Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Yard in September

In August our yard begins looking worn out; by September it is bedraggled.

The four o-clocks are just about the only spot of color.

And a couple of pots of petunias are still hanging on.

But everything else has had enough.

Everyone is out there begging me to trim them, begging me to cut off their deadheads and dried stalks.

Except for the weeds in the garden, which are thriving, of course.

Yesterday I bought half a dozen big, fat, bright, colorful mums to place strategically around the house, bridging the gap in color between end of summer and beginning of autumn, when the leaves start providing all the decoration we need.

How's your yard at the end of September?

Monday, September 26, 2011

On the Menu (with tomato sauce recipe)

Last week I shared the first details of my batch cooking experience: how to cook pulled chicken. I have another 7 lbs of chicken parts (eww) in my freezer ready to roast again, as well as another 5 lbs of ground beef. But yesterday I made another 14 cups or so of tomato sauce. I wasn't entirely thrilled with the first recipe I used, so I tweaked it a bit for our tastes. This one is soooo delicious that I could eat a whole bowl of it like soup. Maybe I did. Oh, and the smell of this while simmering on the stove top is exquisite.

Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
8-10 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
6 anchovy fillets (optional but I used them)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 TB brown sugar
1 cup red wine
5 cans (28 oz) peeled whole tomatoes

In 5-6 quart pot, combine olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until garlic is golden. Add brown sugar and cook another minute. Add wine and tomatoes. Increase heat to high and bring to boil, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Reduce heat and cover partially. Simmer for two hours. Take out the whole tomatoes and process in the blender or food processer. Add back into sauce and cook another 30 minutes. Salt to taste. Let the sauce cool completely before putting into freezer bags. I made various bags, with 2, 3, or 4 cups per bag.

This sauce is great for chili (add chili seasonings), lasagna, pizza, and spaghetti (add Italian spices), chicken parmesan, and whatever else you eat with tomato sauce!

So here's what is on our menu this week:
Roast Pork Loin with Garlic and Rosemary
Spaghetti and meatballs (but with the tomato sauce recipe above)
And I'm not sure what else. My in-laws are coming in town, and there are food allergies to consider. I am thinking about Chicken and Rice Soup. Friday-Sunday we are all getting a cabin in the Smokies together to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday, so I am sure we will have some amazing meals! (Randy's brother is an amazing chef.)

Linked up on Menu Plan Monday

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Seeking a Professional: Our Speech Therapy Journey

We really thought he would outgrow it. Eventually he’d start saying “right” instead of “wight” and “guitar” instead of “guitah.” He’d eventually master his sister’s name — Laurel—which is a nightmare for kids who struggle with the L and R sounds.

Both of our boys were born with ankyloglossia, a condition in which the frenulum (that little band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too short and tight, thus restricting the movement of the tongue. In other words, they were tongue-tied.

{Want to find out what happened? Read more about our journey into speech therapy on Simple Homeschool!}

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The August of Loss

I've been alluding to it, I know. Facebook is an amazing connecting tool. Post a status that hints at tragedy, and you have an instant community of supporting friends. I love that.

August was a hard month; I think if it in terms of great losses. Tremendous, numbing ones, all blended together, overlapping, leaving no time to breathe.

My Aunt Ann, diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer in early July. My only aunt, my father's only sibling. What a joy it was to venture out to Washington State with my father to visit her, although of course the visit was mixed with unbearable sadness. Here are snapshots from our visit there: Friday Harbor and Artist at Work.

In Washington I got to see my cousin, Scott, whom I haven't seen in 30 years, and meet his wife and girls. There we all are. Three weeks after this picture, Aunt Ann passed away in her sleep.

But before those three weeks were up, we lost Adam. My father and I arrived back home from Washington on a Friday, emotionally exhausted, and then Randy and I got the message on Sunday morning that one of our best friends from college had died during the night.

Adam? Dead? There are things that don't seem possible. We haven't seen Adam in years, but we've always known that we would see him again. He is part of our very fiber, part of who we are. He was witness to the History of Us, of Randy and Sarah. How can he just be gone? I took some comfort in the thought of Adam hanging out with two other college friends who have passed away, randy and Dee Ann. I like to imagine them all laughing together, and what I love is that I can still hear each of their laughs. We had some good times.

Adam died on a Sunday. A few days later, our world shifted abruptly when we learned that our beloved minister was asked to resign. Suddenly, we were in the midst of what quickly became the most life-changing loss for us. Church refugees, mourning a decade of investment and fighting to keep bitterness, malice, and anger at bay.

So you see why my blogging has been sporadic at best. I ache. Then I want to punch something. Then I have moments of clarity and go about the business of life. And then it starts all over again.

But I'm ready to write about it all now. Leaving church you've devoted a quarter of your life to? It's not for the weak— or for the sheep. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 19, 2011

On the Menu

Yes, I know. I've been told that I have been a terrible blogger lately. When I do actually sit down to tell the whole story, you'll understand; I promise.

But for now: food!

So a couple of weeks ago, OK, three weeks ago, I posted about my foray into batch cooking. At the time I bagged up: 5 lbs of roasted pork, 7 lbs of roasted chicken, 5 lbs of ground beef, 4 quarts of chicken stock, and probably 8-10 cups of tomato sauce.

Three weeks later, we are still eating from all that! I think this will be our last week until I need to do it all again. So will I do it all again?

Absolutely! I won't do the pork again for awhile, but I will do the others. I really liked the pork when it was fresh out of the oven, and we liked having pork barbecue, but the rest of the recipes weren't very exciting.

This week we are ending with:
spaghetti and meatballs (the sauce and meatballs are already frozen and ready)
Brunswick stew (the last pork recipe)
Chicken with fusilli (the last chicken recipe)
and baked potato soup, which has nothing to do with batch cooking

All of the new recipes I tried with the pork and chicken were from Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine. I probably will not use any of them again except for Mediterranean Chicken Salad Pitas. We weren't crazy about the pork and ginger noodle soup, her pulled pork sandwiches (I added my own sauce since hers was to bland), pork and avocado tacos; I am going to try her Brunswick stew and fusilli with chicken this week. I usually love her recipes, but these weren't very tasty.

That said, I love the process she used for making all the batches of foods. Here is the one for chicken. This will make a bunch of shredded chicken for 4-6 future meals:

Pulled Chicken
4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken breast
4 lbs. skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
2 TB olive oil
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 tsp paprika (I used Cajun seasoning instead)
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper

1. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 400. Line 2 big baking sheets with foil. Place the breasts of one sheet and the thighs on the other. Drizzle all with oil. Squeeze lemon on top, then sprinkle with seasonings. Roast for about 45-50 minutes and cool for 15 minutes. (Turn over about halfway through cooking.)

2. After cooled, remove chicken skin and save for broth. Pull meat off bones and tear into shreds. Put into 1 and 2 cup servings in freezer bags.

3. For broth, use about half of the bones and skin from the chicken. Put in pot with an unpeeled onion (quartered), a carrot cut into 4 pieces, 6 unpeeled cloves of garlic (smashed), some peppercorns. Add water to the nearly the top of a 6-quart pot. Simmer for two hours. Strain and discard solids. Let broth settle so far rises to top, or refrigerate and then scoop off fat. Store in 2-cup servings in freezer bags.

Linked up with Menu Plan Monday and Tasty Tuesday

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

Really? A whole week since I last blogged? I don't know what is happening to me. Between regular life, teaching 4 classes for our co-op and running to activities, I can't seem to find blogging time. I have so very much to blog about, truly.

But for now, here's what's been going this week.

On Monday, the rest of our co-op program began, adding the preK-8 classes into to high school classes that had already begun in mid-August. I have only a vague idea of how many people participate in our classes—probably 130 families out of the 250 families in our support group. It's big. I teaching or co-teaching three classes: Mission to Mars (24 kids grades 5-8), Extraordinary Adventures literature circle (13 kids 4th-6th), and basic essay writing (18 kids 5th-8th). All of our classes went really well, and I am really looking forward to this semester!

Needless to say, we are zonked on Mondays when we get home at 3:45 p.m.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we continued on with our regular studies at home. Duncan and I are still studying Japan and reading The Master Puppeteer together. We also added in The Indian in the Cupboard this week for literature circle.

Laurel's been working diligently with all her co-op homework. Randy's been helping her as needed with physical science, which is lovely for me.
Laurel's seeing the big jump from the middle school 4 hours/day to this year's 6-8 hours each day. But for the most part she is doing a good job of finding balance. Last night we were working on her Excel homework until 10:30, so that was a little rough.

Duncan asked a lot of questions about 9/11 this year. He was just 9 months old when it happened so obviously doesn't remember anything. I saw a link to a short movie in a Simple Homeschool post that turned out to be fantastic. It's only 11 minutes long, but it really captures so much of the heroic measures of ordinary people in the face of tragedy. Definitely OK for kids. As Duncan said, "This is our history lesson today, isn't it?" We also watched a compilation of news broadcasts about the attacks. It was strange to me that he was asking all about what happened. It's so much a part of our recent history that somehow it never occurred to me that he didn't know all the details.

What else? Well, we took advantage of homeschoolers' week at WonderWorks, which is always fun, especially with friends.

The special rate allowed us to go for only $11 total (2 free and one discounted). Normally this would have cost over $40 for just the three of us.

On Friday we have our British Lit and European history classes, each meeting for 1.5 hours. Duncan gets to go hang out with a friend during this time. In Kate's European history class, the kids made mini-trebuchets and had a marshmallow battle. A history lesson they'll never forget!

And that's about it around here this week! Randy and Duncan are at a Boy Scout camporee. Laurel is going to spend much of the day preparing sets with her drama class. And so that leave me doing.... lesson plans!

Linked up with the Weekly Wrap Up

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

In the past few weeks, almost all our regular activities have resumed. Laurel's co-op classes started two weeks ago, and Duncan's begin Monday. (Our high school program starts 2 weeks before and ends 2 weeks later than the K-8 program.) She and one of her best friends got to actually spend their birthday (Aug. 29) in co-op classes all day. They actually really loved it.

Laurel is really enjoying her classes but is still figuring out how to balance her workload. This past week was especially challenging since we were away most of the four-day weekend. At our Monday co-op she is taking physical science, Excel and Powerpoint, health, art history, and drama. On Fridays she takes British literature and European history. The only subject she is actually learning at home is math (Teaching Textbooks). But her days are filled with balancing a week's worth of homework from all her co-op classes. She gets a little stressed out, but I think she really kind of enjoys it all.

Duncan and I are a few weeks into Sonlight Core 5 (now known as Core F). So far I've read aloud The Island of the Blue Dolphins and are halfway through The Master Puppeteer. On his own he's read Call It Courage and is halfway through The Big Wave. He was supposed to read Red Sand, Blue Sky, but just like his big brother, years ago, he saw the "for girls" sticker on the front and said, "This is a girl's book! I don't want to read it!" Dumb marketing.

We've been doing a lot of geography, which is one of the reasons I love Core 5 so much. Duncan absolutely loves learning about different cultures and labeling maps. We watched a fantastic series about the Sahara (out of Core 5 order, I know, but it's all good) by Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame. I so highly recommend this 4-part program! Michael Palin is wonderful. I would caution that on the second episode, there is a short discussion about female circumcision that is somewhat graphic but very short. I am looking forward to watching his Himalaya and New Europe journeys when we get to that point in our Sonlight.

Duncan's math is going well. He is doing Teaching Textbooks pre-algebra. He was doing great for the first several lessons, and then we got to a review of multiplication. Our conversation when something like this:
Duncan: "Huh?"
Me: "Remember when you memorized all your multiplication facts last year and I gave you 10 bucks?"
Duncan: "Yep. I don't remember any of them, though."

So he spent two weeks reviewing multiplication on HonorPoint. Really like this site. After getting to where he was getting 100% on the quizzes there, we moved back to Teaching Textbooks.

I still haven't resumed spelling and handwriting for Duncan. Again, that 4-day weekend kind of signals the end of summer for us, so I guess I really need to dig through cabinets and find those last couple of books.

We spent Labor Day weekend at our annual Scouting family camp. What an incredibly fun weekend! Here we are about to embark on a hike on Sunday.

The majority of the campers had already gone back home by Sunday afternoon, but a bunch of us took one last hike.

This week we also added American Heritage Girls and Cub Scouts back into our regimen. We started our 9th year in AHG, and Duncan is in his final year of Cub Scouts.

That's my little girl and me when we started our troop 9 years ago.

And here's my little guy when he was a Tiger Cub, four years ago.

And here they are now:

Yep. They do grow up, don't they?

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Camping at the Big South Fork

We spent this past weekend at the Big South Fork, about 1.5 hours north of Knoxville, for our fifth annual scouting family camp. There is really, truly, nothing more relaxing and rejuvenating than a weekend spent with friends…

just hanging out…

viewing wildlife …

river jumping…

building fires…

trying new trails…

contemplating whether or not we should be those stupid people who don't pay attention to warning signs…

and just enjoying the view in general.

I always returned feeling refreshed, ready tackle the weeks ahead, but already looking forward to our next weekend in the mountains.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Foray into Batch Cooking

I have always completely ignored people who say the words "batch cooking" or "once-a-month meals" to me. The thought of spending a whole day cooking and then cramming my tiny freezer full of casseroles always sounded dreadful to me.

But then my latest issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray came loudly promising "1 Month of Make-Ahead Meals." What I liked about this program is that you don't have to assemble casseroles and have a bazillion ingredients. It's just a matter, really, of preparing meat and sauce. So I took the plunge.

I didn't do everything she listed, because I know my family wouldn't eat some of the recipes. I replaced some of her recipes with ones we love, and I haven't yet prepared the chicken.

But today I roasted 5 lbs of pork shoulder (mixed with garlic, rosemary, lemon zest, and white wine), shredded it, and put it into freezer bags for:
• pork and avocado tacos
• Brunswick stew
• pulled pork sandwiches
• pork and ginger noodle soup.

I learned that our knives are badly in need of sharpening and that I really, really don't like cutting big chunks of pig into little chunks of pig. However, the end result was amazing and well worth the sawing and fat removing I had to do. This stuff is delicious, and I can't wait to try one of the recipes.

While the pork was roasting, I made a big pot of tomato sauce that I put into ziplocs, 1-2 cups at a time. This will be used for:
• lasagna
• chili
• spaghetti (twice)
• Brunswick stew (with the pork)
• Fusilli with chicken and tomato sauce

This isn't my favorite sauce ever. Something is not quite right, but I'm not sure yet what it is. Next time I'm going to adjust Rachael Ray's recipe to the one I usually use, although possibly this one just needed basil and oregano to make it perfect.

While all that was cooking, I made, from 5.5 lbs of ground beef, 32 meatballs, five hamburger patties, and three 2-cup ziploc baggies of browned ground beef. This will be used for:
• chili, lasagna, and spaghetti and meatballs (with sauce above)
• tacos
• hamburgers on the grill

Why I picked a 96 degree day to do all this, I don't know. Fortunately, there is air conditioning.

And a couch. I am very, very tired after all of this. Well, plus I put a coat of polyurethane on a table, played tennis, did two loads of laundry, and schooled my kids. If I had anything left of that bottle of wine that I used in the spaghetti sauce, I would slug it right down this minute.

At the end of today, I have the main ingredients for 11 suppers in our freezer. I also have 4 pantry meals in line. Once I do the chicken next week, I'll have four more meals for a total of 19 suppers that just need minimal preparation (boiling pasta, chopping vegetables, grating cheese, etc.).

I'll post the recipes as I get to them. For tonight, we're having French dip sandwiches, roasted cauliflower and corn on the cob. I'm really enjoying the Crock Pot Girls on Facebook. Between the crock pot and the batch cooking, I might have more time for blogging!

Linked up on Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie