Monday, January 31, 2011

Not so wonderful

It seems it is time to once again disabuse my readers as to my perceived wonderfulness.  Because it's just not true and I don't like to feel a fraud.  Also, I would hate to feel I was the cause of someone feeling badly about themselves because they were coming up short in the comparison game.  In the blog world, the reader will nearly always come up short because the truth is, the contest is rigged.  You only see what I choose to show you.  Everyone has a desire to put themselves in the best light possible and I am no different. 

When I post a photo, I don't choose the one that shows the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or the counter that still contains remnants from Christmas, or the floor that has every single toy we own strewn across it.  Since blogs don't come with soundtracks, you can't hear the children bickering, or the child who is whining because he doesn't want to pick-up, or the mother shouting because once again she has lost all patience.  (Oh, how I wish that mother would just pick up and go live somewhere else!) 

And I get to pick what I write about, so I don't often choose to share about the math lesson that is being done for the third time, or the third day without a math lesson, or about the days when I feel as though I accomplish nothing, or about when I teeter off the edge and have to give myself a time-out in my bedroom to have a good cry and feel a bit sorry for myself.  And be really glad that there is no sense of smell that is piped in with a blog.  I still have three in diapers... just sayin'.

I am not perfect.  My family is not perfect.  But we have a perfect and wonderful God who loves us despite our imperfections and who gives us mercy and new day over and over to try to do what is right and good.  I have so far to go in how I want to be, which at the moment is serene and fearless.  (Even saying I'm trying to be serene makes me laugh, because I am so far away from that.)  I choose those because they both point to a deep inner knowledge of who God is and how much he loves me and my family.  A knowledge that I am happy to say with my mouth, but I find that my behavior and worries show how far I have to go before I really know it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Real Cooking

I know I write about cooking a lot.  While I really would rather be upstairs sewing (wait 'til you see what I'm currently working on), I have a houseful of people who need to be fed.  Since it's something that has to be done, I might as well make it interesting... and yummy.

One of my Christmas presents last month was the book, The Lost Art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger.  I love this book.  I mean, how can you not love a cookbook with this paragraph in the introduction?

"The premise of this book is a simple one.  For the past half century, Americans have been convinced that cooking is drudgery, an odious task to be avoided at any cost, so that time might be freed up to do other more Important things.  We were enticed with a constant stream of ingenious gadgets meant to make our lives easier, as well as products cheerfully advertised as being Quick, Convenient, and Simple to prepare.  For the sake of saving labor, these new products were highly processed, packed with artificial flavors and additives, and were usually seriously lacking in the single most indispensable attribute of gastronomic pleasure:  Honest Good Taste.  Or they were so loaded with sugar and flavor enhancers that our palates eventually became jaded, to the point that we came to prefer powdered fluorescent drinks over real juice, flaccid canned vegetables over briskly crunchy fresh greens, even heinous atrocities such as margarine over real butter.  Most important, these industrially produced foods were neither fun to prepare nor interesting to serve.  And what did we do with all that free time?  We worked longer hours in the office, and came home to work out on our basement treadmills.  When you think of it, what could be more important than feeding yourself and others with good, wholesome, well-prepared food and truly enjoying the experience?"

Which is why B. and I found ourselves in the kitchen yesterday making homemade pasta, rolling it out, and filling it with a pesto and ricotta cheese filling.  The ravioli turned out pretty well despite the fact we had never done this before and used the completely wrong kind of flour.  (All we had in the kitchen was ground hard wheat... wonderful for bread, not so great for pastry and, it turns out, pasta.  I guess I'm seriously going to have to consider buying soft wheat berries when the next bulk order comes 'round.)  But, there were no left-overs and probably because of our flour choice, very filling.  I'm willing to try the homemade pasta-thing again.  At this point I'll pause while some of my friends have a good laugh... it is something I said I would never do.

So what's next on the list from this book?  Well, I'm intrigued by some of the bread recipes, A. really likes sauerkraut and would love it if we could make our own, and if I could ever convince some of my Arizona readers with olive trees to send me a box of uncured olives, I'd love to try that.  (Wouldn't it be so much better to think of all those olives happily brining away in a crock in my basement than being squished into a yucky black pulp on the sidewalk?)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Need a break from the intensity

I can't keep up this level of intensity, so I'm doing a fun and frivolous post.  And what's more fun and frivolous than cookies?  These are the cookies we've been eating here for the past couple of days.  A. and TM decided they really needed to bake cookies on Tuesday and these are the ones they made.  I don't know what their official name is, but we call them Doreen Cabianca's Sugar Cookies around here.  She was the mother of one of my best friends in grade school.  I believe the story goes that I had them at my friend's house and raved so much about them that my mother asked for the recipe.  Oh, and one important note if you're going to make them.  DO NOT think that you can substitute all butter instead of the butter and shortening combination.  Because if you do, you will not have cookies. Instead, you will end up with a baking sheet of flour-y melted butter that you have to throw out.  Trust me, I know.

Doreen Cabianca's Sugar Cookies

1/2 C butter
1/2 C shortening
1/2 C sugar
!/2 C powdered sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 C flour (I have used all white, a combination of white and whole wheat, and all whole wheat... all work)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter, shortening, and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and vanilla.  Sift dry ingredients.  (I just mix them up with a fork.)  Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, mix to blend.

Chill dough (I always skip this), then shape into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet.  (The instructions say to lightly grease the baking sheet, but I never do this either.)  Dip bottom of water glass in a bowl of sugar and press balls flat.  (But don't make them super thin.  Mine probably end up being about a 1/2 inch thick.)  Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Overwhelmed and humbled

That pretty much sums up how we've been feeling the past 24 hours.  We have heard from person after person who has been praying for our new little girl and from many other people who have spent time at Shepherd's Field and met and loved her as well.  It is no small thing to discover you are the answer to so many people's prayers, especially when that was never your purpose... we merely fell in love with a little girl.

The shock of it all is beginning to wear off and the stacks of paperwork on my desk (as well as my regular day-to-day responsibilities) are beginning to make themselves known.  I don't enjoy being knee-deep in paperwork, but I keep reminding myself that it is all worth it.  There are so many things we have yet to work out and decide... the whole money piece, travel logistics, bedroom logistics, medical care, etc.  It is a huge list and I become overwhelmed by it at times.  Once again, through the process of adopting, I'm sure I will find myself growing spiritually as I practice casting my burdens on Jesus.  I have no doubt that it is He who has orchestrated this whole crazy adventure so far, and He keeps His promises, so I'm sure He will see it through to the end.  I find myself repeating Deuteronomy 31:8 over and over and over...

"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (NIV)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

To God be the Glory, Great Things He Hath Done

My life seems to mirror the hymn I teach my choir each year.  The year we waited and waited to bring K. home it was On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.  The year I was pregnant with the twins?   Who knows, that year is a great big blank.  Last year, when I had two new darling babies it was Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  This year we are doing the hymn in the post title and it couldn't be more true than today.

You see there is a little girl living in China whose picture I came across last month.  I wasn't really looking at lists of waiting children, especially waiting children in China.  We don't qualify because of family size and income.  But I couldn't get this little girl, who wanted  "mommy and daddy to love her and sing to her and cook her good food", out of my head.  No matter what I did, she wouldn't leave.  So J. and I decided to take the next step and when that next step was successful, we took the next one.  Which led to us submitting a Letter of Intent to China in the hopes that they would agree to let us adopt her.  That was last week.  Twenty-four hours later we had a reply.  It wasn't an outright no, but a request for more information.  I spent the day scrambling to pull together everything we needed and we resubmitted our request on Monday.

And they said yes.  We will be allowed to adopt this little girl whom we have fallen in love with.  Since I was preparing myself for a 'no', I think I'm in a bit of shock.  But I don't know why because God's hand has been all over this and He is bigger than governments. 

Since her picture has been on various advocacy sites I will share one with you.  Because you will wonder and ask... we believe she has neurofibromatosis, a genetic disease which causes the nerve endings to develop tumors.  Along with tumors, cafe au lait spots are also common, which is the darkening on her face.

So meet our newest daughter... and please keep all of us in your prayers as we walk through this process.

If you are here from Kelly's Korner, this is our third and newest adoption.  We have been in process for quite a while and hope to travel in March '12.  While we aren't fundraising per se, we also won't turn down donations and have a way to make them tax deductible for the donor.  Contact me if you are interested.  While we don't know how God is going to finance this adoption, I didn't really link here for that, but to advocate for a boy who has touched our hearts and needs a family.  If you click the link, you can meet Joseph and read his story.  For those interested, the story of our first two adoptions can be found either by going to my adoption page at the top of my blog or by choosing the adoption category.

History Co-ops

I had a couple people express interest in our history co-op so I'm afraid the rest of you are stuck with it as well.  As I have said, we have met with our history co-op for 12 years, meeting once a week for an hour and a half.  We have a six year cycle that moves us through the eras in history in chronological order, spending one year on each one:  Ancient Egypt; Ancient Greece; Ancient Rome; the Middle Ages; the Renaissance; and the Enlightenment.  We end the Enlightenment just after the American and French revolutions and then we head back to Egypt.  As families we each cover US history and the history of the 19th and 20th centuries on our own.

The Nuts and Bolts

We have always limited the group to five or six families.  This keeps the numbers at a manageable level but has enough parents (mothers in our case) so the teaching is not overwhelming.  When we first began, we had fewer and smaller children so we all met together as a group.  While the details have changed over time, our basic format has been for a parent to present the day's topic and then some hands-on learning activity is done.  This can be a craft, a game, a play, etc. which relates to what we are studying.  Often a parent will also read some sort of book (picture book, historical fiction, work of literature from that time period) as well while the children color (to keep their hands busy).

As our children became more numerous and older we had to change things a bit.  Now we meet as two groups, ages 13+ in one group and ages 5 - 12 in another.  The younger format remains the same, but we significantly changed the format for the older group.  They are now responsible for teaching the lesson themselves.   The mothers all meet to plan the topics and then we assign each student what topics he or she needs to prepare.  They are each assigned two historical figures to present as well.  All total, last year each student presented two different topics and two different biographies.  They also did reading from the period in question and J. spent a half hour each Friday reviewing and discussing what they read that week.  For instance, last year, when we did the Enlightenment, they read The Faerie Queen by Edmund Spencer, and A Modest Proposal and Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift.

We made our yearly schedule of topics by culling through books on that era.  After looking at a few of them, it starts to become clear what the main areas of study for that period are.  Unlike many people who teach and talk about the study of history, we never had a 'spine'.  We much preferred to use a lot of different sources and pull from each of them.  Sometimes our topics were determined by the interests of the mothers that year.  For instance, one mother is an architect and we always made sure to cover the architecture of any given period.  I often covered the music portion and another mother enjoyed science.  We played to our strengths... it did make covering the multitude of wars a little difficult.  I don't think we ever resorted to Rock, Paper, Scissors, but one always wanted to be sure to make the planning meeting.

Some Tips from Experience
  • Be sure that all the participants are in agreement as to how the co-op is going to work, who will be participating, what the behavior expectations are, and how and when money will be spent.
    • Co-ops can be miserable when everyone doesn't participate equally or when family philosophies of parenting and discipline differ wildly.  Hash this out ahead of time before you begin.
  • Be flexible and plan make-up days into the schedule.  Stomach flu happens.
    • We all  know parenting can be full of surprises and over-committing and over-scheduling just leads to stress.  We found creating a lighter schedule allowed us the freedom to move things when necessary.
  • Keep lines of communication open.  If you have a concern address it right away before it becomes a big deal.
  • Plan in field trips and other fun activities.
    • We always ended our study with a huge feast.  This gave us a chance to prepare food typical to the era and dress in costumes.  It also gave the fathers a chance to participate.
  • Remember your purpose.
    • Because one class, once a week is never going to give a child all the historical information he or she needs to know, be clear about what it is going to do.  For us it was to expose our children to the major themes of history, give them an overall picture of historical events, and to communicate that history is interesting and has something to say to them.
And lastly, have fun.  Through our participation in the co-op we have met some wonderful families through the years.  Our children have made friends and learned much.  And our long-suffering husbands have even dressed in funny costumes.  To see us in action look at these past posts:

Toga! Toga!
Costumes (That year, our history feast was right before Halloween, allowing us to double-up)
Preparing for a Renaissance Feast
Preparing for the Enlightenment

This past year, overwhelmed with the thought of going back to Egypt again, we have all taken a year off.  I think most of us have taken the time to cover US and modern history.  But, I realized last week, as I was meeting with some other mothers about how to form a history co-op, that the break seems to have worked.  I'm feeling ready to face Egypt again.  I'm not sure that I'm up to excited yet, but that will probably come.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just some pictures

Here is what I get to see all the time.  Isn't it sweet?  Even K. has Knuffle Bunny memorized now.  L. is sitting next to B and G. is on his lap.

And A. has been taking advantage of the little bit of hair G. and L. have on their head.  She has discovered if she uses rubber bands made for braces, she can get two little pony tails on G. and L.'s heads.  Here's G.:

And what happens not very long after her hair is done:

And here is L.:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cooking with children

As my children grow older, I find more and more reasons to involve them in the activities of the kitchen.  The obvious reasons are that by doing so you are teaching them life skills which they will have for their entire lives; you are actually teaching nutrition as well as teaching cooking, and many studies have shown that children who help prepare food are more likely to be adventurous eaters.  And these are good and valuable reasons.  The added perk is that by teaching your children to cook, you can wake up on a Saturday morning when your husband has to be at work and your ten year old daughter can make pancakes for breakfast without any assistance what so ever, freeing you up to get small people dressed.  I must add that this was a first for P. on Saturday morning.  While she had helped A. make pancakes before, she had never done it solo.  A. was at a sleepover, so P. was on her own.  She did a great job.

But it is the unexpected reason that I found myself focusing on today and that is the companionship aspect.  B. and I spent nearly all Saturday afternoon in the kitchen together.  We made 9 pints orange-pineapple marmalade, plus he made bread and I made pizza dough.  B. is as competent as any adult in the kitchen and is a huge help.  If I am completely honest, he has a great sense of what tastes good and is often better at adding seasonings than I am.  He is a joy to cook with.  B. was the real motivating force behind the marmalade because he really loves it and I never think to buy it.  Peeling and pithing the oranges was a bit labor-intensive, but it went much faster with two.  The recipe didn't call for pectin, but I would probably add it if I do it again because the marmalade seemed a bit runny... I hope it thickens up after it cools.

As I think about it, B. has been my main canning helper for the past year and he could probably do it all himself at this point.  In fact, I realized that it had been a good long while since I had to do any canning all by myself and wondered if I could plan all canning around the times that B. is home for... well, forever.

So, cook with your children... create memories with them... develop their skills... enjoy their company.  You won't regret it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day of oranges

If we had a day of apples in the fall, it seems only fair that we have a day of oranges in the winter.  B. and I are spending the afternoon today making marmelade... a first for us.  My parents sent us a 40# box of oranges last week, and though everyone has been eating the oranges to their heart's content, we still have a lot left.  B. has been wanting to make marmelade for a while, so that's the plan.  Perhaps I'll have pictures for you on Monday if we're successful.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Looking forward to the weekend...

Because I have nothing planned and I can catch-up on all the things that didn't get done this week.  It was one of those nutty weeks that start out normally enough, but then spiral out of control when all sorts of last minute things which need attention RIGHT NOW (yes, they scream) come up.  I got it all done, but feel as though I just managed to get everyone fed and that's it.  For instance, right now, A. is borrowing some of my clothes because of the dire laundry situation.

One of the things I thought of writing about this week was the long-running history co-op we've been in for the past 12 years.  Obviously, I didn't get around to it, but then that led me to wondering if other people would find it interesting and/or helpful.  So, because, it seems at this moment I currently have nothing to say and am just rambling, I ask you, my readers, would any of you be interested in reading about this?  Or should I just move onto other topics, like more cute baby toddler pictures?  Toddlers, I might add, who are currently sporting little standing-up floofs on the tops of their heads, thanks to big sister A., who has been dying to do their hair since they were born.  It's been a long wait for her as they s-l-o-w-l-y grow enough hair to play with.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Homeschool Resource Day - Link Up - Big Book of Books

We've been spending a lot of time working on our lap books about planets.  Consequently, we've been spending time making many little books to go in the lap books and I've been spending a lot of time perusing Dinah Zike's Big Book of Books.  I always forget how much is in this book and I'm always inspired after looking through it.  It is filled with ideas for making little books and stands and manipulatives for learning.  See the mobile in the picture at the top?  It's difficult to see, but it is a mobile of the solar system that A. decided to make after flipping through the Dinah Zike's book.  (She has started a Great Courses DVD series on astronomy and so this project also fits in with that.)  It's not written specifically for lap books, but it contains great ideas which are easily transferable to lap books... or not if lap booking is not your thing. 

One of the things I've always loved in it are the directions for making a miniature bookcase filled with miniature books.  I'm thinking that perhaps as we move into our study of the South Pacific, we'll document our learning by making a collection of miniature books about each topic.  Since I have found that making the small books and folders is time consuming and that lap books go together more easily if they are made ahead of time (I still have the children make them, though), I think perhaps we'll spend some time making a bunch of little books and then fill them in as we go.

If you haven't seen this book I highly recommend it, though it isn't always easy to find.  It continues to be one of those resources I go back to over and over again.

Now it's your turn to share a resource. Here are the rules:

1. Post about a resource (book, movie, CD, website, etc.) that you have found useful in teaching your children. You can also post directions for a learning activity that you have done with your children. The content of your blog must be family-friendly.

2. Link your post (use the permalink, not your blog's homepage) below.

3. Link back to this blog somewhere in your post so others can see everyone's great resources. You can use this button if you like.

Ordinary Time
Copy and paste the following code into your website or blog.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sometimes you just need a new family picture which includes everyone

And my trick for getting everyone's cooperation?  Fix their favorite dinner, then before serving insist we take the picture with threats of no yummy dinner hanging in the air.  It seems they'll do anything... even look at the camera and smile... if it means they get to eat sausage gravy and biscuits.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to my brother!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Boys who build

My parents gave TM and D. a pair of really cool building sets for Christmas.  They are a little trickier to build with than Legos, but as a result the item which is built is quite a bit more stable.  (Raise your hand if a child has come running to you to show you his or her newest creation only to have it break apart before you got to see it.)  TM in particular has really taken to building with this new toy.  Not only has he been able to build things for which he has instructions, but he has also been able to look at pictures on the box (for which there are no instructions... why?) and build those as well.  This crane falls in the second category:  built only with a picture to look at.  D. helped out by holding and following TM's directions.

Here it is with the hook down:

And up:

The boys both say, "Thank you Grammy and Grandpa!"

Monday, January 17, 2011


I know this isn't November any longer and that it isn't National Adoption Month, either.  But I realized that I never posted the article about adoption I wrote for our church's newsletter.  (I know it was in some other church's newsletters around the country as well.)  Plus, it's a really easy post for me since it was already written.

November is National Adoption Month. In observance, I would like to share a story about some friends in Michigan. Kim and Ben are a couple in love with Jesus. They are so overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for them that they can’t help but share that love with other people. They have big hearts. It is the only explanation that can be offered for what I’m about to share with you. Kim and Ben have 10 children. All ten children are adopted (Korea, Liberia, China, and domestic), and some of them come from very hard places. This alone would make Kim and Ben fairly remarkable. But there is more to their story. This past July, they became aware of a birth mother who had been raped, but wished to allow the baby to live and to place her for adoption. The added complication? The little girl was diagnosed with a brain disorder which essentially meant that she had a brain stem, but only fluid in the actual brain cavity. The prognosis for a child with this condition is grim; such children may live for only a few days, others for perhaps up to a year.
Yet Kim and Ben felt the strong call of God to adopt this little girl, a little girl who would be released directly from the hospital into hospice care. Their daughter, Selah Hope, lived for 55 days. During her time on earth she knew nothing but affection and care as her adoptive family showered love upon her and praised God for her little life. This little girl and the story of her adoption touched many, many lives. Her birthmother accepted Jesus as her savior because of the love that Kim and Ben showered upon her child and upon her. She was so overwhelmed by their love that she desperately wanted to know the God of people like that. Over the course of Selah’s 55 days, this story repeated itself again and again. If we healthy, full-grown believers had the same effect upon people, the world would be transformed.

At some level, this is an outrageous story. It goes against everything our comfortable, middle-class existence says is right and good. But if you think about it, adoption itself is outrageous: bringing an unrelated child into a family and raising that child as one’s own. There are any number of reasons why it doesn’t make sense: the lack of biological connection, the expense, the many unknowns. It can be uncomfortable.

However, human adoption didn’t come first; it is preceded by our adoption into the family of God. The fact that God… divine, all-powerful, creator of everything… has condescended to adopt us… human, frail, sinful, limited… into his family is a thing too overwhelming to comprehend. He doesn’t need us. The only way it can be explained is that He loves us. We are not the easiest children to parent. We never do what we’re supposed to; we whine; we get angry; we run away; we often must break God’s heart. I am so grateful that our behavior does not stop God from loving us.

This love showered upon us is what makes us capable of showering it upon others. And who does God tell us to love? In James 1:27 we are told: “A religion that is pure and stainless according to God the Father is this: to take care of orphans and widows who are suffering, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (NIV) Caring for the widows and orphans, the least among us, is what is pleasing to God. He doesn’t tell us to do it because it makes sense to the world or because it is easy or convenient. We are told to care for the least because they, like us, are created in His image. We are to be His hands and His feet in caring for them.

Did you know there are 130,000 children in foster care in the U.S. who are legally free for adoption? There are over twice as many churches in this country. Christians could, if they chose, give every waiting child in the U.S. a permanent family. Did you know that the U.S. allows children who are HIV+ to be adopted and to enter the country? HIV can be frightening, but through modern ARV drugs, viral loads in a positive person’s bloodstream can become virtually undetectable. Many children and sibling groups wait for permanent families, having lost their birth families to this disease. The disease first killed their families and is now killing their chances for a second family because of ignorance and fear. Did you know that many healthy boys wait for families merely because they are boys? In the world of adoption, girls are far more desirable. Boys wait and wait merely because of their gender, living for years in institutions instead of with mothers and fathers.

But let me careful here and not imply that children are projects and should be adopted because of only good intentions. Every child deserves to be in a family who desires that child for who he or she is, not as a check mark on a do-gooder’s list, but as a human being who desires and needs genuine love. Perhaps the first step many people have to make as they travel the road of adoption is to simply ask God to enlarge their hearts. Ask to be given new eyes to see the value of children. Ask to not have their thinking stained by the world which says that children are a hindrance, or a financial drain, or simply a symbol of having achieved the “American Dream” right along with the good job, two cars, and the multi-bedroom house. Ask to see children as God does… as blessings.

One family cannot help all the needy children of the world. But think what would happen if the body of Christ rose up and said it is enough? Let us decide that we no longer accept the fact that children live in institutions without a mother to wipe their tears, without a father to protect them, without a hope for a future. It is enough. Let us decide that we will all do something… whether it is adopting a waiting child, providing the finances to a family so they can adopt, or sponsoring a child in a developing country so that they can stay in their family of origin. If we would all act together, we could change the world. And when we are asked why we would do this… why we would open our lives, hearts, and homes to another child, why we would give away hard-earned money, why we would love these unwanted children… we would say because Jesus loves us and we can do nothing else.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stuffed spinach pizza

For the first time in a long time I made stuffed spinach pizza for dinner.  Why had it been so long?  Well, because I had only one 14 inch deep dish pizza pan and one pizza, even really rich and filling pizza, doesn't serve 11 people.  In order to facilitate the homemade pizza making, J. found another pizza pan for me.  With two pans I can go back to stuffed pizza making.  I love this because these two pizzas filled everyone up at dinner and had enough left over to fill everyone up at lunch.  Did I mention it was rich and filling?

Would you like the recipe?  You will need a 14 inch deep dish pizza pan to make it.  And make no mistake, this is not deep dish pizza, it's real stuffed pizza with two crusts filled with lots of cheese and covered with tomato sauce.  I started with the recipe that came with my first pizza pan and kept experimenting and changing it until I came as close as I could to our favorite take-out stuffed pizza.

Stuffed Spinach Pizza - makes on 14" pizza and serves a lot

Dough (This doubles fine if you want to make two... be sure your mixer can handle that much flour if you're not doing it by hand.)

3 pkgs of regular yeast (or 6 3/4 tsp) or 2 tsp of instant yeast such as SAF
1 1/2 C very warm water (from tap)
6 3/4 C flour (I've used all whole wheat and it works fine)
1 1/2 C olive oil
2 1/4 tsp salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside.  (Do not do this step if using instant yeast!)  Combine the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl and add in yeast and water mixture.  Knead for 5 minutes.  (I did this in my mixer and it was fine.)  Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for an hour.  If you are using instant yeast, mix the water with the rest of the ingredients and then add yeast to mixture, continue as written.

2 10-oz pkgs of frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
16 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil (I use fresh in the summer, dried in the winter)
a little salt

Mix all together and set aside until dough is ready.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  When dough is ready, lightly oil pizza pan, take a little more than half the dough and spread across the bottom and up the sides of the pizza pan.  Place filling inside dough.  Roll out the rest of the dough to the size of the pan and place on top of the filling.  Crimp the edges a bit to keep the dough together, much as you would make a pie, and prick the top of the dour all over with a fork.  Bake in oven for 30 minutes.  While it is baking, mix up the topping.

1 28-oz can tomato puree
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, drained!
(As much as you like, I never measure, I just put some in until it tastes right.)

When the pizza has baked for 30 minutes, take it out and spoon the topping on top of the pizza.  Bake for another 10 minutes.  Cool slightly, and serve.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A little story about a little owl

When I was a very little girl, I had been out doing errands with my mother and in the course of these errands, she bought me a little ceramic owl.  I don't remember it being bought, but I remember coming home with it... it was so cute and I was so happy to have it.  Happy to have it that is until I accidentally dropped it and part of its head broke.  I was understandably upset and my mother carefully picked up the pieces and glued his little head back together.  The problem was that some pieces had shattered and so he was left with a small hole in the back of his head.  Gluing the pieces back didn't cut it for me.  I didn't think he was as cute anymore and I didn't want him unless he was like he was before, and I told my mother so.  In a moment of parenting brilliance, my mother told me it was too bad I couldn't love something that wasn't perfect, and said she would take the owl for herself.  And she did, taking it from my hands and carefully putting it on the window sill by the kitchen sink.  I was immediately ashamed of what I had said and begged my mother to have the owl back... that of course I would love it, I didn't really mean what I said.  But my mother stuck to her guns and kept the owl, leaving it sitting in plain sight.

That owl sat there for years and I could never look at it without feeling ashamed at caring more for appearances than I should have.  Once, a few years later, I asked my mother if I might have the owl back now.  I had learned my lesson, after all.  But still she said no and the owl continued to sit on the windowsill.  Many, many years later I happened upon it again and mentioned it to my mother... about what an impact that one small incident had had on me and how I viewed the world.  If my memory serves me correctly (not a given, though), she didn't remember the incident and I was a little surprised because for me it was one of the defining moments of my childhood.  She even offered me the little owl, but I didn't feel right in taking it and left it with her.

My point in all of this?  That I am often struck by what immense responsibilities we have as parents.  That we are really responsible for so much of what our children understand and believe.  It can seem like an overwhelming and awesome responsibility.  I pray that I am able to parent  my children with the same grace and wisdom I received as a child from my parents.  I wouldn't be truthful if I didn't admit that there are many days where I fear I don't even come close to reaching my goal.  Perhaps that is why this prayer that Anne (of Green Gables) offers up in the last book struck such a chord with me.

"... Dear God... help all mothers everywhere.  We need so much help, with the little sensitive, loving hearts and minds that look to us for guidance and love and understanding."  -from Anne of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Homeschool Resource Day - Link up - Babybug

First off, both my commenters on yesterday's post were correct and can claim bragging rights.  "Wumpy flappy" is from Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.  "Wumpy flappy" is what Trixie says to her father when she discovers that her rabbit, Knuffle Bunny, is lost.  (She follows it up wuth "snurp" if your curious where that came from.)  Anyway "wumpy flappy" is now our family's code for I'm upset and no one is understanding me.  Plus it's just fun to say.

Now on to this week's resource, this time for the youngest children.  Are you familiar with the Cricket Magazine Group?  They have many different magazines for all ages which are well-done and advertising free.  We have subscribed to many of them over the years, but today I want to focus on Babybug magazine.  This came to mind as I was reading an issue to G. and L.  They love these magazines.  They are on heavy cardstock so they can withstand some pretty heavy use and are beautifully illustrated. Each issue is filled with short, age-appropriate stories, poems, and nursery rhymes.  We have collected quite a set of these little magazines and G. and L. spend a lot of time looking at them.  They are a great resource for encouraging an early love of books and stories.  (No, I'm not getting anything for this... I just really like them.)

Now it's your turn to share a resource.  Here are the rules:

1. Post about a resource (book, movie, CD, website, etc.) that you have found useful in teaching your children. You can also post directions for a learning activity that you have done with your children. The content of your blog must be family-friendly.

2. Link your post (use the permalink, not your blog's homepage) below.

3. Link back to this blog somewhere in your post so others can see everyone's great resources. You can use this button if you like.

Ordinary Time
Copy and paste the following code into your website or blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wumpy flappy... or reading together

(Bragging rights to a superior knowledge of children's pictures books goes to the first person who can correctly identify the quote in the title.  I'll tell you what it is tomorrow... oh, and my children are excluded, just so they know.)

If you're already convinced about the necessity and benefits of reading to your children, even after they can read themselves, then you can either skip this post, or read it and nod knowingly.  You already know that reading books together is good not only for your children but for the whole family.  Each family has its own distinct culture, a culture comprised of shared memories, traditions (or lack of), habits, beliefs, and language.  The more shared memories and traditions, the richer the culture and the richer the family life.

Reading books and stories together is a way to create shared memories and language.  Our family has a host of phrases which we have picked-up from various books we have read together.  All it takes is for someone to say a phrase and not only does everyone else recognize it, but the underlying meaning of the phrase is immediately known as well.  For instance, when Frances says, "Life isn't very good around here anymore..." in A Baby Sister for Frances, everyone knows first off the context of the quote, but also that it has become a family code for someone feeling as if they are not being paid attention to and nothing is working out right.  Or sometimes an older sibling will tell a younger one that he or she is being Ramona, which in my book is a whole lot nicer than telling someone they're a pest.

The other way reading together creates shared memories and language is through the discussions which result from everyone having read or heard the same book.  Currently, TM is obsessed with the idea of finding buried treasure.  (I'm thankful that the ground is frozen solid.  Perhaps this will have passed before it thaws in the spring.)  This was brewing even before we read Tom Sawyer, but reading about how Tom and Huck found buried treasure has certainly played into those desires.  We've had quite a few discussions about where and if one could find buried treasure and what one should do with it.  (TM wants to find it because his dream is that the entire family would go together to visit Vietnam.  We have told him that would be very expensive and his solution was the whole buried treasure-thing.)  Other times we've read books and had discussions about issues of character or morality.  Discussions about important things which may be uncomfortable without the context of a book or character to talk about.  Little boys are much more likely to talk about why it was wrong for Little Britches to lie to his father than they are if they are worried they will be getting into trouble.

A couple other notes about reading together.  First, it is something that has to be planned and it takes time to become a habit.  In our family we read together at lunch time and at bedtime.  It is just what we do and everyone expects it and looks forward to it.  We build it into our day.  (Actually we read together at many other times as well, but these are the times we read our current chapter books.)  Second, it is never too soon to begin.  Even little babies and toddlers can enjoy being read to.  Currently, books are some of L. and G.'s favorite things and they love to hear the same story over and over and over... It's a good thing there are many readers in the house so we can trade off when one of us gets tired of reading about what the polar bear hears.  Third, the books that have made the longest lasting impressions on our family are the classics.  Some are newer, some are older, but they are all books which deal with important themes and use language which forces the listener to work a bit.  There is nothing dumbed down about them, nor are they filled with the current fad of writing books for young people which deal with the sordid underbelly of life.  Yes, bad things happen, but that is not what I want my children dwelling on.  Be choosy in what you and your children spend time reading.

But most of all, just sit down and read together.  Get a blanket, find a big chair or couch, and snuggle together while you enjoy a good story.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More mask making

M. enjoyed making the masks for the front yard theatricals so much that I thought I would give her some supplies and how-to books as a Christmas gift.  So over Christmas break P. volunteered to be her first model.  This required her having her face covered in Vaseline and then wrapped in plaster tape to make the base for the mask.  Here is the result:

And from the side:

Not bad for a first try, huh?

Monday, January 10, 2011

My new sewing area

See what J. built for me?  It's a new sewing table.  My old one was just a small folding sewing table that didn't really have enough room for all my machines and it was always a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to move them around so I could use both of them.  But now any longer.  Now I have a sewing table that both machines fit on and I can get the embroidery unit on and off my sewing machine without having to move the serger.  Plus, there are shelves underneath to keep the things I use all the time close at hand.  Bliss.  (Just pretend you don't notice the peeling, curling wallpaper in background, OK?

And not only do I have a new sewing table, I also have new shelves to store my extra sewing supplies so I don't have to have stuff piled on the sewing table.  That basket on the floor is my mending which I am working my way through.  It had kind of piled-up from when the babies were smaller.

Here's a picture of the entire corner.  I spent Saturday afternoon organizing and putting things in order on my new shelves and finally cutting up all the unwanted clothes I was keeping for fabric.  It is now all folded up and sorted and in a box under my bed as opposed to spilling out of a box all over my floor that I had to walk around.  The whole room looks just a bit more organized and might be the motivation I need to do something... anything... about its general ugliness.  J. and I really do have the ugliest usable room in the house.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Twin pics

G. and L. actually did some posing for pictures.  You have to be fast, though, because they stand very briefly and then they run toward you to see the picture of themselves on the camera.  G. with the orange lid and L. with the blue.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Reading list

I've seen a lot of people posting on their blogs about what books they plan on reading in the coming year and I realize I've never done a list like that.  I don't even wonder at the reasons why... I know all too well why I don't.  You see the minute I make a list of books I "need" to read, even if they are books I am interested in, all desire to read them suddenly goes out the window.  Those become the books I precisely do not want to read and I'll go in search of something else.  Nutty, I know.  It's also why I always worked so much more diligently in college on the classes I was auditing than the ones I was taking for credit.  The other reason I don't make a yearly reading list is that it wouldn't really be a yearly list, but more like a couple of months reading list.  This isn't meant to brag, but I read very quickly and I read a lot.  It's just how I am.  I cannot conceive of trying to make a list that would last me the entire year.  And finally, I just don't know what books I want to read ahead of time.  If I find a book I like or am interested in, I will often then read everything else by that author or work my way through the bibliography, which then leads me to other books, and so on and so on.

All that to say, I won't be sharing my year's list of reading material, but I can share what I'm currently reading.  I'm finishing up John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education and I'm in the middle of Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children by Viviana A. Zelizer.  I'm also planning on starting Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leanard Sax.  And because one always needs something light to read as well, Dog On It by Spencer Quinn in on the stack.

As read alouds, we are very, very close to finishing Tom Sawyer (we took December off), and will be starting Call It Courage to go with our new geography study of the South Pacific.  J., after much pleading by TM and D., has just started the first Lord of the Rings book for their nighttime story and I have restarted Anne of Ingleside with A. and P.  I say restarted because it had been a while since I had read to the older girls at bedtime.  With G. and L. nursing and whatnot, it was virtually impossible to read to the girls, but now we can put the little girls in bed and now I am free to go back to reading.  The trouble was, none of us could remember either where we were in the book or what had happened in the beginning, so we started again.

So there you have it... my reading list for the next few weeks.  I'm always open to suggestions, though, it's difficult to keep myself in books sometimes.  Have you read any good books recently?

(Oh, and just a brief, selfish note:  Because I am an Amazon Associate, every time someone buys something on Amazon through my blog, I get a small percentage.  So, if you have ever thought about doing it, now is the time, because once again it doesn't pay to live in Illinois.  Our state legislature has passed a bill, one of the consequences of which is that it would make programs like Amazon Associates illegal in the great state of Illinois.  It was never a lot of money, but every little bit helps and this will be a little bit that won't be helping anymore.  No, I'm not bitter.  Why do you ask?)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Back in the saddle

Thanks for everyone's kind comments on my last post.  I'm feeling a bit better.  Fatigue makes it difficult to sustain the energy needed to constantly go against the flow of life.

Now, on to my real post, which I planned on titling:  User Error, part 1 in a series

As I've grown older and raised children to functioning young adulthood, I have become more and more opinionated about various parenting choices.  And I've come to the conclusion that some choices are just wrong.  This is a very unpopular statement these days.  We are so open-minded and accommodating and willing to accept everyone's personal choices that we are uncomfortable coming out and saying that there are some things that are just wrong.  But they are.  And this is what this series, as I get around to writing each segment, is to be about. 

My first example has to do with who is ultimately in control of a household, the parents or the children, because the adults in the house have abdicated their parenting responsibilities.  Let me give you an example.  Say a child has an opportunity to participate in something which fits well in a family's schedule and is in keeping with a family's philosophy.  The problem is that it is something a younger sibling cannot participate in it as well because of age.  (It does not have to be a class, it can be something else that by virtue of being older the older sibling can do/use/have that the younger sibling cannot.)  As parents, we all know the younger child will be disappointed and I will agree it is difficult to see a child experience disappointment.  The trouble lies when the parent opts to deny the older child the privilege because of the fuss which will be caused by the younger sibling.  They are choosing a short-term, easier path over what is the better long-term choice.  In effect, they are allowing the youngest child to hold the family hostage to his or her wishes merely because they have the capability of pitching a fit.

But this way lies madness.  Where do these parents draw the line and at what age?  Does the older child not get a driver's license because the younger child can't have one?  What about birthday parties?  With our virtual twins we have already had to navigate one boy being invited to a party and the other not.  Yeah, it's hard, but it is also part of life.  Everyone doesn't get to do everything.

I think there are several causes at the root of this problem.  The first is an unwillingness to make the hard parenting decisions.  The parent chooses not to make a difficult choice in order to avoid the possible stress of the younger child's disappointment.  Children naturally want their own way, some more than others, and they can be very vocal about getting it.  It is our job as parents to teach our children to inhibit their natural inclinations and to learn self-control and moderation.  The only way this can be learned is through the practice and experience of a child not getting his or her own way.  By giving in to the great big noisy fit (or worse, the mere threat of a potential noisy fit), parents may gain short-term quiet, but they have made it that much more difficult to raise a child that is pleasant to live with and one whom other people enjoy being around.  Parenting isn't for wimps or cowards.

The second root is that there is a confusion among parents as to what fair really means.  Fair does not mean that each child gets to do and have exactly the same thing as every other child in a family.  Fair means that each child is raised by their parents in the manner which is best for that child to grow to functioning and productive adulthood.  Every single child is different from another and has different needs, talents, faults, and abilities.  What is good for one child may not be good for another.  Besides, from a purely practical point of view, it is nearly impossible to give things and opportunities absolutely equitably.  (One of the many benefits of having lots of kids is that it inoculates one against this obsession with fairness.  In my observations, families with two children are at greatest risk of falling into the fairness fallacy.)

Third, I believe that parents have lost the importance of the idea of delayed gratification. There is a lot to be said for learning delayed gratification.  Teaching the younger child to wait for some desired activity is an important lesson for that child.  Children who have learned this concept are far less likely to get into trouble in adulthood.  If you can wait and pay cash for an item you want, you are much less likely to have a problem with debt.  To look at current American society, it would seem the the idea of delayed gratification is nearly an archaic concept.  But it is one that needs to be revived.  You will be giving your children a huge gift if they learn the ability to wait for the best in lieu of satisfying an immediate craving... of any sort. 

Fourth, parents are often unaware of the importance of developmental markers in the life and maturation of a child.  The first year of life, we are hyper-aware of them.  We pay close attention to first smiles, first waves, first teeth and first steps.  The trouble is, as children grow older, the physical developmental markers become fewer and often become external to the child.  School graduations, driver's licenses, college acceptances, engagements, weddings, and having children represent nearly the sum total of what our society gives us as far as communally telling our children they are getting older.  As parents, we need to create other, family-based markers so that our children can see they are maturing and developing.  But to create these, it means that we will naturally be excluding the child who is younger.  But this is not a negative thing.  The older child gets the benefit of attention or benefits that are solely theirs without having to share.  The younger child sees what is in their future and gives them something to work toward and look forward to.  The younger child may complain or grouse a bit, but if we give them their privileges too early or without the necessary preparation, the privileges become empty and meaningless.  We cheat our children.

Last, I think some parents, in ignorance, underestimate what level of behavior their children are capable of.  They aim too low, so that's what is achieved.  Children, even young children, are often capable of understanding more than we expect and the same goes with behavior.  Of course it doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen without training and practice, but children can learn good behavior.  I wish parents would expect more from their children and then work with them to make that a reality.
Oh look, it's Thursday.  I completely missed that... I guess I'm not posting a resource this week.  But that doesn't mean you can't.  Link up!

Here are the rules:
1. Post about a resource (book, movie, CD, website, etc.) that you have found useful in teaching your children. You can also post directions for a learning activity that you have done with your children. The content of your blog must be family-friendly.
2. Link your post (use the permalink, not your blog's homepage) below.
3. Link back to this blog somewhere in your post so others can see everyone's great resources. You can use this button if you like.

Ordinary Time
Copy and paste the following code into your website or blog.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tilting at windmills

We all have different social circles where we function, consisting of different groups of friends and different focuses and different viewpoints.  I realize there are very few of my social circles where I am not the odd one... whether for our family size, educational choices, views on parenting, you name it.  Usually, I am OK with my perceived weirdness and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that in many ways I both embrace and cultivate it.  But, sometimes it gets tiring.  It gets tiring to be the lone voice for a particular viewpoint.  It gets tiring to always have one's differences pointed out.  It gets tiring to advocate for making choices that are out of the mainstream when no one even perceives there are choices to be made.  It gets tiring to be the freak.

In case you haven't figured out my trick to keeping up a blog with so many children at home, I do it by writing posts ahead of time.  So, while you're reading this on the 5th, I am actually writing it the night before.  And I know that as well as being emotionally tired, I am also physically tired, which contributes to my pessimistic mood.  I know that after a good night's sleep (I hope... on the sleep part) that I will be refreshed and ready to get back on my steed and point my lance at unsuspecting windmills.  But tonight, for a little while longer, I will wonder if my efforts are worth it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Recently I keep coming across references to the inefficiency of life.  First it was in Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson and most recently it was in The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto.  Disparate books to be sure, but both making the same point in their own way.  And that point is that life is inherently inefficient, even though we devote much of our lives to trying to make it efficient, and are often disappointed in the results.

As much as life is inefficient, raising children, making a home for them, and educating them is even more so.  I believe that much of the frustration of parenting stems from this one simple fact.  We expect to be able to order our lives in an efficient manner and that often extends to our children as well.  And there is nothing so frustrating as when things don't meet with our expectations.  A perfect example of this is trying to get anywhere with a toddler.  The key to sanity is to allow enough time and try not to put yourself in a position where you will be rushed, because it is nearly a law of physics that the more you rush a toddler, the slower they go. If we could harness this phenomenon, we could probably learn to stop time.  But more often than not we try to be efficient; we try to squeeze in too many things to make the most of our time. 

We have been brainwashed by our surrounding culture that wasting time is bad.  Wasted time involves anything that cannot be itemized,or checked off a list, or sold as billable hours.  Homemakers try to cram as much as possible into a day because society already implies that what they do isn't valuable.  There is a certain level of guilt involved in sitting down for a few minutes and putting up ones feet... even if there are no bonbons involved.  (See, the stereotype is right there.)  As parents we also have difficulty with our children "wasting" time.  They are scheduled from morn to night, in good things, mind you, it's just that there are so many good things.  But at least they aren't sitting around doing nothing.

I am always a little amazed that one of the first proselytizers of efficiency was Frank Gilbreth, the father of Cheaper by the Dozen fame.  How a father of 12 could claim that life can be made efficient is beyond me.  Because everything worthwhile in life is not efficient.  It is not efficient to spend all your waking hours carrying and nursing a baby.  It is not efficient to play endless games of Candyland with a preschooler.  It is not efficient to drop everything to help care for a sick friend.  It is not efficient to spend long hours at the bedside of a dying loved one.  Life is not efficient because life at its best involves loving people.  Loving people can be messy and time consuming and costly, just the opposite of efficiency.  But also far more satisfying than a check on the to-do list or an item in a ledger.

So embrace inefficiency in this new year of 2011 and waste some time loving the people in your life.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Showing off more new dresses

Before Christmas I came across directions for turning a woman's turtleneck sweater into a cowl-neck baby dress.  Because I was sewing pajamas during the entire month of December I didn't get a chance to try it until this past week.  But I made up for lost time, not only did I make two dresses, but I turned some extra sweater bits into matching hats and embroidered snowflakes on them as well.  (There is also a small purse, also with an embroidered snowflake that I'm going to finish and put in the shop, but it's not done yet.)  I should have taken pictures of the sweaters before I cut them up, but let's just say they are in a much nicer form now.  G. and L. wore them to church yesterday and when we came back home I tried to get some pictures of the girls wearing them.  No mean feat, let me tell you.  G. is in red and L. is in black.  And I should have rolled L.'s sleeves back down, but didn't notice it until I was uploading these pictures.  L.'s sleeves unrolled have a nice bell shape to them.

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