Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sarah's Wedding Shower



My niece Sarah's getting married in October!

Sarah's mom, Lisa, lives here in Connecticut now, too. And our mother-in-law and father-in-law are here in Connecticut visiting both of us for a few weeks.  So Lisa took her younger daughter, Samantha, and I took my van that seats eight, and my oldest daughter Norah, and we took Mom, and we hit the road.  We stopped in New Jersey for like, a minute, and picked up Michelle, my husband's sister, and then kept on going.

(My little girls stayed home with their dad and Grandpa for the weekend. My nephew stayed home with my brother-in-law. So, basically, all the men were given the responsibility of keeping all the other children alive. They did well.)

We arrived in Virginia the night before and settled in.  (We did lots of stuff like eating at restaurants, swimming at the hotel pool, exercising at the hotel gym, and shopping, of course. But we were really there for one thing.)

The shower was lovely!

There was a ton of delicious food and a bunch of fun games. (I even won a bag of prizes!)  And it took the bride-to-be forever to open all her gifts, she had so many!

I thought the amount of gifts really must speak to the bride-to-be's character. And it speaks to the character of her fiancé Justin, no doubt.  These are two outstanding young people, and I am not that easily impressed.

I thought the amount of gifts also speaks to the abundance of upright people the couple has surrounding them, encouraging them, and celebrating their union.  This is another young couple that is already involved in church, not waiting to start that sort of thing until they are "older."  I love that they are so wise beyond their years!  It makes my heart sing!

And all the gifts also just speaks to me of the abundant love of God and His great provision for a new family just starting out.

As I sat at the shower, watching, laughing, making jokes, I found myself thinking of my own marriage, naturally, now sixteen years in, and thinking how fast those years have gone by, since I was that young bride opening all the gifts. I, too, was marrying a really, really good man.  We, too, were in church and surrounded by so many good people.  

I enjoyed it all again, but this time, it was through someone else's joy.

Then I began to wonder if that's just exactly what God intended all along. Did He plan it this way? That we not only experience our own joy, but then we get to repeat our joy again and again through other's joy.

Like the flowers in spring repeat the same joy over and over, by growing up in the same patterns over and over.

Boy meets girl...

The flowers of spring never disappoint us, no matter how many times they come back again.

And, like that, watching a new couple start out right really never fails to bring joy.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Marilyn and Dan, Quail


I have a soft spot for birds.

I have loved them hard for a really long time.

I really wanted a parrot or conure, but we couldn't afford one.  We had a baby and were struggling to pay rent for just a one bedroom apartment.

Priorities, people.

My friend offered to give me some canaries for free. I enjoyed looking at them, because they were pretty. But they were also pretty dull, since I couldn't ever hold them and they had no personality whatsoever.

A few months later, my husband's cousin traded me my quiet (dumb) canaries for her smarter (louder) cockatiel. She was a school teacher and she had gotten complaints about the cockatiel in the classroom/s.

I enjoyed that bird. I fed him from my plate (Don't judge lest ye be judged) and he climbed all over me and even took showers.

But he pooped everywhere. Birds do doo-doo.

And we had a baby who was beginning to crawl, and then toddle, and she was starting to grab at everything, and birds are fragile, and I was still postpartum, so it was just too much.

I gave my cockatiel to a little homeschooled girl who managed to stand up to all my intense grilling about bird care and the ethical and moral duty of owning pets.

That's when I let the bird-loving part of me just go to roost, while I focused on looking after my own brood.

My friend offered me her quail a few days ago. She was moving. They needed a home.

I said, "Quail? (Ha!) No. But thanks." without any hesitation.

But then we went to visit her to say, "Goodbye" before the move, and the quail were still there, and the kids went over to see the quail, and then they held the quail. And then the quail promptly flew up and out of their hands and ran all over the room.

I saw how fast they run and funny they look while running.

We all worked together and caught one. Finally!

I gently cupped it in my hands and brought it up to eye-level to have a closer look.

That tiny bird focused its eye on me, too.  Little as it was, it seemed to take me in in total.

Then it settled itself into my palm like it was nesting and made the sweetest, humming sound. It's whole body vibrated about one hundred times in that one second.

Then it started slowly batting its beady, little eye at me.

The eye lid seemed to close bottom to top.

And it had the tiniest, little, most perfect eye lashes.

That was it.







Thursday, August 17, 2017

I am grateful.


I am grateful: to begin our fifth year of homeschooling with the help of Classical Conversations.

I am grateful: that my oldest begins Challenge B this fall. She is excited about the new things she will be learning and doing like formal logic, mock trial, and science fair.  And I mean what I said. She is actually excited about the learning she will be doing, having taken real ownership of her own education last year in Challenge A.

I am grateful: that I will be "a Challenge B mom." So that means that will also be learning that formal logic, and doing mock trial, and science fair and all that as I teach my daughter those things at home. I'll say that I am also pretty excited about the new material before me, too.

I am grateful: for new challenges this year such as high school transcripts. I am making the choice to begin keeping a transcript for my oldest, grading her work in an official capacity, and translating that work into high school credits. That will be a totally new experience, because believe it or not, until now, we've only learned for learning's sake in our homeschool. We have never, ever learned anything merely to check a box or just make a grade or get a credit.

But, of course, I am constantly assessing my daughters' school work to see how they are doing. But that is only for the most practical of reasons, and in the most informal ways, so I can see what they know or what they need to do next, etc.  Official number grades have been basically meaningless to us up to this point, since I don't need numbers or letters to communicate what I already know to myself!

But my daughters may want or need to go to college, so that changes things. Now I will have to communicate what my students, my daughters, are doing and how well they are doing it to someone else.  So that means letters and numbers and credits and all that.  However tedious, grading will actually serve a real purpose now, so I will begin submitting to that process this year.

I am grateful: I will be tutoring Challenge A for a second year this year.  I get to mentor another group of students (with parents often watching the classes) through rich content. My students get to integrate every subject with every other subject and our class is a place where any topic relevant to the topic at hand can be mentioned. So science is mentioned in math, naturally. And history is mentioned in literature, naturally. It is all connected after all. And perhaps most importantly, God is allowed in our conversation and we constantly find that He is relevant to everything we are learning.

I am grateful: I will also get to support other homeschool parents through another year of Challenge A.  And that means I will get to grow for another year in relationship with excellent homeschooling families. Relationships are the greatest blessings in my life.

I am grateful: that I am compensated financially for the work I do as a Classical Conversations director. The income is allowing me to contribute to my household. I am also setting an example of industry for my daughters and I just love that.

I am grateful: that my two younger daughters will, of course, be in Foundations. For my middle daughter, it will be her fifth year. For my youngest daughter, it will be the second year.

I am grateful: to be homeschooling like I pondered doing since I was a teenager.

I am grateful: to be teaching like I dreamed of doing even as I decided not to go to college for education like I had planned, because after a few classes in education and few more experiences in public school, I just knew I couldn't teach in that setting.  I changed my major and believed that God would help me find a way of teaching that worked for me... and after all, He has.

I am grateful: for my husband's continued support of what I do and his growing knowledge and enthusiasm about education, homeschooling, discipleship, the Classical model of learning, and how all of those things are actually connected.

I am grateful: to have the structure, support, and community that Classical Conversations provides. I never want to go back to educating in isolation.

I am grateful: that my brother and sister-in-law and nieces and nephews are also on this journey with us now. They have been homeschooling for many years, too, but they were not using Classical Conversations, and they lived in Virginia until a few months ago.

But my sister-in-law has recently started using Classical Conversations, and has even more recently moved to Connecticut, too. Now they are only fifteen minutes away!

I am grateful: that my sister-in-law is the Challenge B tutor on our campus. So my daughter will be in her aunt's class and one of her cousins will be one of her classmates. And my sister-in-law is my coworker in the class next door to mine. And my niece will be in my Challenge A class.

I am just so grateful: for the life God has so faithfully lead me into.  I could not have imagined or contrived anything this good, true, and beautiful by my own means. To God be the glory! Great things has done and is doing!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wineberries


It turns out that those wild raspberries in our yard are called wine raspberries or rather just wineberries. My daughters and my niece brought a surprising amount in from our backyard.  



So then we were inspired to spend the day collecting more from our roadside and then from the nearby state park.



We all came home pleasantly worn out from all the walking, which quickly becomes more like hiking and/ or climbing in this terrain.  


After showers and dinner, we all went to bed with books and flashlights or tablets.


It would be absurd to ruin these beauties with sugar if we only had a few cups of berries. But now that we that have several cups, I have agreed to bake something with them today, perhaps a very simple fruit tart.  But I don't even have white sugar in my house at this point, so I'll plan to shop a little after church.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wild Raspberries


The landscaper and his crew are here to help us subdue our front yard.  Trees are being uprooted and rocks are being dug up and placed strategically. Of course, some rocks just aren't going to budge without dynamite and those rocks will stay just where they are.  

We do not plan nor even want a traditional looking yard. That's not at all why we moved into the woods. But we'd like to make what we have as beautiful as possible, make its natural beauty easier to appreciate, make it less of the complete wilderness that it is now.

Unfortunately, a large clump of wild raspberries (and even some blackberries) that are growing up to the front and side of our house really must be torn out.  They are growing in front of a large rock formation that is far too beautiful to remain covered, even with wild berries.  It seems impossible that they must go, but it's true.  Luckily, we have more wild raspberries lining the woods in our backyard, too. Otherwise, it would be much harder for me to persuade myself to part with thriving berry bushes.

After the expert assured us they were definitely edible and certainly safe, we asked him to ask all the gardeners to hold off on tearing them out until we had harvested berries at least once.  So they worked on the other side of the house, while we gathered some pails from inside, the kind we use to store pencils and the like, and we used those to collect.

It is overcast today and it rained cool drops on us as we picked. There were thorns everywhere and we all suffered pokes, but there was no bleeding, thankfully.  The bigger girls worked together to navigate the thorns, but I helped Del. I would walk into the bushes a little ways, trample the branches in front under my heavier feet and thicker shoes, put the handle of the bucket in my mouth, then turn and pick up Adele, setting her in front of my legs to pick with me.  We moved like this farther and farther into the bushes and then reversed the process to get out of the bushes.

We all snacked as we went.  Even the unripe berries were not too tart to be delicious. And it was especially nice to eat them as came off the bush, cool, damp, having been just freshly washed by the rain.

And we shared the berries with the men working in our yard.  They did not speak English, but I held up my bucket, and motioned them over, and it did not take much to understand my intent or make myself persuasive once they got a look at the bright red inside my pail.

They put down their tools, pulled off their gloves, and I gave them honest, heaping handfuls. (I noticed as I poured how much bigger mens' hands are than children or women!)

But it felt good and right to share the berries with the men in the midst of their work when they would be most welcome.

May God make those berry bushes we have left ten times as fruitful!    

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Walking On Water by L'Engle


First, it was Ruth Bell Graham's Footprints of a Pilgrim.  I knew right away, within moments, that the book was divinely put into my hands. To know that such a woman even existed and cared about the things I care about: God, marriage, family, home, it gave me so much strength when I was in my twenties, and I needed to know that it was alright to be pursuing a degree, yet care more for the simple things.

Next, it was Saint Theresa of Avila's Interior Castles. That book came at a time in my life in my thirties, when I was experiencing God in new ways. Even if she who wrote it happened to be a nun who lived on the other side of the world centuries removed, it strengthened me to know someone like I lived, and experienced God in strange ways, too.

And now, it's Walking on Water by Madeline L'Engle.  The book comes as I near forty.  This woman's internal and external life is eerily similar to mine now. I was beginning to doubt whether it was normal to contemplate the greater things, to play piano, to translate languages, for God to be so real to me, for me to want to make stories that bring people light, and do all these in the presence of children. It's probably not normal, but I feel strengthened to know that someone else lived as I live and thought as I think.  It's like time wrinkled and I got to spend a few days in conversation with her.

God's sends me mentors, friends, at the time I need them, and He is not bound by time in doing so.



  


Friday, July 21, 2017

Every Perfect Gift


I have a sensitivity to annoying sounds, so I thought it was going to be painful for me when the kids practiced their piano. Nevertheless, Dwayne and I wanted to give the girls the gift of music, so we started providing them with lessons. To my surprise, the kids' practice is one of the most soul-soothing sounds in my life now. Like birds singing from the trees around our house, or the laughter from upstairs where the girls are playing with their dolls, the sound of our piano serves are a reminder of what is good, true, and beautiful in my life, in all of life! The playing makes me to stop whatever I am doing, even if only for a moment, and acknowledge the Giver of every perfect gift.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"We Have Eternity."



I will often pray while I exercise. The two really go together for me so naturally.

In one case, I am pursuing spiritual goals. In the other case, my goals are physical.

But prayer and exercise, similarly, both take faith and action, then more action and more faith...

So naturally, while lunging with kettlebells, I was talking to God about my dreams today.

I want to accomplish so many true, beautiful, and good things with my life.

All these things are the things God Himself has called me to do, so in faith, I take action, and I expect to be able to do them.

But time keeps passing.

"We have to hurry." I told God. "There isn't much time!"

I felt very mortal there for a moment. One tends to feel their mortality when they are exercising with kettlebells.

At my remark, I heard the Spirit of God offer a sharp rebuke to my spirit,

"We have eternity," God said.

The words totally wrecked the way I was thinking at that moment.

I could almost see my error as a castle in my mind being torn down.

But then, before the same words had even finished entering my mind, and devastating my thinking, they had also, almost at once, filled me with the most complete courage for all the work that God has called me to do.

God can do that.  He can tear me down and build me up almost at the exact same time.

His work in my spirit is similar to what weight-lifting does for my body.

Lunges with kettlebells in hands really tear up my legs. But even as they tear, the muscles just come back stronger, more perfect.

God's Spirit works just like that in my soul.

The words, "We have eternity," served to rebuke and encourage me all at once.

I may get it all done before I die. Or I may not.

It doesn't really matter.

I have forever with God to enjoy perfecting the works He has given me to do.

My life is, was, and will be, simply,

the forever with God that has already started for me.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hydrangeas


I have been enjoying seeing what all comes up in my new yard this spring and summer. I consider every single blossom a gift, since I didn't plant them, but nevertheless, here they are!

The previous owners planted hydrangea bushes along our front walk.  The bushes are almost as tall as me! (Perhaps they have actually been neglected and need to be tended.) But being so high allows me to see the blossoms from inside the house through the windows and I consider that an advantage.  The flowers on the bushes turned from bright white to a delicate violet that subtly grows more saturated with color by the day.

I indulged myself and cut the largest of all the blossoms off and brought it inside to my kitchen table. I didn't know how well it would keep, but I've had it there for a few days now, and it is still fresh and beautiful. Tiny bluish blossoms drop onto the table from the underside of the flower throughout the day, but since I wipe my table free of crumbs once or twice a day as it is, because of my kids, this is no real inconvenience.

Hydrangeas have been a favorite of mine since my teenage years when I saw them in my friend's bridal magazines.  So when I got married, I ordered them to go in my assorted wedding bouquet.  Back then, I lived in the south and hydrangeas are not common down there, so it was a mystery to me how these flowers even grew! But they are everywhere in New England and it is a joy to have full grown bushes of my own now!  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Piano Lessons



Our kids are taking piano lessons once a week and practicing everyday.  The teacher actually comes right to our house.

I am not actually taking lessons myself, but I watch the lessons and I practice everyday and I have the ability to ask our teacher some of my questions, which is nice.

We always thought it would be annoying to hear our kids learning piano, because it was always irritating to us when we visited a place with a piano and we heard them banging on the keys before.  But it isn't like that when the kids are practicing everyday at home.  My husband and I have both been surprised that we don't feel annoyed at all by the sounds of their playing.  It is actually really pleasant and soothing to hear them practicing. Perhaps this is because their playing is more ordered now, since they are practicing scales or working on specific skills or songs.

And playing for myself at the beginning, the end, or even when I sit for a few minutes in the middle of a busy day, is such a blessing. It refreshes me and I find I can get up from the piano relaxed or even more energized for tasks.

We prayed for more music in our lives and God is being faithful to answer that prayer.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Watercolor Lessons


My oldest daughter is gifted in art and enjoys it so much. I have prayed that I will be able to find ways and means of fostering her God-given talent and interest.  

We recently moved and I made a new friend here and she mentioned that she's got an art degree and gives lessons, and I was like, "Really?!" She usually teaches groups, but we couldn't go to any of the times or places where she already teaches. So I was brave and I asked her how much it would cost to have her come to our home and give us private lessons, three lessons and specifically on water color, because I didn't think I could commit to more time or money than that.  I found that the price was right, so I made the deal and I purchased all the supplies we would need to dive right in and make the most of the few short weeks studying with a master. I know so much of learning anything is just doing it. So we are trying to paint everyday for the next few weeks. 

We don't ever take an extensive break from schoolwork for summer like many people do, but we do stop a lot of school work we do during the fall/ winter/ spring and we try to add special stuff like this. So my daughter has agreed to paint at least one picture every single day as part of her "schoolwork" for the next few weeks. 

She's got a hard life. 

I sit through her lessons with her and try to paint something, too. This way, it is something I can be more fit to help her with throughout the week, and something we can do together. (We didn't have the easiest school year, so it's been a time to feed our spirits and connect over something she really enjoys.) 

I can't paint with watercolors everyday like my oldest does, but I have been able to paint three pictures so far.  Her little sisters are also painting with watercolor everyday, too, but they don't sit in on the formal lessons. I did not think it would be wise to have them there, since they are so young still. I wanted my oldest to get as much of the teacher's attention as possible, so she could make as much progress as possible. And I knew I could paint with the little ones on my own time, and even teach them some of what I learn, etc.  

God willing, this might lead to more lessons in the future.  I know there is a world of other mediums out there: acrylic, oils, pastels...  But, I am grateful that my daughter has this opportunity to focus on watercolor and move towards mastery in that.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Psalm 19 Recitation

I made it a goal to memorize twelve Psalms this year.

I finally learned Psalm 19. It took a few months longer than I expected.  Here is the recitation.



Now I will begin working on the next Psalm on the list.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Discussion


Last night I hosted a book discussion on The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and invited the ladies in my Classical Conversations group.  Four people came and it was a rich discussion that went on twice as long as the three hours planned for it.  This book is only three chapters, but it's dense reading! Lewis uses a multitude of examples and vocabulary that are unfamiliar to modern, American society.  None of us came to the discussion as an expert. But one of the ladies studied Philosophy in college, so that was helpful. Also, all of us came to the discussion with respect for objective moral law, or the Tao, as Lewis put it in the text, so that made the discussion coherent and productive. Together, we summarized, or tried to summarize what Lewis is communicating in each chapter. We shared quotes, asked questions, and discussed numerous topics as they related to the book, or as they were brought to mind by the discussion. This morning, I am thankful for my friends and I feel encouraged to be connected to women who love Jesus and have a desire to follow Him with their minds.  My own plan is to read the book again this week, for a forth time. But, truly, the book is that challenging, and with the discussion fresh in mind, I feel like I will come away with an even better understanding of the ideas in the text.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Contemplating Good Books and Healthy Food

I have started to read Cicero "On the Good Life."  I've had the book for several months, but we have been in a busy season of transition, and perhaps more importantly, I have been reading too many other things to begin.

As I picked up the book this morning to read a little more of it today, I said to myself, "I really need to focus and get this done."  But then a split second later, I realized that attitude is all wrong.

I said to myself, "No. That was the way I used to think about learning..." when I was in modern school. Each subject was studied for a grade, for a diploma or a degree, for an accomplishment, as an end, and then, at some point, I was supposed to be totally done with that subject. And, far too often, that model of education fostered the idea that I was also done with learning altogether or worse, that if I wanted to be a learner again, I needed to go back to school in order to do it. How silly!

My view of education is totally changing now that we are practicing the Classical model and homeschooling.   No, this book and others like it are not just projects to be finished just as soon as possible, so that I can move on with my life and from now on say, "I've read Cicero." to satisfy my pride or impress others.  No, this is the sort of book that I should probably read again, and go back to in reference, and contemplate for decades.  I should build a relationship with this book and books like it.  It should be more of a habit, less of an accomplishment.

In that way, reading good books like Cicero is similar to a having a healthy diet. I am a part-time health coach so I live this and see it all the time. We all know that we should not think, "I just need to focus and get this healthy diet over with, so I can go back to my regular life. I just need to lose all this weight, so I can hurry up and go back to eating doughnuts."  That's an erroneous attitude and mindset that will fail anyone in an attempt at weight loss and weight maintenance.

And like an education is supposed to be an ongoing journey and a life-long relationship with good books and ideas, a diet is an ongoing journey and life-long relationship with healthy foods. It isn't something you finish. It is something you constantly contemplate and experiment with. It's a lifestyle.  Andrew Kern says the same thing about Classical education; "Classical education is not an end. It's a life."

We approach far too many things in life with that "Okay. I just have to get this done, so I can move on." attitude.   (And now I wonder if we do that because of the way we were educated.) We miss the point!

I suppose there are some books or media or even some foods that we should just binge upon.  I think it depends on the quality.  Downtown Abbey is great fun, but it's not something to contemplate for years like the great books such as Cicero or C.S. Lewis or even more, The Gospel or John or Galatians. I may buy ice cream once or twice a year for a special occasion. We will eat it up quickly and it's great fun, but we don't keep it around.  We do, however, keep foods like asparagus, almond milk, and protein powder in the kitchen all the time.  They bring us life, so those are foods that are worthy to keep around.

So in the same way that I eat healthy foods, I continue my journey with good books like Cicero, in no big hurry, because learning is not something I ever want to be done with or something that I ever want to have gotten over.  No, learning is a life I want to live and be living.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Psalm 1 Recitation


I have made it a goal to memorize twelve Psalms this year.  

I plan to share my progress here via video for the sake of accountability, motivation, and fun.

I think these videos will also provide me with a sense of perfection in a very traditional sense of the word, meaning that my task will be totally complete and in the past tense.      

I drew a little sketch in my journal that illustrates the Psalm and commemorates the occasion for me (and my supportive husband was a good enough to take the video.)   

This is the first of the twelve I have memorized well enough to say throughout the day at any time without reviewing or having any prompts of any kind; Psalm 1.  








Curiosity Abounds

In an effort to steward the gift that God has given me in this new home, I've allowed myself time to take walks. As a result, I've got a growing fascination with the mosses, fungi, and lichens that grow in the woods around me.  Painted with infinite shades of one or two colors, they are each glorious in their own right.  So I am arming myself with the appropriate field guides.  I can't wait to be able to call these beauties by their names and discover details about how they work.  





Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Gentle Word on Goal-Setting


I made it a goal to read The One Year Chronological Bible in 2017.  I tried this last year, but I failed to stay with it. 

The Bible in this format as compared to the other One Year Bible is more difficult without a doubt; No inspirational Psalms;  No convicting Proverbs.

But that's not really why I didn't accomplish this last year.

I just I hated being so far behind, so then I just gave up trying to catch up.

But I wanted to try again this year. I felt like there was something there, something important in that failure that I needed to confront, something that God wanted to show me.  

So I started again on January 1, 2017 and did well for like three days.

Then I got behind almost immediately, not able to read the Bible every single consecutive morning, because... life.    

But this morning, I had a little more time than usual, so I caught up.  

Now I am set to read January 15 tomorrow and all is right with the world.  

But seriously.

When I closed the Bible this morning after catching up, I had a moment of realization about goal-setting.

Why didn't I just keep reading last year and finish The One Year Chronological Bible later?

If I had just kept reading, I might have finished today, for all I know.

Even if I finished in February or March of 2017, would it have really mattered in the end?

No.  I didn't finish, because I didn't like feeling imperfect, so I quit trying.

Pride.

The revelation came so quickly and gently, I almost missed it.

It's not about perfection.

It's about progress. 

It's not about saying, "I read The Chronological Bible every single morning in 2017."

It's about having a better understanding of how God worked in history.

It's about taking a big, worthy goal and making it attainable by following a plan and doing the best you can everyday.

So set some goals, people!

You will probably fail and find that you are imperfect almost as soon as you start trying.  

But if you keep on trying, you will look back and see that you "caught up" to your goal after all.

    


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bag Work




I got a chance to fill up my punching bag and hit and kick on it last week. It had been in storage for many months during the move. It felt great to have it again.  









Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Do-Dad


This little cast iron do-dad was left in our house when we bought it.  I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be for...

Was it a candle holder?  No, it was too big for a tea light, too small for other typical candle sizes.

Was it a spoon rest of some kind?  No, it was too small to hold cooking utensils and it's rim was too high to be used for tea spoons.

I couldn't figure it out, but it was interesting to me. So I kept it, cleaning it, then putting it in the kitchen cabinet.

Then the other day, I was making gumbo and I needed to taste the broth...

That's when I thought of this do-dad!  It occurred to me that it is the perfect design for tasting broths, etc.

So I tried it as a tasting spoon.  I scooped up some broth and gave it a look and then a taste! It was the perfect shape for dipping, swirling, and then drinking!

Of course, I am not really sure this is actually what it is for, because I haven't seen a tasting spoon in this shape. Most look more like a spoon or ladle, but this do-dad works great as a taster, so I think that's what I will be using it for!


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Easy Gumbo


I call this recipe easy, because the only thing I really ever need to buy for it is kielbasa and okra, because I usually have all the other ingredients in my cabinets, fridge, or freezer at all times.

It's also easy, because I have left out ingredients altogether, like zucchini or worcestershire sauce. I have also swapped out fresh flavorings for powdered ones, onion powder in place of chopped onion, for example, and it always tastes great no matter.

Ingredients:

Extra Virgin olive oil
Water (or thawed chicken or beef bone broth- approx. 4 cups)
Corn flour
Beef kielbasa sausage
Two chicken breasts
Zucchini
One bag frozen, chopped okra
One large can chopped tomatoes
Minced Garlic

Spices:
Onion Powder (or fresh onions if you feel like chopping them)
Kosher Salt
Worcestershire Sauce
Dried parsley (or fresh parsley, of course, if you have it)

Optional:
Jalapeno Powder


Drizzle a lot of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot and turn it on medium-high heat.  (If you are using fresh, chopped onions in place of onion powder, add them now.)

Chop your meats into bite sized pieces and throw them in the warm-hot oil. Let them begin to cook and begin to brown, stirring them fairly constantly, and adding more olive oil to keep the meat from burning.  With gumbo, brown and sizzling is good. Black and dry and bad.  Add oil to avoid any dryness or burning.

Once the meat is browned all over and the fats are rendering out of the sausage, push all the meat  over to one side of the pan.

In the open space at the bottom of the pan, add approx. one quarter cup of water. This water will steam a little, it will mix with all the oils and fats on the bottom of the pan, and it will begin to bubble up, because your pan is pretty hot at this point.  Quickly sprinkle in a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and about two tablespoons of corn flour and mix it around in the open space on the side of the pan.  Let that "gravy" cook for a few moments. Other people are probably much more careful about their roux. I am lazy, and I like easy, so I don't even take the meat out of the pot.  It still tastes great in the end.

Next add your tomatoes with juice and then add your spices or your spices and then your tomatoes. I don't really measure and I don't think you should measure either.  Just be generous with everything. Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle and then mix it all together and give it a little taste. If you are using fresh parsley, you would use less, because fresh spices are more potent and can be overdone.  But if you are using dry spices, you can add a lot more and I usually do.  Remember gumbo is supposed to be savory and thick with flavor.  Make sure to add enough salt.  Like the oil at the beginning, you want to use enough. For it to be a true gumbo, don't skimp.

Next add your vegetables and remaining broth or water. Turn the heat up a bit, until it begins to boil, then turn it down and let everything simmer until your chicken and zucchini are fairly soft.

I like to make this in the late afternoon when I still feel like cooking and, once it is done, turn off the heat and let it sit on the back of the stove until a few minutes before dinner, when I heat it up to a temperature that is just right.  The time spent sitting on the stove is not critical, but it definitely gives the flavors a chance to mix.  If I plan to let it sit, I will stop cooking the gumbo just until the chicken is cooked through and then trust the hour spent hot on the stovetop to cook everything the rest of the way.

I serve this over brown rice that I also make ahead in the rice maker and let sit and warm until we are ready to eat.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Simple Avocado and Pepper Salad






Chop up one ripe avocado and one fresh bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange). Sprinkle with garlic salt and jalapeño powder, toss, and enjoy!  This is one of my favorite snacks right now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

How A Simple Writing Assignment Quickly Becomes So Much More


I had my oldest read the book My Brother Sam is Dead with me.  It's a historical novel set in Redding, our new community. All the sites are within walking distance of our new house, and apparently, while the characters are fictitious, the events in the book are based on original sources the author could find and as accurate as can be.

We practiced some of the writing skills we are learning in Challenge A to discuss the book together. It's Christmas break, so we have some time to do this extra reading and this will function as a sort of review for the things we are learning in The Lost Tools of Writing, the writing program we are using.

*Spoiler alert*

The title of the book might give you some idea of what may happen in the story, but if you want to read the book My Brother Sam is Dead, don't read below, because there will be spoilers.

I asked my daughter to choose between two issues: "Whether Sam should have stolen his father's gun" or "Whether Putnam should have had Sam executed." I usually let her create her own issue, but I was really interested in these issues, so I guided the conversation in that direction, because I can do that as teacher/parent and my daughter didn't have a strong opinion to the contrary.  She just wanted to get it done and get back to all the extra library books she gets to enjoy over Christmas break.  

She chose the former issue and I asked her to make an ANI chart that had at least twenty items in each category: affirmative, negative, and interesting.  She managed to get ten to twelve items in the first two columns on her own then she came into the kitchen and started complaining that it was too hard. At that point, I made some coffee and we started our discussion while I made dinner. By the time we were done talking about the book, she had filled in the chart.

During our discussions like this one, I realize how quickly teaching turns into parenting and how quickly parenting becomes discipleship.  I saw that this was true before I started homeschooling, and it's why I wanted to homeschool, but moments like this help flesh out that reality for me.

When we began our conversation, my daughter was sympathetic to Sam and she was certain that he was right to take the family's gun.  But by the time we went through this thought exercise together, she was much more critical of Sam. She saw how he was a bit selfish, really naive, zealous for good, but also reckless, adjectives that can describe many a young person with noble ideas.

As we talked, we touched on the other issues in the book, too, and she saw how the story shows that Sam was not entirely guiltless of the crime he was executed for.  And the questions came up: What is guilt? What is innocence?  Are any of us really ever innocent and totally undeserving of any suffering?  We begin to realize how relevant science and faith can be to what is actually happening in our lives.

She also recognized the hard truth of how Sam left his family unarmed, and unfortunately, that ultimately, contributed to his father's being vulnerable enough to be taken by a group of lawless men and dead on a prison ship. So critical topics like right, wrong, war, peace, law, justice, guilt, innocence, conscience, morality, loyalty, duty: all of these came up as we thought through this issue, and they always do come up, even when the simplest of issues are really thought through.

Truth is always much more complicated than we think at first, is it not? We came away with a lot more clarity on the issues in the book than we started with, but we also came away with a lot more questions about the most important things in life.  I had even changed my mind and I begin to see things differently than I had when I started the conversation!

All I can hope is that this sort of thinking and learning will help my daughter make better decisions as she grows up.  That's the best I can do for my daughter as a parent.  Of course, my practical goal was simply to make her review what she is learning in her writing program, because I am her teacher and I need to do that.  But, of course, she and I were obviously doing so much more than a writing assignment. But aren't we always doing more than that? Was I teaching her writing or was I showing her how to really think and helping her discover what is true?