Monday, August 30, 2010

I did it!

If you look on the right-hand side of the page and scroll down a bit, I've finally gotten a blog list posted! Many of these belong to personal friends; others I have just found. With only a few exceptions, these are not blogs with hundreds or thousands of followers. They are just the blogs of people like myself who just want to share tidbits of their lives with all you lovely people. This list will update according to the 10 most recent posts, so continue to check on it occasionally, because you never know what you might find. :)

Enjoy!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Weekend - A Confession

1. I drank wine straight from the bottle tonight. That's a first for me, mostly because I'm not really a wine person. Now, there was less than a single glass left in the bottle and I didn't feel like getting one out of the cabinet, but I realized as I was sitting on the floor petting the dog with a giant wine bottle in my hand that I was, in fact, pretty pathetic-looking.

2. The reason I drank wine straight from the bottle was because M2 ate sugar straight out of the sugar bowl, got caught red-handed, and STILL lied about it to my face, and M1 'fessed up to some shenanigans he had been up to for the last, oh, 2-3 YEARS that we just found out about. He was a man about it and accepted the responsibility and the subsequent punishment (his behavior lessened the punishment, and he knows that), but all that combined did make for a looooooong afternoon. Oh, and M2 has stuffed her bottom nightstand drawer so full of books that it no longer opens. I'm going to have to try to go through the bottom or take off the back to get them out. I suspect her hairbrush is in there, too, because it's vanished.

3. I wanted to go to the Indian Festival that was going on today, but we didn't make it. My sister was coming up to see the kids, and it sounded like the perfect activity, but when we woke up this morning and started getting ready, M2 decided she wasn't going. And while I can put my foot down about things like school or doctor's appointments, dragging a 5-year-old around a public arena while she shrieks bloody murder is probably a good way to get myself on a DHS visitation list. So I didn't fight it, and we went to the park instead. I am grateful that my sister was just up for the kids and not the festival and enjoyed herself anyway. She's cool like that.

4. I taught my kids to play dominos the RIGHT way this morning. Until I explained the rules (and I didn't get into adding the pips yet because M2 isn't there, but oooohhhh good math game for M1 later, eh??), they honestly thought dominos were only to be used to make rallies a la the movie "Robots." M2 won the first two games and M1 won the third. Nobody cried or threw a fit about losing, and nobody rubbed their winnings in. I almost cried from happiness. It was a huge triumph. Hugs were given.

5. I had people over last night. People! It was the first real, live, adult interaction for longer than five minutes that I'd had since Oz left on Tuesday. It was fantabulous, and I gorged myself on the food that was brought to share. I'm always up for food.

6. I learned today that my core muscle strength, arm strength, and balance is better than I think it is. My sister takes aerial silk lessons when she can, and she was actually impressed by the fact that I could handle some yoga positions that even she has difficulty with and was at least as flexible as she was. She said I was graceful - HA! I have all the grace of a duck out of water, but I'll take what compliments I can get.

7. I am making cinnamon rolls.

8. I had to crawl under Oz's desk yesterday to fix the home network because the firewall wasn't working after the back-up power system officially fried itself. I fixed everything. Oz was suitably impressed.

9. Tomorrow we have a birthday party to attend. I can't believe this little guy is going to be 4. I remember when his big sister was just learning to crawl!

10. Also tomorrow M2's favorite uncle, Uncle D, is probably going to swing by. M2 persuaded him she hadn't seen him in far too long, and he's a good guy like that... or a sucker. Depends how you look at it.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend! I'm out to finish the cinnamon rolls, but I'm sure I'll be back again soon!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rhyming, imagination, and being the squeaky wheel

M2 is sitting next to me right now, rhyming her little heart out and writing the words on her Doodle Board. She comes home with a "reading assignment" each week, and there are activities to do with it. She generally fights me about doing it (and yes, it can get ugly... VERY ugly), but even if she fights the reading part, she loves to rhyme. I should say that she doesn't have to do much reading; I do most of it. And they're nursery rhymes, not random passages or silly made-up stories, so for most kids, they'd be a lot of fun.

Anyway... she loves to rhyme, and when she's in the mood, I encourage it and invent extra activities just for her. I just got asked to read 'dog' and 'hog,' and now she's telling me she intends to write some "tricky" rhymes. Please pray that I can interpret the spelling, because if I can't, Santa Claus is in trouble.

You'd think that those would be unrelated subjects, spelling and handwriting and Santa Claus, but they're not. There's a very relevant correlation, I promise. M2 wrote her Christmas list to Santa already two weeks ago, and I'll be darned if it didn't come up in conversation on the way home from picking her up today. It started with the Tooth Fairy because M1 stated blandly, "I've seen the Tooth Fairy."

I don't mind telling you I had a small heart attack in the driver's seat because he wouldn't hesitate one nanosecond to blurt out, "It's Mom," and not think a thing of it even though M2 has yet to lose a single tooth and I don't want the fun to be ruined for her because she very much admires the letters that the Tooth Fairy sends to M1. So when M2 asked, "What does she look like?" I seriously held my breath.

Luckily, he was just trying to lord his own imagination over his sister, so the description that followed involved copious quantities of pink and glitter. M2's response was, "So next time you lose a tooth, can you catch her and keep her and I can see her?"

Pause.

"No, you can't catch her. She has a pink magic wand with glitter on the end and can escape."

"Well, I'm sure we could trap her with food. What does she eat?"

Another pause.

"Nobody knows because nobody's ever seen her eat."

"But then how does she stay alive? I bet she eats crackers. Maybe if we crumbled one up really tiny, she'd eat it and you could trap her for me."

Authority Boy was having his font of knowledge questioned, and that disturbed him.

"NO, M2. She'd just magic away with her wand, remember?!?"

"Well, I'll write her a letter and she'll just read it and come live with me. She can read my writing just like Santa Claus can. 'Cause Santa Claus CAN read my writing on my Christmas list, right, Mom?"

"Of course, dear... he uses the same magic for reading letters that he does for getting into the house without breaking things."

"SEE, M1?? The Tooth Fairy WILL live with me. So there."

Grunt. Arms cross. Indignant seat flop.

Thank heavens M1 let it drop at that point because I was on the verge of having an audible giggle meltdown. Both of them were so full of righteous indignity it was quite amusing. I love this innocence. Makes me wish I could just go back and be little with them again.

Unfortunately, I can't. I have to do things like deal with doctors and people in scheduling departments who are totally out to ruin my day.

We were supposed to go to the psychiatrist for M2 on Monday. This past Monday, the 23rd. But a couple weeks ago I got a phone call from The Scheduling Queen who is either permanently disgruntled or chronically unhappy, and we rescheduled for the 30th. Next Monday. I can deal with that. I understand things come up, and really, an extra week doesn't make all that much difference in the grand scheme of things.

However, today while M1 and I were browsing through Hobby Lobby, my cell phone buzzed in my purse. I answered.

It was The Scheduling Queen, and she wasn't making a reminder courtesy call. The doctor had taken on a new position at another clinic and would only be in their clinic two days a week starting 'soon,' and could we reschedule?

I politely reminded her that we'd already been rescheduled once, but she's not The Scheduling Queen for nothing. "Oh, I know, and I'm sorry, but his schedule's just been so up in the air lately that we're having to move a lot of people. It looks like the next appointment we have is on a Tuuuesssdaayyyy..."

There was a pause as she looked up the specific date and time.

"September 21."

MY turn to pause. SEPTEMBER 21?!?!?!?!? I finally realized I'd been quiet for quite a while and was supposed to say something. That is how conversations typically work, after all, but holy cow. Holy. Freaking. Cow. I was nearly in tears standing in the clearance aisle of Hobby Lobby, and M1 was giving me a very odd look. I accepted the appointment with less than my usual grace, The Scheduling Queen promised to call me if anything opened up earlier, and I hung up. Then I started shaking, and while that may have had something to do with the two cups of caramel macchiato-laced coffee I'd consumed that morning, I suspect it had a lot more to do with the fact that I was MAD. Angry. Seriously peeved. I do not like being yanked around, and that is precisely how I was feeling. I also knew darn good and well that M2 and I are going to have lots... and lots... of fights between now and then, and the current medication isn't doing much to curb those and I needed that to change and... deeeeeep breath.

Hug the boy. Smile. Feel better.

Of course, now the boy's really curious.

"Mom, why did you just hug me?"

"Because you make me happy, and I love you, and you're special."

He really does, and I do, and he is, and he'll never know how therapeutic that hug was. Off we went, finishing up shopping and going to his swimming lesson, hitting up Sam's for cat litter and pork chops, and finally heading home.

Then I e-mailed the doctor. I was polite and courteous and simply stated the facts of the situation and asked if he had medication recommendations for me to share with our pediatrician or whether he could get us in before the September 21st time slot. I expected it would be tomorrow before I heard anything, but I had a reply within five minutes! In our short back-and-forth correspondence over the next 15 minutes, he explained the situation, told me I wasn't an inconvenience (because even though I was angry and probably justified, I still hate any sort of confrontation, and yes, this counted), and told me he'd have someone call me.

The Scheduling Queen called less than 20 minutes later. An appointment magically opened up next Tuesday, August 31.

Whether it was the Tooth Fairy's wand that made the appointment appear or my own powers of persuasion or simply good luck, I'll never know. I don't think I care, either. I'm just glad we're getting in.

Back to rhyming. Rhyme/time/crime/slime. There. I feel better. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book of the Week



Caddie Woodlawn, the story of a girl who lives in Wisconsin and is irrepressible. She reminds me of Laura Ingalls, whom M1 already loves. I'm curious to see how he takes to this one.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Deconstructing Wha..???



Meet Deconstructing Penguins. Great title, isn't it? It came highly recommended for kids M1's age on a homeschool forum that I frequent, so I bought it.

And then I read it.

Deconstructing Penguins, here on out referred to as DP because that title may only be two words but it's a pain in the backside to type repeatedly, follows the journey of a book club for elementary school students and their parents. In other words, they teach 7-year-olds how to analyze a book!

The literatus inside me peed a little bit from excitement.

I love the idea of being able to teach M1 that there's more going on inside a book than just words on a page. Love it. I had no clue about literature analysis until I was a sophomore in high school. Granted, I had an absolutely astounding English teacher that year and I learned a TON, but it was tough stuff. I still can't read Emily Dickenson without flashbacks, and I strongly suspect that I'll never be able to read "The Crucible" again, either. To be fair, though, both of those might have more to do with the teacher than actual psychological trauma, because she dressed up as Emily Dickenson for some of our readings (she had a particular passion for the woman) and, well, the phrase, "I saw Goody [teacher's surname] with the Devil!" still rings in my ears.

She also had French manicured fingernails, drove a black BMW, and had a disabled son. She was very memorable, and she was very good people and a great teacher.

I digress.

I know for a fact that no matter what age I introduce the idea of symbolism to M1, he will have a tough time with it. He is literal. Sometimes I have to walk out of the room and take a deep breath to deal with the depth of his literal interpretations. If Oz catches me and gives me his quizzical look, I just say, "Literal Boy is being literal again," and he understands. So if I ask M1 what happens in the book Charlotte's Web, he can give me a play-by-play of the entire book, and I'm about 99% sure that he quotes phrases straight out from the text. I know he does when we rehash a history or science lesson. It's a side effect of Asperger's, so I understand where it's coming from, but it just makes my job that much harder because in order to get him to successfully look beyond the black-and-white - in more ways than one - it's going to take a lot of work.

This is where DP steps in. While I don't agree with the book's definitions of protagonist and antagonist, the PROCESS is what's important here. To be able to teach kids terms like setting, character, climax, theme - in other words, to be able to break down a book into its parts from a whole - and have them actually understand what is meant, is huge. Huge, I say.

Is it going to be easy?

Ah, there's the rub.

Heck, no. And I don't intend to pursue this actively or often, either. What I would like to do is pick one book every three or four months and pick one part of it to examine. For example, one of M1's favorite books is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It's one of my favorites, too, and his copy was actually MY copy from when I was young. So I'll probably start there. And we'll examine the setting, using the detective method from DP, starting with WHERE and ending with WHY.

My fingers are crossed. This may be an Epic Fail plan because I refuse to make him despise reading, and I know literature analysis can do that if it's pushed too hard, so I plan to tread lightly. I just want him to love books as much as I do and be able to understand them, and if DP is able to help me get there, I'm all for giving it a go! Hopefully I'll remember to come back and update with how it all goes; somebody remind me if I don't!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Flying the Coop

The chickens have discovered Freedom. A month or so ago, it was really, really hot, and there was little shade in their run, so I thought, in my infinite wisdom, that I'd leave the gate open and see what transpired.

The first day, they barely ventured out.

The second day, the more daring of the group rounded the side of the run and made it to the big tree that provides them with all their shade in the first place.

By the third day, however, they had made a Very Important Discovery and declared their Independence from the Confines of The Run.


They found the crape myrtles.

They *love* the crape myrtles.
These days when I open the gate (because I don't dare keep them cooped up in their run now. They might mutiny. The instant one of them sees me coming each morning, she sounds the alarm so that all the girls are crowded by the door by the time I arrive), they expect it to stay open all day. They dash straight for the crape myrtles to see what's arrived there overnight because you never know - SOMETHING might be new. Oz is quite happy that they like it under there, because they keep the grass trampled so he doesn't have to mow it. I'm happy that they like it under there, because their poop ensures that the kids don't climb the shrubs nearly as often, which is something I had been *trying* to discourage anyway, but the chickens are having more luck in the discipline department there. I find great amusement in this.

When the horses' owner comes to feed, they follow her around because she will feed them oats or animal crackers while she's feeding the horses. I'll sometimes send the kids out with vegetable scraps to distribute as well. So they really, really like the crape myrtles.

But something they've discovered even more recently and which I find somewhat amusing and also somewhat annoying is...
"Whachu lookin' at, punk??"


The doghouse.

They love it in there, and I'm not sure whether I'm quite as happy about this one. For one thing, the dogs DO hide or sleep in there when it rains. Sure, we haven't had many (ok, ok, ANY) storms for a while, but still. They DO use it. And while I'm resigned to the fact that I'll probably be playing Great Egg Hunt among the shrubbery of the crape myrtles, I have no desire to peer into a dark, slightly stinky, definitely musty doghouse to see what gems I might find. No, thank you. Not on my bucket list at all. Anywhere.

Still. It IS humorous to come home and have a dozen chickens bounce out of a doghouse to greet you.

They're good girls, very good, and quite tame as far as chickens go. They'll eat politely from your hand and let you pet their backs if they're calm. I haven't seen a mosquito in the yard since they started sojourning out each day. I just need to see if there's a way I can win this war before the egg-laying begins, because while they may have declared their Independence from the run, I will *not* be relegated to the doghouse!

I am Queen of My Domain!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Boy Update!!

Da Boy.

I just love that picture of him. It's just so... so... BOY.

And he's suddenly discovered his inner self-destruct sequence and is bound and determined to wound himself in every way possible. He's broken his foot, sliced his finger open, whacked his skull on a metal beam, and lost yet another tooth... all in the span of a month.

And yet...

he still whines when he has to have a haircut.

I love the dichotomy. The child who got a knife from his granddad, flayed his finger, and was perfectly calm while said finger was bleeding profusely... still winces while safeguarded clippers are buzzing near his head.

*grin*

This is the damaged nightstand I was ranting about the other day. It's extremely noticeable. I've sighed and moved on (and I never did come up with a good punishment other than confiscating the tool, which I had already done), but now I smile and shake my head at the sheer curiosity that made him do this in the first place. He still has an inner 2-year-old as well. When he was 2, he was FILLED with curiosity about EVERYTHING. He couldn't talk, but he'd point and give me a quizzical look. He'd get an answer and move on to the next thing. He still has an unquenchable curiosity. He "but what if"s me to death.

I try to accommodate as much as possible with experiments and answers and research. Last week, when it was 9000 degrees and we were studying the sun, I asked him if he wanted to make a solar oven.

Stupid question. I knew it when I asked it, but watching him bounce around excitedly like a grasshopper on caffeine was worth every shudder in the house frame.

I don't think this ever got to cook. It *would* have, but he was outside shadowing it every 32 seconds to see if it was ready yet. When it finally managed to get warm to the touch, he hauled it in and pronounced it "cooked." It's a good thing I'm not squeamish. He ate it with relish, literally and figuratively, and then I zapped him another in the microwave because one hot dog does not a meal make for this boy.

In addition to curious, my boy also has a wide streak of mischevous built in. I'm sure he gets that one from me, because he loves to help me come up with prank ideas for my friends and their birthdays. A friend's 30th b-day is coming up, and he's been extremely productive.

The other night, though, he simply contented himself with Oz's laundry. Usually I fold all the laundry and the Oz puts his own away. However, he wasn't getting home till late, and M1 sorted the clean, dry laundry and informed me I was NOT to touch Daddy's. At this point, *my* curiosity was piqued, so I let him go.
He hauled all the laundry into the bedroom and made Daddy a "Laundry Man" on his side of the bed. Then he took a picture. You can't really see it clearly here, but the two white spots up at the top are socks that have been made into 'eyes.' A head, mouth, and hair were also created.

Gotta say, living with this boy will NEVER be dull. And even though he drives me absolutely batty sometimes, I can't help but smile at his antics. I'm proud to be his mama.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Girl update!

So sweet, isn't she?

Looks can be deceiving.

It had been a while since I'd said anything about how she's doing, so I thought I'd update, especially now that she's started...


KINDERGARTEN.

When did my baby get so big?? I do not remember authorizing this.

Anyway, that picture was from her first day of school, when she was so excited and ready to see her friends and find out who else new was going to be in her class. She sits right next to one best friend and was initially seated across from another (who now sits across the room... I suspect this had something to do with putting three girls next to each other, all of whom have Chatty Cathy tendencies). She likes her teacher, and she enjoys the activities and learning that she gets to do in class. She came home this afternoon and was SO proud to tell me what she had learned today.

In other words, she likes school. A lot.

Does this mean that getting her to school every day and home again every afternoon is easy?

No.

Haaayyyeelll no.

She did well for the first four days. Then on Wednesday, August 11, 2010, she got up, put her uniform on, and wandered into the kitchen so I could help her tuck her shirt in.

Then she promptly informed me she was NOT going to school.

*blink*

This was at 7:15 a.m. We leave the house around 7:40 to get to school and have time for her to get in and settled before the day officially begins at 8. You do the math. After a lot of finagling and coercion, I got some breakfast into her and even managed to get her to (sort of) brush her teeth. When she realized, though, that I truly intended to haul her crabby rear end to school, she declared WAR. She kicked. She screamed. She called me names. She hit. Mostly she tried to run back to her room to escape. I hauled her - all 56 protesting pounds of her - across the house to the back door. She got a few good kicks in while I put her shoes on her feet and double-knotted them to prevent her from removing them, and then I threatened with every weapon in my arsenal to get her into the car. She still tried to make a break for it across the back yard. She kicked the back of the passenger seat until she realized I wasn't going to stop and then just screamed for all she was worth. Poor M1 just covered his ears and tried to pretend he was elsewhere. We got to the school and I carried her in, fearing that she'd try to streak across the parking lot where other parents were dropping their kids off. I got into the classroom, and she refused to get down. I tried to calm her and had almost succeeded until she realized that - once again - I truly meant to leave her there, and then it all started up again. The teacher came and held her (remarking, "My, she does have quite a grip, doesn't she?" when we were trying to detach my daughter's fist from where it was embedded in my shirt), and I left. Apparently it took her a good 45 minutes to settle, though she didn't act out towards anyone there. She was allowed to calm down by herself. I am grateful for all of that. I kept waiting on the phone call.

Yeesh.

Since then, the fits have been back, off and on, sometimes in the morning and sometimes after school and often with little to no known provocation. Last night during one of these, she went to her room and audibly plotted my ultimate demise. She's quite creative.

I'm irritated at her psychiatrist because we were supposed to go back and see him on the 23rd, but he's going to be out of town that day so we had to push the appointment back a week. If her behavior continues, I'm going to e-mail him and see about getting in sooner. This is getting ridiculous, and I'm starting to feel like I'm walking on eggshells again. I don't know if we need to up the meds or change them, but something needs to be altered.

-----

Of course, even if she does have a two-hour-long fit, this means there are still another 12 or so waking hours in the day where she's happy and cheerful, and last weekend she reminded me, "Mom, when can I get my ears pierced again?"

I couldn't come up with any good reason not to do it, so off we went.




She'd had her ears pierced before, when she was about 3 and insisted that she wanted it done then. We had gone to Claire's, and they became horribly infected. We wound up having to remove the earrings altogether and let the holes heal.

This time, I vowed to do things right. We went to a tattoo parlor, where they were more than happy to welcome a 5-year-old customer who was adamant that she was ready to have her ears pierced - again. She chose hoops instead of studs, which made me glad because posts with backs can make it harder to clean, and she sat perfectly still through the whole procedure, which didn't take long at all. She's had them for less than a week, and already they're healing much better than they did last time.

Now she's giggling and zipping back and forth across the living room, playing with the animals and watching the dogs rumble with each other. She loves that Speed Bump has learned to play.

Boy update sometime this weekend! I can't forget about him! :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Things I'm good at

I couldn't wait till morning, at a decent hour, to write this. I just couldn't do it. This has been bugging me for two days now, since I stupidly got on the computer and ranted about M1's math issues. *sigh* I knew it would come back to bite me in the behind. It always does. I experience massive word vomit, and inevitably it gets all over someone, and then I can clean and clean and clean, and yet there's still the funk in the air.

So I'm trying to clear it.

Now here's the fun part: *I* am the one who got hit with the word vomit. Nobody has said anything to me, but one thing I'm really, really stinking good at is GUILT. Self-inflicted guilt. Mental flagellation. Martyrdom. Whatever you want to call it, now you know. I'm an expert. I will invent guilt even before anyone else has a clue that I should feel guilty.

Oz knows this particularly well. I had a bit of a buying spree over the weekend at a particular candle store that's part of a national chain. I walked out of the store with three bags and ran straight into a giant wall of GUILT. Serious, massive guilt. I almost returned half of the stuff before Oz finally was able to convince me that it really, truly was okay to have bought it.

The point of this post, however, is embedded in a particular phrase that I wrote in the rant the other morning. It said, "Most of our groupmates are more of the permanent homeschooling/unschooling variety, which works for them, and I'm sure they'll be aghast at me dragging along all this stuff for him to do, but that's just how it works for us. It's the price we pay for having homeschooling be a potential temporary choice. I have to toe the line a bit more."

Now... at the time, I was mostly fearful (yes, fearful) of my friends' reactions! I honestly thought they'd be very confused, maybe even upset if I showed up with work for M1 to do at our meeting because really, if everyone else is playing, why would he have work to do? Why would I punish him like that? I have no idea why I felt fearful. I could claim the guilt thing, but that's the reason I'm writing this post, not the reason I was fearful. I can only say that at the time, I felt like I was against a wall, and I have a tendency to get a little paranoid when that happens. Also... deep down... I knew that bringing work would prove to everyone that my methods weren't working. Oh, and my massive fear of rejection by my peers. However, after I re-read all that later, when I was calmer, I realized that the above paragraph could totally have been taken another way and seen as bashing those who are unschoolers.

I would like to officially try to clean up my word vomit here and say flat out that I ADMIRE UNSCHOOLERS. I would *love* to be like that, to accomplish M1's (and my) goals without any sort of mental anguish, to be free inside myself to do whatever it is that takes our fancy that day or week or month and yet progress. I've seen some very smart kids in our group. VERY smart. And independent and entrepreneurial and just flat-out WONDERFUL. So how could I possibly think these folks are doing something bad when I've seen such good results??

Especially when I'm sitting there having a rant about my own son who is clearly rebelling against the way I'm doing school??

Anyway. Nobody has said anything to me, but I would like to apologize anyway. I hope you can forgive me, and honestly, if you have a clue how to make my boy love math again, I'd love to hear it.

Even if it means giving up the books and walking away.

Though I'll probably have guilt about that for a while, too.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The beauty of rain

It's a cloudy, gray, rainy day here today. We haven't seen one of these in a long time, and I'm savoring it.

I stepped out on the front porch this morning with my warm coffee mug in hand. As I walked down to the end of the cool concrete in my bare feet, I could hear the light breeze whisper through the trees and felt it ruffle my hair.

I stopped at the end of the porch and looked up. The clouds were bumpy on the bottom, little billows that reminded me of the ocean on a choppy day. Some clouds were pushing under others and some were folding up into themselves, and they were purposefully blowing across the sky as if they had a destination in mind.

Off to the southwest, the direction from which all good storms come, I could hear the thunder begin to rumble and felt it move under my feet and across the ground. It frightened a busy hummingbird off its perch at the feeder under the maple tree, and another swooped down to take its place for a drink. I could hear the indignant peeping of the displaced bird and marveled again that such tiny birds can make such sounds. More lightning flashed in the clouds, and both birds flew off over the gray roof of the house before the waves of thunder could reach them.

Looking back in the direction of the thunder, I felt the breeze grow momentarily stronger. A few pine needles flew off the trees that have grown so much in the last eight years, so that while they could have fit into a vaulted living room then, acting as Christmas decor, they now tower over everything and stand majestically, pointing their pinecones proudly outward, just waiting for the season to change so they can say, "I am strong. I am green. Welcome, cold weather and cardinals and snow. Come, rest in my branches."

A few sprinkles began to fall, and I felt them tickle my legs and hands. The power lines that extend from the street to the house caught the droplets and began to look as if they held a string of gray pearls as the rain dangled from the bottom. The power lines swayed gently in the wind, but none of the pearls fell. They only swayed, too, and slid slowly down toward their companions at the bottom of the long arc, where they would eventually join and fall to the wet grass below.

A car drove past the house, the headlights gleaming off the wet pavement. The tires shh-shhed as they bounced through a small puddle, and I continued to listen as the car drove on, the noise muted quickly by the dampness in the air.

I turned to walk back in the house, and a spiderweb caught my eye. Built over a small area of dark dirt in the front flowerbed, it was normally nearly invisible, but it too had caught the raindrops and been transformed into a shining spectacle. Its maker was nowhere to be seen, but the web shimmered and danced in the breeze, reminding me that all nature is precious.

The cats greeted me at the door, and as I walked back into my quiet, still house where lamplights glowed cozily, thunder rumbled one more time behind me, as if to say, "Thank you. For your appreciation, thank you."

And I smiled, thanking it back and being grateful for the wonderful earth upon which we live.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The clarity after the storm

OK, so ranting on the blog probably wasn't the best idea, but it was that or yell at the kid, and since I try not to do that (note I didn't say I succeed all the time, but I do TRY), I figured this was safer.

We got through math. I knew we would; it was just a matter of time. The frustration level was just overwhelming. He finally worked through all the problems and got different answers, which was all I was looking for in the first place. He got two right and still had two wrong, so we did the last two together, and I put away the math. He flew through writing and spelling so quickly I think his pencil sizzled (and did it all accurately!), and asked if he could read his history book in the car on the way to the meeting. How could I argue with that? So he got to play. I was very glad, and so was he.

I also realized I forgot to mention that there are days when I'll hand him a sheet with an entirely new concept, and he'll ace it. He'll get all of them right or miss only one or two! That's how I know he does know the material. I'm really not just dragging him along. Truly. And I don't make him do the sheets for the purposes of tedium. He does one sheet, and if he passes that (I don't give grades, but I do work out percentages and aim for 80% or better), he gets a review sheet that has the new material plus some of the old. Once that is passed, we move on. Sometimes I give the tests because, again, if he wants to go to "real school," he needs to be able to take a test. So it's not a horrid process; I just want him to show mastery of the material so that I'm *not* dragging him along and moving too quickly. It just seems like it drags because on the days when he doesn't focus, we can't move forward. I have to re-teach anything he doesn't understand, and we start over again. I limit math to 45 minutes per day (usually... today was an exception because he literally hadn't done anything other than squirm) so he doesn't get bogged down on one sheet, but at the same time there's no pressure to hurry up and finish because there's always another day.

I'd happily entertain ideas to help him focus. I have a few that I've used in the past, but these days he seems to focus on *those* rather than the task at hand. The graph paper has helped - I just implemented that last week - but I am happy to add something else if it helps. Any thoughts?

Destruction, frustration

I. Am. Going. Crazy.

And I'll tell you why.

I'm raising a boy. A boy who despises math with every fiber of his being, who wants to test every limit set upon him no matter how small, and who claims he wants to go back to "real school" next year.

I know a lot of people feel that homeschooling is their calling, something that they will do through thick and thin, no matter what, come hell or high water, etc. I am not one of those people. I would love to say I am, would love to be able to embrace this as a permanent lifestyle, but I am just not built that way. I love my alone time. I would love for the kids to be in someone else's classroom all day so I could go back to college and further my own education. I would love to be able to help with homework, give guidance where needed, and think that supplementing with the odd experiment is doing great. Mediocrity? I doubt it. I went to public school all the way through and I came out all right, top of my class, so given a decent chance (and my kids are smart and I would transfer them to a good school), they should be all right, too.

Right?

Ugh. Me and my stupid conscience.

I brought M1 home because he neeeeeds to be here. It's a choice made in his best interest, and 95% of the time he loves it. And I do thoroughly enjoy it when he's making headway and we're having fun and doing experiments and reading cool books and I can watch him learn and grow and laugh.

But math. Math, math, math. I'd rather eat live cockroaches for a week than pull the teeth required to get him to do math.

I really do try to make it fun. When he was learning his addition and subtraction facts last year, we played games. When learning to tell time, we broke out manipulatives and had fun with it. Same with money. But he's gotten all that down and is learning the "boring stuff," i.e. adding multiple numbers with lots of carrying (321+468+296+741=?), and for the most part, math IS dry. It just is, at least until you get into algebra or geometry or something where you can play with the numbers and move them around. OK, so even then, it can still be fairly boring. But he makes it worse on himself by refusing to do the work, refusing to focus on anything that takes him more than about 30 seconds. I'm using graph paper to help him get everything lined up right, and that helps him keep things straight, but it doesn't help him focus. Every 30 seconds, I catch him eyeballing a cat or fiddling with the eraser on his pencil or trying to pick things up with his toes or wanting to do his work on the floor or another table or whatever. I'd happily ignore it all if he then got the answers right, but his lack of focus is sooooo strong that he repeatedly fails each and every worksheet.

Being a good homeschool teacher, I can't really let him move on until he gets the stuff right, can I? So we cover it again, and I hand him the sheet to correct. I'd love to just hand him a calculator instead and say, "Here! Use this!" and make it easier on everyone, but I can't. Because if he wants to go back to "real school" at any point in time, then he has to know how to do this stuff. I've chosen a curriculum that works with the way he thinks, and he likes it, and he understands HOW to do everything - that's not the issue - but he WILL. NOT. FOCUS. It drives me batty. He'll hand me a worksheet that's half-done. Or I'll ask him to correct the problems he missed, and he'll bring it back to me five minutes later with nothing changed... and repeat that ad nauseum. This morning we're correcting a sheet from Friday. He's on his fifth correction because he hasn't changed a darn thing from the first time I handed it to him today, and from his attitude, it seems he has no intentions of doing anything about it. He's currently opening and closing his pencil box with his toes and looking intently at nothing somewhere in the middle of the room.

I'd love to give up. Can I do that? Please? Maybe I will. It's very, very tempting.

Oh, and did I mention he's in massive trouble, anyway? Ohhhh yeah. He took an arrowhead and sliced giant gashes into his nightstand after his father had caught him trying to carve his bedroom door with it and specifically told him, "You will not use this to cut things unless you have permission first." He said he understood, but clearly impulse took over (again). Oz and I had been planning to get him a desk for his birthday, but now I'm starting to rethink that scheme because of this little incident. I get so angry every time I see the destruction of property that he has caused. I'll get over it, but now I question the wisdom of letting him have his "rock collection" in his room. I'm still trying to work out an appropriate punishment for this one other than confiscating the arrowhead, which has already been done and which didn't faze him in the least.

Aren't things supposed to be a little easier than this? Just a tad?

Mostly I just needed to vent this morning. We're supposed to be going to a meeting with our homeschool group in less than an hour. I was hoping we'd get everything done for the day and he'd be able to play, but it looks like I'll be bringing books along. Most of our groupmates are more of the permanent homeschooling/unschooling variety, which works for them, and I'm sure they'll be aghast at me dragging along all this stuff for him to do, but that's just how it works for us. It's the price we pay for having homeschooling be a potential temporary choice. I have to toe the line a bit more.

Again, most of this is just venting, and I know he'll get it sooner or later. I do. Though quitting really does sound nice right about now. I just wish he'd understand how frustrating it is to me to have to make him do this.

I just wish it was easier!!!!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tostones!

I realized today that I seriously need to get some sort of tagging system set up for my blog so I can divide it into categories. I couldn't remember whether I'd posted this recipe or not and just spent the last 20 minutes of my life going through every blog post I've ever written to make sure. Bleh.

Anyway.

TOSTONES!

What are they, you ask? Twice-fried plantains. A friend of mine from Puerto Rico once showed me how to make them when I showed up at her house for lunch on time. I had no idea I was supposed to be an hour late! Gotta love learning new customs. I totally got the upper hand, though, because she taught me how to make these, and my kids love them.

Get some plantains. Two or three of them are enough to feed my family of four. You don't want them totally green or you'll never get the skin off, but you want them fairly green. Too much yellow and they get sweet, and then they're still great for dessert but not for tostones. (I once got stopped in the grocery store by a Jamaican woman who was convinced I had no idea how to cook plantains because I was buying them green-ish. She had never heard of tostones. And then after I told her what I did with them, a little old lady stopped me for this recipe because she was curious, too. Plantains are apparently cause for grocery store curiosity.)

Chop the ends off, make a big slice down one side of the skin, and peel.


Slice them on a bias. You want to make them about 3/4" thick. More isn't bad. What I'm showing here is about as small as you want them. You'll see why later.

Heat up some oil and fry them in batches. When they start turning brown all over (flip them as needed), pull them out and let them drain on paper towels.

Yes, it's a dark photo, but it at least gives you an idea of how they should look after their first fry.

Then you'll need a couple of plates or a bowl and a plate. You'll put one of the fried slices on the back of the plate and smush it as flat as you can with the other plate or bowl. I like to use something with a rim so they don't get *tooooo* flat. In Puerto Rico and other Hispanic countries, they actually have wooden tostone makers (kind of like miniature tortilla makers), but us gringos have to make do.

Once they're flattened, fry them again. Drain them and sprinkle them with salt before they cool. *NOTE*: Go light on the salt. It sticks to the tostones like crazy, and the flavor can easily get overwhelmed by sodium. My friend used seasoned salt, but I react badly to MSG, so I just use regular table salt. I'm sure Mrs. Dash wouldn't be bad, either.

They taste kind of like potatoes but have a slightly different flavor. I love 'em, and I hope you will, too!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book of the Week

Now that school is back in session, I'm really going to try to keep up with things this year and post about actual educational schtuff. That's not to say I won't be posting about other things. I'm sure my wandering mind will take care of that, and I have a recipe waiting in the wings to be shared. But today will be the first of many installments of...

Wait for it...

The Book of the Week.

I know you're shocked.

As a way to broaden M1's fictional horizons and get him to start actually talking about the books he reads, I've started "assigning" books. He'll read them; we'll talk about them; and if he's inspired, he might continue with the rest of the books (if it's a series) or find more books in the same genre. We'll just see how it goes.

For the first week, his book is



Now. How sad is it that I didn't even know this was a book, let alone a series, until about two months ago?

Call me Ignorant. I'm going to swipe it before M1 is done with it and give it a read myself. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What a day!

Oh, I know it's not over yet. I'm aware. I just had to blog about my day because I have 30 seconds of freedom (more if I'm able to properly ignore my children) and just had to come get it all off my chest.

I woke up with migraine precursors this morning, which pretty much made me an instant curser of my morning. It felt somewhere between the morning sickness I got with M1 (which was about two steps away from laying down in an open grave and requesting burial) and wanting a claw hammer to pull the nail out of my head that someone had shot in there during the middle of the night.

Treximet is my friend in these situations, but it still takes a while to work, and in the meantime, I was playing Single Mom because Oz is out of town again, the dishwasher needed unloading, M2's lunch needed packing, the litter boxes were full, I had to get the girl to school, and... oh, yeah, I homeschool the boy!

Driving the girl to school was fantastic. I had to wear sunglasses to even be able to drive. I don't own a pair of prescription sunglasses, though, so I had to put my regular glasses on the seat beside me, pray nobody pulled me over to ask me to read anything smaller than a stop sign, and be grateful that I can drive to the school in my sleep, because when I'm having a migraine I'm A) sensitive to light, sound, temperature and B)somnolent. The drive to school is mainly east, which means the sun was shining right in my lap and dancing back and forth like some manic hypnotist. By the time I reached the school, I was officially a zombie. I took the girl into her classroom, muttered some gibberish that M2 interpreted as, "Bye, love. Have a good day," but that clearly must have been something different because her teacher was staring at me oddly (must have been the sunglasses, which were still on... must have been), and meandered back out to the van.

I made it back home in one piece and made a bargain with the Devil and my son that if I got to take a nap till the medication kicked in, I'd do things like make macaroni and cheese with hot dogs for supper.

The Devil kept his end of the bargain, because M1 actually took a nap with me, and we were both awakened by the sound of the FedEx guy ringing the doorbell AND knocking. I answered with couch pillow lines still sunk deep into my cheeks, which must have amused the guy because he eyed me, blinked, and immediately launched into some sort of chatter about checking the temperature using the thermometer we have on the front porch while I'm nodding and still blinking the last of the sleep out of my eyes. I think I told him not to check the temperature when it's going to be 9000 degrees outside that day. Again. Because it's Oklahoma in August and what do you expect?? Really, dude.

He was good for waking up. I have no idea what's in the box that he delivered for Oz. Which reminds me, the mail guy left an Amazon package on the porch that I really should go get because I suspect it's the gel packs of omega-3 vitamins and Oz's special hair gel. Gel left in 9000-degree heat probably isn't a good idea.

I digress.

M1 and I "did school" for the day and then got lunch, and then I bargained with him again so that he'd go run errands with me today so that we didn't have to do them tomorrow. I'm lazy like that. Or is that lazy? I'm not sure. We went to Mardel, a Christian bookstore that carries lots of homeschooling supplies, and picked up a planbook that I use to keep track of all the stuff we do because I'm paranoid in case we ever move to a state that requires records, which isn't likely but that's why I say I'm paranoid.

Paranoia, paranoia, everybody's comin' to get me....

I also looked for graph paper because the boy CANNOT do math in a workbook to save his life because he can't remember to carry to the right line or to stay in a line or write out or double-check, and while I *know* he knows the material, if he can't prove it, I'm having problems letting him move on. Mental block.

I ran into problems when I realized that the Powers That Be don't make graph paper any more. They make "quadrille paper," which is graph paper with a fancy name, and they only make it in 1/4" squares, which M1 couldn't use to save his life. He'd have to use four of them to write one number, and then we're right back to square one.

Most Illogical, Jim.

One trip to the grocery store and library later, we picked up M2, who promptly got mad at me because I had parked the van and come in to the school to pick her up, and she had PACIFICALLY TOLD ME to get in the line of parents and wait for her to come out so she could push the "magic button" that makes the door open and close in the van.

I was properly chastized. I bowed and scraped and kowtowed my way back out the door... hauling her with me.

Now I've gotten all the chores done and am wondering what sort of demon made me promise to feed the kids mac 'n' cheese for dinner while watching M2 get marker all over her face while making a "book" and listening to M1 try to work out what a 5x5 grid means in the instructions of a game he dragged out of the hall closet.

I suppose I can't ignore them any more. I at least need to go try to bargain some vegetables into the mac 'n' cheese. I'm thinking broccoli and spinach. And maybe vitamins for me because I've been a naughty girl and haven't taken them the past few days which is probably why I got the migraine in the first place. The Bad Fairies found me.

----

Oh, and if anyone knows of a good kids' yoga video, do let me know, eh? M2 has taken a liking to the idea of yoga, and I'm all about teaching her physical activity with calming techniques. It might keep us all from going insane. :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Stashing

This is a post about stashing, staches, caches, and hidey-holes.

I am qualified to write this because apparently I inherited my mom's ability to fit 9000 containers of food in my refrigerator, know where it all is, not have anything fall out when I open the door, and be able to get to it all without taking out 4500 things first.

I could write about that. I could. I could even take pictures. I'm told it's impressive.

But today, it's all about the kids.

Somewhere during gestation of both children, they took my genetic ability to hoard without looking like a hoarder... and mutated it. My children are STASHERS. They're not hoarders, though M1 sometimes tries to be. They're stashers. Stashers, stashers, stashers.

That's a hard word to repeat over and over, even while typing.

M1 started young. I put a hamper in his room when he was tiny and explained to him that all clothes, when he takes them off, go into this hamper. We worked on it. He had it down pat. Sometime about the age of 4, though, he got an idea.

For the record, ideas in the mind of a 4-year-old are dangerous.

He would put a pair of underwear in the hamper. Then he'd stash the T-shirt behind his dresser, the shorts in a toy bin, and socks under his bed. The next night the T-shirt would go in the hamper, and he'd stash the rest of his outfit in other random spots. After doing 2-3 loads of knits, it would occur to me that he wasn't meeting his quota of clothes and I'd go hunting. And Every. Single. Stinkin'. Time. I would find dirty clothes in half a dozen spots around his room. I'd find one hidey-hole; he'd invent another. Sometimes he'd even put the dirty clothes into the drawers for his clean clothes! Inventive, that one. Every part of me wants to say, "And if you'd apply yourself like this to learning X, we'd be a lot farther along!"

But I don't. He'll learn someday, right??

Anyway. As irritated as I got over finding dirty clothes (and now clean ones that he doesn't feel like putting away), he ain't got nuttin' on M2. She makes his stashing seem benign. Normal. Almost to be expected.

What blows my mind about her stashing is that she loves her room to *look* clean. She vacuums it, has everything put away nicely, and enjoys having it all 'just so.'

Looks can be deceiving.

She also doesn't pick things you'd expect to be hidden in her room.

Her stashing, unlike M1's, isn't harmless. She's slightly more... well... DESTRUCTIVE with her stashing.

Yesterday we had a very quiet day. It was glorious. We had nowhere to go and nothing to do and everyone was doing what he or she wanted. Oz was playing games and/or doing some work on his computer. I was finishing a library book. M1 was reading Garfield cartoon books over and over. And M2 was playing happily in her room.

All was right in the world.

Or so we thought.

She came out and we had some snuggle time, and then she went back to her room. Oz followed her to tell her it was about time to put her toys away, and he came back holding her nightlight and her lamp. I was puzzled, because I hadn't heard any screaming.

Apparently, she had unplugged her nightlight (we still don't know why) and her lamp. And she had taken the white cord of her lamp AND COLORED IT BLUE.

That's right! She had taken markers into her room. Several of them. And scissors. She had stashed them at the bottom of her stuffed animal basket (a large hamper) in her closet. Oz and I removed what we could find, and then I found two more today. She brought out yet another this evening while cleaning her room. She'd already been in trouble twice this week for art-related issues, specifically taking window markers and coloring on the tablecloth and using glue on the wooden coffee table (again), so I suppose the third time is indeed the charm. And I'm sure that it's partly my fault for not keeping a good eye on her while she's creating her masterpieces. We didn't confiscate any of her art supplies, just made her put them back where they belonged and told her to make sure they *stay* there.

But for heaven's sake.

I fear the stash. And I'm starting to wonder if this art box that Oz and I have... well... stashed... for her for Christmas is a good idea after all. I need to check and see if there are slots for everything. That'll probably be the deciding factor.

But if you hear me shrieking about curtains that have been colored purple, you'll know. The Stash has struck again.

Cookie monsters

A couple of weeks ago, the kids decided they wanted cookies. I wasn't feeling very cookie-ish (mostly because I'd already promised the kids I'd make jalapeno poppers for dinner that night), so I told them that if they wanted cookies, they could make them.

M1 LOVES to cook. He broke out his cookbook, found a recipe for oatmeal-raisin cookies, and started piling all the ingredients and supplies together. M2 really did want to help, no matter what her look says here.

And no, she doesn't have a mullet. She had been sweating during her rest time and has a habit of shoving everything - snot, spit, sweat, whatever - straight up. So she'd done that and her hair had stuck.

Yes, I did wash it later that day.


Anyway, even after we realized we didn't have enough raisins for cookies but did have enough raisins for a snack-me-over while the cookies were baking and substituted chocolate chips for the raisins in the cookies, the kids did fantastic. M1 read the recipe and measured.

M2 dumped the ingredients into the bowl and stirred until she deemed it was ready (and then M1 would take over and stir a little more, just because he's the big brother and is a bit of a perfectionist about cooking).

They asked for help making the first cookie, to make sure that they would all be the right size, and then they scooped the cookies onto their own cookie sheet.

No squabbling at all!
They - and I - were very proud of their cookies. They had a few that day and then took the rest to the splash pad the next day to share with friends.

After they finished the cookies, they decided they wanted to make muffin-tin meatloaves for dinner and kicked me out of the kitchen altogether. It was rather heartbreaking because I wanted to be in there to take photos of this independent process unfolding, but I was on strict orders to stay out unless summoned. Which I wasn't, until it was time to put the mealoaves into the oven. They tasted great!

It was lovely to see the children not only working together but also doing something so well.

I told Oz later that night, "You know, they could totally be those kids who survive on their own after their parents disappear. At least till the food ran out."

And, scary as that thought is since they're only 7 and 5, he had to agree.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

First Day Back: A List

1. I need sleep the night before school starts. I'm currently running on D for Deprived.

2. My son has an ear infection and has needed medication every 4-5 hours since yesterday afternoon. Thankfully we now have antibiotics.

3. My daughter got up at 1:32 a.m. to inform me there were bugs in her hair that had crawled into her bed and ask could she sleep with me, please? There were no bugs. I still don't know if it was a vivid dream or a hallucination, but I do know that the mental debate kept me up for a while.

4. I didn't have time to fix coffee this morning. Seriously running on the fumes of fumes.

5. I always have to look out the window whenever I hear a siren coming down the street. I don't know why.

6. It's even worse if I hear the siren stop because then I want to go drive by the scene and see what's going on.

7. No, I'm actually not a rubbernecker. I have a fear of getting slammed from behind from people who are, though. Not that I've been in two rear-end accidents in the last two years or anything.

8. The boy bought candy corn at the pharmacy this morning. I still don't know why I let him do that. I blame #1.

9. I'm reading a book right now called "The Russian Concubine." I'm 102 pages in and loving it. Very descriptive. It appeals to my sense of mental imagery.

10. I'm about to go pick up the girl from kindergarten. I hope she had a good day. No phone calls is a good sign.

11. I am fixing homemade Canadian bacon pizza tonight. It sounds more delicious by the minute.

12. Thursday is my Friday for work. This is a good thing. It's been a slow week, but I'm still done.

13. Next week is Friday the 13th. Yes, I am superstitious.

14. I am the substitute helper chick at the preschool tomorrow. Let's hope I get some sleep before then!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another chapter

School starts again tomorrow.

In some ways, I'm sad. I know that learning comes in all shapes and forms. The kids have done all sorts of learning and growing over the summer. M1 has gained a lot of maturity, patience, and is finally beginning to understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate reactions. This is huge for him. Of course, we've also visited the natural history museum and studied the fish. M2 has practiced writing, improving the shapes of the letters in her name. She has made constant use of art supplies like scissors, markers, etc. and is always picking up things from her brother. But it's been very nice to get up at 8 a.m. instead of 6:45 and be able to go days without even thinking about making learning happen.

I'm also sort of sad that M2 is going to be in kindergarten this year. She's getting so big! Yes, I've thought of trying to keep her at home, but there's no way I can do that. She resists even attempting to learn from me because she has a giant fear of failure, and the littlest mistake causes her self-esteem to take a hit. She needs to get back into the swing of things and have others to gauge herself against. While she's been at home, she's gone from being very confident in her ability to do things like draw pictures and play violin to being very upset at the smallest of mistakes. My reassurance isn't helping.

So while I'm sad that she's going away from me and that M1 is entering another school year at home, this time as a second-grader, I'm happy that she may be in a place where she can calm down and find herself again. Her fits have been less frequent, but they still happen and are now most often triggered by places with many people. I'm not sure what this means for school, but I trust her teacher. I've spoken with her and have a lot of faith that we can work together to make M2's kindergarten experience great.

I'm also excited about some of the stuff that M1 will get to do this year. Medieval studies, logic problems, art projects, "feasts," science experiments, lots of reading - I know he's not excited about getting up early, and he says he's not excited about school (I'm not offended... it takes a lot to excite the boy and using mostly the same curriculum that we ended the school year with in June isn't going to get his blood flowing), but I think he's going to have a lot of fun.

I know I've come a long way, too, in my expectations and outlook on the whole homeschooling experience. I'll never be an unschooler, but I'm certainly a lot more relaxed this year than I was last! Here's to new years, new experiences, and just taking it all in stride!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Experiment

So late last night while I was in the shower, where all great things are pondered, it suddenly hit me how integral my cell phone has become to my life. The children love to sit and watch Oz and I play games (or mooch the phones and play games themselves), and these days more often than not I give out my cell phone number as my contact instead of my home phone. The only people who call my home phone are my mother-in-law, my dad and his wife, my grandmothers, and Oz's grandmother.

And automated phone systems for doctor's offices.

And political callers.

Oh, and the odd actual telemarketer whom I happily tell off, hang up on, and report to the FCC for violating the Do Not Call List agreement.

Anyway, I use my cell phone a lot and so does Oz. When I was riding this train of thought in the shower, I of course began thinking about all cell phones. My dad got his first one back before cell phones were just phones. This thing had a handset with a curly cord and came in a black pleather case the same size as but thicker than a Kindle does now. Reception was crap; it only worked if you happened to be on a major highway near a fairly large city, and you were lucky if you could understand the person on the other end.

Oh, how far we've come.

Ten years ago, Oz and I were barely married and I didn't even feel the need to get a phone till the icy-cold winter day when I got a flat tire on the way to work and had to frighten a little old lady in her house when I came knocking on the door at 7:45 a.m. asking to borrow her phone to call my husband for rescue and the office to let them know I'd be late. Oz decided I needed a phone at that point, and I didn't really even try to say no. I never thought I'd use my cell phone a lot, but surprise! I never thought I'd be a texter, but yeah, I so am. I never thought I'd check my e-mail on my phone, but I do. I even keep track of my kids' monthly allowance money on a list on my phone so that if I'm at the store and they want to buy something, I know how much they have to spend and can deduct the amount on the spot.

Oz has stood in line at the Apple store the last two years to make sure he has the latest model, and I upgraded with him this year, so we both have iPhone 4s. Fancy shmancy, perhaps, but he's smart enough to sell the old ones so that we aren't paying out the yin-yang for a phone because I'm still cheap and it's still a phone, no matter what it does. Until they come with 24K gold plating and do housework, I'm not paying more than $100.

Back to my pondering.

I decided last night that I'd see if I could make it a whole day without using my phone. I didn't tell anyone because A) I only decided this at midnight last night and didn't feel the urge to tell everyone right then because while *I* am always up at that hour, most normal people aren't, and B) It wouldn't be a true experiment if everyone *knew* not to call my phone today, would it?

So how did I do?

I give myself a B.

First thing this morning, before I was quite conscious, because I am soooo not a morning person and am never quite conscious for the first 15-20 minutes I'm actually up and moving, I picked up the phone to see what time it was, check my e-mail, and see what was on Facebook. Then I remembered my experiment and put the phone down.

By noon, I'd missed a phone call (with voicemail) and two texts (I'd heard the dings), and the screen of the phone was starting to look urgent with all those numbers and details lined up. I didn't check it. I didn't even call Oz to tell him about M1 slicing his finger open with a brand-spankin'-new pocket knife that my dad had bought him at the gun show yesterday, although my fingers were itching to call and tell SOMEBODY.

Things went south when I started thinking about supper and realized I needed milk and eggs if I planned to fix fried okra. I picked up my home phone, actually dialed the 10 digits - I'm practicing for the mandatory 10-digit dialing that goes into effect here over the next year - and called my husband rather than just texting him a grocery list to get on the way home. Wouldn't have been an issue if he hadn't called back via cell to verify, but I needed the food, so I answered.

Other than that, I've done well! I re-read a book instead of playing games, and I strongly suspect I won't even have to charge my phone up tonight like I usually do on a nightly basis.

In the end, I suppose my phone isn't quite an addiction yet, but it's definitely a strong habit. My friend Mary will probably call within the next half-hour, and I haven't decided if I'm strong enough to resist the Lady Gaga ringtone that I gave her.

The experiment can end now, right? ;)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

MOUSSAKA!!!

I probably should not be posting about food right now. The only thing I've consumed today has been a mug of coffee flavored with ungodly amounts of delicious caramel macchiato creamer.

I blame my friend Christy for the creamer, but the lack of eating is entirely my fault. Oz has been sent to remedy this problem with copious amounts of take-out. I'll be back to my fat and happy self before too long.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd share this gem of a recipe. Moussaka. I make the Greek version, and it is heavenly. Time-consuming but heavenly. And Oz won't eat it because he despises eggplant in any form. The kids count the days till he leaves on trips and they get to have moussaka. They have been known to consume an entire 10x14" pan of moussaka in one sitting.

Start by peeling and slicing the eggplant. Lay out a length of paper towel and sprinkle salt on the towels, then lay down the eggplant, and sprinkle more salt on top. The purpose of this is to draw out as much liquid as possible.

And believe me, eggplants contain a *lot* of water. You have to let them sit for about half an hour but longer won't hurt. Blot the tops, switch out the paper towels, whatever you have to do. Just get the water out. Salt is a wondeful eggplant diuretic. If only it worked that way for me...

Once you have all the water out, you fry the eggplant up in a saucepan with some olive oil. I have to keep the pan moving or they'll soak up tons of oil to replace the water, which I think would defeat the purpose. On the other hand, the slices become beautifully soft when the oil gets into them.

I just tell myself at least it's olive oil and not, say, coconut. There are worse things in the world, right?

After the slices are fried, they can rest on more paper towels till you're ready for them again.

The next step is to get the meat part ready. The recipe says to use 1/2 lb. of ground beef or lamb. My family eats like there's no tomorrow, so I go ahead and use a whole pound sometimes. That's what I did here. There's salt, pepper, onion and garlic in this pan, too.

After you drain the meat, you add in the flavors. I love the smell of herbs and spices cooking in my kitchen. The recipe calls for fines herbes. I don't keep chervil in my kitchen, so I make do with chives, tarragon, and thyme. I've never had any complaints.

You also throw in some tomato sauce and red wine. Stir it all together, put the lid on that, and let it simmer for 20 minutes while you're working on the béchamel sauce. Before it's all finished, you'll let this cool just an oonch and stir in a beaten egg to help hold it all together. Or you can temper the egg and then stir it in, if you're in a hurry like I usually am.

Now... if I could read directions correctly, I'd know that I'm supposed to make a roux and THEN put in scalded milk. But I am a horrid person who can't follow a recipe properly to save her own life, so I put the milk in the pan to scald...

... and then, when the milk is scalded, toss in the butter, whisk while it melts, and then whisk in the flour.

I'm probably crazy with luck, but I've never had a sauce turn out lumpy this way. I'm not sure what I'm doing to deserve such great luck. I'm sure next time it'll be a miserable failure. And yes, I use black pepper. I know a true béchamel contains white pepper so that you don't mar the beauty of the sauce, BUT... I don't keep white pepper and this is going into something that's going to be topped with a spice, anyway, so I personally doesn't feel it matters.

Oh, and folks... don't use skim milk or margarine. Splurge on the good stuff. You won't regret it.
Once your sauce is ready, it's time to layer. Eggplant slices, the meat sauce, and some Parmesan cheese go into a well-greased pan. Top it with the rest of the eggplant and the béchamel. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Don't be shy. Use fresh nutmeg, too. It's a good reason to get some.

Why, yes, I am a food freak. Why do you ask?

After an hour in a 350-degree oven, you have this beauty on your hands. It won't last long, but if there are leftovers, they're also delicious cold after a night in the fridge. I don't make this often, and now you know why - who has time for meals that take hours to prepare? - but it is sooooo worth it.


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Moussaka

2 large eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2”-thick slices
Salt
Olive oil
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1-1/2 tsp. butter
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. fines herbes
1 T. dried parsley
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 c. red wine
1 egg, beaten
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2 c. milk
1/4 c. butter
3 T. all-purpose flour
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
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3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg

1. Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes or more to draw out the moisture. Then in a skillet over high heat, heat 2 T. olive oil. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned, adding more oil if needed. Set aside on paper towels to drain.

2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, onion and garlic. After beef is browned, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, fines herbes and parsley. Pour in tomato sauce and wine and mix well. Simmer 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and stir in beaten egg.

3. To make béchamel sauce, scald milk in saucepan. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Arrange half of eggplant in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Cover with all of meat mixture and 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese. Cover with remaining eggplant and remaining Parmesan. Pour béchamel sauce over the top and sprinkle with nutmeg.

5. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

6. Drool and enjoy.