Friday, January 31, 2014

lemon creams

I have three dollars in the grocery envelope. I thought I did really good with not spending much money on groceries this month. I thought I’d have a lot leftover to put into the grocery savings envelope (for things like bushels of peaches and apples or a pizza-ordering splurge). But I guess I thought wrong. Last time I went to the store, I had only 13 dollars to spend. I got lactose milk for my husband, one gallon of milk for us, and a bag of rolled oats and now I have three dollars left.

Actually, it’s kinda fun not having money to spend. The simplicity is liberating. My choices are pared down, streamlined, straightforward. The end is in sight—happy last day of January, world!—so the scarcity has felt manageable. Plus, I have the basic perishables, like eggs, butter, and cheese. (Without these, I would feel panicked.)

I’m shopping my pantry and freezers, discovering treasures like a random bag of chicken wings. I thought it was a whole chicken (from our last butchering two years back?), but then I thawed it and realized it was wings. That night we feasted. And then the neighbors gifted us sausage and Pon Haus from their pig butchering, yay! And then they gave us two and a half gallons of raw milk, so now we’re flush with cream and yogurt, cue the Hallelujah chorus. (I'm making them sweet rolls in exchange... that is, once February comes and I can get to the store for some potatoes for the dough.)

Using up food makes me happy.

Look at me go! I’ll gloat to my husband. That meal took five pounds of potatoes and a container of chili I found in the freezer and the tail end of that block cheese, yes! Or, That monster crisp made a HUGE dent in the apple supply! Or, No more tortillas and beans—time to make bread! Or, Great! The strawberries are all gone. Moving on to the blueberries...

My enthusiasm miffs my husband.

“What’s so great about finishing stuff off? It just means we have to buy more.”

“But it’s better to use up what we already have than to buy more when we don't have to. Do I really need to explain this to you?”

“But using up the strawberries is not good news. Stop being so happy about it.”

“But it is good news We grew it or bought it and then ate it—that’s the point. By the time summer’s here, we’ll be desperate for all the food we’ve run out of, so we’ll be all excited about planting a garden. There’s nothing better than an empty freezer to light the fire under our butts.”

***

So, in the spirit of shopping my shelves:

There was a sack of lemons languishing in the fridge. I had all the fresh cream from our neighbor's cow, plus two pints of whipping cream from the store. The cream situation was reaching crisis levels (just kidding—too much cream is never a problem), so I made lemon creams.


I found the recipe on Julie’s blog. Boil cream and sugar, add lemon juice, and get a pudding? I was intrigued. So I did it and she was right—it is magic.


Lemon Creams
Adapted from Dinner With Julie.

These are called possets, officially. It’s a English dessert, but since I am not English, I can’t say the word “posset” without feeling like an imposter. So Lemon Creams it is.

Julie calls for a mix of lemon and lime juice which would be lovely, I’m sure. But I only had lemons, so lemons it is.

2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Put the cream and sugar in a roomy kettle and bring to a boil over high heat, whisking every minute or so. The mixture will bubble rather vigorously, so once it’s come to a boil, stay close, stirring steadily and lifting the kettle off the heat should the cream threaten to tumble over the edge. Boil for 3 minutes.

Remove the kettle from the heat, whisk in the lemon juice, and divide the mixture between six ramekins. Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic, and chill in the fridge overnight. (Julie said you could eat them after a couple hours, so we did, but they were still soupy in the middle. They were much firmer after a night of chilly repose.)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

home education series: stalled

Continued from

***



I’m at a standstill in this home education series. I have a ton of stuff I still want to say, but I don’t know how or what for or why. So I write pages of notes and talk my friends’ ears off and jump up and down to drive the point home and then I sit down in front of the computer and—nothing. It’s a slightly terrifying place to be. All this pent up energy and fermenting ideas (is there an explosion on the horizon?) but no way out. It’s making my skin crawl.

Yesterday I listened to Radiolab while chopping celery and peeling potatoes for the supper soup. It was a great show, but the part that was especially relevant was Elizabeth Gilbert speaking on the muse. The notion that there are ideas and inspirations whirling around the earth (like some sort of idea-ridden gulf stream current) in search of a portal through which to enter is intriguing, fascinating, and downright delightful. The thing is, the inspiration only come to those who are worthy; in other words, the people who are putting in the time. So I’m just going to keep putting in my time, thinking, typing rants in all-caps, reading, and wrestling myself into knots and maybe I’ll eventually be worthy of becoming a portal. In the meantime, here’s a bunch of homeschool links, resources, and tidbits to tide you over.

Some previous posts on homeschooling from yours truly:

*No Special Skills: my response to the common “Oh you homeschool? I could never to that!” comment. 
*Hats: on there not being a difference between parenting and teaching. 
*On the Subject of Grade Level: my kids are behind.
*Hypothesizing: kids learn when they’re ready.
*Stirring The Pot: yikes! It’s a full-blown rant! (And it hits the diversity issue smack on the head.)
*How It Really Is: why I homeschool my children.
*A Teacher’s Lesson: an unschooling experiment.

I just re-read these posts and suddenly I don’t think I have anything else to say. Maybe this is the end of this series after all? I’m not sure, but please don’t hold your breath.

From elsewhere:
*This is what happens when a kid leaves traditional education by Joe Martino. You’ve probably all seen Logan's TEDx talk already, but here it is just in case you haven’t. (His cocky attitude is a bit off-putting—try to look past it. Mom, I’m talking to you.) Also, the article is succinct and the video by Sir Ken Robinson is quite worthwhile. 

*An interview by Penelope Trunk, an unschooling mother, on Pioneer Woman Homeschooling. And another one by IrishMum. I love hearing other homeschool parents talk. We’re all so different!

*The Mennonite World Review reprinted a post from the series. I’ve been hearing from other homeschooling families who are in “heady” Mennonite communities that don’t understand or even appreciate homeschooling. Fellow Mennonites and Mennonite homeschoolers: would our church community benefit from a more intentional conversation about this topic? If so, how?

*Homeschool Blues by comedian Tim Hawkins.


Some excellent books:
*Teach Your Own by John Holt. This was the book that inspired my parents to homeschool me.
*Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich. I read this book in one sitting at Barnes and Noble and then went back a few days later and bought it.
*The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan. This is not a homeschooling book. Then again, it is. (I don’t think Khan is aware of this, though.)

Do you have other good resources? Please share!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

about a picture

I snapped this picture on Saturday evening.

I got out the camera (that only works sporadically/there’s a new one in the mail/I don’t want to talk about it) to capture the lovey love-love going on between my baby and my mommy. But then when I loaded it to my computer and sat down to look at it, I realized there was a lot more going on.

1. The obvious: my youngest child snuggling on his grandmommy. A minute before, he had launched himself off the chair and into her arms, wrapping his legs around her middle like a human koala bear.

2. My husband reading a magazine. He’s not supposed to be reading. I know this because he’s back in the corner, bent over the table, and not sitting in a chair like a civilized reader of words. He was probably mid-straightening up, saw the old Time Magazine that my mother brought us, leaned a little closer, and end of cleaning up the house. (This is what is sounds like when he starts a fire with old newspaper: crumble crumble crumb— SILENCE.)

3.The little pile of clean, folded, and not put away laundry on the table. This—the tail end, the one final piece, the unfinished task—drives me absolutely bonkers. It is also the reason that, when making lists for the minions, I write, “Fold laundry and put it ALL away.” This time, there was no list and I suffered for it.

4. The one solitary clothes hanger dangling from the living room ceiling (and the blue ropes in the very corner). Usually, that hanger has a man-sized pair of damp overalls draped over its plastic shoulders. In the winter time, the area around the wood stove transforms into a clothes drying room. It’s so romantic.

5. That string of paper lantern lights that I splurged on (fifteen dollars, to be exact) and haven’t regretted once.

6. The two little nieces spying on one of my showering daughters. They are in their coats (the nieces, not the showering daughters), ready to go to a coffee shop with my parents to listen to their parents (the girls’ parents, not my parents’ parents) perform. The older daughter, whose head is in the bathroom so you can’t really see, is wearing an old-fashioned bonnet a la Laura and Mary. She is very devoted to the world of make believe and confessed that she sometimes even sleeps in her bonnet.

7. The stack of books ready to be packed up and taken to West Virginia with my older son for his week-long visit with the grandparents. On the reading agenda (if they get to it): the atom bomb, the orphan trains, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the only must read because it’s due back to the library), some grammary stuff, The Crucible, and I can’t remember what all else (something on the Titanic, maybe?)

8. The basket of grapefruit. My kids are leery of the sour fruit, but they're getting braver about taking tastes. Now when I peel myself a snack, I'm lucky if I get half of it.

9. The banner proclaiming that it's January and we're happy about it (from Mavis).

10. The cluttered art table with a mug of dirty water leftover from a painting project.

11. The briefly-shelved chess board. It's in high use, that board is. I'm forever finding chess pieces (we have an odd assortment from several games) under sofas and kitchen cabinets, crunching them with my feet, or vacuuming them up. Nearly every game (between the two youngest) ends in tears, rage-tossed pieces, and flailing fists. And yet they keep starting new games, weird kids.

12. And back to my loving-on-his-grandmommy boy, the shredded pants. The hems got so full of holes that he kept tripping and falling. When the holes finally ripped open so that the pants were fringed with swaths of dangling fabric, he was thrilled—no more sudden floor landings.

Monday, January 27, 2014

the quotidian (1.27.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


White stuff fell, temperatures plummeted, and life-as-we-planned-it screeched to a halt.


The best snow in ages: it stays!


Pogo dog.


NOT a good landing.


Even when happy, they fight.
(Okay, so I'm exaggerating a little. But only a little.) 



My niece who won't talk to me but she looked at me so I think we're making progress.



What happens when we finally get out after being snowed in without fresh library books.


I see you but I don't hear you. Is that a problem?


Enlightening the leggy sticks of plastic.


Learning to iron, thanks to Grandmommy.


Eight of the ten ruffians at Friday's supper table.

Friday, January 24, 2014

home education series: in which it all falls to pieces

Continued from

***

"It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly." -Albert Einstein

***

I’m learning to knit.


A few years ago, I started following the blogs of some avid knitters. Inspired, I asked one of my girlfriends to teach me. At her house, she showed me how to cast on and do the basic stitches. Over the next few months, I practiced at home and saw my friend whenever I needed help (which was often).

After taking a break from knitting for a couple years, I started back up this winter. Another girlfriend took on the role of instructor this time, helping me select the right yarn and needles, and patiently sitting beside me while I wrestled with sticks and dropped stitches. On my own I watched Youtube videos to learn terminology and form. When stuck (which is often), I take my knitting to church in hopes of cornering my friend (or any of the expert knitters in the congregation, for that matter) and begging a little help. Learning to knit has been painstakingly slow and tedious. It has also been immensely satisfying.

Learning to knit involves the same process—inspiration, getting help, trial and error, and diligence—I use to tackle other endeavors, such as blogging, parenting, sourdough bread making, money management, photography, and gardening. Sometimes I learn as much as I need to be functional and then I quit. Sometimes I lose interest and slack off. Sometimes I push myself with something all together different like belly dancing, up and moving to another country, or cheese making. But the key components to my learning always remain the same.

Am I learning to knit so I can be a professional knitter? To manage our money to become an economist? To garden so I can open a stand at the Farmers Market? No, of course not. I’m learning all these things because I have chosen to, either out of necessity or desire.

Learning is all about acquiring new skills and information. We learn because we are curious, because we need to, because we enjoy it. The neat thing is, when learning is self-motivated, the lines blur between need and want. I need to learn how to raise my children because I want them to thrive. I want to learn to knit because I need to do something creative. I need to learn how to manage my finances because I want to be in charge of my money.

Children are naturally self-motivated. They are boldly curious and exhaustingly tireless. Their dogged determination is unnerving. Just ask their parents.

Which leads me to wonder: why do we allow adults to be the masters of their learning but not children?

And here, my friends, is where it all breaks down. Are all the lectures, worksheets and tests that revolve around information—the prepositions, parts of a cell, state capitals, etc.—truly necessary? What must children learn in order to be well-adjusted and productive adults? Is it the particulars that are important, and if so, which ones and why? Or is it curiosity, self-awareness, and the ability to know how to learn that will get our children where they want to go?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

hobo beans

I rarely do library visits by myself anymore. The children love to go, and, for the most part, don’t bother me as I stomp all over the building, violently yanking books from the stacks. Plus, I need the children to help haul the books to the car.

Most mornings before lunch, we all pile onto the sofa and the kids bring me fearsome heaps that demonstrate their ability to dream big. I read only library books, and each one only once. Even so, we’re pushing it to make our way through all the books before we must return them.

A couple library trips ago, I ran into a friend of mine who happens to be an expert on children’s literature. She pointed me in the direction of the biographical picture books and now I’m hooked. Along with the Berenstain Bears and Frog and Toad, we read stories about Harriet Tubman, Michael Jordan, Rosa Parks, Jane Goodall, and Franklin Roosevelt. We read about Grandma Moses (she lived right here in this valley!) and look up her artwork on the internet. We read about Gregor Mendel and his peas and then, because the children are so fascinated, I use brown and blue crayons to map out the genetics of their eye colors. We read about Dr. Seuss which inspires the kids to search our shelves for all his books and go on a Seuss-reading jag. And we read about Casey Jones, I spy the recipe for Hobo Beans at the end of the book, make them, and suddenly we have a new family favorite.


The children went absolutely crazy-nuts for these beans. They ate fast and heaped their plate with seconds. The boys, especially, couldn’t stop raving. "What do you mean these are hobo beans?" my older son said. "They should be called kingly beans!"

I put the leftovers in the freezer and my children have rebuked me ever since.

“Why did you freeze them!”
“We want to eat them now!”
“When will you get them out?”
“Can we have them for supper tonight?”

Moral: library books are nourishing in more ways than one.


Hobo Beans
Adapted from a recipe found in Casey Jones, retold by Larry Dane Brimner.

This recipe is similar to a thick chili. I served it in bowls (no condiments), with cornbread and a green salad. It would also be good ladled over rice or egg noodles, or served with biscuits or mountains of buttered toast.

I’m not sure of the exact quantity of the beans I used. I had a huge pot simmering on the stove, and I just scooped from there. Perhaps two quarts of cooked beans? Three? Also, the beans had been flavored with garlic, onion, tomatoes, and chile cobanero.

Do not omit the pineapple.

3-6 slices bacon, chopped and cooked till crispy
2 pounds ground beef
1-2 large onions, chopped
1 pound dried red beans, cooked
1 cup crushed pineapple, briefly drained
1 cup brown sugar, gently packed
1 pint tomato sauce (I used roasted)
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
splash of vinegar

Fry the bacon in a large skillet. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the ground beef and onions to the pan (don’t remove the bacon grease!) and fry until browned and thoroughly cooked.

Combine the cooked beef, the bacon, and all remaining ingredients in a slow-cooker. Cook on high-heat for a couple hours until bubbling. Let simmer a couple more hours so the flavors meld. Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

home education series: on the relevancy of growing onions

Continued from 

***

This latest Sunday school class, the one where we had a panel of homeschool parents, was both wonderful and frustrating.

It was wonderful because the panel participants reflected a wide range of homeschool practices and approaches and were concise and deeply personal in the sharing of them. It was also wonderful because the room was filled with people who listened hard and asked thoughtful questions. The frustrating part was that the post-panel conversation never got to the heart of education: learning.

This is curious. Because if, in a conversation specifically dedicated to education, a group of people (academics, no less!) can completely sidestep the central reason for an educational system—teaching knowledge to our children—maybe learning isn't what education is all about? Wouldn't that be something.

Back when I met with the Sunday school class leaders—two friends who are advocates of the public school system—I found myself struggling to explain why lumping homeschooling in with public and private schooling felt wrong. It was like a question on an achievement test: circle the one item in the group that doesn’t belong. In this case, the answer, of course, would be homeschooling.

See, when discussing public and private schooling, the conversation takes place within a framework of Institution. But homeschooling is outside of that framework. Homeschooling takes the concept of education and strips away all the trappings. As a result, the conversation immediately becomes extremely basic: what is learning and how do we go about doing it?

Except that we can’t get to that conversation!

In the class response time, I sensed a deep opposition to and anxiety about homeschooling from a few of the people. I'm beginning to wonder if these strong emotions might be a result of our Anabaptist/Mennonite history.

See, a few generations back, the Mennonite church separated itself from the world by dress (for those of you who aren’t familiar with Mennonites, think Amish but not quite). After a couple generations, the church stopped with the head coverings and cape dresses and became “worldly” again, but then the church struggled with how to be relevant to the world. For some Mennonites (as well as for many other Christians regardless of denomination) (so maybe this is a Christian issue?), transforming the country’s institutions, such as the public school system, through hands-on involvement became tremendously important. As a result, when church members pull their children out of the school system to educate at home, to these social justice minded Mennonites it feels like the church is, once again, in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Of course, I don’t know this for a fact. I’m just wondering.

Funny thing is, none of the parents on the panel decided to homeschool out of opposition to the school system. They just wanted to teach their children at home.

People who opt out of the school system are no more shunning society than people who plant vegetable gardens. Sure, some people are delightfully radical about their vegetables; they grow food so they can be self-reliant, or because they feel it is their moral and ethical responsibility. But more often then not, people (even the ones who are radical about it) grow vegetables because they find joy in coaxing food from dirt.

Newsflash: plucking onions from the soil with your own two dirty hands instead of purchasing them in a plastic mesh bag under florescent lighting doesn’t make a person irrelevant to society. It makes a person a gardener.

Isn’t it the freedom to discover what brings us joy at the heart of a healthy society? Aren’t our very differences—our lifestyle choices, religious practices, and values—what makes us interesting?

Homeschooling is simply a different way of educating our children. It’s a personal choice, and that, in itself, is enough to make it a relevant one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

the quotidian (1.20.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Cogitating.



No more scraps.


Gamers.


Proceed with caution.


Greed.



Trashy.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

cream cheese dip

Don't panic. The home education series is not over. I just need a couple days to ruminate. 
("Ruminate" is such a gross-sounding word. It makes me think of cows, grass, multiple stomachs. 
I should probably delete the word entirely, except it's exactly what I'm going to do: 
chew over ideas for hours on end. Moo.)

***

Last week when I had to take my daughter to visit the oral surgeon, a friend kindly agreed to watch the other kids. On the way to their house, I was flying late (a result of leaving home without the medical papers and then returning only to discover that they were in my bag all along), so I dropped the kids at her door and burned rubber. But on my way back, I went in to say hi and thanks.

Platters of snacks were on the table: Brie cheese and rice crackers (who do you know who sets out Brie cheese for children, I ask you?  I am entirely too selfish for such absurd generosities), and carrot sticks and dip.

The dip intrigued me, not because it was fancy (though it did appear dressy, what with being all studded with minced green chives and red peppers) but because it wasn’t. Just cream cheese mashed up with vegetables—so good. Plus, I liked the idea of setting out veggies and dip for children. (They did, too. They set upon those goodies like ain’t nobody’s business.)

On Saturday, after splurging on a red pepper and a little plastic box of fresh chives from the grocery store (I dole out the dough on ice cream so why not veggies?), I made the dip and set it out with a mini mountain of red pepper slices and carrot and celery sticks. Partway through the afternoon, I refreshed the plate with more carrots and celery. By evening, it was all gone.


Cream Cheese Dip
Adapted from my girlfriend MAC.

I added some sour cream to thin the dip, but it probably wasn’t necessary. In another batch, I added a bit of Worcestershire sauce since like I do when making a cheese ball. Again, it was good, but not necessary. The onion, however, is absolutely, positively, and entirely essential.

4 ounces cream cheese
1-2 tablespoons minced red pepper
1-2 tablespoons minced chives
2-4 teaspoons minced onion
1-2 tablespoons sour cream, optional
dash of Worcestershire sauce, optional

Mash/mix/stir thoroughly. Serve with raw veggies and/or crackers.

Friday, January 17, 2014

home education series: the things people say

Continued from 

***

Most people readily concede that homeschoolers might be able to learn multiplication facts and coordinating conjunctions from their kitchen table, but when it comes to the non-academic stuff, they have their doubts.

“What about socialization?” they say.

And, “But I want my children to know how to relate to people who are different from them!”

“Oh, just think of all the children are missing!”

School includes so much more than just academics. In school, children make friends, take field trips, participate in clubs, play sports, act in plays, join choirs and bands, volunteer, and experience different cultures. Take school out of the childhood equation, and the void appears staggering. How do homeschooling families compensate? Could they even, if they tried?

The short answer is, Yes, homeschool families compensate, more easily and thoroughly than many people realize. Life-learning happens outside of school, too.

Below, I’ve jotted down a few of the most oft-heard assumptions and some brief rebuttals to go with.







Myth Number One

If you don’t go to school and hang out with a group of people the same age, five days a week, for twelve years, you won’t know how to relate to people.

FACT: Socialization happens when relating to neighbors, church members, employers, grandparents, doctors, clerks, siblings, and friends. There is no need to force it.


Myth Number Two

If you don’t interact with people who speak a different language or who are a different skin color on a daily basis when you are young, you will never know how to deal with someone who is different from you.

FACT: diversity is everywhere. Learning to respect and love your family and a few close friends lays the groundwork for loving and respecting all sorts of people. (It’s the diversity that’s closest to us—mother-in-law, spouse, dear friends—that rankles most.)


Myth Number Three

Homeschoolers weaken the community because homeschooling families are not involved in the school system.

FACT: the community is much bigger than the school system. There are many ways to be involved, to give back, and to help out.


Myth Number Four

Homeschoolers are awkward, isolated, and stunted.

FACT: probably not any more than anyone else.

Myth Number Five

Homeschool parents have super-human levels of patience and goodness. They are a different breed.

FACT: If you can parent, you can homeschool. This is different from deciding that homeschooling is the way you want to parent.


Myth Number Six

All homeschoolers are ultraconservative (or super protective or raging against the school system, whatever-whatever and etc).
FACT: some are; many are not. But if I want people to allow for my different ideas, then I need to allow for theirs.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

home education series: on being burned at the stake (or not)

Continued from

***

Our town is hopping with Mennonite schools—elementary, middle and high school, university, and seminary. Many of the people at our church are employed by these institutions as professors, school board members, deans, and counselors. Still more are parents of students, graduates, or current students themselves. It’s a heady congregation. Academia is cherished.

Along with all that scholarly love, there is an huge (and wonderful!) emphasis on serving the greater community. As Christians, we believe we are to work for peace and justice and serve our neighbor. With these two values—education and service—uppermost in people's minds, it only makes sense that many would feel that serving through the educational system is the way to go.

So there I was last Sunday, in front of this group of social justice academics, trying to explain the viability of homeschooling. How could I share my belief that school systems might not be the be-all and end-all? How was I to explain that keeping my children out of school is not synonymous with shirking my social responsibilities?

I started with an analogy, one that I figured should make sense considering we're an Anabaptist church and all.

Analogy


Five hundred years ago or so, the Catholic church was the ruling institution. It governed through religion, economics, and politics, and it told people what they should believe. Then along came this group of people that said, “Hey, we want to do church differently!” and they were known as Anabaptists.  

The Anabaptists said, “We don’t need a priest to read the Bible for us. Heck, we don’t need a priest at all. Everyone can be priests! We don’t need a church building. We can worship anywhere! We don’t need sacraments. We’ll make up our own meaningful traditions!” 

And they were burned at the stake.

Nowadays, the school system is a central institution, thickly involved in politics and economics. It decides what people should learn, as well as when and how. Then along came this group of people that said, “Hey, we want to do learning differently!” and they became known as Homeschoolers. 

The homeschoolers said, “We don’t need certified teachers to pass on knowledge. We can teach our own! We don’t need a school building. We can learn anywhere—outside, inside, upside down! We don’t need classrooms and grades. We can learn at our own speed and based on our own interests!” 

And they were not burned at the stake, glory hallelujah.  

End of Analogy

***

P.S. I am not opposed to either the Catholic church or schools. I married a Catholic, and I come from a family of teachers. I’m the product of all three forms of education: four years of private, three of homeschool, six of public, and four of private university, and when my husband and I went to Guatemala last year, we enrolled our children in private school.

P.P.S. For more information about those crazy Anabaptists, watch The Radicals and check out The Martyrs Mirror. (Don't blame me if you have nightmares.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

home education series: when a scholar marries a hunk of reality

For the past month and a half, I have been living and breathing homeschool ideas, myths, theories, and practices. I get so caught up in thinking and writing that sometime I can't sleep. This is exciting stuff, people.

It all started when one of our church's issue-based adult Sunday school classes decided to do a series on the three different educational methods: homeschool, public, and private. Last Sunday I presented to the class about homeschooling, and this next Sunday I will moderate a panel of homeschooling parents (there are at least six families that are currently homeschooling). What follows will be a series on Home Education based on excerpts from my presentation.

Never before have I written so straight-forwardly about homeschooling. It’s going to take me a few posts to peel back all the layers, so hang tight. I welcome questions, additions, rebuttals, and confessions. Let's have fun with this!

***

Preamble

My philosophy about education is the same as my philosophy about child birth. All too often, judgement gets passed on a particular practice—home, hospital, midwife center, whatever—without actually understanding it or why someone might choose it.

I don't care what birthing (or educational) method people pick, but I do want them to be informed. Know the facts. Consider who is handing out the glossy brochures and why. Talk to the little people. Listen and ask questions. Be gracious.

When they do all that (or at least give it an honest shot), then it's fine to draw lines and pick sides. However, after all that mind-stretching pondering, my hunch (and hope) is that the lines will be lightly dotted instead of heavy and solid.

***

I always thought I’d marry an academic. A seminary student, perhaps, or a philosopher with a scraggly beard. Instead, I fell in love with a carpenter.


John was not an academic. As a child, he had struggled to learn to read. He did poorly in school, even—gasp—failing a couple classes. He took one year of college before dropping out and meeting me (not because he met me).

At first, I was caught off-guard by his razor-sharp mind. How was it that this non-scholar could be my straight-A-self equal? He couldn’t read words he hadn’t already memorized, writing was an agony, and he spelled like a caveman. And yet he loved to read, knew all sorts of random information, and was extremely gifted with his hands. Clearly, intelligence was not the issue.

I would never have admitted that I thought blue-collar workers were Less Than because that wouldn’t be politically correct or cool, but I did. Engaging in class lectures, whipping out essays, and acing tests was a high-level skill! Not everybody could navigate the academic pressures so smartly! My beliefs were reinforced by the greater culture. Good students got the grades, the smiles, and the awards. I could hardly be faulted for confusing “good student” with “good person.”

But John, despite being smart, didn’t have that same sense of school-induced self worth that I did. I shouldn't have been surprised. A dozen years of struggling in a system that highlighted his inadequacies, labeled him learning disabled, and frowned at his efforts couldn't help but leave a lasting mark.

Bit by bit, my culturally-taught assumptions began to crumble. Perhaps good grades weren’t the best indicator of intelligence? Perhaps "learning disabled" was simply "learning different"? Maybe schools didn’t have such a good handle on education after all?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

through the kitchen window

Saturday was the warmest it’s been in a couple weeks, but the clouds were swollen black and kept leaking water. I got out for a walk in the morning, but by evening I was feeling twitchy-depressed anyway. When darkness fell—the natural kind, not the sky-with-a-mood-disorder kind—my spirits lifted. No longer did I feel like I was being squashed whenever I looked out the window.


But I must confess: I blew my top that last hour of daylight. The kids wouldn’t stop bickering and yelling. For some inexplicable reason, they insisted on sharing my space—all stinking four of them. I couldn’t think straight for all the irritability and cantankerousness. So I stepped outside and hollered at my husband to come here right this very minute.

When he walked in the door, I leveled him with my beady eye and hissed, “I can not take another second of being with these children. Get them out of the house. Now.”

The children out of the house, I switched on radiolab and started puttering around the kitchen. All too soon, my older son slipped back in. “May I go to my room? Dad says it’s fine with him if it’s fine with you.”

Ten minutes later he was back down, sheepishly begging permission to use the computer. Permission not granted (silly boy), but “Wanna cook with me?”


And that’s how it came to be that I spent a cozy Saturday evening (or half hour or so) working in the kitchen with my older son. He mixed the wet ingredients into the dry for the peanut butter and honey granola, whisked the homemade pancake syrup, and peeled and chopped apples while I rolled out the pastry for a pie. We chit-chatted, much of our conversation jump-started by the radio news—stuff about homosexuality and laws, birth control, etc. How should the government respond to people who feel the laws are in direct opposition to their ethics? It was fun to hear his thoughts.




"What are you doing?" and "Can I come in yet?"
(Not sure why she's holding her nose. Maybe it was cold?)

He told me that he used to think "terrorists were just angry tourists" which pretty much made my day.

Maybe even my week.


Then the rest of the family trickled in. They got showers and munched on the veggies and dip I had sitting out for most of the day.

the ever-fighting sisters 

The children ate leftover oatmeal. We popped popcorn and watched Searching for Bobby Fischer. There was apple pie and vanilla ice cream for a bedtime snack.

And wouldn't you know, the sunset was lovely.

Monday, January 13, 2014

the quotidian (1.13.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


The littlest clown.


A treat: me and my girls, Barnes and Nobles unlimited, and coffee.



My seat, in a week of appointments.


Pretty: we've made the switch to cloth napkins! 
(Thanks to Cousin Zoe.)



Rocking the sexy apron.
(Thanks to Mavis.)


The chaos that is art.


Appropriate technology.







Son: What’s the biggest state in Virginia that’s about half the size of America? 
Friend: Alaska!
Because obviously.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

one year and one day

One year and one day ago, we left home and set out on our Guatemala Adventure. I’m a little shocked that we actually did it.

The other day my younger son said, out of the blue, “Grin-gee? Gin-ger? Gang-ga? What’s it called, Mom?”

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” I said.

And then, “Gringo! Gringo!” he shouted happily, suddenly remembering.


I have no idea why he was trying to recall that particular word, but the fact that he was trying—and that he couldn’t figure it out at first—made my throat constrict. Their Spanish is slipping away. The experience is disappearing. What was so real six short months ago is turning into a blurry memory. Done. Over. Gone.

Everything fades, I know. I’ve had lots of rich experiences that have ended: college, falling in love, living in Nicaragua, pregnancies, etc. But they are mine to experience, to mull over, to savor, to lose. Giving my children an experience and then watching it fade from their memories feels different. I grieve their loss. Is that sappy?

I haven’t found a good way to keep up their Spanish. Reading books out loud to them was exactly as I feared it would be—forced and unappreciated. So I gave it up and now we’re watching movies in Spanish. We’re going through the Harry Potter series, about a half hour a day. Occasionally, I boss them around in Spanish to see if they understand. (They do.)

Guatemala—a world of rolling rs and cheek kisses and crowded buses and fresh fruit juices—is so different from Virginia. It's hard to hold both worlds together, easier instead to keep them at arm's length from each other. In order to move about in one, the other needs to be forgotten, or at least placed firmly on the back burner. Otherwise, it's too awkward. And yet, I know both. When in one, there is a pull towards the other. That's just the way of it.



In one world, missing the other. 

We are very much settled back into life here, though certain things still stand out to me.

1. Cheap food. Almost every time I go shopping, I am surprised at how inexpensive groceries are. This may seem weird, especially after I talked about how cheap the market food was. But here, it’s the meats and cheeses and everything else that’s inexpensive. Plus, everything goes on special at one time or another (except for large Shredded Wheat biscuits).

2. Stocking up. In Guatemala, I got accustomed to buying just enough to get me through to the next shopping trip (which, if you remember, was every day or two) and not having any storage space—it’s taken me a surprisingly long time to turn myself around. I am getting better at buying in bulk, although I have yet to order any 50-pound sacks of oats or 7-pound blocks of cheese. (I don’t want to go back to overboard buying, either. It’s all about finding a new balance.)

3. I can’t get over how many cars are on the road. They are big and shiny and everywhere, all the time. And they aren’t held together with twine.

4. Likewise, I can’t get over all the stuff. I go into homes (mine included!) and can’t help but notice the abundance of closets and shelves and cabinets and how every single one of those things is filled to the brim and overflowing with stuff, stuff, stuff. And not just any old stuff, but nice stuff. Stuff that costs money and will last a good while. If I think about it long enough, I can get a little dizzy.

***

I spent a good portion of my day scrolling through photos, remembering, pondering, savoring, and now I'm verklempt.

Do I wish we were back? No.
Do I miss it? Not too much.

Was it hard? Yes.
Would I do it all over again? Yes.
Am I glad we went? Yes, yes, and yes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

date nut bread

When we were up in Pennsylvania, I ate a little slice of something that my cousin made. I didn’t know what I was eating at first. Just a piece of dark fruity bread, I thought. But it was deliciously sticky tender and sweet.

“I want the recipe,” I hollered at her across the crowded kitchen. And then I yelled it again. I wanted to make sure she heard me.

She did, and the next day the recipe showed up in my inbox. It looked frightfully boring. No spices, no fancy technique, nothing. However, I decided that if I took a fancy to some particular dish in the midst of the holiday glut, then it would behoove me to make it regardless of how dull it appeared on paper.


When I turned the loaf out, a bit of the bread stuck to the bottom of the pan. I tasted it (the bread, not the pan) and then, all sense of propriety forgotten, ripped off a whole hunk and scarfed it down right then and there. I repeated the ripping and scarfing procedure several times in quick succession before pulling myself together.

Nearly every morning since, I cut a thick slice to go with my coffee. I think about the bread all day (this is not an exaggeration), looking forward to the next calorie diminutive period of my life when I might indulge in another slice, perhaps with a cup of tea this time.

I haven’t offered the bread to the rest of my family for two reasons: 1) I doubt they would appreciate it, as they are deterred by nuts in bread, and 2) I don’t want to share.


Date Nut Bread
From my cousin Zoe.

For the toasted pecans: I tossed them about in a hot skillet until they were fragrant (about 6-8 minutes) before chopping them to bits.

Also, I used a mix of a gluten-free flour blend and white flour because I was out of whole wheat.

1 cup boiling water
1 cup chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup flour
salt, a pinch
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Put the chopped dates and baking soda in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water over top. Let sit while assembling the remaining ingredients.

In a large bowl, stir (or cut) the butter into the sugar. (I used a fork for this step.) Whisk in the egg and vanilla. Add the flours and salt. Stir in the dates and water. Add the nuts.

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Start checking it at 40 minutes. (Zoe said it should take about 1 hour and 15 minutes, but my bread was done in a little under an hour.) Let cool for 10 minutes before running a knife around the edge of the pan and turning the bread out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. I eat it plain, but it’s also delicious with butter, cream cheese, or Nutella.