Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Unexpected Event

I've been having some tooth pain (tooth #14, I came to discover) for, oh, about 6 months. Very light discomfort. I realized months ago that a large space between 2 molars could contain a small meal (dessert anyone?) after eating. I started to floss often, then regularly, then ALL THE TIME, to keep the food out. Gradually, it gave me more trouble. Yesterday, it was so cold sensitive that it hurt when I touched it with my finger.

I called and got a dental appointment for 9:45. Thank you, whoever canceled!

The dentist told me: "You need a root canal." Never had one of those before, but I'm good in the old dentist chair, not scared at all. I view it as rather like being at the spa: close my eyes and let someone tend to me. Do NOT, under any circumstances, look at the needle.

So, I got a quick appointment (12:30!) for a root canal.

Evidently, root canals have come a long way: they gave me a movie to watch, complete with these fancy goggle/glasses that show the movie to your little, distracted eyes. Little earbuds pour the sound into your ears, so you can't hear the grinding machines quite so much. They had quite a movie selection. I opted for Drew Barrimore.

They had a back massager in the chair too, just to let you know.

However, the actual work of the root canal hasn't changed a bit. It took about 1 1/2 hours (thus, the full-length movie instead of just a TV episode!). And it is quite an involved procedure. And, did I mention EXPENSIVE? Yup - $892 smackers. Ouch. Time to raid the savings account.

But I lived through it, and drove home slowly. I felt nauseated and exhausted. Am I too old for dental work? I reached the house, was in my PJs by 5:00, and in bed.

My family tended to me. Anna made dinner. Adam helped, and he brought me all that I asked for. And guess what Julia did -- she made me this:

Now, even in my soporific state, I gazed at that card and was amazed. My little 10 year old, all on her own, made this creative thing? Look at the cool 3-D effect on the trees, clouds and bird:

And I don't know, but there's just something about the shape of the sun and its rays that I find fierce and aggressive, for a card. I love it. I think the girl has a very creative future, and I just wanted you to see how she cheered me up. (She also made me a blue yard doll, to take a nap with!)

An elderly lady in our church is going through the painful process of losing her spouse. Julia wanted to make her a card also. Here it is so far. The pieces are still loose and in process.
These pies have no connection to the rest of this post :) They're just here to make you hungry. The pumpkin is all gone; the apple is a close second.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Lefty Homeschooler in New York City Tells It All:

I'm in the middle of reading an article written by a homeschooling dad from NYC. And, since I'm in a random and fragmented type of mood, I thought I'd just give you a few of my favorite lines from his article:

"Home schooling is the new black!" This is my favorite quote thus far. It's a hot new trend, did you know? In some parts of the country, you are NO LONGER WEIRD if you homeschool. Who'd have EVER thought day would come? (And if this is true, why does my spell-check STILL not recognize the word "homeschool"?)

"People think we're all conservative Christians who hate the government and wear denim jumpers." Here the author is actually quoting another blogger, and they're both showing that homeschooling has spread out to parts of the population (non-denim skirt wearers, for example) that we never expected.

The author describes the public school that his twin 5 year old daughters would be going to: "It's a uniform school run on a paramilitary model, ruthlessly devoted to driving up the test scores." My, my. Isn't this exactly the type of school most folks say they want?

"...we feel dubious about the ideology that seems dominant in public education these days, and especially about the idea that sending kids to school virtually all day for 10 months a year, beginning at age 3 or 4, is the healthiest mode of delivering it."

Hear, hear!!

And here's a real zinger: "The real purpose of all this formal schooling is to get the kids out of the house and train them to stand in line and follow instructions while mommy and daddy get back to their ultra-important lives as economic production units."

Folks, DON'T EVEN GET ME STARTED on the real reason the government is so hot on public education! I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I hope we can all admit that the government does have a vested interest in educating everyone (hey, that's not news; an educated populace is a good thing), AND in educating us all the same, like little drones. They control the education, they control the populace -- in how we think, evaluate, work, and comply.

And, speaking of homeschoolers in general, he says: "But hardly any of them structure their time and space so it resembles conventional schooling. That's exactly what they're trying to avoid, after all."Duh. So, all you normal folks out there, when you talk to homeschoolers, PLEASE do not ask them if they are doing their schooling like a standard classroom. The standard classroom is exactly what they're trying, unashamedly, to get away from.

The author tells about a homeschooling blogger who described her unconventional teaching techniques online. Evidently, her words were like "sticking a fork in the haunches of the angry and puritanical razorback hog that is the American Internet-reading public."

Yikes! Is that us? Excuse me ... Is that we? (I am always, always, an English teacher.)

Who were those online readers, flailing her virtual back with typed whips? "Puritanical?" Those poor Puritans. Why do we use their nomer as we do? (Is that opposite of a misnomer?) Certainly it wasn't the conservative Christians attacking the homeschooling blogger; half of them are homeschooling themselves.

Who hates homeschoolers? Why, those who adamantly defend public schooling for all. Those who know that every kid who is homeschooled deducts thousands of dollars from the public system. Those who think that a woman's place is in the workplace. Yeah, we all know those folks.

The author tries briefly to address the concern that homeschooled kids are lacking in "socialization." But he quickly is distracted by the theme that seems to crop up repeatedly in the article: The Kind of Homeschooler That He ISN'T. He isn't a Christian, nor a conservative. Oh yeah, and he doesn't wear a denim jumper. But he's rather amazed at what the homeschooling community DOES look like: " the home-school universe, a fascinating realm in which social dissidents from the left and right margins of society struggle to communicate and coexist."

And it will look more and more like that, my friend.

A few stats?

In 1970, the government said there were 150,000 homeschoolers in the USA.
In 2007, there were 1.5 million reported, and probably more. And homeschooling has exploded in the past 2 years because parents who cannot afford private schooling anymore are turning to homeschooling as a good alternative.

Are the sacrifices of homeschooling worth the benefits? Yes, he says: "Do we regret not exposing our kids to the intense cultural melting pot of New York's school system? Sometimes, sure. But we're also not exposing them to bullying, arbitrary systems of order and discipline, age-inappropriate standards of behavior, and the hegemony of corporatized kid culture."

A long article, but this subject interests you, it's worth the read. Here's the whole thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Morning Ramblings

As I went out this morning on my usual rounds, I took the camera along so you can see my favorite haunts. I've been going to the local farmers' market for awhile. The rain kept some folks away this morning, but I still enjoyed talking with the growers and seeing their crops.

Every Saturday I go to a couple of resale stores. This one is small, and not fancy at all, but I usually find something useful. I don't often go through the clothing or try things on -- that takes too much time. But the housewares often provide something I can use, or a newer version of something I've worn out. Today? 4 cereal bowls, a beautiful winter coat for Julia for $5, a small plastic tote, and a pair of winter gloves.

The second resale store I frequent is more of a junk store, a large, rambling place with cluttered assortments of all kinds of items. It's for a local ministry. The people are friendly, the stuff is almost a steal, and I enjoy it. I found little today, but sometimes I come away the winner :)
For some people, stores like this are just a pain. But for some of us, fingering through other people's cast-offs is SOOO relaxing. It's quiet, non-stress, and occasionally there's the little thrill of finding something unexpected and serendipitous.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some VERY light mathematics

I'm teaching math -- albeit very light math -- this year. Julia's in 5th grade, so she's still doing basic arithmetic, and I can handle that. I'm even making up her tests for her.

One reason this is easy is because (I'm sorry to say it) Julia is not much of a math student. Now, this is a perplexity to me, because her daddy is a math WIZARD, and I'm no shabby math student myself, although it's not a subject that ever held my interest.

This fall I discovered that my 5th grader is still doing her addition and subtraction by using her fingers.


Anna used to use her fingers -- she's another mathematically challenged one. But when we homeschooled her last time, her daddy broke her of this habit. Through repeated drills, he worked those math facts into her head. It wasn't easy.

Is it supposed to be easy?

The modern trend in education is to make it palatable to the student, even pleasant. Now, actually I would say this has always been the goal of education, but the MEANS to this end has changed in the 20th century. We used to make education lovely to the learner by changing the learner. That's hard work, altering the natural tendency of a child, training IN a love of knowledge and wisdom, training OUT a love of sloth and frivolity. (see most of Proverbs)

Modern educational methods do not attempt to change the child. They change the education, adapting it to the child. Theologically, I believe this is a reflection of our rejection of the fallen/sinful nature in a child. Why change someone who is pure, perfect and innocent? Some educational models teach that the child has a natural love of learning, and if it is not immediately enjoyable to him, then we're doing something wrong as teachers.

Not so.

Julia uses her fingers because that is her default behavior. It's easier than permanently embedding dozens of math facts into her memory. And I will say, without any hard feelings to any teachers out there, that I would have preferred it if SOMEONE had noticed this in her over the past few years and broken the bad habit.

I've printed out math drill sheets from a free website, They work great! Some modern educators will tell you that doing rote repetition like this is not useful for the child. Hardly!! Not only does Julia enjoy these sheets, she can already tell that she's benefiting, and this motivates her. She wants PERFECT scores, so she is careful. She is getting faster and remembering the math facts, so she feels proud of her accomplishments.

So, if you're a teacher, or homeschooler, or just someone interested in education, be sure to evaluate the educational models you've been trained in. It's worth it for the sake of the child.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Slogging through another week

I think I'd better post something before the week is over and I've nothing to say! There are no pictures, and not clever thoughts.

Adam and I agree that about 2 days ago, the Grumpy Fairy must have sprinkled some evil dust on the roof of our house. We've all been snapping at each other ever since.

The most difficult part of our day -- for all of us -- is the homeschooling. Done well, it is a TON of work. And we are stubbornly determined to do it well. We want a tutorial program, one in which we actively teach, one on one, our children in their disciplines. Sometimes we will give them material to hash through on their own, but only rarely. We're striving to give them the individualized attention that is one of the largest benefits of homeschooling.

But, frankly, Anna and Peter are at two totally different levels in "Algebra II." And Adam cannot force Anna to do Peter's level of work, and he also refuses to slow Peter down, much as Peter resents being given more challenging work. Anna is allergic to the grinding grit they're using on the telescope mirror now; Adam cleverly decided he'd let her take over the blog and contribute to the project that way. Again, Peter doesn't like it that he is grinding glass, and Anna is "playing" on the computer.


I won't go on, but it's challenging right now. Are they learning a ton and doing well? Yes. Are we struggling with Peter's pig-headedness and Anna's moodiness and Julia's lack of concentration? YES. But we'll continue to plug along.

And I do take comfort in knowing that these qualities exist in my children, because they would exist in them JUST as strongly if they were in a classroom. I know this because I've seen them in the classroom. Peter is disruptive. Anna is grumpy and moody. Julia cannot focus. And it's hard for a teacher to deal with these traits in my kids, if they have MORE disruptive/moody/unfocused kids in the class. It's time for these negative traits to be dealt with, and at home we can use our parental laser beams of discussion, discipline and encouragement, on them.

It's been 5 solid weeks of school. We're ready for a break.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Matters

I used to visit a blog occasionally that entertained some pretty hot debate. Here's a comment left by a man named Scott:
"“If I use 'biblical' (and I’m not sure I ever have), it’s not in the sense you outline. I’m far too postmodern to believe a text has any real meaning apart from interpretation. There is less argument over what the Holy Scriptures say than there is over what they mean. When someone says, 'The bible says …', I immediately mentally translate that to 'Here’s what I interpret the words of the text to mean …'”

"I'm far too postmodern to believe a text has any real meaning apart from interpretation."

What a statement. It struck me like a thunderbolt then, and it still does.

Can you imagine that we live in an age when text -- even text that comes from God Himself -- has no intrinsic meaning? The implication here is that the writer -- even Writer God -- has no unique, discernible message that he can communicate in the writing. The writer has no intent, or if he does, we can't know it.

We can just interpret. And, in our postmodern world, interpretation is individual; the Bible (or any other text, or movie, or even facebook conversation) may have one meaning for you, and a different (even opposite) meaning for me.

And guess what? They're both right! That's the wonder of post-modernism! Miracles still occur -- mutually exclusive statements remain simultaneously, illogically true, in our post-modern world.

So, you can customize your pizza, and your ice cream cone, and your perfume. And your philosophy. Truth is assembled by you, for you, cafeteria-style.

I ran into this same concept lately in the fun movie, "Julie & Julia." I enjoyed the whole movie (minus a few cuss words), but then one conversation jarred me. Julie Powell finds out, shockingly, that the REAL Julia Child is rather disgusted by Julie's whole blog project. She is affronted by it. So, what comforts Julie when the REAL Julia is a disappointment?

She decides that she prefers the OTHER Julia, you know, the one in her head! The Julia Child that she has imagined for herself. The Julia that "speaks" to her and guides her through her troubles, soothes her with sauces and cheers her with stews. THAT Julia. Her personal Julia. The real Julia Child doesn't matter.

Personal interpretation of another human being, that's what matters. Right?


Adam mentioned to me another cultural wonder, Reinhard Bonnke, faith-healer extraordinaire. You know, that kind of public Christian who makes sincere followers of Christ look like cheating snake-oil salesmen? This fellow was investigated and found out to be a total fraud. Did it matter to his followers?

Evidently not. They liked Mr. Bonnke as he was, in their imaginations. What he was in real life, rather like the REAL Julia Child, was of no consequence.

So, what matters? Is there truth out there somewhere? Can we even claim, like John Keats, that "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty"? There was some certainty for you! Romanticized certainty, but it's better than the insipid drivel we tolerate these days.

No, thank you. I will stick to some pre-modern stuff, in which truth is objective and definable, God and His Word are what he intends and not what I prefer, and there is only ONE Julia Child.

Blogging together

This morning, Adam turned over the blogging responsibilities on "Kenning Through Astronomy Divine" to Anna. She's a blogger now! She's enjoying it very much. It makes her (in a fun way) describe in detail (with photos) the things she's learning in science class, and it gives her some valuable hands-on work in computer use/technology. She learned a lot this morning.

So, to blog with my baby girl, here are a couple of photos of Julia, taken recently while she did a science project on understanding rockets.

After a bit of trial and error, she had success in getting the balloon to shoot up the string, when its air was released on the bottom. A simple project, but effective. This is the third project she's done (almost entirely on her own) this year. I like this science curriculum for her. She concentrates so much better with hands-on work. Today she used an abacus in math for the first time (as did I!), and found it fun and effective in doing the math.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This Week's Miscellany:

The noticeable dearth of blogging this week indicates the busyness of our lives! So I thought an assortment of photos might give you an idea of some of the varied things we've done since last Saturday.
Here's Peter, playing in his first soccer game last week. He's #4. They won, but in their game this morning, they lost rather badly! He's enjoying it.

I apologize that this photo is side-ways. I usually don't turn the camera, but who would want to chop off such beauty? Here are the girls, ready for their first ballet class.

In contrast, here is Anna, ready for astronomy class, to grind away at that telescope mirror.
On Friday, I took all three kids to Old Salem, NC, for their "Homeschool Days." They anticipated 700 homeschool kids there that day. It was a GREAT field trip - we learned a lot about early Moravian life, and it tied in perfectly with our study of American history and literature.
They had lots of hands-on activities for all ages. Peter and the girls enjoyed the "hoop game." Peter was a natural.
Homeschooling is keeping us all very busy, and the kids' extracurricular activities are more extensive than they've ever been before. When Adam and I both worked all day in the classroom, my excuse was, "I'm working all day. I can't be expected to do much else," and the kids had to pick up their outside fun as best they could. So, they're actually more "socially-involved" now than they were before.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Healthcare Quandary

The healthcare debate has been a long and complicated one. Yesterday I was listening to NPR while driving -- yeah, I know, not the most conservative of sources. They show their liberal bias in almost every minute of every broadcast. However, this particular conversation did clarify for me one of the primary quandaries of our healthcare situation. Here it is:

One of the continuing difficulties of our health insurance system is that insurance companies can (and do) refuse to cover people because of pre-existing conditions. I know this is true because within the past month my husband tried to get insurance coverage for him and me. He was flatly denied for himself because he was, in the past, diagnosed with asthma. No company will accept him now for an individual plan. Period. In order for my husband to have health insurance, he must work for a large company with a group plan.

Now, people hate this. The very people who need care the most (those with medical conditions) are the ones who can't get coverage! It's ridiculous. I understand their outrage.

However, did you ever consider this from the vantage point of the insurance companies? If they had to accept EVERYONE, all the time, who exactly would apply for insurance?

Why, the sick people of course. Duh. If we couldn't be turned down for pre-existing conditions, we would all wait until we were sick, and then apply for insurance. Why pay all those premiums while you're well?

And employers would do the same. They wouldn't pay premiums for employees who were WELL, when they could just wait until someone felt sick, and THEN get them coverage.

Then see what a state the insurance companies would be in: paying out medical bills for all the sick people, and not getting premiums from all the well people. They would quickly close their doors - why stay in business?

According to the government, the only solution to this, is to require the insurance companies to accept EVERYONE, but also to require EVERYONE to have insurance. That way, the insurance companies can still function.

And if you require every single American to buy insurance, some will not be able to. Some can't afford it; they'll need help. They'll need subsidies to help them buy it, and who could give out that kind of subsidy? Why, only the government, of course.

So, tada!! The government is now part of the "solution."

I'd never quite heard this version of the situation before. And although I know there may be good contradictory arguments to this line of thinking, it makes sense to me in the main. I can see the difficulties of the insurance companies. I feel the needs of the uninsured.

Does it strike anyone else as bizarre that we, the sick, need such a complicated mesh of bureaucracy in order to access what we NEED: a visit to a doctor? How did we come to this?

Adam had another healthcare thought recently, about "rationed care." He pointed out that all systems we're looking at, will give us rationed care. Right now, our present system denies care to those who cannot afford it; they're excuded from care. The government gives care (medicaid/medicare) to the poorest, but we still have a large swath of the population that can't afford insurance at its present exorbitant premiums. They also don't qualify for government handouts.

But Obamacare (or whatever name you like to give to the government option) will ration care as well. It has too. It must cap the amount spent on those who are the most costly and who offer the least return to the state: the very sick and the very old. If you are close to death (or, as the British healthcare system calls it, "Due to Die"), doctors may note that expensive care has little chance of returning you to even nominal health. They may gently recommend to your family that you be allowed to "die with dignity."

[Isn't it funny how putting a tube or two into a 25 year old car-accident victim isn't considered undignified at all, but putting them into a 92 year old Alzheimer's patient suddenly robs him of his human dignity? Why?]

I don't have solutions to these quandaries, but I'm thinking on them. Hopefully we all are.

"But when a long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security."
- from the "Declaration of Independence"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friendly advice from George Washington:

These wise words come to us over the centuries from our first president, given as he left office permanently, to the nation he loved:

"The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions off government."

"Toward the preservation of your government ... it is requisite ... that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon [the Constitution's] principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be ... to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown."

"It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres."

"...avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt ... not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear...."

"The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is ... to have with them as little political connection as possible."

"But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor grant exclusive favors or preferences...."

"...constantly keeping in view that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another, that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character...."

"There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion."

And Washington's goals for his words? " moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."

The man was a political prophet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Smashed Potatoes

This is is simple potato recipe I found recently in a magazine.
Begin with red potatoes (my favorite kind). I like a medium size; some are too large.
Boil them until they are fork tender, but not mushy.
Place them on a baking sheet. We like parchment paper underneath.
Smash them GENTLY with the bottom of a glass or jar.
Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.
Bake for a few minutes (maybe 15?) until they are sizzling and lightly browned.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Beef Bourguignon, part 2

We're back to cooking! Start with a pound of button mushrooms. I cut off the stems and threw them away, just before I read in the recipe that I was supposed to keep them. Oh well. I washed them gently and toweled them dry. Then I quartered them and cooked them for a few minutes in butter until they turned lightly brown. They did release a bit of moisture, but mushrooms do that, y'know.
I checked the beef in the oven. Yikes! So much of the liquid had cooked off! The meat looked exposed and dry! Then I checked back in the recipe -- the liquid is supposed to decrease. Phew! Relief! I took it out of the oven and put it on the stove to sit and wait while I did the onions.
The onions are the most tedious part. I boiled them very briefly, just to loosen the skins (like, a minute). Scooped them out, and peeled them off, and cut slits in their bottoms so they wouldn't burst later. THEN, I put them back in the saucepan with butter and salt, and covered them again, half-way, with water, and simmered them for about 25 minutes.
I removed the onions, but saved the water they were cooked in. I poured off the liquid that remained in the bottom of the meat pot. Then I made a thickener with butter and flour, tempered it with some of the beef liquid, put it into the sauce pot, and then added the onion water, as you see below. This is the "sauce" for the beef bourgiognon, an essential element of any really fine food. If the sauces are insipid, the dish as a whole will be boring and unappetizing. It tasted a bit salty to me, but very rich and luscious. Adam deemed it perfect.
The dish is almost ready. I put the cooked mushrooms and onions in with the beef, all tucked neatly into the big stew pot. Then I added the yummy sauce (gravy, to us Americans!)
Voila! C'est la bouef bourgiognon! (okay, if that is bad French, don't let me know!)

Beef Bourguignon, part 1

Today is THE DAY. I'm cooking Julia Child's Beef Bourgiugnon (Beef cooked in red wine). I even have a Julia Child Cookbook, although it is not the now-famous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." It's called "The French Chef Cookbook."

You start with bacon. Since I only had smoked Wright's bacon from the grocery, I needed to simmer it in some water for about 10 minutes, to get the smokiness and salt out of it.

Then I drained it, and blotted it dry, and cut it into chunks with these handy-dandy kitchen scissors.

While the bacon is slowly frying (to release all its grease), I tend to the beef chunks. They need to be DRY. So I placed them on paper towels and patted them. Julia says they must be very dry.

After the bacon had rendered all its fat, I removed the bacon pieces from their pan, added a bit more cooking oil , heated it until it was almost smoking (REALLY HOT), and started putting the beef chunks in to brown. Don't crowd them! As they brown nicely, remove them from the oil, and place them in a deep cooking pot. Also put the bacon chunks in there. I use a cast iron chicken fryer for my roasts and stews.

When all the beef has been browned, pour off the oil, but allow the dregs to remain in the bottom of the frying pan. Return to the low heat and pour in 3 cups of dark, strong red wine. Deglaze the pan with the wine, getting all the delectable bits from the browning. Then pour all the wine and bits into the cooking pot.

Into this lovely stew pot, also add 2 or 3 cloves or garlic, 1/2 tsp. of thyme (I only had powdered - boo hoo!) a bay leaf, a T of tomato paste, and 2 cups of beef bouillon. The beef should be covered with liquid now. Place the lid on the pot and place in a 325 oven. It should simmer constantly as it cooks.
So, my stew is bubbling away right now! I'll check on it later, finish the recipe, and post more pics for you to drool over :)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Little Poetry

Two Minds

I stand in the quiet kitchen before my stove,
Hand on hip, skating the butter stick
In elegant figure eights across the black iron.
Tiny bubbles twinkle in curving bands.
The cream twirls against the coal sky.
I smile to see what He saw first.

I clutch my coat closer to my chest,
Blowing its air into the Iowa night.
The line of skinny poplars reach
Their fingers to the sky, and I pull back
My glove and sleeve.
My eye traces the finest, smallest tree
Upon my arm.
There He is again.

It’s dangerous to study the sky
While driving, but that school of birds
Reminds me so of that flock of fish.
Their movements identical, do they know
That they proclaim His mind?
My mind joys to see His beautiful patterns
After Him.

copyright by the author

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The New Bread

This is the new sandwich bread in our household:
A definite improvement, although it will require some work from me each week to make a couple of loaves. But I have a great recipe (will have to share it sometime - no time now), and that helps.

No more loaves of bread from Walmart that are stocked with preservatives to give them WEEKS of unnatural shelf-life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Obama's School Speech: the good and the bad

The brouhaha is over now, thankfully. The President delivered his speech to the nation's public school children. Some parents protested, some praised. Some children skipped school, some applauded him. In the end, the speech itself was not the agenda-indoctrination attempt many warned against.

One wonders if it would have been different if no protests had been made, but we're not here to contemplate things that didn't happen, are we?

I read the speech. And I'll say right off the bat that, fundamentally, I don't have a problem with our elected leader addressing the children of the nation in the government's schools.

Yes, they are the government's schools. We let the government have the schools, and our children's educations, many decades ago. It's all well and good for parents to say, "Those schools are funded by our taxes, and they belong to us." The real situation is that most parents send their kids off to public schools every day and are very thankful to have someone else do the teaching.

I think it would be a nice tradition for every new president to take a morning and welcome the nation's students to a new school year. Hopefully all of could set aside our vicious partisanship for 45 minutes, and let that happen. Will the right-wing bloggers also attack Obama when he lights the national Christmas tree?

Come to think of it, will he be willing to light the Christmas tree? After all, it is vaguely related to a Christian holy day. Have to wait and see on that one!

Back to the speech. Were there things I didn't like in it? Yes. When he encouraged the students to do important things with their lives and educations, he couldn't help but slip in a few of his personal favorites, as a liberal Democrat: curing "cancer and AIDS," and "develop new energy technologies and protect our environment," and "fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination." But then there's the rather bizarre instruction to them to, "build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy." That sounds downright Republican! The Kennedy trio might be rolling over in their graves!

I would have preferred it if he had kept all hints of party agenda out of the speech -- but I must admit there was very little of it there.

What did he ask these students to do? Why, what every good American should do! Pull yourself up by your own boot straps! BE INDEPENDENT! Conquer your world! Save the planet! Manifest destiny! Make a name for yourself! Be a good citizen! You can do it - yes, you can!

And if you don't, Obama warns them ominously, "if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country."

And here we come to the nitty-gritty of it. How much of a patriot are you? Aren't you willing to devote yourself to the life-long mission of improving America with your personal service to her culture and people? Isn't this why you were put on the planet?

No, Mr. Obama, it's not.

I was put on this planet by God to know him, and to glorify the God I get to know. I'm here to live for him, not for myself, not for America. If, in the process of obeying His call and claim on my life, I end up helping others and advancing America, then that's fine. But it's not my first goal.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, it's also not the goal of my education, or my children's educations. Which is why my kids are not in the public school system.

Parents, please do accept this one thing: if your kids are in public schools, the goal of the system is to turn them into good little citizens. That's not a bad thing, but it's not the best thing. And if you're a Christian parent and want to invest some serious brain time into why God gave you those children, consider the possibility that He has a goal for them that might go beyond an earthly citizenship.

I want my children's educations to prepare them for their heavenly citizenship. Obama's speech had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A new shopping experience:

Yesterday was THE DAY. Adam and I started out at our local farmers' market. I bought a dozen ears of corn, 2 lbs of sweet potatoes, about 10 fresh gala apples, a clump of green onions, and 2 mums.

In the afternoon we started at Aldi, because a lady had mentioned how much she likes it, and we hadn't been for a couple of years (!!). I'd forgotten how cheap their butter is. We also found some great-looking beef cubes for making Julia Child's Bouef Bourguignon -- yep, we're trying it this week! I left Aldi a happy camper, and proceeded onto our weekly nemesis: Walmart.

Here are some items I bought for the first time this week:

There were other items, but these are a few. I also bought different flour. I'd love to buy from a co-op, in huge barrels like my SIL does, but that's not in the budget right now. Still, buying King Arthur will keep us away from all that nasty stuff, aka "enriched" additives. When you see "enriched" on a label, RUN!!

One thing I've decided we will live without is boxed cereals; this afternoon I made a nice recipe of granola. I'd bought a package of dried fruit and one of dried berries, so we can customize our cereal in the mornings. I like cranberries; Peter likes papaya. Doesn't it look good?

Here's the recipe:

Melt a stick of butter in a large oven-safe pan. Add 1/2 - 1 cup of nuts (I used almonds) and brown lightly. Add 5 cups of old-fashioned oats and stir until coated. Turn off heat. Add 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey, and 1/2 cup wheat germ; stir. Add 1 T. cinnamon and 1 t. vanilla; stir. Bake in a 350 oven until brown. Remove and turn. When cool enough, remove to airtight containers.

Sandy is growing.

I guess that's what happens when you feed them!

She has a thing for leaves - can't resist them.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


"The appearance of harmony and peace and all-around happiness portrayed on this blog should not be confused with what actually takes place in our house."

I stole that lovely quote from my brother's blog, and I think it applies well here also.
Just because I post about perfect peanut butter cookies,
Don't think I didn't burn a pan.
Just because I post about my darling girls writing and sewing,
Don't think I didn't have to take my son's laptop away from him DURING math class.
And I never, ever write about:
the vacuuming I've neglected to do,
the dust so thick you could almost pick it up between your fingers,
the nights when grilled cheese will have to do,
and the times I say, "(fill in the blank with child's name), will you please go do (fill in chore),"
because I'm just too tired to drag myself off the couch.

But this is a public forum, and I'm a Southern lady, and we keep our dirty laundry politely hidden.
Thank you very much.

Tra la! I'm off to cook some mediocre pizza, in a dirty kitchen, before I spend the evening watching a TV show and thinking of all the useful things I should do!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Free Time

People who study kids often debate whether today's children need more structured time, or less. Are they too busy? Meals on the run? Constant rounds of soccer, music lessons, dance, soccer, scouts, band and a little more soccer?

But, if kids DO get more free time, what will they do with it? Watch TV, play Guitar Hero for hours on end, eat junk food and go to movies with their friends?

How about a third alternative? What about "high-quality, unstructured play"? I read that phrase today in an article on this topic.

Well, here's what I found my girls doing today, during their free time:
Julia is writing (another) diary. She's been studying ancient Egypt in school, and she's interested in this idea of archeologists digging up artifacts thousands of years later. She wants to leave something for an archeologist to discover. So she's writing a diary, to bury in the back yard! She wrote today, curled up in the halltree.

Anna is making a lap quilt. For reasons that I won't disclose, I will NOT allow her to use my sewing machine at this stage in life, so she's sewing the entire thing, BY HAND. And loving every minute of it.

High-quality unstructured play. I'd rather they did this than for me to enroll them in writing courses or quilting classes.

Our second Friday

I woke this morning and was first out of bed. Last Friday, we all drove across town together to get celebratory donuts, signaling the last day of our first week of school. I determined that I would do donuts again, only this time they would be warming in the oven when Peter finally rolled out of bed at 7:50, as he is wont to do.

7:50. Oh my - we are getting SO much more sleep now than we used to! I used to crash into the world every morning at 6:00 when the alarm intruded into my brain. What a truly miserable way to awaken to a new day! We all used to move around the house in a hurried stumble, trying not to forget anything for school, as all six of us needed to be there at about 7:20. Sigh. I'm SO not a morning person.

Now? School starts for Adam and the teenagers at 8:00. They must be dressed, breakfasted and awake, but if they can do all that in 10 minutes, fine! Julia begins at 8:30, working on her memorization for the week, which she can do alone until recitations on Friday. So, my teaching day doesn't start until I do a little grammar with her at 9:00.

9:00. What bliss! I must say, I shed a few tears and mourned inwardly when I decided to leave teaching last spring. But I have no regrets. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE being at home. I hear the birds and cicadas outside. I can take the puppy into the grass for a few minutes. I can make a soothing pot of tea. I can give Julia a brief instruction in the middle of American literature, to keep her going on a project. I can blog at 12:44 today.

And we are covering SO much material. I noticed this on Wednesday when Adam was doing Latin with Julia. One-on-one attention. Direct tutoring. Julia got to do ALL the student reading aloud, not one sentence out of 20, as she might in a classroom. No wonder they are all plowing ahead at a tremendous rate, and doing it well.

We all miss some things from school, but it has been a joy to realize that homeschooling isn't all about sacrificing; it has its own rewards and pleasures, and I think perhaps they are pleasures that this mom particularly likes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spaghetti, the Old Favorite

Of all the dishes that I've been making for over 20 years, this is probably the family favorite. I could make it each week, and they'd never tire. My husband swipes little bowls of the sauce as it simmers. When our oldest left for college, I discovered he had been snitching too!

Begin by browning some ground beef, or ground turkey, anywhere from 1 to 2 lbs. I often use a 1 lb. tube of ground turkey from the grocery. Below, you can see I already browned this beef a few days ago, and put it back in the frig, anticipating this meal. Helpful cooking hint: You can put cooked beef in hot water. I learned this from a friend who used to run a little cafe; she would cook her burgers for lunch and then immerse them in a pot of simmering water. As she sold them, she'd get one out, shake it off, and put it on a bun. Thus, when you cook your beef for spaghetti and it is greasy, put it in a colander and run HOT water over it in the sink. You will remove more grease and make the spaghetti taste better to boot. Today I had a few onion pieces leftover from lunch, and put them in as well, but usually I do not use onion in my spaghetti b/c the flavor is too strong. The same with green pepper. It's up to you.
When the meat is well-cooked and rinsed, add 1 large can of whole tomatoes (blenderized), 1 large + 1 medium can of tomato sauce, and 1 small can of tomato paste. Now, of course it is best to use your own, freshly-canned tomatoes, but not all of us have these gems handy. I buy whatever is cheapest, but from now on, I'm gonna have to begin reading those LABELS, and my shopping habits, even for these canned goods, may change. I was happy to see that the Contadina Tomato Paste indicated ONLY tomatoes on the ingredients list.
Put the whole tomatoes into a blender, and reduce them to liquid. I did this for my oldest child, who has left for college, but I still don't prefer big chunks of tomato in my sauce. The whole tomatoes add the little acidic 'zing!!' that you want in tomato sauce, but 3 cans of that acid would be too much.

Just call me a Depression Era Woman, but I can't stand wastage. So, I put a cup or so of water into my blender after I pour the liquid tomatoes into the pot. Swish it around. As I pour the other cans into the pot, I take the same water and swish it around in those cans. I tell you, by the time I've swished that water in all 4 cans, it is as thick as the original sauce. That's how much we WASTE when we toss those unrinsed cans into the trash. "But it's so time-consuming," I hear you say. That indicates that it is a waste of time to rinse the cans. But clearly it's not, since those few minutes give you more precious sauce and use every penny you're scrimping to save at the store.

[We don't like to scrimp. It makes us feel poor. For some reason (admit it, all), it gives us a little decadent feeling of luxury to take that unrinsed can (or whatever else it is) and toss it into the trash. Fight that feeling.]

Next up: the yumminess. I upend the bottle of Worcestershire sauce and drizzle it in a leisurely way around the perimeter of the pot. I don't measure. I've been cooking this for 20 years; who needs to measure?

I used to use dried basil and oregano, until I decided to grow these two on my patio this summer. Actually, the oregano has refused to die, despite rough treatment, and the basil was an impulse buy at Trader Joe's. That was a good impulse :) The advantage of using the fresh herbs is not only flavor, but appearance and convenience: I place the herbs whole into the pot, and I can easily remove them before I serve dinner. That way, I don't have a million little brown flecks in my sauce. The flavor is there - isn't that what you want?
The bay leaves, however, do stay in the pot, and are served to the plate. Why, you ask? Because I once told my little girl that, if you got a bay leaf in your spaghetti, you got a wish. And she's hopeful every time! Note that this package of bay leaves came from Whole Foods (4 years ago!). They've been in the freezer. Wish I had a little bay tree in the back yard, but alas, I don't. That big package cost me only $2.29. Whole foods has the best, cheapest herbs.
The sauce should simmer for a couple of hours to reach its peak. This is not a hurried meal for your most frenzied day, but a good one for a day when you know you'll be home, and you want a delicious aroma permeating your home for the afternoon.

In a bit, I'll stroll into the kitchen and make some bread to go with it. If only Adam were making pasta today...but he's out visiting church members. Ah well.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Own Personal Super-Hero

Rocky Balboa?

Or Superman?
These are actually just before and after pictures of Peter's haircut, but he can't help but show off :)

Reading those labels

AKA, Finding the Wolf in the Sheep's Clothing.
So I went to Walmart yesterday, and as I strolled through the newly-remodeled deli section, I spotted some English muffins I'd not noticed before. Walmart's new packaging has a clean, wholesome look. Nice plain muffins. I bought (impulsively) a package.

And this morning (too late, I'm afraid), I turned over the package and glanced at the label.

Oh my word! What's all this stuff in my muffin?? And why is it there?

Here's the ingredient list, for those who care to know:
Enriched bleached malted flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
corn meal/corn flour
butter (cream & salt)
wheat gluten
leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate)
corn starch
fumaric acid
dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl, catylate, enzymes, azodicarbonamide)
soy lecithin
preservatives (calcium proponate, sorbic acid, potassium sorbate)
palm oil
citric acid

And now I'm hopping over to to find out what some of these mysterious ingredients are, and why Walmart feels I need to eat them.

Let's start with Niacin. Looks pretty harmless. The website even says it is a nutrient, and occurs naturally in green vegetables. But not in bread. Listen to what the website says about artificially produced niacin that goes into breads: "Synthetically, it is produced by the oxidation of nicotine, quinoline or 2-methyl-5-ethylpyridine (from ammonia and formaldehyde or acetaldehyde)."

Nicotine? Ammonia? FORMALDEHYDE? Oh my. Read on.

How 'bout calcium sulfate? "Calcium Sulfate, also known as Plaster of Paris, Anhydrite and Gypsum, is a multipurpose food additive." I'm eating plaster of Paris? WHY? The website says it strengthens the dough, feeds the yeast and helps the color.

And calcium phosphate? I've heard of phosphates. Why is it in my muffin? Well, come to find out, "It is added to foods to bind trace metals and render them inactive." Trace metals? Why would there be trace metals in my muffin that NEED to be made inactive? They come from the machines used to make the muffins. The metal machines can taint the muffins, and calcium phosphate is added to neutralize this effect. Great. I need an ingredient to protect me from the MIXER??

Fumaric Acid? I must admit, this one sounds scary, but when I read what the website described, nothing was alarming. little word. Fumaric Acid is made synthetically by using Benzene. So, even though Benzene isn't listed on the label, I need to look it up too. Want to know about Benzene? " It is a petroleum or coal tar derivative." Petroleum? TAR? Oh, and the last sentence about Benzene: " Benzene is an indirect food additive that has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC as a group (1), a probable naturally occurring carcinogen that might be encountered in U.S. diets."

So, it occurs in nature, and probably causes cancer. But why is it in my MUFFIN?

I'll stop there, except to say that I find so many things in my muffin that are not necessary FOR ME. They are there for the SELLER -- to make the muffin look appealing (and buyable), or to make it have a much-extended shelf-life for cross-country shipping and to sit on the pallet and shelf for days or weeks. And on every ingredient I read about, the website indicated that there were no restrictions on how much of that particular ingredient could be added to the food, except what is regarded as general good practice in the industry. Did you realize this? Most of them are just labeled as GRAS: Generally Regarded as Safe.

Is this a wolf in sheep's clothing? Well, the information is on the label for all to see. They're not actually hiding anything. But the consumer must WORK to discover what she's putting on her table, and in her body.

NOTE: This is not an attack on Walmart. I'm certain that every grocery store in my town sells similar products. I just happen to shop at Walmart.

"Eggs Is Eggs," right?

I'm doing a little food experiment this morning. You have three guesses to pick which egg is from Walmart, and which egg is a farm-fresh egg from the farmers' market (and the first 2 guesses don't count, as we say in our house!):

I'm really stunned at the difference in these eggs. Farm-fresh eggs have darker, richer yolks. They have MUCH more flavor. And note the difference in the structure of the eggs -- the fresh egg has much more of the firm white - amazing! And (interestingly enough), if the yolk of each egg is broken lightly, you can see below how the flimsy Walmart egg runs more, but the farm-fresh one holds its shape better.

From reading Jo-Lynne's blog, I'm becoming more interested in buying fresher foods, and more healthy foods. And now Adam (my resident researcher!) has gotten into it. He found this website, where you can look up the name of ANY ADDITIVE found in any food sold in America, and discover all about that additive. Some of them are known cancer-causers!

He also was reading studies from the publication that is the British equivalent of the AMA. (I forget its name - the Lancet?) Did you know that 1 out of 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer? Did you know that the number of children diagnosed with peanut allergies DOUBLED from 1997 to 2002? In recent years, allergies, asthma, cancer, alzheimers, and many other illnesses, have sky-rocketed. Many people wonder if the harmful additives in our food are at least partially to blame.

So, if fresh, non-additive foods taste better, work better, and are healthier, why do we still buy the other? Convenience? Price? Hopefully Americans will begin to make healthier choices in what they eat.

For one, I'm going to hunt down an organic chicken!