French Fridays

For several weeks I was blogging recipes from the wonderful cookbook, "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan, keeping up with the gang at French Fridays with Dorie.  Then I fell off the wagon.  But--I'm back!!  And what an easy week to pick:  Slow-Roasted Tomatoes.

Here's the idea:  slice tomatoes, brush with olive oil, cook in slow oven for three hours.  The result: concentrated tomato taste, like a sun-dried tomato but without the leathery texture.  Then these tomatoes can be used as an ingredient in other recipes.

Here are my grape tomatoes, ready to go into the oven.  The rosemary is from my garden.  I didn't add garlic, although that would have also been delicious.

Here is a view after they are done roasting:

See how shriveled they are?  Rather like large raisins, but still juicy.

I tossed them with some pasta, more olive oil, and parmesan cheese.  The verdict?  Simple tomato-y goodness, sweet and bright, and I don't even like tomatoes!  Bill loved them, too.  The kids, um, well.  This really is a little outside the normal range of things they like, so they don't count on this one.
Dorie says you can store these covered with oil in a jar, and then use them over several weeks.  I think they would be great as part of a bruschetta, or in couscous, or as an addition to a salad.  And I'm stopping by the farmers' market this weekend to get more.  These were great!

Now, I'm also trying to go back and pick up some of the past recipes, because I missed some good ones.  Working backwards, I also started the citrus-berry terrine.  "Terrine" is fancy-cooking-ese for fruit in jello.  This was a hoot to make!  I have never used plain gelatin in anything, but I have conquered my fear.

Here is the plain gelatin softening in a little water.
Then I added some sweetened orange juice, stirred to dissolve the gelatin thoroughly.  Then I placed the mixture in the fridge to thicken slightly, after which I was supposed to add fruit.  Except that I took the girls riding and we stayed too long:
This is orange juice gelatin, no fruit!  We all took a taste, which is why it looks lumpy.  And do you know what it tastes like?  Pure orange juice!  It is delicious, a revelation.  (I really do not like Jell-O.)  Just for the record, here is what I was supposed to end up with:
So I am going to try this again, but I think I will try it with the V8Splash I have in the fridge--Cherry Pomegranate--and I also have to go back to the store because the kids scarfed up all the berries.  What a fun surprise, though.  I can also see using a little less gelatin and making popsicles, too.  Less melty and probably less icy, too.  Too bad summer is over...