Tuesday, September 30, 2008

93...Free!

This morning as I canned more salsa, I listened to several finance experts on the radio. My toes curled a bit. Then, I asked several friends what they thought about the current economic outlook. My toes curled a little more. Then, at dinner, my husband and I discussed our own financial resources. We agreed on a plan. For the remainder of the year, we will try to spend as little as possible, challenging ourselves to buy what is necessary and putting off "extras." Although we live a fairly frugal lifestyle anyway, the specific challenge..."93 Free"...or 93 days free of spending anything that isn't necessary, is new.

In that spirit, I'll be trying to post a reflection on each day of our "93...Free!" Hopefully, this will include tips and ideas that others can use as well. Since Christmas falls into this time frame, I'll be posting Christmas ideas.

93...Free
Day 1


I didn't spend any money today, but I tried to get creative in saving some. "Dump Soup" was the result. The last several days' worth of cooking and canning has resulted in our fridge being filled with odds and ends:

* cooked hamburger
* half a cabbage
* chopped onion, tomatoes, green peppers, celery (from making salsa)
* corn (cut off some corn-on-the-cob we had a few nights ago)

I basically emptied the fridge into my crockpot and added beef broth (frozen, from previous leftovers), chili powder, Worcesterchire sauce, and salt. The outcome? "Dump Soup!"

We added a little grated cheese and a few tortilla chips. My husband asked to take the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. It might not be the 'purtiest thing, but it tasted good! Our neighbor gave us some Asian pears to round out the meal.

Tremendous Tomato Sauce!

Last summer I made tomato sauce from Simply in Season for the first time. LOVED IT! So this year, I'm making more. I froze last year's, but our freezers are already almost full and we're awaiting another 1/8 of a beef and 1/2 of a pig (local), so I'm canning.

Yesterday, I picked these from our garden:



By afternoon, I had tomato sauce:



Believe it or not, I don't really enjoy cooking all that much. But few things are as satisfying as watching the filled jars line up on my pantry shelves.

Here's my favorite tomato sauce recipe from Simply in Season. I quadrupled the recipe when I did it.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Yields 3 pints

1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)

Saute until soft in 2 T. olive oil.

2 carrots (shredded)
1/2 green pepper (chopped)
2 bay leaves
1/4 fresh parsley (chopped)
2 T. fresh basil (chopped; or 2 t. dried)
1 T. fresh oregano (chopped; or 1 t. dried)
1 T. fresh thyme (chopped; or 1 t. dried)

Add. Stir well.

6 c. plum tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
6 oz. tomato paste
1 T. honey (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Add and season to taste. Simmer 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve or freeze. To can, ladle into hot sterilized pint jars to within 1/2" of top, add 1 T. lemon juice or vinegar per pint to assure acidity, seal with sterilized lids, and process full jars in boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

"Organic," Economical, Weed Killer

Yesterday and today are big canning days. With canning comes pots of boiling water. When the canning is over, I take the pots outside and dump the steaming water on WEEDS. The weeds die. I figured this out by accident, but my mother-in-law told me that she does the same thing, so I guess it's a pretty effective means of eliminating weeds. :)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nightmare Revisited

This is not intended to be a political statement. Just a personal reflection.

Since I worked last week, I missed out on two major interviews (Couric & Gibson) with Palin. Since I didn't know that much about her, I wanted to watch for myself. This weekend I saw both interviews on YouTube.

When I watched, I started feeling panicky. I have this recurring dream in which I am supposed to take a college final exam but I have not attended any of the classes and have not received any of the study materials. Watching Palin, I was vividly reminded of that dream. The interviews about gave me heart palpitations. Since I'm about the same age/gender, it made me feel like I was on the spot being asked questions like "What's your opinion about the Bush Doctrine?"

I wanted to interrupt and say..."let me get back to you...just as soon as I wake up!"

Sincerely,
A person who is very, very grateful to NOT be running for office!

Skunk Conclusion

Thanks to the stick/board that my husband lowered into the hole, our little skunk friend got out on his own. Thank goodness! The other options that I was thinking of weren't very good...

1a. shoot him
1b...but then how do you remove the body??? And how do you stand above a 3 ft hole and shoot straight down at a skunk?

2a. trap him
2b...but how do you get him out of the hole and into the trap...and if you trap him, then what do you do with him?

Our neighbor was kind enough to offer assistance with both of the "a" options...as long as we understood that it was our problem to figure out part "b." ;)

Skunk Update

So we left the skunk overnight, hoping it would get out on its own.

IT'S STILL THERE!!!!!

So we put a stick down the hole, hoping it would help the skunk to climb out.

To be continued... (without tomato juice baths, I hope!!!)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Look What 'LilDude Found Tonight!

Dictated by 'LilDude:

I found a skunk tonight. It was in a post hole by the chicken coop that my dad has been building. When I told my dad he thought it was a cat. He was very, very surprised!

This is our chicken coop. Our cat, Keiko, is a few feet from the hole. (You can see the hole if you look carefully...it's diagonally out from the corner of the coop.)



Here is the hole:





Note from the photographer...

I held the camera out at arm's length, extended over the hole, to take the pictures. I wasn't sure how good an aim a skunk has from 3 feet underground. ;)

Playing Nice in Election Season

Maybe I've spent too much time in kindergarten this year. Or perhaps, not enough. In kindergarten, it's fascinating to watch children learn to respect one another, despite any lifelong (5 years is a long time!) beliefs they may have. Just this week, 'LilDude came home and told me that Elvis (yes, 'LilDude has an "Elvis" in his class) looked at 'LilDude's pink shirt and said, "Boys don't wear pink." 'LilDude didn't argue with him. But he did enjoy conversing with me about what our beliefs are...including the fact that even Daddy wears pink. :)

Anyway, in the spirit of loving others and getting along, I want to post Jim Wallis's "Five Rules of Christian Civility." Even if it isn't helpful to you, it's something that I need to revisit during the next few months.

1. We Christians should be in the pocket of no political party, but should evaluate both candidates and parties by our biblically-based moral compass.

2. We don't vote on only one issue, but see biblical foundations for our concerns over many issues.

3. We advocate for a consistent ethic of life from womb to tomb, and one that challenges the selective moralities of both the left and the right.

4. We will respect the integrity of our Christian brothers and sisters in their sincere efforts to apply Christian commitments to the important decisions of this election, knowing that people of faith and conscience will be voting both ways in this election year.

5. We will not attack our fellow Christians as Democratic or Republican partisans, but rather will expect and respect the practice of putting our faith first in this election year, even if we reach different conclusions.

...here's to a quick conclusion to election season! May life return to normal ASAP. :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Starbucks-Free Coffee for Classroom Teachers & Homeschooling Parents

Starbucks is offering free coffee for homeschooling parents on Monday, Sept. 29. Details here.

Free coffee for classroom teachers that day as well. Details here.

Why didn't anyone tell me about this a month ago???? ;)

Scrumptious Salsa


Here's our favorite salsa recipe. We got it from a friend. I don't know the origin beyond that.

Salsa

12 c. tomatoes, peeled & chopped (Roma are best)
3 c. celery, chopped
3 c. onion, chopped
1 c. sugar (the recipe says "use less if not Roma tomatoes")
1 c. vinegar
1/4 c. salt (I use canning salt)
2 T. mustard seed
2 T. red pepper (recipe says "can use ceyenne"...I use red pepper flakes)

Put the above ingredients in a big pot. Simmer. Bring to a boil. Add:

2 c. chopped green bell pepper
4-5 jalapeno peppers, diced (recipe says 1-2 for mild...I find it varies depending on strength of pepper)
2, 12 oz. cans tomato paste

Bring to boil again. Put into pint jars. Water bath 20 minutes. Makes 8-9 pints.

That's what the recipe says. However, since the recipe was passed through friends, I wasn't sure about the safety of the time/heat. So I called our local extension office for advice.

They listened to the ingredients and said that I need to pressure cook based on the time that would be used for the low-acid foods on the list. They advised 35 mins. at 10 lbs pressure. I've done that ever since and always had success. Not sure how much nutritional value is left after it's cooked that long, but it sure tastes good. ;) This year I canned it in quart jars since we go through it so fast. I made one double batch; my husband assures me that he and the kids could easily down another double batch in a year.

Couple of additional tips:

I like to chop/dice everything on one day and then can it the next. I use a food processor and just put one ingredient through after another. I end with the jalapenos. I take the tops off the jalapenos and then throw the entire jalapeno into the food processor and dice to smithereens. I transfer the jalapeno to a container using a spatula and never have to touch it.

I learned the hard way about jalapeno pain. I'd always heard that the oils in jalapeno can hurt, but I'd made salsa for years and never had a problem, so I got careless. One year we had an abundance of jalapenos so I diced them to freeze for chili, etc... I touched them. That night, my hands were on FIRE! It was so bad that I couldn't sleep. Nothing helped...not hand washing, not lotion. It was horrible. For at least a day afterward I could feel a burning sensation in my hands. I respect jalapenos more these days.

Embarassing, Isn't It?

Bono commented on the current U.S. financial crisis:

"...it is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable, treatable disease and hunger."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Organic Surprise

It's been a long week. While I'm usually a SAHM, I sometimes do contract work as an educational consultant. This week I worked four days and traveled about three hours a day on the road. When I arrived home each day, I was famished and only too happy to scrounge on whatever leftovers I could find in the fridge.

One day I threw together a plate of the aforementioned groundnut stew/rice with broccoli. Although I was shoveling the food in as quickly as I could (this was about 2pm and I hadn't eaten anything but a snack since my breakfast at 5am), I still happened to notice something that made me stop, mid-chew. From beneath a branch of broccoli protruded several very skinny, black threads. Kinda leggy lookin'. I pushed back one clump of broccoli. There, peacefully laying on my plate, was one very dead Daddylongleg spider. Thankfully, all his body parts were still there. I counted.

Still being hungry, I added his little body to the compost and finished my lunch. If it's organic enough for a spider, it's organic enough for me. ;)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Groundnut Stew (a "10" says 'LilDude)

In our home we like to sample foods from many different countries and cultures. One of my favorite cookbooks is Extending the Table...A World Community Cookbook. It contains foods from the majority of countries in the world using recipes that don't use overly exotic or hard-to-come-by ingredients. And the best part? Most of the recipes are very kid (eating) friendly.

Tonight I made a revised version of "Groundnut Stew" from Ghana. 'LilDude said that he'd rate it a "10." That says a lot coming from a 6-year-old!

Here's a photo of my plate. It's a little deceiving since I went back for thirds on the rice/stew. :)



Here's the recipe with my revisions. Taken from Extending the Table...A World Community Cookbook

Groundnut Stew (Ghana)

In heavy frypan or saucepan, brown in 1 T. oil:

1 lb. round steak, chuck, or stewing beef, cubed (I used chicken tonight)

When browned, add 1 T. oil and saute:

2 c. onions, chopped (I use less)
1 clove garlic, minced

Add:

ground red pepper to taste
1/2. t. ground ginger or 1 T. ginger root, minced (I freeze extra ginger root)
2 c. stewed tomatoes or 2 large fresh tomatoes, mashed (frozen works, too)
1 beef bouillon cube (I used vegetable)
1 t. salt
2 c. water
reserved beef (or chicken)

Cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until meat is tender.
In a small bowl, mix:

1/2 c. peanut butter (I use chunky)
1/4 c. liquid from stew

Slowly stir peanut butter mixture into stew. Cover and simmer, stirring frequently, another 30 minutes. Add more water to thin, if necessary. Add more ground red pepper and salt to taste. Serve with rice. (I use brown.)

A Little Guitar Heaven...Part II

I promised I'd try to get Anakin to play "For These Are My Mountains" with our new Misty River CD for my blog. I LOVE this song...and LOVE watching him figure it out.

video

Sweet September Strawberries!

Who'da thought?

In spring 2007, we planted everbearing strawberries in a raised bed.



We had a few berries, but production was slim...to be expected in the first year. Spring 2008 was cold. The first crop of berries wasn't bad, numbers-wise, but they weren't particularly sweet. (More like your typical store-bought California berry. ;) Then, mid-summer, production almost stopped. I thought it was over.

Then, a few weeks ago, a second good-sized crop appeared. The sweetest, most luscious berries.



Praise and thanksgiving for September strawberries.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fast, Fresh Food, September Style

One of my goals this summer was to blog about our garden eatins'. Unfortunately, we were so busy eating and harvesting and preserving that I wrote very little. But, for the record, here's lunch:




Eggs cooked with green peppers and zucchini, topped with homemade salsa. Sides of broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and grapes.

Yesterday, I worked to get ready for a class I'll be teaching. Dinner hour snuck up on me. Only Lizzi and 'LilDude were home. I asked if they were hungry. They smiled...a sibling secret. Lizzi replied, "We've been snackin'. In the garden." She went on to talk about how sweet the cherry tomatoes are...and how the grapes aren't like anything you can buy in the store. "The grapes in the stores are crunchy," she said, "not juicy like these are."

'LilDude asked why they don't sell grapes like ours. We talked about how our grapes would never survive the ride from the field to the store shelves. "They'd be squished," I told him. "Just like they were when you brought leftover grapes home from kindergarten snack time." He grinned, remembering his baggie full of "grape juice."

For expanding a kid's eating palette, there's nothing quite like providing them with rows and rows of snack food...on the vine! :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tough Times Tomato Soup

My mom is going to crack up when she sees I went to the effort to post this.

One of my favorite food memories from childhood is of macaroni/tomato soup. It consists of nothing more than:

cooked elbow macaroni
tomato juice
salt and sugar to taste

For the past several days, 'LilDude has requested it for lunch. He finally got his wish, as Daddy recently made a grocery stop for more tomato juice. 'LilDude--really all of my kids--think this tomato soup is delicious. The recipe probably came out of the depression... I believe that my grandma made it for her kids.

In the 21st century, we've occasionally embellished it with sprinkles of parmesan cheese or leftover popped popcorn. ('LilDude has been known to save some of his kindergarten popcorn snack so that he can put it on his soup!) But it's still the same basic recipe...

Cook about 3/4 c. of elbow macaroni per person. (At least that's how much my kids often eat. Yours might not eat that much. ;) When it's just barely undercooked, drain and add heated up tomato juice. (Add as much juice as you like.) Stir in salt/sugar to taste.

If you want a healthier version, use whole grain pasta. I make gluten free pasta when 'LilDude eats it.

I don't think I know of a more economical lunch that this.

The Butterfly Effect...


In science, mathematics, and popular culture, there is a concept known as "the butterfly effect," the idea being that something as small the movement of a butterfly's wings "might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location."



I've thought about that concept ever since reading about it with my 8th grade Sunday School class several days ago. With good reason...it's been a roller coaster of a week.

My days are generally VERY busy, but pretty consistent. I don't often have to deal with major ups and downs--emotional, physical, relational, or otherwise. This week was different.

It started Saturday with a 55-year-old woman from our church having a sudden and massive heart attack. If you'd looked around the church benches the week before, this is one of the last people you would have ever guessed was on the verge of death. She was extremely active, very involved in church work, and one of the first people you'd think of when you think of people from church. Although her death was far more than a mere butterfly wing, the tidal wave of consequences will be felt by many, many people for a very long time. I had the unfortunate experience of getting to tell my neighbor that this woman was dying. I left the conversation second-guessing myself... Could this really be? How could it be? Did I just imagine it all? It's just another reminder that nothing in life on earth is guaranteed.

The second thing that happened this week involved a government official. I needed a piece of paper from a certain government agency...a paper that I should have received at the beginning of August. I called to check on my status and was treated poorly. Those butterfly wings--coming from a stranger--hurt. I was nothing but polite. I was doing nothing but trying to help out another person. And I was treated like dirt. It didn't feel good.

That day, I ended up having to speak to the same official three times. (Not my intent, but that's how it worked out.) By the last call she said she'd pull my file, "BUT DON'T CALL HERE AGAIN THIS WEEK!!!!!" Believe me, by that time I was too scared to ever call there again. I felt beaten, bruised and worn out.

Two days later, I was shocked by a return call from the same official. She'd processed my file and called to tell me the good news. I told her I was about to cry with happiness. She said gruffly, "Don't do THAT!" Then I expressed thanks on my behalf and on behalf of the other person she was helping. She said "no problem" and the phone call ended. Her butterfly wings--both the good and the bad--had a huge impact on my life and the lives of others.

The last one? I had a very odd and kinda scary interchange with someone on the internet that I don't know. Without going into detail, this was a business interaction. Without ever saying that anything was wrong previous to this, this person wrote me a very long, threatening email. She made huge demands and assumptions, all based on paranoid/false information. I immediately did exactly as she asked, realizing that this person was probably a little unstable. But it left me sad on two accounts... She assumed the worst about me (none of which was true) and accused me of things that I hadn't done. In doing so, she ended a business relationship that would have hugely benefited her family and her "cause." For me it really didn't make any long-term difference (I didn't need anything from her), but I was very sad to be accused of something that I didn't do.

It's been a rollercoaster of a week. And made me think long and hard about the far reaching effects of butterfly wings...

Will you do something nice for someone today? Something that you might not normally do? And post it here for me to read?

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Little Guitar Heaven...

Anakin, now 12, has been asking for guitar lessons since he was about 2. Being the wise and all-knowing parents that we are (lol), we decided that he needed to wait. We had several reasons, the BIGGEST being that he was not BIG enough. We have photos (not digital, or I'd post them) of him trying to play a full-size guitar. He'd lay it flat on the floor and strum it or he'd hold it in his lap and try to wrap his arm around the monstrous instrument. If it was a wrestling match, the guitar would have won.

When Anakin reached school age, we signed him up for violin lessons. Arms and fingers don't have to be quite so big for the violin, you know? He did well. After a couple years of violin, we added piano as we wanted him to add to his music repertoire. We continued to think the guitar was a little big and foreboding for his size.

Finally, at 10.5 years old, we let him start guitar. I only wish we'd let him begin sooner. The child lives to play guitar. From the moment he wakes up in the morning, during every homeschooling interval, and in his free time in the evening, it's guitar, guitar, guitar. He loves the instrument and was made to play it.

This weekend our family saw Misty River in concert. We bought a couple of CDs and already this morning Anakin was playing along with several tunes. It was enough to make a mom smile.

Here's a clip of Anakin in action. I like the Misty River song better, so maybe I'll get him to play that one for me (and you) later. ;)

video

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Beginning Reading-Option that Worked for Us

I'm almost embarrassed to post this. When it comes to young children and computer time I think the downfalls generally outweigh the benefits. I would far rather have kids out in the "real world" learning than sitting in front of a screen. Especially when it comes to reading. Reading is snuggling on the couch with Mom or Dad and a pile of library books. Reading is books spread across the bed at rest time. Reading is piling in bed with Mom and brother and the dog at bedtime. Reading is cozy. Reading is real...real books, real people, real time together.

However,...

Last November, when 'LilDude was 5 1/4, I heard about an on-line reading program called Headsprout. It was getting rave reviews amongst families on a forum I visit, so despite it being a computer-access reading program, I decided to let 'LilDude try it. 'LilDude loves to be on the computer. I figured he could spent 10-15 mins. several times a week on this program while the other kids were doing some of their homeschool work with me. 'LilDude was happy to have "homework" and I was glad to have several chunks of time to work with the other kids while he was otherwise occupied.

The program wasn't cheap at about $198 for 80 lessons, but we got a half-price coupon deal and received 80 lessons for $99. I agonized over spending that much money on something other than books. Since this is on-line, it basically meant paying for a membership. You use the membership until the 80 lessons (or 40 if you choose to buy just the first half of the program) are completed and then you're through. You do get several "books" in the mail and you can print a booklet for most lessons off the computer, but they are not anything close to the literary quality that I'm used to sharing with my kids. We tried it anyway.

'LilDude started in November. He'd been read to a lot. I hadn't done any reading "lessons" with him up to this point and he was not reading on his own at all.

By spring he'd completed about half the lessons and was reading beginning readers on his own. By summer he'd completed about 2/3rds of the lessons and could read any reader without hesitation. To date, he has completed 72/80 lessons. Last week they started kindergarten reading assessments. I asked 'LilDude about his day...

Mom: So I heard you guys got to read in kindergarten today?

LD: Yeah. They were having technical difficulties.

The teacher called and explained the "technical difficulties." Apparently, they brought along books to test through level 1.2 (first grade, second month.) He passed that level so will have to wait til next week to finish testing.

I'm sure it's not for everyone, but for 'LilDude, Headsprout made a huge difference in his reading ability in a very short amount of time. I'm told that Headsprout is currently offering the same half-price deal that we used; the coupon code is HSBTS2008. (I'm not making money off this and get no credit for it...I'm just passing along info on something that worked for us.)

Here is 'LilDude reading a book that he's never seen before...



video

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This Chokes Me Up....

If you haven't watched Christian the Lion yet, do. It's a tear-jerker. (In a good way!!!!)

Complete and Utter JOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I feel overwhelmingly blessed lately and just have to share. Don't read on if you don't like shameless mommy gushing...

For years I have sweated over 'LilDude's entrance into the big world. He started with so many things against him...leaving his birth mother, his birth family, his home, his culture, his country, familiar tastes, smells, textures, sounds. These things had a devastating effect on him. He suffered from excruciating night and nap terrors. He got angry at the drop of a hat. In public he melted down with anxiety over strange people and places and things. No "normal" discipline worked with him. The slightest change or perceived threat could cause unmitigated responses ranging from sleeplessness to rage to sadness to fear. I never knew what was coming next. Well, in the beginning I didn't. As time went on I just knew that his responses were consistently unpredictable and over-the-top.

So we worked at healing. We worked and worked and worked. We reached a good place...a really good place. But even in this really good place were questions. How will he do in the "real world?" Will he be able to transition from us (now perceived by him as a place of safety/security) to places away from us?

Last year we decided to send him to preschool. He was doing very well at home and we felt it was time for him to take baby steps toward learning that other people, places, and events could be safe even though they weren't in our home or part of our daily family life.

He worked very hard. At the beginning of the year he stuck to one friend, a neighbor he knew and loved before the year began. But as the year went on, he started feeling courageous enough to branch out. He made new friends. Yet at the parent-teacher conferences in the spring, his teacher said that although he'd made huge strides--was great with other kids, showed intellect, etc.--that he had not yet let his guard down with her. He was not yet completely relaxed and joyful. She suggested that separating from me and starting kindergarten would be too much; that I should go with him for awhile as he adjusted to the kindergarten setting.

In the last month of preschool, however, something changed. My ds suddenly became exuberant, dashing about on the playground, playing without the reserve he'd shown in the past. Something changed. His teacher noticed it and mentioned what a difference he showed in that last month. She guessed that kindergarten wouldn't be as difficult a transition as we had discussed.

But I still worried. After living with a traumatized child, some of the trauma can tend to rub off on the parent. I worried that he would be over-the-top anxious. I didn't really think it would happen, but I worried about it anyway. After all, when you've seen something happen day in and day out, over and over and over, you get to thinking that this is the way life is.

The day or so before school began, I saw some anxiety. But I didn't think it seemed any different from the anxiety I knew his kindergarten friends were experiencing. When we met the teacher I noticed when he didn't look in her eyes. I worried. But after the visit he seemed fine. Apprehensive, maybe. But excited as well. On the first day (with just half the class) he never got anxious enough to need more than a smile from me. His teacher sent me a note that said it appeared that he may be a leader in the class. There were several times when others gathered around him to look at a book or work on a project. On the second day (and the first with his whole class--including 2 children with some pretty severe behavioral issues!) he participated in everything without hesitation. When it came time to get on the bus (which was previously a big source of discussion and anxiety), he got in line with the other kids, grinned HUGELY and talked to his two pals in line about who was going to get to sit next to whom. I met him at our mailbox (I had to drive home to meet the bus) where he got off with a hop and a skip and a happy hello.

Several years ago I couldn't have imagined a day like we had today. After a week of complete change, his world used to be so rocked that he couldn't function without meltdowns. This weekend has been one of utter joy. He bounces about the house. This morning in church he sang the loudest (and cutest, I must say) that I've ever heard him sing...complete confidence. Today he played and acted...HAPPY!!!!!

I'm rejoicing, rejoicing, rejoicing that he has come so far in such a short time. I wish such joy for so many other kiddos that we know. Hugs to all of you who are working toward your own days of rejoicing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

So Where Exactly Did She Think She Was???

Today I recorded kids' answers to the question, "What was your favorite thing about kindergarten this week?" as they dictated.

I approached one cute little girl and asked her the question that I'd already asked more than ten times.... "So what was your favorite part of kindergarten this week?" I'm thinking I'm going to get the same standard answers I'd heard so far...recess, friends, dot art...

She looked up at me, widened her huge blue eyes and solemnly said, "I haven't been to kindergarten."

I looked at her. Figured she'd misunderstood the question. "But what was the best part of kindergarten this week?"

Her eyes got wider. "I haven't been THERE."

"But this IS kindergarten. That's what you've been doing here this week."

"OOOOOOOOHHHHHHH." She smiled. "Painting."

School, School, School....

I'm not even sure what I'm setting out to write here, so bear with my ramblings....

As you may or may not know, I'm both a professional educator and a homeschooler. At the moment, my kids pretty much cover the gamut of educational settings. I have a first year college student at a private liberal arts college, an 8th grader in public school, a 6th grader in homeschool, and a kindergartener in public school. Just a couple of weeks ago I worked with public school teachers in another state. During this school year I'll be working with TAG (talented and gifted) students in a public school setting. I also conduct homeschool teacher workshops and teach classes for homeschool kids.

So who cares????? (If you don't it's fine if you quit reading. I won't be offended. ;)

I give that background just to say that I think I have a unique perspective to offer on education. I do see two (or three or ten) sides of the issue. Here are some of my observations from the week...

'LilDude...Public School Kindergarten...

First question I'm sure someone has...so why did we choose to send 'LilDude to public kindergarten? 'LilDude had a tough start in life. He lost his birth family, his birth country, and endured more transitions that most adults would be able to sustain. It has taken us many years and immensely hard work to earn 'LilDude's trust. But we have. We've done it. We are blessed with a kindhearted, intelligent, beautiful boy. But 'LilDude has more growing to do. It's not in the area of academics. 'LilDude can read. He can add two digit numbers in his head. He can tell time...better than I can, most of the time. :) But he has yet to learn that there are other safe places and people...other than Mom/Dad and home. Homeschool doesn't provide the extent of opportunities to learn what I think 'LilDude needs right now. (And let me be the first to say that homeschool is EXACTLY what some other adoptive kids need...but is not the best setting for 'LilDude this fall.)

This week I've attended school with 'LilDude. Academically, it's been a breeze. But 'LilDude learned today that it was safe to ride home on the bus with an adult he just met. He learned that a brand new friend made a fine seat companion, even flashing him a big grin. And he learned that Mommy and Daddy and Anakin would be waiting with cheers and flashing cameras in the driveway. My boy needed that experience. He didn't need the triangles and blue horses and brown bears. But he enjoyed them, nonetheless.

As I've worked in 'LilDude's classroom this week, I am reminded of the immense, impossible job that we expect teachers to do. We send children to school who have never picked up a pencil. Who've never been read to. Who have never followed directions in English. Or who have never followed a direction, PERIOD.

We have kids that either can't (autism spectrum) or won't (oppositional defiance or ???) follow directions. Some barely speak. Some won't stop speaking.

We throw over 20 of them into a kindergarten room with a single teacher, without a full-time teaching assistant, and then we say, "Due to the rigorous standards, we expect this class to be reading before the end of the year." And then we take money away from the school if they aren't.

We ask the impossible and teachers still manage to create miracles.

But do you want to know what the homeschooling Momma part of me felt today? If my goal wasn't to show 'LilDude that there are safe people/places away from us... If my goal wasn't to help him to learn to know peers in our community (another reason we want him in school this fall)... It would be so, so easy to just yank him out. My reading, writing, math genius, 'LilDude will not make big academic strides this year. There are too many kids with too many pressing issues. If 'LilDude homeschooled this year, he would get done in minutes what it takes an entire morning to accomplish in school. Is it the teacher's fault? Absolutely not! Is it the fault of a system which is failing everyone??? ABSOLUTELY!

Class sizes are too large. Many parents have not been educated in how best to prepare children for success in the world. "Issues" like autism and language barriers and discipline/mental health are immense. Pressures like test scores become the focus when other, more important things get shoved beneath the carpet.

I'll continue another day. Time to wake up 'LilDude. Kindergarten is tiring. ;)

Oh, but my quick story. I have a minor in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and have lived in a Spanish-speaking country which gives me a particular fondness for working with kids who are new to English. This morning, I was trying (and failing) again to communicate with a child whose first (and almost only) language is English.

I sat down with him on the rug. I opened a picture book and asked him to tell me what several items were in Spanish. Forgive me if I spell the following Spanish dialogue incorrectly... Or say something wrong. I'm trying to remember from 20 years ago... ;)

Me: Que es esto?

Child: Pelota. (ball)

Me: Y esto?

Child: Barco. (boat)

Me: Y esto?

Child: Butterfly.

Me: En Espanol.

Child: Butterfly!

Me: En Espanol???

Child: Butterfly!!!!!!

Maybe you had to be there. But it was so funny in the moment. We were certainly working with Spanglish.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating

Thanks, Cath, for posting this article. Here's the list of foods with some ramblings...

  1. Beets--We don't do beets, but should. Need to add it to the garden list for next year. If you have kids, do your kids eat them?
  2. Cabbage--We have a TON of cabbage growing in the garden. I make Asian salad with it and add it to soups. Any other ideas? I'd like to make sauerkraut (love it!) but have never been successful in making it taste like the store stuff...and I like the store stuff.
  3. Swiss chard--Tried one recipe with this and didn't like it. Back to the drawing board.
  4. Cinnamon--Use cinnamon all the time.
  5. Pomegranate juice--Never bought this. Not available locally, so feel kinda iffy about this one.
  6. Dried plums--Not big on prunes. But I guess we could try. ;)
  7. Pumpkin seeds--Sometimes do this at Halloween, but not a normal part of our diet.
  8. Sardines--Not sure I want to go there.
  9. Turmeric--Use it in a few Indian recipes.
  10. Frozen blueberries--Integral part of our diet. The most frequent fruit we eat.
  11. Canned pumpkin--Use butternut squash more than pumpkin. Isn't the nutritional value similar anyway??
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