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...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Outing myself.

See that stack of books?  That is the better portion of my second-grader's curriculum...we've decided to homeschool D this year.

You may know our kids attend a private school that we are generally very happy with.  Once I no longer had the shop, though, of course I took the opportunity to consider where I thought each child was, and whether each one might benefit from a change.  D had a good year last year, and I love her teachers.  But as I watched her, I found her reading and doing math at a much higher level than I'd observed in her schoolwork.  I think the little scamp has been holding out on us!

So we are spending a year finding out how D really learns, and how best to move her along.  I am really excited about it.  And so is she--she has always been Mom's girl.  I mean, she is utterly devoted to me!  While I harbor no illusions about this being a cakewalk, she certainly did jump at the chance to stay home with me. 

I've always thought homeschooling would be a great option.  For a while I was overwhelmed with four very young kids very close together, and then we decided that our best option upon exiting the public school here was a private school.  We love our school family.  But I am looking forward to choosing how to teach some things, like writing, and I'm also looking forward to integrating some topics together, like history and literature.  And D is looking forward to learning cursive a year earlier than planned!

We are losing out on one big benefit of homeschooling, namely being on our own schedule, since we'll still have three at school.  (Oh how I hate an early-August start!!) But it is a real blessing to have the flexibility of looking at each child's needs and talents, and then figure out how best to educate each one.

I don't know if we'll do this for a year, or three, or ten.  But I am excited to start a new season in our family, and to be able to shepherd D through the next year.

Monday, August 1, 2011

East or west, home is best.

In my last post I mentioned our vacation, and then the blog was quiet.  Well, we're back!  What a great time we had.  This summer we went to New England, beginning with Maine and ending on Cape Cod.  Lobstah, lobstah, lobstah, plus a fair amount of ice cream and some awesome clam chowdah thrown in there.  (It was also fun for us Southerners to imitate that dry, dry New England accent!)

We had so much fun!  My kids are the absolute best to travel with:  they get along well, they're pretty tolerant of LOTS of museums, and they only get hungry every two hours or so.  I had fun posting about our trip to France last year, so I'll probably do a couple of posts about where we stayed.  But I wanted to put a quick post up to share some of our impressions.

First:  I love small museums!  I think we all did...from the Seacoast Science Museum in Odiorne Point State Park, New Hampshire, to the Old State House Museum in Boston, to the Sandwich Glass Museum on Cape Cod, these were little "bites" of information, enough to keep us all interested for an hour or two.  None of them demanded all day, but each one rewarded us with some interesting glimpses into whatever they were trying to teach us.

Then:  History is chock-a-block full of amazing people you have probably never heard of, people like Dr. Joseph Warren, a young doctor and spy killed at Bunker Hill; and Commodore Isaac Hull, brave captain of the U.S.S. Constitution; and Captain Cassin Young, awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross, killed at Guadalcanal, with a destroyer named after him.  So many stories, and if you stand still and listen you will be moved to tears by the incredible bravery and fortitude of these men.  At least, my husband and I were.  I could name so many others...Dawes, Parker, Hancock (okay, you've probably heard of him, but talk about someone who had everything to lose).

And:  We in the Southeast are blessed beyond belief with our beaches.  Not to sound ungrateful or like a rude guest or anything, but all the beaches that we saw were kind of, well, small.  And shelly.  Or seaweedy.  And COLD!!  I grew up heading to the Florida panhandle, mile after endless mile of pure white sugar sand and warm Gulf water.  And Bill went to high school in St. Pete, so he has his own opinions about a proper beach.  We did see the beach on Martha's Vineyard, and it was pretty, and the beach in Ogunquit is huge and flat, but, truly, Florida is special.  I guess you don't know what you have til you see the other possibilities.  (And now we are planning a long weekend to the Gulf!)

More to come, I think.  And I'll say this, too:  Tripadvisor ROCKS.  This is our second trip booking all of our accommodations based on their recommendations, and it was spot-on again.  I'm writing reviews of our lodgings and some restaurants over there as "PeachtreeMom4" if you're interested.