Monday, February 20, 2006

February 20, 2006: French Onion Soup: Cold Weather Fare

Last week, for Valentine's Week, I asked for each of my family member's favorite meals. This was Randy's special request. We didn't get around to making it until tonight, but this was a perfect bone-chilling night to have it!

French Onion Soup

Serves 4 adults

2 TBS. butter
4 large yellow onions, sliced thin
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. mustard
dash of thyme or Italian seasoning
6 cups water
3 TBS. soy sauce
2-3 TBS. dry white wine or red wine (opt.)
few dashes of pepper
Croutons (recipe below)
Grated Mozzerella or thin slices of provolone or swiss cheese

1. Melt butter in a kettle or Dutch oven. Add onions and salt. Cook over medium about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Add mustard and thyme. Cover. Continue to cook very slowly for about 35 minutes. The onions will be so soft and will simmer in their own liquid.
3. Add everything else except the toppings. Simmer 15 minutes more. Dish into overproof bowls and top with croutons and cheese (in that order). Put under broiler briefly to brown the cheese. Serve with smoked turkey sandwiches or just crusty bread.

Cube some old hoagies, hamburger buns, stale bread, or whatever you have handy. Saute in garlic butter and then toast at 300 for a few minutes.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

February 16, 2006: Last Countdown to 40

So I guess all that's left is 10 years ago, on the eve of my 30th birthday. I have to say I don't have the same warm fuzzies about turning 30. It didn't have anything to do about turning 30; it's just that this was not a great time in my life. Jesse was almost 3, and we'd been in Iowa for about two years. Tracy and Angie flew to Iowa for my birthday, which was wonderful. I think the heaviness that surrounds that year is that we'd been trying to get pregnant for a few months, and it just wasn't happening. And I was not plugged in yet to what ultimately became a wonderful community. I was lonely, and my best friends lived 17 hours away, and I was terrified of secondary infertility.

But what I do remember is that it was durn cold in Iowa on my 30th birthday! In fact, the windchill brought the temperature to a shocking -57 degrees. So Randy and I had a great party trick to show our southern friends. We learned it on the local evening news. When it's really, really cold (it doesn't even have to be --57 degrees), take a bottle of bubbles outside with you. When you blow the bubbles, they will actually shatter! It's very cool, and a big hit for people who have absolutely nothing better to do.

See, even remembering that time of my life makes me feel blue. Right now I think it would be so much fun to go out and blow bubbles and watch them shatter!! However, it's about 60 outside, so I'm guessing nothing exciting would come of that.

So enough reminiscing on years 10, 20, and 30. Tomorrow comes 40! My three lovely friends are bringing their company and lunch (including Leigh's amazing salsa) to me and playmates for my children. And my husband is making chicken piccata, fettucine alfredo, and asparagus, and my mother has made a chocolate cake (that I'm not supposed to know about) and then my very best beloved friend is coming in from Upper East TN in the evening. And she is NOT bringing her children (much to my children's dismay), so that she and I can spend a blissful Saturday shopping, just the two of us.

My life is like a trifle, all filled with layers and layers of rich and delicious things.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

February 15, 2006: Countdown to 40 (2)

So 30 years ago I was just about to turn 10. I remember a lot about this year. I would have been in 4th grade, Mrs. Skinner's class. I loved Mrs. Skinner. Mrs. Skinner wore long, flowing skirts and had long curly hair. Mrs. Skinner read "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" to us. I had already read the Narnia series, so I was especially delighted to have our teacher share this love. In fourth grade, we had the corner classroom at Prospect Ave. Elementary School in Geneva, NY. (This school is now an apartment building.) Mrs. Skinner let the boys build a giant cardboard house in the corner of the room. Laura Hibbard and I had graduated beyond the realm of reading groups and were allowed to read whatever we wanted at our desks, while the other kids went through the arduous reading group hour.

In fourth grade Michelle Sheehan called me a teacher's pet. She would sneer this at me whenever she could. (This escalated until 7th grade, when Dawn Derosa tried to beat me up daily.) When I was 10, Amy Wilson mesmerized us in the coatroom with her horrifying tale of when her sister "got her friend." That this was sure to happen to us eventually was beyond comprehension.

At age 10 I was in love with Mickey Thornton, the boy down the street. I was also in love with Johnny Gage of "Emergency." At age 10 I had the run of the neighborhood. On one side of me were Doug and Jeff, my partners in crime. On the other side were Karen and Kim, my beloved playmates. At age 10 I spent the night frequently with Pam, who would try to drown me just a year later. She had every single Fisher Price house ever made, every single Barbie doll and accessory, and even a dual VCR. Pam's mom worked, which was something no one else's mom did (except Amy Wilson's mom--and she was our one and only divorcee). Pam had April Green shag carpet and a collection of Gund stuffed animals.

Age 10 and the world was beginning to be somewhat confusing, and bigger. If only I could have seen into the future, 30 years down the line, I sure would have felt more at ease. If I'd known how lovely my life would be, I could have smiled at Michelle when she called me "teacher's pet."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

February 14, 2006: Countdown to 40

Twenty years ago Randy and I spent our first Valentine's Day together...and I was 3 days away from turning 20. I love that in 3 days I can look at Randy and say, "I've loved you half my life." We've been listening to Nanci Griffith for about 16 years, and one of her songs has that line in it. It's actually a very sad song ("You've Made This Love a Teardrop"), but for the past 16 years we've been saying, "Won't it be cool when we can say, 'I've loved you half my life' to each other?"

'Course arguably I wasn't yet IN love with Randy after only dating for 3 weeks, but certainly anyone who knows Randy as well as I did at that point could say that they LOVE him. He's just that kind of guy that you can't help loving.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

February 12, 2006: My brother's surprise party was better than mine!

How cool is this? So today is my brother's birthday. Turns out we both had a surprise party for our birthdays (his is actually today). Only his was WAY more exciting than mine (and mine was really fabulous) because he actually PROPOSED to his girlfriend at his party! I am just in shock. I cannot believe that, after 22 years of dysfunctional relationships with a parade of unstable women, my 42-year-old crunchy-granola-head brother is actually going to succumb to the institution of marriage. I am tremendously looking forward to meeting my future sister-in-law. They are actually coming down in March so that Jen can meet the Tennessee contingent. Hopefully I can find something to chat about with a woman who has a PhD from Harvard in physics. But my parents are thrilled. They have met her many times and are very happy for them. So whoo-hoo! Happy birthday to Stephen!

February 12, 2006: What does snow do?

My friend and former Floridian Tia was blogging the other day about good verbs for snow, and I've been thinking about that ever since! We've had all kinds of different snows going on here the past couple of days, and indeed, snow does all kinds of crazy stuff!

So, Tia, here are a few of my favorites. Some are self-explanatory, and some need a little elaboration:
Snow floats
Snow flurries
Snow gropples (this one we learned in Iowa. "Gropple" is that hard, pellet kind of snow.)
Snow spits (This was one of my father's favorite weather descriptions. "What's the weather like today, Dad?" Dad: "It's spitting snow.")
Snow drops (that's the big, wet snow)
Snow blankets (don't see much of that here in Tennessee, but we sure did in Iowa!)
Snow dances
And my new favorite that I heard in church today: "Well, Ah looked artside and I seed them chicken feathers spinnin' down and Ah didn't think Ah would make it this mornin'."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

February 11, 2006: Wow! I have a great life! Even if I am almost 40!

It's not that this is a huge newsflash. Most of the time I am acutely aware that I live a life that is seeped in blessings. But nights like tonight I'd like to capture in the palm of my hand, stick in my pocket, and pull out to rub like a rabbit's foot whenever I'm feeling a little blue.

Tonight my friends and my husband threw me an honest-to-goodness surprise party for my 40th birthday (which is NEXT Friday, thank you very much). It does a body good to look around and see a room full of people that have touched my life. All these people who have become colorful threads in our life tapestry just in the 6 years we've been here. Almost all of them fellow homeschoolers; a few were church friends. Lots of us were pregnant together in 2000, and our little babies are now 5 or nearly so. Sheila, Caroline and Chris, Leigh and Rick, Teri and Casey, Joy, Darci, Donna and Bill, Donna, Laurie and Glen, Sharon and Raymond, Lori, Vanessa and Mark, Adele and Tim, Elizabeth and Jesse, Lisa, Angela, Sarah, cup truly does runneth over. And my parents, who made sure all the bases were covered and kept me in the dark, and my 3rd brother and his family who drove over in spite of a billion things they have going on in their lives....And of course my husband, who told me I was beautiful, then made me sit in a wheelchair, stuck a "40" button on my shirt, and wheeled me into the party.

Nights like tonight I put away in my special treasure box with the ballerina on top, the one that holds my grandmother's laugh and falling in love with Randy in the hills of Tennessee...the one that holds baby Jesse's sweet smell and my newborn baby girl's huge brown eyes and the moment I first nursed my Duncan in the NICU...The one that holds Tracy and I dancing to Cocacabana and Kris and Del's goodbye....This was a treasure box night.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

February 5, 2006: The Silver Chair Activities/Review

It was my month to lead the book at our Chronicles of Narnia Book Club for kids 2nd-5th grades, and I found very little online for The Silver Chair. It's hard for me to pick my favorite Narnia book, but this one has always been right up there in the top three for me. We could have talked for hours about the book, but our time is limited to an hour and a half. I also had ideas for many other activities which we could not do in this time, but I will include them at the bottom.

The Silver Chair Study
Apples, hot chocolate, white paper, markers, raisins, brown sugar, tape
1. At the beginning of the story, why was Jill crying? Who was she trying to get away from? What did Eustace do to comfort Jill? (He told her about his adventures in Narnia)
2. Why did Scrubb decide that Jill’s idea of drawing a circle and standing in it to recite spells was wrong? How did they end up getting into Narnia?
3. Divide white board into 2 columns. On one side list as many adjectives as we can find to describe the surroundings at the school; on the other wide, list adjectives to describe the place Eustace and Jill saw when they went through the doorway.
4. What happened to Eustace right away? And who did Jill meet then?
5. The lion Jill saw invited her to come and drink if she was thirsty. Can you think of a Bible story this reminds you of? (John 4: The woman at the well. Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus is called the living water!
6. What task did Aslan then set before Jill? What are the four signs? (Write on white board.) What did Aslan say she should do so she would not forget the signs? Do you think it would be hard to remember these signs? Do you ever have trouble remembering things? What kinds of things do you have trouble remembering? Did Jill do what Aslan told her to do?
7. The children messed up on the very first sign. How did this happen?
8. Now let’s talk about Rilian and his mother. Who was Rilian’s mother? Describe what happened to her. So was the serpent that killed Rilian’s mother and the woman who Rilian visited before his disappearance the same person? What does this story remind you of in the Bible? The Bible says that Satan is very crafty and can appear as something beautiful. 2 Corinthians says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Remember how in the Garden of Eden, Satan pretended to be Eve’s friend? Discuss.
9. So, Eustace and Jill met with the owls, and where did the owls take them? What is Puddleglum? What does a Marshwiggle look like? (At this point, I had children come up to the white board and take turns drawing their version of a Marshwiggle.)
10. What words would you use to describe Puddleglum? (gloomy, pessimistic, sad, funny, etc.)
11. What did the three see when they left the Marsh? Were these very smart giants? And then who did they encounter (the Lady of the Green Kirtle and the Knight.) Did Puddleglum trust these two? Where did these two tell Puddleglum and the children to go? What were Puddleglum and the children to tell the giants in Harfang?
12. At this point, was Jill still remembering the signs? Why did she stop rehearsing them? Do you think that the Lady of the Green Kirtle knew this would happen--hat they would fight and get distracted and forget what they were doing? Do you ever get distracted when your mom or dad tells you something to do? Do we get distracted from doing what God tells us to do?
13. Let’s talk about what happened at Harfang. Did you guess that THEY were to be the main dish at the Autumn Feast? Draw what you think the giants might have looked like.
14. They finally escaped from Harfang, and what happened when they heard the hunting party return? (Eventual answer—they got to the cave.) Have you ever been in complete darkness like they were? What was that like?
15, Who finally found them in the cave? What was the phrase that the warden kept repeating? What did you think about the earthmen? (At this point, read some descriptions of the earthmen, and have everyone draw what they think the earthmen might look like.)
16. The children and Puddleglum are taken to the Knight. Had they met him before? Who does he turn out to be? Did you think that he was Prince Rilian? What is it that the Knight finally says that convinces them to set him free? What was the first thing that he did when he was freed?
17. What did the Queen do when she came in and found them? What brave thing to Puddleglum do to break the enchantment that she was putting them under? What happened then to Rilian’s black shield?
18. Remember when Rilian and everyone started to leave, and they captured the gnome named Golg? What did Golg tell them? What did they tell Golg that made him so happy?
19. How did they finally get out of the cave?
20. What did the oldest Dwarf say about Northern Witches? (That they were always up to the same plan, just going about it in a different way.) Does this sound like Satan to you? Just as the Witches are always trying to get people to turn from Aslan, so Satan is always trying to get us to deny God.
21. What sad thing happens at the end of the book? Then what happens when Aslan takes Jill and Eustace back to the mountain?

Talk about the hot meal they had at the end of the book. Make baked apples and hot chocolate. The easiest way to make baked apples is to cut an apple in half and take out the seeds. Let the kids put brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins, if desired on the apples. Put in mircrowave for 1 minute. This will be hot! Serve with "frothy" hot chocolate.

Cave exploration: We lined a dark hallway with a row of chairs (we do this club at a church). We turned off all the lights and had the kids crawl through the chairs. This gave them an idea of what it is like to crawl through tight spaces. After this, we led them down to the church basement with the lights on. Once they were settled in the room, I turned off the lights for a few seconds so they could experience darkness. Lots of great screams, and begging to do it again and again!

These were all the activities that we had time for. I would also liked to have had them make model teepees, like Puddleglum's, or to make a stuffed Puddleglum.