Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

Hello out there. I haven't posted in quite some time. I took a spring break from blogging which turned into a summer vacation, which led into the start of the school year, and then of course came the holidays. I did miss it, but just couldn't seem to find the time to start up again. I don't know why, all I do is homeschool three children, drive them all over the place, and cook, and clean, and then there's laundry...

Anyway, what has really surprised me is that my family has been hinting and nagging for me to get back to blogging. They've been making suggestions for articles and even taking pictures for me to post. Turns out, they enjoy the spin that I put on our daily lives. Go figure!

Sooo...I've got a new laptop (and soon I'll figure out how to post pictures on it) and lots of ideas for posts. Tonight I'm going to settle in with some New Year's munchies and plan some articles out, while I try to stay up till midnight. I should probably ask the kids to wake me up at 11:50 or so, just in case.

I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year's Eve. See you next year!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Spark

Thirty odd years ago, in a fourth grade classroom, in a suburban town in New Jersey, I was a little girl who was learning to hate school. My teacher, Miss H., didn't do much to disguise her dislike of me, and that soon affected my attitude toward formal education. Up till then, my teachers had been kindhearted women that appreciated smart, but soft spoken students like myself. Miss H., my mother theorized, disliked me for not being my older brother, a former favorite pupil of hers. He was everything that I wasn't - confident, eager to share in class, and good at math and science.

Miss H., unlike the teachers I had been used to, was big and stout, with a short, no nonsense haircut. She had a booming voice and wasn't afraid to use it to keep order, or to humiliate some poor, hapless daydreamer. Gulp. We were not a match made in Heaven.

I think I racked up more sick days during that school year than any other, due to mysterious aches and pains that came on suddenly every school morning. With her drill sergeant voice and her total lack of sympathy or imagination, Miss H. came very close to destroying my natural curiosity at the tender age of nine. It was only the fact that I was lucky enough to come from a home where learning was not only valued, it was expected, coupled with ending up with a really good teacher for fifth grade that saved me. Well that and strangely, something that Miss H. herself said, something that has stuck with me all of these years.

I had picked up a bad habit during my sojourn in Miss H's class. I would arrive home on the bus everyday, throw my book bag into my room, and spend hours forgetting that there was any such miserable place as school. It was only when my parents made me go do my homework, that I would force myself to do it, and even then I would race through it as quickly as possible.

One night, after I had been tucked into bed, I remembered with horror that in addition to my regular homework, I was supposed to write a first person essay about someone else's imaginary life. I crept out of bed, and quietly turned on my desk lamp, praying that I wouldn't draw the attention of my parents. I'd already been in plenty of hot water about my grades that school year.

I whipped off a couple of paragraphs about being a professional ballerina, something I knew about only from what I'd read in books. I wrote about sore feet, and stage fright, and the feeling of euphoria that came from dancing for an audience. After a quick rereading, I turned out my light and went back to bed.

The next day at school, I handed in my paper, and prepared for another day of torment. It was during reading group time, one of the few pleasures in my day, that Miss H's sharp voice called across the classroom.

Patty, she asked, Did your mother or father help you with your essay?

Feeling indignant at the implication, I replied, No, I wrote it by myself. I waited for the hammer that was surely going to fall.

How do you know what it feels like to be a ballerina? she asked.

I looked at my feet and whispered, I just imagined how it feels.

To my never ending shock, Miss H. stood up, and announced that she had something to say to the whole class. When she had everyone's attention she proclaimed dramatically in words that I remember by heart, Patty has a God-given gift for writing. She then asked me to read my essay aloud to the class. When I finished she ordered told me that I needed to use my talent and share it with the world.

I wish I could say that my relationship with Miss H. improved and my school year turned around. Neither happened. In the years since however, whenever I think about my dreams, I think about her comment, probably one of the most sincere compliments I've ever been given in my life. She gave me a spark that day, an idea that my natural talent could be valued by others, not just by those that loved me.

Have I used my gift? Well, I'm still trying Miss H., I'm still trying.

What about you? Did you ever recieve encouragement from an unexpected source?

linking to:  Pour Your Heart Out

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Guest Post: The Dastardly Dog

I've been sadly behind in posting lately. Homeschooling has been keeping me extra busy...it's quarterly reporting time, and the end of the school year is fast approaching. I hope to be back on track with posting soon. In the meantime, my dog has graciously offered to sit at my laptop today and write a guest post for me. Some of you have already been introduced to her as The Dastardly Dog. Without further ado, I give you Trinket.....

Trinket: Thank you so much for that flattering introduction. I take great pride in my role in the family. You know, a lot of people think dogs have easy lives. Let me assure you that just isn't true. Walk with me, if you will, for a day in my life...the life of a dog.

6:00 am- The alarm clock blares and BadDad gets up to work out. It's hard work to ignore the noise, but I burrow deeper into my blankets and manage to get back to sleep.

7:00 am- WorstMom starts her day. I trot out when I hear her start the coffeemaker. I have to make a quick decision...face going outside now, or bolt for my family room basket? If the weather is bad, I usually try to avoid going out as long as possible.

7:30 am- The kids are stirring now. BadDad heads out for the day. I may see him to the door with a few friendly barks. If I feel like it.

9:00 am- WorstMom is trying to herd everyone up to the schoolroom. Right about now is when I really, really need to go out (perfect timing I know). After I come inside again, I'll pester everyone until they feed me.

9:15 - 11:30 am- Everyone is busy with lessons. I'm busy sleeping in my indoor doghouse in the schoolroom. I like to think my snoring is the perfect white noise to study to.

11:30 am - 12:30 pm- WorstMom throws in laundry, cleans, and starts dinner during her lunch break. I worry that she doesn't have enough to do, so I get her to let me out. After a minute or so I want to come in again. Unless I see a squirrel or rabbit out there. Then I'll bark for awhile to alert the neighborhood. Or, I might take a moment to roll around in something deliciously smelly. The family just loves when I do that!

1:00 - 4:00pm - I have to determine where the family is gathering for the afternoon. If they're reading on the couch, I'll squeeze on there too. If they're back in the schoolroom, that's where I'll be. I'm not one to abandon my post. I'll catch a few more zzzz's while they work.

4:00 - 6:00 pm - This is the danger time. Sometimes they leave the house and accidentally forget to take me. I have to stay focused and watch for any sign of people putting on shoes or coats. The sound of the keys is, of course, a dead giveaway. At the first clue that they might leave I have to follow them around, barking loudly (so they don't forget me). Unfortunately, sometimes this backfires and I end up in my crate. Oh well, it's time for another nap anyway!

6:00 - 10:00 pm - I like to have an early dinner. Sometimes, if I beg enough, more than one person feeds me and I eat twice! By this time, at least some people are usually home and I start my evening routine. I make a choice between the couch or my basket and doze while I wait for the house to quiet down. Eventually I'll trot down the hall to my bedroom basket and call it a night.

Wow! Are you exhausted just looking at my schedule? I know I am! It's been a pleasure to meet you all. Now I'm off for a nap.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I only recently discovered how delicious Brussels Sprouts can be. We never ate them growing up. When I was in college, I thought they were adorable and worth a try. I bought a package and boiled them in my dorm room kitchenette. Disgusting!

My experience with them might have begun and ended there, if my hubby hadn't suggested that we try them a few months ago. Always game to experiment with recipes, I agreed to give them another try. Am I glad I did! Roasting transforms Brussels Sprouts into an amazing treat, crispy on the outside with a creamy, savory center.

They are surprisingly easy to make, given how decadently delicious they turn out. The easiest way, of course, is to buy a bag of frozen, already cleaned Brussels Sprouts. While I enjoy the taste of these just fine, my kids prefer the fresh variety. Of course they somehow manage to absent themselves from the work of preparing them...go figure.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

1 -2 lbs fresh Brussels Sprouts

2 -3 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp chopped garlic

2 tsp sea salt

ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the outer leaves and stem end from Brussels Sprouts. Place in a large roasting pan in a single layer.

Drizzle with olive oil. Add garlic and toss well, until all of the sprouts are evenly coated with oil.

Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and stir again.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until sprouts begin to brown, stirring once. They should be fork tender.

Yields 6-8 servings.

linking to:  Super Link Party

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Transaction

The other day I got the sense that something was going on with my kids that needed my attention. Being the experienced mom that I am, I deduced this merely from hearing the words, Don't tell Mom! hissed by my oldest to his younger siblings. That's what 13 years of parenting will get you!

Just then M-girl came running into the kitchen and informed me that 13 year old K-boy had sold his 6 year old brother an old, handheld video game for the bargain price of $20...a game that might have been worth five dollars brand new.

Over the protests of both boys, I negated the transaction, although I did allow D-boy to keep the game for free. When I appealed to K-boy's sense of fair play about the whole thing, he admitted that it was a dirty deal. Then, looking sheepish, he asked me, How else am I supposed to make money?

Ah, the problems of the young teen! So much to buy, yet too young for working papers!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Black Beauty Book Club

This month for book club, the girls read Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. Though it was first published in 1877, it still speaks to young girls of today. At least half of the book club girls are crazy for horses right now, so this was a natural choice to have them read.

I began our discussion by explaining to the girls that Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty with the intention of changing some of the ways that horses were treated in Victorian England. She purposely highlighted some of the sadder details of a horse's life. At the same time she managed to weave a story about friendship and loyalty. To her credit, attitudes about the humane handling of horses did begin to change shortly after her novel was published.

It was interesting to see how well the girls were able to draw comparisons between foolish, harmful fashions for horses and ridiculous fashions for people. They once again upheld my theory that exposure to great literature is a desirable tool in shaping great minds.

For our project we made these adorable horse heads (black of course) using the outline of each girls' shoe to form the face. Three more triangles of paper form the neck and ears. The faces were drawn on and the mane was made from snips of black yarn.

The girls all enjoyed reading and discussing Black Beauty. Next month we'll be discussing, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R. L. LaFevers.

Friday, March 22, 2013

At Last

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything. You've all been anxiously waiting...right?

My schedule got completely thrown off by everyone in the family getting sick a couple of weeks ago, starting with me. I managed to keep everyone fed, clothed and educated, but updating the blog fell by the wayside.

Now we're all more or less recovered, and I'm back to my routine. At last.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kitty Cat Birthday

Around here, our pets are a part of the family. They're a part of the family that eats the same, dry food all of the time and gets left at home when we go on vacation, but still they're valued. We even make them cake on their birthdays. Of course then we eat it right in front of them, but the thought is there, right?

M-girl and D-boy took charge of decorating the cake for the cats' recent birthday. It was yummy, and you could tell just by looking at them how much the cats appreciated it. That's what it was all about, the cats' happiness...really. I mean, it wasn't just an excuse to have cake or anything.

See how thrilled they look! Priceless.

What about you? How do you spoil your pets?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Facing the Fire Baton

I know that it will shock anyone who knows me now as the confident, sophisticated woman that I am to learn that I was once a shy, awkward little girl. Ha ha! Ahem, allow me to start over...

Okay, I don't think it would shock anyone who really knows me that before I became the semi-confident, introverted woman that I am today, I was a really shy, socially awkward girl. My parents tried various ways to combat my nature and make me more outgoing. Dance lessons at age three were followed by girl scouts, soccer teams, and one spectacularly disastrous season of basketball. The summer that I was 12, my mother had another idea...baton lessons.

Her idea took root when my younger sister's friend's mother decided to sign her daughter up for group baton lessons taught by a former high school majorette. Isn't that how the best plans always start?

Soon enough my sister was signed up for the baton troupe too, and strutting around the house in a rather cute, flouncy skirted uniform. I must have gone with my mother to pick up my little sis from her lesson one night, because somehow the coach got wind of my existence. I suppose from her point of view, I must have seemed a more promising pupil at my advanced middle school age than the seven year olds she was coaching at the time. At any rate, she spoke to my mother and before I knew it, I too was decked out in a slightly used red and white uniform.

I began to join in the weekly practices in the elementary school parking lot. We learned to twirl our batons through our fingers, and hurl them into the air without clonking ourselves on the head. The coach soon convinced my mother that my sister and I could benefit from private lessons. She began showing up in our driveway in her station wagon, ready to teach the two of us the secrets of batoning.

Soon though, it became apparent that Dawn, the coach, was more interested in me than in my sister. I was older. I was roughly the right size for the spare uniform. I had the potential to become, in just a few short years, a high school majorette!

It seems that for some time our local high school had been without any majorettes at all. They had cheerleaders, and a marching band, but as for anyone skilled in the mysterious art of baton twirling...not so much. Obviously the standards for new recruits were pretty high at that point.

Dawn extolled the glories of being a majorette to me. I was already sold on the adorable uniform, so she was preaching to the choir. There I would be, she told me, the star of the show, out on the football field with all eyes on me.

I honestly cannot remember if I had yet heard the word introvert in my short life up to that point. I do know that my mother was prone to talk about how I just needed to 'come out of my shell' and my life would change. And so I bought into what Dawn was saying. I pictured myself out on the sunlit field, the band playing, while the crowd cheered me on. I practiced my spins and twirls, and endured the occasional clonks on the head from the baton...because I had the vision.

Then came the day when Dawn got a little too excited at the thought of filling the majorette position. She told me in a voice breathless with glee about FIRE BATON!

I listened in horror as she described how the ends were lighted (she even showed me the special baton). She showed me the routine that I would do and warned me to expect my eyebrows to be singed off until I got the hang of handling it.

Oddly enough, that's about the time I discovered that I really did not have any interest in pursuing baton lessons anymore. My sister quit not long after that too. I spent my high school years doing activities like Yearbook Committee. Center of attention? No. Eyebrows and lack of major burns? Yes.

That is the story of my short-lived, not quite, stint as a majorette. I don't know if Dawn ever did find anyone to fill the position.

linking to: Mama Kat's Writers Workshop

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Room of His Own

Several years ago, when we first moved into our current house, we undertook some major renovation projects right away. My two brothers-in-law gutted bathrooms and started remodeling them before we even moved in, and then just a few months later we started on the kitchen. Our children were all young (D-boy was only three) so it's no exaggeration to say that it was chaotic around here for a while. But we managed to keep track of everyone...well usually.

One warm spring day we couldn't find D-boy. At first it didn't seem too alarming. I thought he was with his siblings or BadDad, and everyone else assumed he was with me. When it finally occurred to us that he wasn't with anyone, we searched the house, and sent the kids to look in the backyard. There are lots of good hiding spots for a small child around our property, so we felt sure he had to be here somewhere.

D-boy! D-boy! The calls rang out. Nothing.

That was about the time panic started to set in. Every parent knows that cold, clawing feeling that grips your heart at the thought of your child being in danger. It didn't help me to look at BadDad and see my own fears reflected on his face. Though we live on a quiet cul-de-sac, we're not far from a busy road. What if he wandered off? What if someone took him?!

My hubby had another thought. He went out to check the pool.

The minutes ticked by and still we couldn't find him.

Then for some reason, I still don't know why, I opened the door to the coat closet. There was D-boy, curled up, fast asleep. When I lifted him out, he was sweating, and red faced. A closer look inside the closet revealed D-boy's favorite blanket and pillow, and a small bag of toys.

He woke up and groggily informed me that K-boy had helped him move in there.

Under questioning, K-boy admitted that he had told D-boy that the coat closet was his new room...thus leaving K-boy with a room of his own. Somehow it hadn't occurred to him that his brother might be in there during our panicked search.

Once we convinced D-boy that he really couldn't move into a stuffy, windowless closet, we had a long talk with K-boy about using his influence over his younger siblings for good, not evil.

Three years later, we're much more settled in our home. The boys share their large room more or less amiably, and we laugh about the incident that was so terrifying at the time. It just proved once more, parenting is certainly not for the faint hearted!

linking to: Pour Your Heart Out

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bunny Business

I started a book club a few months back for M-girl and a few of her closest friends. Once a month, we host nine giggly, tween girls, their mothers, and a few assorted siblings. I lead the girls in a discussion about the book and then they usually do a book related craft. The girls get to chat, the moms get to catch up...we all have a great time!

My goal with picking the books each month is to expose the girls to really good literature, both classic and books that are sure to be considered classic someday. In order to set the tone for our meetings, I sent each family a list of rules before we even started. We use a talking stick, which makes it easier for me to ensure that all of the girls have a chance to speak and be heard. I'm thrilled with the way that the girls have responded! Even those who seemed quiet at the beginning now arrive eager to discuss the books.

We just had our February meeting the other day. The book this month was, The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams. It was shorter than our usual picks (which have included works such as: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, The Indian in the Cupboard, Ella Enchanted, and Betsy, Tacy and Tib). The Velveteen Rabbit is the story of a toy bunny that is made real by the love of a child. Of course loving someone comes with the risk of eventual heartache for toys, just as it does for people.
The story is short, sweet, and beautiful, and is also the perfect opportunity to introduce children to the elements of a story.

The girls each brought a 'real' toy of their own, and shared the stories of how they became real over a snack of bunny crackers and banana bread. It was cute to hear them talk about their toys. M-girl had the oldest 'real' toy, as she inherited my favorite doll from my childhood, Julia. She is "very shabby" but she is not ugly to us, because we love her.

Finally it was time to make No Sew Sock Bunnies. These were a big hit with the girls. After I gave them the basic instructions, I left them to create and took my chance to chat with my mom friends. As you can tell from the picture, our book club is one crafty bunch!

linking to: Hip Homeschool Hop

Monday, February 11, 2013

Learning to Read With Dick and Jane

If there is anything in the world more amazing than learning how to read, it's watching a child unlock the mysteries of written language for the first time. It literally expands the world for them. For many of us (those who grow up as bookworms) there will always be a special place in our hearts for the very first books that we mastered all on our own.

While I'm too young to have been taught to read using Dick and Jane readers, there was a weathered set of the books in my First Grade classroom. Those of us who finished with our Programed Readers early were allowed to quietly peruse the shelves of  Dick and Jane books, while the rest of the class struggled through their workbooks. I remember being enchanted with the illustrations and the simple stories of the happy little family.

When it came time to teach my own children how to read, I was thrilled to discover reprints of the original Dick and Jane books on the shelves at our local library. Like me, my kids soon fell under the spell of these time tested readers, most likely because they work!

                                          See Trinket read. Look, look, oh look. Funny, funny Trinket!

Unlike many modern easy readers, that use words that are far to complicated for beginners, the Dick and Jane series begins with very short sentences, and repeats words often enough that children begin to recognize them. Gradually more words are added and the sentences get a bit longer. Each chapter flows into the next, and the cute illustrations have kids wanting to know what is going to happen in the story. Before they know it, children are reading!

I'm currently in the process of helping my six year old son read Dick and Jane for the first time, which means I'm lucky enough to watch the comprehension dawn on his face and his excitement build. In a few short weeks he's turned into a confident reader, and each day he begs to read more of the story. I am one mom that is glad this classic is still around!

This post is based on my own family's experience with the Dick and Jane series. I was not paid to write this, and can offer no guarantee that others will have the same experience with the books.

linking to: hip homeschool hop

Monday, February 4, 2013

Healthier Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

I have such an ingrained habit of adapting recipes, that sometimes I don't realize I'm doing it.I tend to substitute healthier ingredients whenever I can. This past weekend, I took a batch of cookies to a family party. When I was asked for the recipe, I replied that they were Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, from a recipe that I found years ago at bettycrocker.com. It makes a delicious, chewy, brownie-like cookie. It was only when I returned home and looked at my version of the recipe that I realized how much I've changed it over time. Here is my take on this delicious cookie.

Healthier Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1&1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond or mint extract
1 cup pasteurized egg product
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp lower sodium salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray.

In large bowl, mix oil, cocoa, sugar, and extracts. Add eggs and mix until well combined.

Stir in remaining ingredients, except powdered sugar.

Place powdered sugar in small bowl. Drop heaping teaspoonfuls of dough into powdered sugar and roll to coat. Place balls about two inched apart on baking sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until set. Cool on wire racks.

Yields about 4 dozen cookies.

* These cookies keep nicely in an airtight container. I often double or triple the recipe

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blood, Bandages, and Book Club

Yesterday I was getting ready to host M-girl's book club, and frantically cleaning the house calmly putting the finishing touches on my preparations. K-boy came into the kitchen as I was wiping down the cabinets (how do they get so dirty?).

K-boy calmly said, Mom?

I replied, What is it? I'm too busy for interruptions!

K-boy answered, It's just that I cut myself on a piece of glass and the blood is kind of getting everywhere.

My head spun around. K-boy was standing there, holding a cloth to his bloody thumb. Sure enough, there was a trail of blood drops leading down the hallway...not a lot, but way too much for squeamish me.

I tried to collect my thoughts and avoid fainting. Ugh! Go in the bathroom, K-boy, and put pressure on it. I'll find the bandages! I told him.

He protested that he just needed an ordinary band aid. I peeked through my fingers at his cut and determined that it would be prudent to break out the gauze and tape. Somehow, I managed to get it wrapped up, despite feeling light-headed.

Then it was time to clean up the blood. K-boy stood by, pointing out drops and cheerfully exclaiming, I'm just a bleeder. It looks worse than it is!

I was praying that the bleeding would stop and that he wouldn't end up needing stitches. Emergency Rooms are not my favorite places.

Finally, the bleeding did stop. I re-cleaned the house for book club, and the rest of the day was casualty free. Whew! Just writing about it made me whoozy again.

After all of that, K-boy won't even let me take a picture of his thumb for the blog. He'd better hope BadDad is home the next time he needs taping up. I sure do!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Brothers in Uniform

My two sons (13 and 6) share a bedroom. D-boy idolizes his big brother and they get along well together. Sometimes I'm privy to the funniest conversations though. The other night K-boy was tormenting me by announcing when he'd be old enough to fly a glider at Civil Air Patrol. He knows that I'm the sort of mom that only truly relaxes when I know that all of my children are safe.

Not satisfied with teasing me, he turned to his brother.

Ha! You've got to wait six years before you can even join Civil Air Patrol!

D-boy was unfazed. He calmly replied, Maybe I won't even join Silver Air Patrol....maybe I'll join Gold Air Patrol!

I left K-boy to explain. I was too busy trying not to laugh.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


I hope that at least one of my children grows up to be a dentist. Then BadDad and I can retire and live in the guest house. On his estate.

I cringe when it's time for one of us to go for our dental checkup. It's never good news, even when they say it is. This past week has been typical of our experience at the dentist.

The other night at dinner, K-boy complained of tooth pain and actually asked me to call the dentist. That sounded serious. I managed to get him an appointment for the following morning. At first it did actually seem like good news, the pain was caused by a baby tooth that hasn't fallen out even though the adult tooth is ready to come in. K-boy has two weeks to wiggle the heck out of the thing and get it out himself, otherwise the dentist will pull it for him. Whew!

Then the dentist found a cavity. $$$$

Yesterday I had my six month cleaning. The hygienist kept praising my tooth brushing habits and saying how healthy my mouth was. Before I could puff up with too much pride she took a couple of x rays for teeth that might need crowns. I was in a cold sweat by the time the dentist came in to take a look.

The good news...I don't need crowns. The bad news...I need old fillings removed and replaced with new ones. $$$$

Today both M-girl and D-boy had cleanings. No cavities, but..... M-girl needs to see an orthodontist. $$$$$$$$$$. D-boy needs a special process done before he can get sealants on his molars. $$$$

No wonder they're all so smiley when they see us coming. With any luck we'll at least get an invitation to the beach house. You know, the one we're helping to pay the mortgage on.