Monday, June 30, 2014

the quotidian (6.30.14)

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


With peanut butter and Biscoff spread.

(Although, with tweaking, the dressing has promise.) 
(Also, I would probably prefer the chickpeas un-roasted.)

My babies left me!

He found some steel wool.

And then I made limeade.

Do you see what is happening here?

Sibling love. 

This same time, years previous: blueberry pie, goat cheese whipped cream, drying apricots, red beet greens, and a potential problem

Saturday, June 28, 2014

on switching homeschooling styles (maybe)

“Hey, Jennifer,” a fellow congregant mouthed to me under his breath as we entered the sanctuary last Sunday morning. “I have to tell you something that happened on my flight.”

So after the service, in the fellowship hall...

Him: On the plane, I sat beside this woman who homeschools her kids, except she doesn’t use any structure!

Me: Yeah, that’s called unschooling.

Him: No curriculum, no structure, no nothing! And her husband is in the military. Isn’t that weird?

Me: Well, no curriculum doesn’t mean an absence of structure. They probably make their own schedule. Unschooling is actually a pretty big thing in the homeschooling world.

And then I listed off names of mutual acquaintances that practice no-curriculum learning. I wished I could add our names to the list, but I can’t count myself in that camp. At least, not ... yet.

Clarification: I’m not crazy about the term “unschooling.” I think it sounds negative, defensive, and in-your-face. I prefer the term Self-Directed Learning—you know, that crazy wonderful thing that kids do from the get-go and that adults do all the time? It’s also more commonly known as Just Living.

I’ve been doing lots of reading about how children, when left to their own devices, delve into all kinds of interesting things, pushing themselves to grow and develop in amazing ways. Oodles of studies, coupled with (even just a minimal dose of) Common Sense, says we learn best when we have the freedom to follow our interests. When taking a close look at the effects of self-directed learning, it's clear that these people—the ones who have been encouraged to practice it from the very beginning—do just fine in life. In many cases they do even better—far better—than the average Joe Shmoe.

On the one hand I get this. I believe it. It makes sense.

And yet, I haven’t chosen this homeschooling method for our family because ... I’m afraid.

What am I afraid of? Oh, you know, the normal stuff. I’m afraid:

*my children won’t be equipped to get what they want to get out of life.
*my children will turn into lumpies that roll around on the floor all day long moaning about how bored they are (like their mother does—one of us per household is plenty nuff, I say).
*they won’t challenge themselves to work hard.
*they won’t push themselves out of their comfort zone.
*they’ll be lazy.
*I’ll feel at loose ends because I’ll have to abdicate my rights as Brilliant Big Boss.

But wait a sec. Aren’t these the same concerns that most parents have? WILL OUR CHILDREN SUCCEED, we stress. ARE WE DOING ENOUGH. IS THIS THE RIGHT WAY. And so to tamp down our freak-out anxiety, we push and prod and boss because it gives us the illusion that we’re in control. Illusions are so comforting. (They also happen to be lies.)

So anyway. I'm telling you all this because I’m in the midst of some serious self-examination with the very real side possibility of change. The threat of a comfort zone shake-up jacks up the stakes a bit. My mind is roiling. What do all these words and ideas actually mean for our family? Am I audacious enough to make such a switch?

(I wonder what my husband will say when he reads this. Um, Honey? What do you think? Need a brown bag to breathe into?)

As I contemplate making a shift, I’ve been thinking about each of my children. How would they respond to full-time self-directed learning? I’m fairly relaxed about the younger children’s studies, so it’s mainly the two older ones who would be most affected. My older daughter is what I’d call a natural at self-directed learning. She’s a go-getter with defined passions. My older son, on the other hand, is much less specific in his interests. He’s relational, an idea-person, but with no (apparent) fire under his butt.

The other night I presented him with a scenario. “Son,” I said, “what if I told you that you are no longer a student? Instead, you are a researcher and Papa and I are your support team. We’ll get you what you need in order to research what you're interested in. Say we did this—what would you want to research, hm?”

He couldn’t come up with anything. Which made me wonder: maybe not everyone has the ability to be a self-directed learner? Maybe some people need to be directed and pushed?

A couple days ago, exasperated by the disparity between the articles I was reading (kids are amazing! let them do their own thing!) and the lack of drive I was observing in my own child, I called up an unschooling mom (who refers to their style of education as Life Learning). Turns out, her young teen has similar issues.

So then I started to wonder: maybe this lackadaisical attitude is normal at this age? Maybe most kids are like this, but our culture masks it with the busybusy of sports, classes, and clubs? Maybe Floundering is an important developmental stage?

I settled back on the sofa and resumed my reading. Just a few minutes in, I happened upon an article in which a young teenager said of early adolescence, "It's kind of like being a snake, getting read to shed its skin. When they are getting to shed their skin, their eyes cloud completely over and they have no idea where they are going."

I shot up off the couch, crowing with glee because Yes, that’s it EXACTLY. Young teens! Clouded-over eyes! Molting skin! Can I get an amen?

Growth can’t be rushed, not mine, not my children’s. It happens from the inside out. Understanding and accepting this is the first step towards self-directed learning.

I'm not there just yet, but I do believe I’m on my way.


Written with inspiration from Natural Born Learners: Unschooling and Autonomy in Education, Freedom to Learn (which I already told you about), the blog of Penelope Trunk, the blog of Peter Gray, etc.

Photos brought to you by The Puppy Cuteness Overload Board.

This same time, years previous: three things, weight in, please, my ethical scapegoat, on slaying boredom, cilantro beet salad, the quotidian (6.25.12), dark chocolate zucchini cake, chocolate peanut butter cake, spaghetti with fresh herbs and fried eggs, a break in the clouds, sour cherry crostatas, driving lesson, lemon ice cream with red raspberries, slushy mojitos, beef empanadas, honeyed apricot almond cake, oregano, garlic, and lemon roast chicken, there's a red beet where my head used to be, and brown bread.

Friday, June 20, 2014

in recovery

Last night I sat on the porch swing and cried my way through to the end of The Fault in our Stars. I don’t make it a practice of crying when I read books (unless I’m reading them out loud—then I’m completely worthless), but this one shot my record all to smithereens.

Actually, “cry” isn’t the right word. I sobbed, complete with snot, chest-heaving, and guttural sound effects.  My older daughter kept peering out the window and saying, “Gosh, Mom,” and then yelling to the rest of the family, “You oughta see her! She’s really crying!

It was all good though. There was no trauma in the emotional turmoil, no fear or angst, just a piercing sadness mixed with profound peace. Cleansing therapy, it was.

Then I made my husband stay up until midnight watching Her with me. Poor guy was crawling out of his skin, but he stuck with it.

So today I’m in recovery. I baked a pie, fed the kids leftovers for lunch, supervised some deep cleaning, and just finished off a piece of boozy chocolate cake. I’m contemplating curling up and doing some more reading—exactly three books are calling my name, lucky me—but I’m trying to balance all the reading with a small bit of writing output.

Which I just did, so now I’m done, good-bye.

PS. Photo: courtesy of Just Because.

This same time, years previous: walking through water, the quotidian (6.19.12), refried beans, what I got, cabbage apple slaw with buttered pecans, swiss chard rolls, and strawberry margarita cake.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

the case of the slipping snood

Last weekend I was in a play. It was a small affair—it ran just two nights—about Elder John Kline who was assassinated in these here parts back in 1864. I played Orra Langhorne (what were her parents thinking, naming her Orra?!). I had two monologues, and that was that.

Confession: I wasn’t too keen on doing monologues. Dialogue is fun and monologues are rather lonely affairs. But I decided that I might as well tackle the evil monologue because it’s good to have a handle on these things. You never know when they’ll come in handy, right? Besides, I've been wanting to learn more about theater and the director would be working with me one-on-one, so it’d kind of be like a tutoring workshop/class. Which is what it was, so that was nice. Says Pollyanna.

Anyway. Friday night’s show went down smooth as cream. Saturday’s show, not so much.

For my role, I dressed English (as opposed to plain Mennonite/Brethren) in a blue gown and hoop skirt. My bangs got ringletted and the rest of my (short) hair got twisted back, pinned to the breaking point, sprayed to death with liquid concrete, and covered with a knitted snood. I looked like a cross between Miss O’Brian and Louisa May Alcott.

So Saturday night, I walked out on stage to say my piece. The lights went up and I started talking. A few sentences in and I was suddenly struck with the awful realization that my snood was slipping. It’d gone all loose on the right side and the left side was pinching something fierce, probably because the whole thing was hanging from just a few pins.

I couldn’t touch my snood because my hands were full of pencil and notebook. Besides, there’d be nothing I could do about it if it was dangling. So I angled my head this way and that, trying to catch a glimpse of my shadow. Then it occurred to me that I’d soon have to stand up and turn, making the slipping snood completely visible to the audience. Should I not turn? Should I just halfway angle myself? Oh dear.

The whole time this was going on, I was talking talking talking...about conveyance of property and hanks of blue thread and the lives of Union men being in danger. Or at least that’s what I think I was saying. For all I know, I was telling a tale about Scooby Doo bouncing a soccer ball over the moon.

Really, it was the oddest thing. I could see my running commentary, complete with words and punctuation, scrolling across the right side of my brain. And the left side of my brain was carrying the script. I couldn’t—or wouldn’t?—shut off my internal chatter. It was as though in the absence of fellow cast members to push against, I was upping the ante to keep myself engaged.

I have no idea if signs of my internal battle were visible to the audience. But I do know that I must do better at controlling my mind. When I’m not present in the moment, all the joy goes out of acting. Which kinda defeats the whole purpose, me thinks.

Next show’s in August: Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun. I’m the doctor. Bonus: no monologues, no slipping snoods.

PS. Turns out, my snood was not slipping. My mic was taped extra tight which created a pulling sensation.

This same time, years previous: magic custard cake, a dare, cold-brewed iced tea and coffee, and how to freeze spinach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

dobby and luna

When we were in Guatemala, our cat ran off (or got run over, no one knows). Ever since we got back, I’ve been wanting to get another cat. Country houses need cats because of this unpleasant situation called Mice.

Cats eat mice.

Cats are good.

The problem was, Charlotte is kinda persistent in the Destroy Other Animals department. Last year, she killed two chickens. She’s great at catching random field rodents (as good as a cat, probably, so, um, maybe cats aren’t as necessary as I think?), and she's been known to chase Francie down and steal her prey right out of her mouth.

So based on Charlotte's aggressive nature, we were pretty sure cute kittens wouldn’t stand a chance. But then Charlotte got pregnant and started moving slower. And slower. And s l o w e r. She was so fat she tripped climbing stairs. And I was like, Aha! Now’s the time to get kittens!

And then I learned that the spay and neuter clinic had a discount on fixings this month—twenty bucks per dog or cat. So I put out some queries and found kittens that were at least eight weeks old (the age they have to be for getting fixed). Before picking them up, I scheduled their appointments at the clinic. I wanted to be positively certain we got in on that special.

Last week we picked up the kittens from some down-the-road neighbors. After their initial hissing-and-spitting-at-everything-that-moved phase (the kittens, not the neighbors), the kittens transformed into relaxed, playful, purring bundles of fuzz.

And Charlotte leaves them alone, hallelujah.

This same time, years previous: language study and this particular Friday.

Monday, June 16, 2014

the quotidian (6.16.14)

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

Good morning!

Involving lots of butter: a tasty (but not perfected) 'speriment.

Backwards gardening: emptying the patch so we can till up the weeds. 
(I only planted enough onions for fresh eating so it's not that scandalous.)

Preventative measures: a heat wave is coming.

The milk from our neighbors came with a half gallon of cream. 

Sunshine and eggs.

Porchin' it.
(Except "porchin" means smoking weed on the porch, so not really.)

Do I look this sour when I write?

Our vet-trained, non-vet neighbor is going to teach my daughter to do all the vaccines herself.

Well, hello there, gorgeous.

This same time, years previous: street food, this, too, shall pass, a glimpse, when I sat down, Kate's enchiladasnaps and mowers, quirky, and old-fashioned vanilla ice cream.

Friday, June 13, 2014

spinach dip

I about chucked the lastest Bon Appetit. The first recipe I made—the cover one, no less—was impressively underwhelming (though I did appreciate the holes-in-top-crust method), and the second recipe—a Burmese Coconut Cake—was nothing short of horrific.

The cake called for semolina and coconut milk, and I was all like, Oh yum, this looks unique and potentially delicious so yay. Turned out, it tasted like a piece of beach that someone dropped a coconut on: grayish-brown, sandy-wet, and one hundred percent inedible. The dogs loved it.

I tiptoed into the third recipe with a fair bit of trepidation. Cooked, chopped spinach, green onions, mint, sour cream, hm. It sounded perfect but trust had been broken. I wasn’t sure the magazine had any integrity left.

I’m pleased to report, the dip was fine. Redemptive, even (because it kept me from giving up on the magazine all together). It kind of reminded me of that artichoke dip that shows up at all female gatherings—you know, the one that’s served warm and bubbling under a crunchy cap of buttery bread crumbs?—because women are fools for tangy, creamy, rich. This dip is all those things, but plus mint and minus the artichokes, heat, and crumbs. Perfect for summer.

PS. No one in my immediate family liked it, but all your girlfriends will. Promise.

Spinach Dip
Adapted from the June 2014 issue of Bon Appetit.

I didn't measure my spinach. I just picked a bowlful from the garden and called it Good Enough.

4 cups fresh spinach, packed (or 6 cups not packed)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
salt and black pepper
pita chips or crackers, for serving

Boil a pot of salted water. Dump in the spinach and cook for 30 seconds. Remove spinach and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well, pressing on the spinach to release all the liquid. Chop the spinach.

Combine the spinach, onion, sour cream, and mint. Season well with the S&P. Let rest for a bit to blend flavors. Serve with pita chips or crackers.

This same time, years previous: the business of belonging, stuff, garbled, Greek cucumber and tomato salad, sourdough waffles, microwave flower press, freezing strawberries, strawberry shortcake, and brown butter noodles with ham and buttered peas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

mud cake

A couple weeks ago, I developed a deep and abiding craving for chocolate. Not candy chocolate, but a homemade chocolate confection. Preferably cake.

I sat with the craving for awhile, mulling it over, pondering the pros and cons of each idea that flitted across my mental dashboard. And then Joe Pastry wrote about a mud cake, and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that mud cake was The Answer.

So I made it and it was.

The end.

Mud Cake
Adapted from Joe Pastry’s blog.

1 cup butter
1 cup (8 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules (or espresso powder)
½ cup cocoa powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup sour milk (or buttermilk)

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so. (Do not over heat or the chocolate will scorch.) Stir till smooth and creamy.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, coffee granules, cocoa, soda, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs and milk and whisk to combine. Stir in the melted chocolate—do not over-mix.

Pour the batter into a 9-inch springform pan that has been greased and lined with parchment and then greased again. Bake the cake at 325 degrees for an hour and twenty minutes, maybe a bit less. My cake puffed up high at first, and then it sank around the hour and ten minute mark. I think I took it out at about 1 1/4 hours since I wanted it to be damp, not dry.

Cool completely before removing from the pan. I ate it plain, mostly, but it’d be fab with coffee ice cream or whipped cream and berries.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.10.13), the books we took, the quotidian (6.11.12), sheet shortcake, white chocolate and dried cherry scones, and stirring the pot (on homeschooling).  

Monday, June 9, 2014

the quotidian (6.9.14)

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

A gift from a friend: delivered to my door. 
One batch of concentrate down. Several more to go. (I hope.)

The view from my post-run stretching position.

All the flowers in all the cups.

So far so good.

This is what happens when you have a friend who is a 7th grade English teacher 
and she wants her personal library to get some use over the summer.

My solution to the no-wrapping-paper situation.

This same time, years previous: thorns, last Sunday morning, playing hard, Jeni's chocolate ice cream, mint tea concentrate, and tumbling down.  

Friday, June 6, 2014


After all that tedious, exhausting, mind-numbing waiting, the puppies finally arrived, all eight of them.



It all started (or so we thought) yesterday morning when our daughter, who had been having sleepovers with Charlotte in the downstairs bedroom, banged on the ceiling (our bedroom floor) at two o'clock. We hustled downstairs to find Charlotte nesting furiously, whining and panting, etc. But after an hour of hoopla, she up and fell asleep, the stinker.

The next morning we decided my daughter could go to work like normal.

But then Charlotte refused to eat her breakfast ... hmm, interesting.
She did, however, accept an egg ... so, never mind.
And then she threw it up ... Oh. (!!!)

So my daughter decided not to go to work after all. She spent the morning reading beside a panting, panting, panting Charlotte who could barely be persuaded to leave the whelping box to go pee and poop (diarrhea! progress!).

The hours ticked by.

Charlotte: pant-pant-pant.

Daughter: read-read-read.

Me: mope-mope-mope.

And then at 2:30, a mucus plug! Pacing! Whimpering! Brief bouts of pushing! Forty-five minutes later, a couple (semi-terrifying) shrieking howl-barks, and out slipped a ball of black and white wrapped in plastic, or so it appeared. Charlotte licked away the membrane, chewed off the umbilical cord, scarfed the placenta, and woosh—out into the world slipped pup number two, wheee!

For the next several hours, that was the routine. My daughter jotted down the birth times and sexes. The kids took turns calling friends with updates. There was much (poorly) suppressed squealing and jostling to get the best view. The first puppy squeaks and whimpers may have inspired a few ecstatic tears of joy. The cousins came and got to see pups four and five come out. Another girlfriend watched pup seven emerge. My friend and her four kids made it from town in time to see the last delivery. What a party!

Could we possibly get any closer?

Blocking the distress sounds.

Three down, five to go.

Curious cousins.

My older daughter was so buzzed that she couldn’t eat supper. Not until bedtime, a couple hours after the last birth, did she finally calm down enough to eat something.

Charlotte, it turns out, is a champion mother. Except for the time she was licking one puppy’s head while scream-bark birthing another and visions of her jaws clamping down and decapitating the helpless critter flitted across my mind, she has never once shown any signs of ineptitude. In fact, so committed is she to her mothering duties that we have to carry her outside for potty breaks, after which she immediately races back at the door and whines to get in.

I was sightly flummoxed to see all these black and white pups, I must admit. Did Mr. Tiny not fulfill his duty? Was there an imposter? But then I Googled the markings of newborn beagles and was relieved to see that black and white is what they’re supposed to be. It will be fun to see their colors change over the next few weeks.

As for me, I have a new lease on life. That night I made myself a cocktail to celebrate (lime, triple sec, vodka, and seltzer) and this morning I slept in.

It’s good to be on the other side.

This same time, years previous: chocobananas, white icing, of a sun-filled evening, strawberry daiquiri base, and grocery shopping.