Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Slice of Solace

Suddenly, the house is quiet.

The dog isn't barking. My 10-year-old and his friend are outside playing. The dryer isn't even humming. No airplanes are taking off or landing, and even the busy street is silent. The sun has finally made an appearance.

I will take these moments, whenever they come to me. Someday, I know, there will be great quantities of quiet in my life. The dog will be old and will have a hard time mustering up the desire to bark at the golfers across the street or the squirrel on the roof. I won't get phone calls every 10 minutes asking if today is a "uniform day" for American Heritage Girls or if I can chaperon at a dance or if I can be the carpool.

Five minutes: I timed the silence. The phone rings; the heat kicks on. I hear shouts and a loud bang outside. An airplane takes off, and the refrigerator begins a slight shudder. Predictably, the dog begins her fierce barking.

Just down the street my parents go through their day quietly, waiting for interruption. In their mid-80s, their days have a different kind of predictability, a steady diet of naps, meals, books. For 35 years my mother was immersed in the noise of raising a family, for another 25 her world was filled with the bustle of grandchildren and volunteering and traveling and shopping. And now they have come to the dichotomy of silence, the blessing, the curse.

For now, I'll take the slices as they come, and add to the noise by reprimanding the dog, loudly.

Linked up on Finer Things Friday

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Birthday Football

January 22, 2011. This is how my Dad spent the afternoon of his 86th birthday. Not snoozing in a recliner by the fire but outside playing touch football for over two hours with three of his four sons, two grandsons, his daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a son-in-law. He ran, he blocked, he passed, he hiked, he made a touchdown or two.

To this, I aspire.

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Menu and Baked Ziti

I really have been doing menus for the past couple of weeks, even though I haven't been posting them. We had two big extended family meals this week, as the family gathered for my Dad's 86th birthday. Saturday I made a huge crockpot of barbecue pulled pork. It was okay. I still haven't found just the right barbecue recipe, although I've tried a half-dozen different ones. Someday I am going to find the absolute perfect recipe. Do you have one? If so, please share! We like ours sweet and spicy.

I do, however, have the most perfect baked ziti. It's way better than my old recipe. We had that last night while the menfolk watched the football playoffs. (Pipe down, people. I'm not saying women can't enjoy football; it's just that my daughter and I don't care one whit about it, other than the food and company that goes along with the whole culture.)

Baked Ziti
(Serves 8-10)

1 box ziti
1/2 container ricotta cheese
1 jar alfredo sauce
1/2 jar spaghetti sauce
about 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
about 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded
Italian spices

Cook the ziti al dente. Drain. Put back in big pot. Add the sauces, ricotta, 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/2 cup of cheddar, and some spices, like dried red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, basil, garlic. (I like to use McCormick's Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder.) Mix together and put into a 9 X 13 baking pan. Add more sauce if you like it a bit saucier. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan. Bake for about 20-30 minutes at 350.
This is so delicious that I could eat it for every single meal. I really could.

Also on the menu this week:
Pioneer Woman's Ranch Style Chicken
Easy Enchiladas
French Onion Soup
Chicken and Rice Soup

And something in the crockpot. I don't know what that will be yet, so tell me if you have a crockpot recipe that absolutely knocks your socks off. We'll give it the SmallWorld test. I made spaghetti sauce and red beans and rice in the crockpot last week, and both were absolutely amazing. I'll post the recipes when I refind them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

I think, after this week, we might finally be able to get back into the swing of things. Somehow we still haven't been able to shake vacation-mode, plus we took MLK Jr. day off. I've been sick this week, so I have been a lazy teacher.

Nonetheless, we still had a fairly productive week. We are two-thirds of the way through The Silver Chair, which was always one of my favorite Narnia books. I need to put that cheesy BBC version on my Netflix queue. Actually, I'm not ever sure that I've seen that production of The Silver Chair; I just wasn't crazy about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from BBC. Maybe this one will be fabulous.

We watched a lot of America: The History of Us this week. I got this free several months ago when The History Channel had a special deal, but we hadn't taken the time to watch it until now. Being sick is a perfect time to watch educational DVDs! It really is excellent, and we are all looking forward to watching the rest of it (9 hours altogether).

We also have The Long Way Down to watch. This is a documentary down by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, as they travel from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa, journeying through Europe and Africa. I read on someone's blog that this was fantastic, so this will be our geography for the next week or so.

Duncan's favorite new "school" addition is the Snap Circuit set that he got for Christmas. Again, I read about this on someone's Weekly Wrap-Up and knew he would love it. (So thanks, whoever you are!) I had to crack up to read my friend Kris's blog a couple of weeks ago. Her son, Will, also got Snap Circuits for Christmas. Kris and I live hundreds of miles apart, but we somehow end up buying the same perfume, swim suits, books, and gifts for our boys, who adore each other. I love her. Anyway, Snap Circuits is absolutely fantastic, and I highly recommend it. This particular one comes with directions for 300 projects that will occupy 10-year-old boys for hours and hours.

Our co-op classes start back on Monday, and I think I'm mentally ready. I'm teaching creative writing for 6th-8th graders and co-teaching literature circle (persevering in spite of obstacles), and Readers' Theatre. My kids are taking a bunch of other classes, too, but I can't really remember what they are. Guess I'll find out on Monday!

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Miscellany

* I haven't been blogging. I haven't even been reading blogs. I've been painting this room. I am so excited to finish this project!

* However, I have a cold. I worked through my cold for the first three days, but today I can't bring myself to lift a paintbrush. My people will be lucky to get supper, which will be General Tso's chicken. Or nothing, if I lose enthusiasm for cooking supper.

* My kids started back at their performing arts co-op today. Laurel is taking dance and drama, and Duncan is taking a class called creative worship, in which they use flags/banners. I am very happy for them that they got to start back today, but I really just wanted to curl up on the couch under many blankets and sleep.

* I do, however, have to go back out again on this drizzly, gray day. We have a leadership meeting for our homeschooling support group. I'm in the last six months of my latest 3-year stint on the council, and I'm ready for a break. A really long, long break. When I started on the council for the first time 9 years ago, we had about 90 families as members. We now serve 230 families. I find that spectacular.

* Did I mention that my cat peed on the couch last week? Seriously. How absurd is that?

* That is the extent of what's going on in my head today. You can see why I haven't blogged since Friday. The end.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Winter House Project

I'm taking on a big challenge in the next few weeks. I've been meaning to do this for months, and it's finally all coming together. We're turning the long-neglected upstairs playroom into Duncan's bedroom, and Duncan's current bedroom will become our office.

This is a big space, larger than his current bedroom. Jesse's bedroom is the other half of the upstairs. Since he's away at college, we figured this was the right time for the move. The only thing this room is used for now is for Jesse's friends to crash in when he's home on break (thus the pile of sleeping bags in the middle of the room). We actually have an entire guest apartment for them to sleep in (with a bed), so I don't feel too badly about taking away their guest suite.

Most of the junk in the photo will be tossed out. We bought paint today, and I'm hoping to get the first coat on tomorrow. Duncan picked "cosmos blue" for the ceiling and "antiquarian gray" for the walls.

And I'm getting an office! I haven't even really processed what that means for my life. Partly, this means that all the paperwork on our kitchen counters will be moved into an actual office, perhaps into actually drawers and bins. And I think I'll even be able to put up—and keep up—my sewing machine. And have a quiet place to write and a comfy chair for conversations.

After we get Duncan all moved into his new bedroom, I'll post photos of his current room, which will be the office. I am kind of excited about that room a complete overhaul!

But first, I have a whole lot of wall to paint, starting tomorrow!

Linking up at 52 Weeks of Organizing at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Greeting Cards from Shutterfly

I totally love Shutterfly. I mean, I use them anyway, even without all the freebies, but in the past month I've received: 50 free Christmas cards, $25 gift certificate for blogging about my cards, and now 10 more free greeting cards. I decided to go with a winter-spring-summer-fall theme so that I could use these cards anytime. It took me about 10 minutes to do. I am seriously going to have to write some letters this year!

Picture In Landscape 5x7 folded card
Modern greeting cards and party invitations by Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Week

Finally, finally, after 11 years here, we got a Big Snow. My kids are in heaven. We've had an abundance of snow this winter, but early Monday morning we awoke to about 5 inches. For us, that's incredible. We've hot copious amounts of hot chocolate, snow ice cream, sledding, snowman-building, and snowball fights.

The irony of this big snow is that Jesse couldn't get to the ski slopes to go skiing because the roads were too bad. Yep.

I'm ready for daffodils.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two Recipes: Crab Chowder and Pork Chops and Rice

I've been cooking up a storm during the month that our oldest has been home for college. It's fun to cook for someone who has been eating college food for a few months and is desperate for a home-cooked meal.

Last night was his last supper at home until spring break, so I gave him a choice of pork chops and rice or crab chowder. It was a hard choice for him, but eventually he settled on the soup. This was my first attempt, and he said it was the best soup ever.

Crab Chowder

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1 lb. crab meat, drained
1 can corn, drained
1-2 potatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. pepper
a few dashes of hot sauce

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and cook over medium heat, stirring until thickened. Stir in everything else. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

And here is the recipe for pork chops and rice, which I'll make later this week and miss him.

Pork Chops and Rice

6 pork chops
3 TB oil
1 large onion, cut into 6 slices
2 tsp. chili powder
1-1/4 c. water
2 tsp. salt
1 c. uncooked rice
1 eight-ounce can tomato sauce

Brown chops well on both sides in skillet. Remove and brown onion slices. Remove, stir in chili powder and cook 1-2 minutes. Add rest of ingredients and heat to boiling. Pour into a 9 X 13 baking dish. Arrange browned chops over rice and place an onion slice on each chop. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for about an hour or until liquid is absorbed.
Linked up on Tasty Tuesday and on favorite soups at Raising Olives, Smockity Frocks, and The Common Room

Friday, January 7, 2011

In the Treasure Box

Yesterday as we were finishing school, Laurel pulled this treasure box off the bookshelf. I brought this back with me from my childhood home a couple of years ago and haven't looked at it since.

I don't know the history of the box or when I claimed it as my own. I wish I did. I put my first grade picture in the frame at some point. I remember that dress so well, the way the fabric was soft, faux velvet on the top and stiff underneath. I'm glad I chose that picture instead of my kindergarten photo, when I felt the need to smile like a toothless granny.

Of course we got distracted from our schoolwork and had to look through the box. My kids love this kind of thing.

We found my first pair of glasses, which I got in third grade. Duncan noticed that my name is engraved on the side; Laurel tried them on and said they matched her prescription exactly. Not that she would ever wear such hideous glasses, of course.

My parents went to Israel when I was four, leaving me and three of my brothers in the care of my grandparents. I missed them. They brought back this cross and lots of wooden figurines, which I gently played with until the clay pot fell off the lady's head and my mother put them away.

A list of phone numbers from sixth grade. I can tell this is sixth grade because my old nieghborhood friends are on the list as well as new friends from my new school. In sixth grade we moved mid-year from the town to the country, and I had to change schools. The only person that I'm still in touch with is the one at the top of the list, Laurie (now Laura). Facebook is awesome like that.

Charlie's Angels cards. I know. These are really too amazing to comment on.

I stuck this on the door in my new house. My parents actually sanded, stained, and polyurethaned all the woodwork in our house, including the doors. I'm sure my mom appreciated that plopped this beauty on the door. Twelve-year-olds (especially ones who are very angry about having to move to a new house) are thoughtful like that.

My second brother went to Bolivia at some point when I was in high school and brought this back for me.

This bottle amazes me, and I'm so thankful that my grandmother was the kind of person who recorded things like this. I have other family pieces that have a little history recorded by her, including a sampler that came through 10 generations of Cummins women to me.

My father brought this compact back to my mother after he served in the Korean War. He also brought a complete set of china while he was on R&R in Japan, but my mother still uses that.

This is the one mysterious item in my treasure box: a set of wedding rings. I have absolutely no idea where this came from, nor does my mother. I suspect that they may have belonged to my grandmother's parents; yet she typically recorded the history of such items. Hmmmm…

Illinois. Although I grew up in New York, my people are really from southern Illinois. Generations of Cummins, Rileys, Firebaughs, and Johnsens lived and still live in and around Mt. Vernon and surrounding towns. My own parents were in their early 40s when they moved our family to New York from a lifetime in Illinois, and I thought of Illinois as my true home for much of my childhood. My parents met and graduated from the University of Illinois, and I can still sing its fight song. This pin brought a vivid memory of driving from New York to Illinois at Christmas time, listening to my parents sing "We're loyal to you, Illinois/We're orange and blue, Illinois…"

A note to my first boyfriend. He used to always say, "Write me a note." I thought that was a silly thing since I saw him between every class, but I knew somehow that I had entered the world of boyfriends and had to write notes. I'm glad I have this. I wish I had all the notes I wrote to him.

I think this is my favorite treasure in the box: a note from my other grandmother, my mom's mother. "Sarah is a darling; she was sent from Heaven above. The only thing that bothers us; She is not here to love." We called her "Mur"; and she was so precious. Sometimes I see my grandmother in my mother's face now, and it makes me both happy and sad.

I'm glad for my kids' sake—and for my own—that I've kept some treasures through the years. I have a big box in the hallway right now that's filled with treasures from the past 10 years. I know I should put it in the attic, but every now and then I walk by and drop something inside: a drawing, a newspaper clipping, a diaper pin. Someday, I'll be glad for all the times I tripped over that box in the dark.

Simple Homeschool: A Day in the Life series

homeschool day

Simple Homeschool is doing a "Day in the Life" series during the month of January. My post is featured today. Be sure to check into Simple Homeschool throughout the month to take a peek into the lives of other homeschoolers!

When asked to discuss my daily homeschooling schedule, there is only one thing I can say for sure:

Each year is different, and every day within each year is different.

But first, let me introduce my family. We are in our eleventh year of homeschooling. This year I have a 4th grade son and an 8th grade daughter at home, and our oldest son is in his freshman year at college. (Yes, we homeschooled all the way through. You really can do it!)

I think of us as relaxed homeschoolers with a goal of college for all of our kids. …

{Please come on over to Simple Homeschool to read the rest of this post and see what a day in our live looks like…sometimes!}

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bringing in the New Year

We traditionally spend New Year's Eve with my husband's family in Charlotte, NC. For four days, we ate amazing food (my brother-in-law loves to cook), enjoyed the company of Randy's family, and played a lot of Wii games (Just Dance is sooo fun!). We also spent an afternoon playing bocce at a local park (brings back memories of my hometown in upstate NY) and—perhaps best of all—I spent hours and hours reading and I took a nap every single day.

Today we finished putting the last of the Christmas decorations away and tomorrow we start back on a regular schedule. I think I'm ready.