Thursday, July 31, 2008
The keyboard sounded softly in the distance. The little ones can only play a few bars of music but it was really playing because somebody had flipped the demo switch. I pushed the music to the back of my mind and continued to thumb through the pages of my book. Gradually, the music began to get louder. And louder. What I didn’t know was that the threesome was acting out scenes from Zelda and that they were using the piano as background music. Background music that was most definitely in the foreground. The notes reached a deafening crescendo and then the children joined in with some shouting of their own. “Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy! Ship ahoooy!” For some minutes, this continued.
The polarity of these two scenes, the quiet one in the living room and the rollicking one down the hall, struck me as hilarious. The words in front of me began to blur and run together. All I could do was laugh, a great, deep-belly-laughing laugh. I’m usually too busy directing the traffic of this family to be much of a laugher. I walk on the serious side and this sidesplitting laughter set John and Lauren to giggling too. “It’s not that the kids are all that funny, Mama, but you are hysterical,” John explained with a wide, wide grin.
I want my kids to remember this day. The day when their ducks-in-a-row mama, for a few seconds, lost herself to the moment. And too, I want them to remember the day when a few notes of music flew them of the bedroom to the land of Hyrule where apparently there was a ship.
Monday, July 28, 2008
For a few minutes I tolerate this kicking, splashing mob but after a while I shake them off and seek solace in the deep end. They follow me. “Back off you guys! Why do you insist on sticking to me?!”
“We have to stick to you, Mom. You’re a dead elephant and we’re the flies.” Faith giggles and gets as close as she dares.
I turn around and pretend to ignore their jabbing knees and elbows. John scooches up right behind me just shy of touching. I turn around quick to give him what for. As soon as we’re face to face, John shoots backward across the pool. Ah, blessed space. But not for long. A second later, I can feel him breathing on my neck.
“John! What are you doing?!”
“I’m pretending we’re magnets, Mom. When my face is to your back you’re the south pole and I’m the north but when you turn around we’re both north and you know north can’t get near north.”
“Fine. Keep pretending we’re the same pole then.” He does until somebody calls for a biggest splash contest and I spend the rest of swim time as the judge for our backyard Olympics.
Last week, my friend Stephanie passed the Arte y Pico award my way. I went to look it up and discovered the blog where this award originated is written entirely in Spanish except for a short little blurb that explains that Arte y Pico means something about creativity. I decided I must have received this award for the crazy shenanigans that my children pull. I am also convinced (because Spanish is not my strong suit) that somewhere in that blog, the author describes life with her own children, Artie and Pico, who no doubt make her daffy with their creative antics.
I’m passing this award along to Mama JJ at Mama’s Minutia. She’s my real life sister-in-law. She speaks Spanish so she'll actually be able to read Arte y Pico. Drop by her blog for some great recipes. She’s a whiz in the kitchen as well as the garden and I’m sure, like me, you’ll come away with a few ideas. She has some Picoes and Arties of her own, mainly Baby Nickel, my little butter boy. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and put your feet up because just reading about that boy will wear you out.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
But John is out of his element in the kitchen. There are too many decisions to be made and he can't break down the tasks without a lot of direction. A lot. This is too bad because after each meal it is his job to help Lauren with the dishes. Lauren rinses and sometimes John puts the dishes in the dishwasher. Sometimes he makes engine noises and slides the dirty silverware across the counter. Lauren washes and John dries unless he goes to put the wet towels in the towel bucket and finds his Harry Potter book and never makes it back to the kitchen.
On this particular day, John was on. He rinsed and sorted and washed and wanted Lauren to dry the dishes. On this particular day, Lauren was in the middle of Harry Potter and was nowhere to be found. This never happens. Never. But to listen to John you would think he was a galley slave and she a lady of leisure. "I've done all the work! Lauren has not helped a bit. It's not fair. She should be in here!" There was some stamping and pouting for emphasis. And some more stamping and pouting and then some stamping and pouting of my own.
"I don't want to hear it's not fair! Lauren will be out here to help in just a minute and you are waaay over-exaggerating, mister!" Right on cue, Lauren showed up ready to work but I was pretty steamed about the whining and had a little more venting to do. "Usually Lauren works her tail off while you just sit on your butt and flap your jaws at her!" (Yes, I used my megaphone voice. And no, John didn't really deserve it.)
Now, at that very moment, I noticed Claire a few feet away and coming closer with the phone in her hand. She calls her long-distance cousins every Saturday for a visit.
"Mom, no one answered the phone. The answering maching beeped."
Claire is not real quick under pressure so I asked her, "Did you leave a message? Did you hang up the phone?"
Claire looked at me, confusion written all over her face.
"Claire, hang up the phone! I'm sure we've left more of a message than I can bear to think about."
Claire hung up. I apologized to John, who really had done an admirable job in the kitchen. He apologized for stamping and pouting. Lauren dried the dishes and Claire got an in-depth lesson on answering maching ettiquette. And the long-distance cousins have yet to call back. I don't wonder why.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Sixteen years ago my husband, Stuart, would have choked on his dinner if you told him that his wife would one day be featured in a cooking column. Back then, he did all of the cooking because I was too headstrong and independent to be saddled with such a mundane task.
I eased into the kitchen by degrees when I quit work to stay home and raise our children. At first we didn’t stray far from the standard American fare. Our pantry shelves were stocked with white flour, packaged foods, and sugary snacks. I didn’t think twice about what I fed the kids until Claire came along. She struggled with asthma and had a blotchy rash around her mouth and eyes for several years until it finally dawned on me that it might be food related. Through trial and error we discovered that she was allergic to sodium phosphate. This revelation turned me into a label-reading fanatic. I found the offending ingredient in everything from chicken breasts to Cheerios. Once we eliminated sodium phosphate, her health problems simply disappeared.
That success made me take a hard look at everything we were consuming. We stopped shopping in the center aisles of the grocery store. I switched from baking with white flour to white whole wheat flour and then when I learned that freshly ground grain has an even greater nutritional value, I bought a grain mill and learned how to bake all over again. I found that flour fresh from the grain mill creates baked products with a light texture and a wonderful flavor.
Lemon Raspberry Streusel Muffins
In a large mixing bowl combine:
3 cups freshly ground soft wheat flour (You can substitute white flour or half white and half whole wheat flour and they will still be tasty.)
1/3 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons baking soda
¾ teaspoons salt
In a small bowl combine:
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
½ cup coconut oil, butter, or extra light tasting olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract
Pour into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour is moistened.
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen raspberries
Fill greased muffin tins ¾ full.
In a small bowl combine:
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
Sprinkle desired amount over muffins. (I usually top the muffins with only half of the streusel and store the rest in the fridge for another time.)
Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes.
Makes about 15 muffins.
As I continued to read about the connections between food and health, I decided the next area that we needed to tackle was our sugar consumption. Reducing it was pretty simple. We exchanged pancake syrup for berries and sour cream. I cut the sugar used in my baking recipes in half. I stopped buying soda and even fruit juice is a rare treat at our house. Now that we have acclimated, grapes taste like candy and we have even learned that almonds have a natural sweetness to them. You might think that the kids would rebel to such a radical change but intentional education has done wonders for their cooperation. Together, we have learned that sugar plays a role in scores of diseases. Since doing that research, the kids have been fairly proactive in preserving their health. They take an active role in planning and preparing our meals. This ownership also helps them to enjoy what they eat.
This is a quick and easy summer snack. We use plain yogurt but if the thought of sugar-free scares you, you can substitute vanilla yogurt.
Place in blender:
2 cups frozen fruit (strawberries and peaches are our favorite)
2 cups yogurt
1/3 cup coconut milk (optional but we love it)
1 teaspoon almond extract
Milk (as much or as little as you want to create the consistency that you’re after)
Combine these ingredients in the blender and serve immediately.
Serves about four.
One Sunday after church, Paul was craving grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. He was all set to zip off to the market for a can of Campbell’s when I promised to find a recipe and make him homemade tomato soup. The thought of canned tomato soup makes me shudder! This adaptation of Michael Chiarello’s food network recipe has become a family favorite.
Homemade Tomato Soup
1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
Be sure to reserve the juices.
Spread the tomatoes into a baking pan. Drizzle with:
¼ cup olive oil
and roast for about 15 minutes.
In a soup pot, heat:
¼ to ½ cup oil
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes, reserved tomato juice and:
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
Simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 15-20 minutes.
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon dried basil
Remove bay leaves and puree soup right in the pot with an immersion blender. Or, if you are like me and don’t have an immersion blender, pour soup in batches into a blender and puree until smooth. If you use the blender method be sure to put a hand towel over the top of the blender before turning it on to keep from get from getting splashed.
Makes about 8 servings. The servings are on the small side but we always eat it with grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread. A fabulous combination!
These days, Paul hardly ever sets foot in the kitchen but when he does its usually to put together these:
Chicken Fajita Pizzas
Preheat oven to 375°
Place in skillet:
2 chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
Add a little olive oil and cook over medium heat until juices run clear.
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
Use olive oil to grease two baking sheets.
On the sheets, arrange:
3-5 large flour tortillas (I prefer Soft and Delicious Soft Wraps by LaTortilla Factory because they are made with olive oil and whole wheat flour.)
Small jar of salsa
Grated cheddar cheese.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and slightly browned.
The following internet resources are some of my favorites. They have all been instrumental in helping my family on our journey toward healthier eating.
Sue Gregg Cookbooks at http://www.suegregg.com/. These cookbooks are devoted to cooking with whole foods.
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig at http://www.amazon.com/. This cookbook is a healthy eating education! I could not put it down. Absolutely fascinating information.
Pleasant Hill Grain http://www.pleasanthillgrain.com/. This company, located in Nebraska, sells grain mills, ice cream makers and a variety of not-your-everyday kitchen supplies.The Bread Beckers http://www.breadbeckers.com/. This company is located just north of Atlanta and sells whole grains and baking supplies.
Monday, July 21, 2008
We use many books from Sonlight for homeschooling but after a few years of working our way through the Usborne science books we deviated a bit. The kids and I learn by spending a while on a topic and Usborne’s approach is more like watching television with Stuart. He never stays on a channel long enough to bond. The kids and I like bonding so we switched.
I love the Charlotte Mason approach to education. For the uninitiated, this means keeping textbooks and worksheets to a minimum in favor of reading real books and conversing about those books. So when I need to use a textbook, I look for books that have a conversational tone to them. The Young Explorer Series written by Jeannie Fulbright fits the bill. The author writes directly to the child. Each book covers many aspects of a single topic and each book has many easy-to-do experiments that bring the lessons to life. This is a calm, manageable approach to science.
The older kids use the Exploring Creation series by Dr. Jay L. Wile. Both this series and the elementary series are published by his company, Apologia. Dr. Wile’s style of writing also speaks directly to the student. These books are filled with practical experiments just like the elementary books. The main difference is that there is a broader scope of material covered in the high school books.
John, Lauren and I take turns reading science to the younger children and I always read the Exploring Creation book with the oldest two. I learn as much as they do. The neighbors know that we really do school when they see us out in the front yard conducting experiments. Either that or they think we’re crazy. Last week we sent John down to the corner to bang two rocks together over his head to demonstrate how the speed of light travels faster than the speed of sound. Then there was the time that I had to drive by the house blowing the horn so the children could hear the sound of the horn change pitch. Now the whole neighborhood understands the Doppler effect because this experiment required several variations. (Blow the horn while parked, back up while blowing the horn…)
In the series of pictures below, the children are doing an experiment on camoflage from Jeannie Fulbright's Land Animals of the Sixth Day. They had to fill a laundry basket with paper that was the same color as three different colors of M&Ms. Then they had to put an equal number of all the colors of M&Ms that come in a package into the basket. They needed to make a hypothesis about what color M&Ms they would find the most of in a two-minute time frame. It was fun. The kids did the experiment five times. One for each kid. Then they ate a handful of candy. Even more fun, seeing as we don't keep candy in the house.
While the majority of each book covers pure scientific content, the authors are quick to give God credit for life. For example:
The kids performed an experiment to see how solid butter sinks to the bottom when placed in a glass of melted butter and then they saw how ice floats when placed in a glass of water. Here are Mr. Wile's words about why this is so.
“Why the difference? Well, in nearly every substance in the world, the molecules get closer when the substance turns solid and get farther apart as the substance turns into a liquid…For water, however precisely the opposite is true. When water is a solid, its molecules must stay in a rigid arrangement that reduces the strength of its hydrogen bonds. When water is a liquid, however, its molecules are free to move close enough together to hydrogen bond strongly. As a result, water molecules are closer together when water is a liquid compared to when water is a solid.
So, unlike almost any other substance in Creation, when water is a solid its molecules are actually farther apart than when it is a liquid. As a result, solid water (ice) floats in liquid water. Once again, we are quite “lucky” that this is the case. After all, what happens to lakes in the winter? They freeze don’t they? Does all of the water in the lake freeze? Of course not. If that were the case, then all living things in that lake would die. As a layer of ice builds up on top of the lake, it insulates the water below, and at some point, no more water will freeze! Because of this, the living organisms in the lake survive the winter. Think about all of the food that we get from lakes or from other creatures that depend on the living organisms in a lake. Without water’s unique property, lakes could not support life, and most likely, we would not be able to survive! This is more striking evidence for the awesomeness of our Creator!” (Exploring Creation with Physical Science, p.96-97)
Both the Young Explorer Series and the Exploring Creation books present God as the creator and sustainer of life. Jay Wile is in fact a creation scientist with a PhD in nuclear science. We went to the Creation Museum in Kentucky a few months ago and I felt that it fell short because while it gives clearly sends the message that God created the earth, it doesn’t do a good job of telling how. I hate books and media that just get stuck on that simple message. You don’t need to check your brains at the door to believe in creation science as both Jeannie Fulbright and Jay Wile adequately illustrate. The Apologia authors go to great pains to present all sides of scientific arguments. They do not keep you in the dark about where they personally stand on any controversial issue either. I think this allows my children the opportunity to wrestle with what they believe for themselves. It's exactly what I want from a science program.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Somehow Faith knew the best thing to bring comfort to a sick boy. She laid a pillow in a laundry basket and covered it with a towel. Charlie curled right up and spent a very comfortable morning laying in his nest on the living room floor surrounded by doting siblings who periodically dropped what they were doing to bring him an ice cube to suck on.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
Claire and Faith are using Miquon Math for their math program. It offers an intuitive approach to mathematics as it stresses finding patterns and breaking down problems in ways that make them easy to solve. The girls are learning their multiplication tables by skip counting. They are just in first and second grade and have been working through fractions, decimals, division, multiplication and some simple algebra. I often need to sit with the girls and ask them questions to help them think their way through their work. This helps them to do math that is far beyond their natural ability. I am amazed at how quickly the two of them grasp each concept. We only do a page or two a day because this is hard stuff but I feel like they are making progress. Besides being extremely effective, this program is cheap. Each workbook is about seven dollars and it takes about a year to work through two of them.
Thanks to what I have learned from teaching Miquon, my approach to math with Charlie has been pretty laid back. He doesn't use a math program. We count. He skips around the living room counting by fives and tens. He counts by ones to twenty. He counts backward from 10 while he races toward the sofa and flings his little body down when he gets to zero. We'll move on to counting by twos and twenty-fives and fifteens and counting backward from one hundred by tens. We count by lining up his little animals so he can touch and count each animal and make the animals and the number come out even at the end. We use a little abacus that I got from Right Start Mathematics. I think their math program is a lot more involved than I have time for but I really like this abacus because it makes it easy to count visualize counting by fives and tens. It also is a good tool to have when the kids learn to carry and borrow.
Here are a few other math helps that we could not live without. These have been pulled out time and again for all five children.
We use Cuisenaire rods for everything. The kids have learned skip counting, addition, subtraction and fraction using these little blocks. They are an intregal part of the Miquon Math program. We have several sets so that the children can have as many as they need to see things like how many sevens are in forty-nine.
We have a set of Base 10 blocks that the kids use for counting, carrying, borrowing and decimals. They also like to use them to build very fragile, sway-in-the-breeze towers.
The final thing that we cannot live without is this clock.
I like it because the minutes are labled around the outside of the clock and the hour and minute hands are different colors.
I wish ten years and more than a few hundred dollars ago that some mother had said, "Look, this is all you need to do a really good job with math." And that is why I am writing this post.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
It feels so good to walk through our rooms and begin to see a reflection of our decorating personality. I often stop and stand outside the children's bedrooms for a minute or two just to take in the changes. The kids just laugh at me.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The Big Guns stepped in, "Go, cat! Shoo!"
"No, Papa! Don't send her away. We like her. We named her!"
"I'm sorry! We don't need one more animal. Shoo! Shoo!"
The cat sauntered away...around to the front of the house.
"Grout's back! She doesn't want to leave. Please can we keep her?"
She slept on the front porch all night and I was awakened in the pitch black by horrific hissing and barking. Our cat had discovered the marmalade intruder and her hissing scared the dog who joined in the cacophony. My heart pounded so hard it shook my whole body.
Today the children have their noses pressed against all of the windows watching Grout wolf down a bowl of cat food and then curl up to sleep in an empty flowerpot.
She's not staying.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
"Why not, Mama? Is it dangerous?"
"No, Faith, it's not dangerous but this morning when you were spies somebody rubbed their mustache off on the wall in Charlie's room."
"Oh. How 'bout crayon? Can we use crayon to make mustaches?"
"Nope. Nooo mustaches." And out the door we went, stepping around Charlie who had fallen flat on his face while trying to walk in a pair of Stuart's shoes.
When we got home, the chores were done and all of the children had added sunglasses to their spy costumes and had calculators in hand. We overheard them conversing in the dark using heavy British accents. "We put two and two together and we have cleverly deducted that four has something to do with something."
They're something alright.
Reading Made Easy. The toy knife in his hand is for when those unexpected bad guys spring from the pages. You know like, "Run Dick! Run! See Spot. See Spot bite Sally. Stop, Spot! Stop!"
Killing two birds with one stone. Faith and Claire read together. Faith is more fluent but Claire can keep up and Faith corrects her when she reads chore for choir. Here they are on chapter 14 in The Year of Miss Agnes. One lesson I can cross off my teaching list.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Smallville is last in everything. Health, wealth, education, you name it. We're last on the list. So it stands to reason that we would be the last to reduce, reuse and recycle as well. It's green in my neck of the woods, but, only because of the woods. Some citizens in my fair county do embrace the concept though. In their own way. Done with that fridge? Move it out to the porch. Car won't run? Push it on out to the back lot to rust alongside the Dodge Dart and the Ford Pinto.
There are NO options for recycling here in my little community. Every disposable item that comes into the house goes out to the curb in this:
Techically, I guess this container is green. The picture doesn't do this thing justice. Our trash can is taller than Charlie and can hold 224 lbs. of refuse. We fill it to overflowing in just three days with milk cartons and cardboard and plastic yogurt containers. The garbage men come on Tuesdays and Fridays to haul it off to the landfill.
The new billboard gives me hope. Today, smoke-free. Ten years from now, at the current rate of change, I'll be the proud owner of a recycling bin..and maybe a Prius.