Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Waldorf Geometry: Struggles of an Artistically Challenged Mom

I love, love, love perusing Waldorfy websites and books, just poring over samples of the beautiful artwork. But, as an artistically challenged person, I sometimes get rather discouraged with my own abilities. If only I could create such dreamy paintings, vibrant pastel drawings, and accurate real life sketches. And the fabulous chalkboard drawings! What is an artistically challenged mama supposed to do?


I recently read an article in which the author compared art to physical fitness.The idea was basically that you might not be able to do 10 pushups now, but if you exercise your muscles, eventually you will. Likewise, if you practice your art "muscles" you will improve.

With that in mind, I have decided not to beat myself up over my inabilities and just do my best, exactly what I expect of the Boy. (I never, ever disparage my work in front of him; I want him to joyfully create for creation's sake.)

Geometry has given us much practice work. And I have found I absolutely love coloring in our figures. It is so relaxing!

Before each lesson, I practice whichever figure we'll be doing the following day. On day 2 we practice it together on scrap sheets. And finally it goes in the main lesson book. While he's doing his mlb version I usually spend my time coloring my practice sheets.

My practice sheet

The Boy's practice sheet

And, just as I work my physical muscles, I will also continue to practice, stretching my artistic muscles. And yes, I can now do 10 pushups.

Note: For inspiration, I like waldorftoday

I also started building a pinterest board, pinning all kinds of images and tutorials.

And this year i purchased a book by Thomas Wildgruber, with lessons for improvement.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Raising Boys

My sword swinging boy.

I smile and feel joyous while watching the Boy at play, doing the things that boys do: swinging sticks, building with branches and rocks, running across the yard whooping like a wild man. He runs across the backyard, head turned toward me and flashes a brilliant smile. All while brandishing a staff overhead, no break in his stride.I beckon him to come in for dinner and he tumbles through the door, breathless, pink cheeked, eyes a sparkle. The puppy bounds in after him, resulting in a tangle of boots and gloves, squeaky balls and waggly tails.

Having only given birth to boys, I am used to loud voices, piles of sticks at every doorway, and treasures found in jeans pockets. (A melted beeswax incident forced the habit of always checking the Boy's pockets). Talk of swordplay and dragons, wizards, and archery dominate the conversations.

I have received many a reproachful look by parents of quiet girls, busily doing their knitting or creating tidy drawings, whilst the boys in the group speedily charge through a bit of quiet work and are off, once again, to chase or be chased. (After asking permission to be excused and a reminder that outside is the perfect place to run, take your coat, please!)

We are now, more often than not, in the company of girl families. Our families are homeschooling in a similar style, with similar ethos, their families just happen to have girls rather than boys. After some structured activity the kids all join in for some "lets pretend." Then, the boys and more rambunctious girls get running, sticks aswinging, emanating pure joy.

Long ago I decided that i will no longer be apologetic for my son's boyness. Yes, he can be loud and messy and active. But he is caring, well spoken, and mannerly. He is not a girl, and i will not force him to act like one..i love every minute of every day spent with my loving, sweet, stick wielding wild boy.

Sticks and knives and good friends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Nature Table

Fall nature table

Creating a nature table is a natural extension of our time spent out doors. Each treasure we find reminds us of the remarkable beauty in nature: the forms, colors, smells, and tastes. When a fascinating specimen is found, we gently carry it to the house to place reverently on our nature table.

We've had a nature table in some form since the Boy was born. Originally, it was a little plate on the center of our dining table, where he would put little stones or flowers. As we spent more time in nature, among the amazing flowers and trees, splashing in the creeks and puddles, clambering over rocky trails, that plate soon proved to be way too small.

The Boy loves to collect rocks and feathers, seeds and twigs, pine cones and bird's nests. And now they all make their way to our designated nature table. (Much better than in his pocketses.)

All of our summer and early fall treasure, abundantly overflowing their boundaries!
At the beginning of each seasonal change, the table is nice and tidy. We change the cloth, rearrange piles of things we want to keep, create a blank slate. Oh, but by season's end, it is crowded! So many little treasure that need to be moved to some other place.

Some disintegrate, like fern leaves and herbs. Others the kitty knocks to the floor, amusing herself. Those are easy to dispose to the compost pile. Some are too special to just toss back outside. I actually get a little anxious thinking about how I can get rid of these finds without seeming callous. I think we came up with a great solution.
The fairy house.

This morning we decided that with our fall to winter change we'd build a fairy house with our nature treasures. After a full geometry lesson, we packed up the contents of the table and trekked outside to find the perfect place...meaning protected from the puppy and the chickens.

An hour spent in the sunshine and fresh air, building a quaint little cottage scene under a forsythia. Plus cleaning off the nature table in a gentle way.

The late fall/winter table. Look at all the clean space!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Summer's Bounty: Taking Stock of Our Farming Successes and Failures

Assortment of cherry, grape, and yellow pear tomatoes fresh from the garden.
 With our first wood stove fire emanating delicious warmth, I have finally accepted that summer is officially over. (Autumn's official start over a month ago is immaterial.) I still have vegetables growing in my garden specifically: leeks and chard — therefore it's still summer, yes?

Overall, our garden produced quite an abundance this year. Pounds and pounds of garlic and onions. (Enough to give away and also save for next year's planting.) Quarts and quarts of tomatoes, leeks as big as my wrist, enough basil to make a couple of pesto dinners. And our first attempt at sweet potatoes resulted in a pleasantly surprising yield.

Then there were some duds: low potato yields, an abysmal strawberry harvest, and my carrot experiment (planting saved seeds) was mediocre at best.

"Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches."  Presidents of the United States of America
Each fall I take stock of what we produced and start formulating plans for next year. There are a few plants I've given up even trying to grow, such as watermelon and cantaloupe. No matter how hard I try, the vines produce small, nasty tasting little melons. I'd rather just buy melons at market than waste space in my garden for inedible produce.

Then there are the ones I keep trying, despite poor results. Actually there is only one I keep trying: pumpkin. In 10 years I have never had a bountiful harvest of pumpkin. Gourds, yes. Lovely, edible pumpkins, no.

I did grow beautiful vines this year, with gorgeous, plentiful blooms. And they received great care: I hand picked all the squash bugs and egg cases, I mulched and watered, I talked to them, weeded them religiously. And, out of 8 plants three beautiful pumpkin ovaries proved themselves fruitful. Carefully, I draped the vines with their swelling beauties over a trellis in an attempt to keep them bug and disease free. I checked on them daily, and I waited. Sigh. One day they were gorgeous, the next all but one was rotten. Filled with frustration, I cut the darn thing down while it was still green and brought it inside. One pumpkin, the size of a duck pin bowling ball.

As the weather turns frosty, we begin our transition to the more inward self, the start of our hibernating season. It is a great pleasure to inventory our "take" for the year: frozen corn, spaghetti sauce, berries, peaches, garlic paste, basil pesto, applesauce, sweet potato mash, and chickens. Canned tomatoes, applesauce, and peaches. Root cellared potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and garlic. And the leeks, carrots, and chard still in the garden. The satisfaction of growing and preserving our own food is what keeps us plodding onward during those drippy, sweaty, buggy summer days.

It is time to take a breath, set garden plans aside, and enjoy the beauty and change the fall season brings. And enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Canned tomatoes....perfect for quick pasta dinners.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sixth Grade Waldorf: Egypt

Settling into October, we have completed our study of Egypt and are beginning to read the Ancient Greek myths. Before we go into Greece I want to post what accomplished in our Egypt block.

We started by reading "Tales of Egypt" (Roger Lancelyn Green), while on our trip to New Jersey. It was such a sweet time, curled up on our lounge chairs by the pool reading to each other. I could have stayed there much longer, but, Husband's classes being finished, we headed home.

It takes me a few days to return to normal, so while I tried to get us on track with our schooling we continued reading the Tales as our main lesson work. The following Monday we started in with "real" main lesson work, beginning with reading the book of Exodus from our Bible.

Way back in 3rd grade his class learned the Moses story in their Old Testament block. The Boy even had the opportunity to portray Moses in the class play whilst belting out "Let My People Go!" He reminisced about third grade, but this time 'round he really connected with the plague portion of the story. He seemed to get a kick out of the different versions of the plagues when we compared the story across several versions of the Bible. He was so intrigued that he initiated listing them in his MLB and then illustrating each plague.

i've been itching to introduce chalk pastels and thought the Pyramids at Giza made a likely subject. We tried our hand at blending colors, starting with the light colors and progressing to darker. (Ihave decided that I do not like the feel of chalk dust on my hands. Just thinking about it gives me that oogly, shivery feeling.) Overall we did enjoy using the medium, though. Next time maybe mama will need to wear some gloves!.

I won't post his version. After looking at it for a few days, we decided that it looked more like ginormous breasts than the great pyramids.

While reading a few of the myths aloud, the Boy decided to model a sphinx and pyramid, which he placed in front of his Great Boobies of Giza on our school table, making for lively dinnertime conversation.

He started the year with much enthusiasm. I hope he keeps it up!
Chalk pastels of the Pyramids at Giza

For individual reading, the Boy zipped through "The Golden Goblet." (It's a book my older boys read, so I already knew the plot, and therefore saved myself the time of having to read it now.) I'm determined to start him on short essays this year, so had him write a synopsis. Typically I would ask him to narrate a brief version of the story, and would outline it on the board. The next main lesson I would form those bullet points into paragraphs, with his "help." This time I assigned him to write it out in paragraph form on his own, which he balked at, of course. He was panic stricken, actually. Had no idea how to begin. I asked him to recount the story verbally, as we've done in the past. Only this time I didn't write the points on the board. I just concluded with, "That's exactly what you write down." Furrowed brows eased back in place, "Really? That's it?" Meltdown averted!
Main Lesson Book drawing of one of our fave myths.
A few days later he wrote his own essay about Egyptian mummies, drafting it in bullet point style on our white board first.

 Our main lesson book was finished with illustrating one of his favorite myths, the story of Thutmose and the Sphinx.

One of the last things we did was to construct paper pyramids using our new compasses to make them mathematically acuurate. I'll post directions in a day or two for those.
Completed paper pyramid
We finished our block by listening to the "Bartimeus Trilogy," by Jonathan Stroud. It isn't really about Egypt but gives small references to Egyptian artifacts and historical figures. Kind of a stretch, but it served the purpose of car entertainment on a long weekend to North Carolina.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A New School Year: Sixth Grade

Sixth grade. Wow. It's hard to believe we're on year three of our homeschooling adventure. In the beginning of fourth grade I attempted to keep the Boy on the same schedule as his former class. I really thought he would finish out his elementary and middle school years at school, rather than at home. But, we have so enjoyed our homeschooling experience that we may decide to keep going through high school.

Well, I need to give that some more thought, a lot of thought, but that's not happening today. Today we are in sixth grade and I am focusing on the task at hand.

This year's plan is to follow, loosely, the prescribed Waldorf sixth grade program, with the addition of Egypt and Greece.

My block plan looks like this:
Greek myths
Geometric drawing
Greek history
Christmas break
Rome 1
Business math
Rome 2

In addition, the Boy is taking a year long Latin class at Lancaster Center for Classical Studies, piano with Tina Davidson, a 6-week woodwork class with Mr. Kelly, 5-week handwork class with Barb Freiburg, and 6 weeks of horseback riding lessons at River Valley Ranch. We might try archery in the spring. This makes a full schedule, especially now that there is homework in Latin and piano!

Boardwalk at Asbury

The week I had planned to start found us on the Northern New Jersey shore for an impromptu last-of-the-summer romp while Husband attended a training course nearby. For three peaceful, sun-soaked days the Boy and I sipped coffee by the pool and read "Tales of Egypt," aloud. As the long afternoons waned, we dressed for dinner and headed for the boardwalks of Long Branch and Asbury Park.

The evenings were gorgeous, warm and breezy, as we dined under the waxing, and then full moon. It was a much needed rest before diving full throttle into our studies.
The full moon

If you're familiar with Waldorf education then you know that the study of Egypt belongs in the fifth grade. If you're familiar with homeschooling then you know we home schoolers tend to work at our own pace and mix things up according to the needs of our child. Thus, our study of Egypt and Greece will be in sixth grade.
Welcome to Sixth Grade!
We typically begin our new school year immediately following Labor Day. Husband takes a vacation day in order to start us off with a grand breakfast, we gather as a family to review last year's main lesson books, and then take a leisurely walk in the park. We enjoyed the traditional breakfast and review, but the sky was purging itself of every bit of moisture that day, as our still damp basement can attest.

Our year did not start perfectly, nor will it end perfectly. I'm sure there will be both bumps and fun surprises through the year, that will derail us on occasion. That's all part of homeschooling.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Astrophysicist, stunt double, or....micro farmer?

Remember when you were a child and you used to play pretend? Army men, Cowboys and Indians, school, ballerina fairies? Why can't we still pretend like that? Be someone far more exciting than our own selves?

Husband and I recently attended a party near his old hometown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As we drove to the party, we mentally tallied the guest list and realized that we would only know one person, the host.

Turning to husband I said," You know what would be fun? Going to a party and pretending to be a completely different person! A whole new persona. We should do that! Who would know?"

Laughing, we decided that husband could be an astrophysicist (He works with a bunch and could probably answer simple questions.) Being covered with noticeable bruises and scratches, from helping a relative move last week, I tossed around BMX racer and a few other rough and tumble, but exciting, professions. Upon arrival we filled in our host; he suggested movie stunt double. And there we personas in place. Ready to make our entrance to society.

As the party progressed and we met new folks, references were made to various movies I had been in and to Husband's importance to the space program. However, somewhere in the middle of the evening my "real" profession was discovered.

But instead of titling myself as housewife/homeschooling mom the words " homeschooling micro farmer" sprouted from my lips. All of a sudden Husband and I were the center of attention.(Very ego boosting I must admit) "Microfarmer? That's so interesting!" "You raise your own meat chickens?" "Do you ship your eggs?" "Where can I get some?" "Can I buy my garlic from you?" "You preserve your own food? That is so awesome."

I'm sure the abundance of adult beverages had some part to play, but people were amazed that we are growing our own food, and have a bit left over to sell. In return I was dumbfounded that people on the Eastern Shore, land of factory chicken farms and roadside cantaloupe and corn stands would be so far removed from their food.

It was a great party. While it was fun being a stunt double for the evening, (thankfully no one asked for a demo) It turned out that I had a much better time being the real me, housewifery and all. We decided that being microfarmers was rather glamorous!

Monday, August 20, 2012

(Mis) Adventures with Sourdough

Middle son and his girlfriend, Blaine, were here for a short visit this month. Blaine was carrying with her a sourdough starter acquired from her Uncle Louis...which she was willing to share. Yeah!  A new thing to try. I like a challenge, which is a good thing, because this has been just that...a real challenge!

This isn't going to be a real how-to. There are many, many, many sites on how to make, keep, and use sourdough starter. I happen to be stubborn and want to use Uncle Louis's specific directions, even though they haven't yet resulted in edible bread. I'll just chronicle my mishaps; maybe you can learn what NOT to do.

After receiving the starter, I perused the 'net looking for advice on how to feed it and keep it alive. (Sourdough starter is at its most basic, a chemical reaction between the bacteria in the flour, the air, and creates it's own leavening agent. It must be "fed" periodically to keep that fermenting process going.) Uncle Louis said to keep it in the fridge, but I remember my mom keeping it on the counter. What I learned was that you can keep it in the fridge, it slows the process down, so you don't need to feed it as often.  And you can go away for a few days without hiring a sourdough sitter. Or you can keep it room temp and feed it more often. 

I opted for the fridge. When we lived in our old neighborhood Amish Friendship Bread made the rounds, which was kept on the counter and fed twice a day. I had starter in ziploc baggies everywhere....and no one would take it. It was like zucchini in August...everyone locks the doors when they see you coming with an armload.

Here're Uncle Louis' directions:
  1. 1. In a large bowl mix together 3 cups flour, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 1/4 cups water
  2. Mix thoroughly, cover, let sit overnight on the counter. (8-12 hrs)
  3. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Stretch and fold over itself both ways twice. (kinda like a sheet) 
  5. Flip it over, gluten (stretched) side facing up. Sprinkle with some four if it is shiny. 
  6. Cup it in your hands (with a little flour) pushing the top upwards, then lay on floured surface and cover with a floured towel
  7. Preheat oven and cast iron pot (with lid) to between 430 and 450 degrees, the bread can sit for 20-30 minutes while the oven and the pot get hot. 
  8. Flip the dough, cover & bake for 30 minutes.  
  9. Uncover, cook for 30 more minutes, cool on a rack.  
  10. Add 1/2 cup flour to your starter and about 1/4 water, keep it on the counter overnight with the top loose, in the morning tighten the top and refrigerate it until you use it again.
Following the directions exactly, I got....a brick. Actually more like a stone. Very attractive, but my sharp bread knife didn't even dent the crust. 

Attempt number two, I made a few changes.
1. I kneaded it this time, until a finger pressed in it bounces back.
2. I didn't heat the pot when I preheated the oven.

Attempt number two also turned out like a stone. 

Attempt number three:
1. Took the starter out the night before and fed it. Left it on counter.
2. Let the dough rise for 10 hours rather than 8
3. And I did not knead it.

Attempt number three resulted in a slightly raised but very dense loaf, with a really tough crust. Also inedible. Lest you think this process has been truly wasteful, I will tell you that the bread did get eaten. All three loaves. Just not by people. (Chickens love sourdough rocks.)

By this time I was feeling quite the sourdough failure. So to cheer myself up, I made sourdough pancakes.

2 cups sourdough starter, room temperature (see below)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water

The night before using your sourdough starter, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Then feed the starter with flour and water. Let this sit at least eight (8) hours, preferably overnight. It is now ready to use in your sourdough pancakes.

In a large bowl add sourdough starter, sugar, egg, melted butter, and salt; mix well; set aside.

In a small bowl stir 1 teaspoon baking soda into 1 tablespoon of warm water. Important: Only add baking soda/water mixture to the pancake batter just before you are ready to cook the pancakes.

Heat your griddle and lightly grease it.

When ready to cook your sourdough pancakes, fold the baking soda/water mixture gently into the prepared pancake batter (do not beat). This will cause a gentle foaming and rising action in the batter. Let the mixture bubble and foam a minute or two before using.

For each pancake, pour approximately 1/4 cup sourdough pancake batter onto hot griddle.
When pancakes bubble, it's time to flip! Cook the pancakes 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from heat and serve.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Preparing for Sixth Grade

Ah, Tuesday. The one day of the week that is usually errand free. Today is especially quiet, as the Boy is hanging out with a friend, building a tree fort in our side yard. Later they will head to a grandparent's home for an afternoon swim. 

So what to do with all my "free" time? A hot bath? Read a book? Hah! To begin with, I started a pot of tomatoes to simmer down into sauce, and also a pot of sauce to come up to temperature for canning. There's the never ending pile of laundry, a romp with the puppy, the garden to weed, and oh, yeah, I need to start preparing for school.

Yikes, we only have a handful of weeks left before our first day, traditionally the day after Labor Day. Usually I'm pretty well prepared come August. Not this year. I have not done one single thing to prepare. I haven't read any books, bought any supplies, hardly put any thought into it at all. Until this past weekend. It hit me....fall, and therefore school, is coming whether I'm ready or not. So I better get ready. Or at least get get ready.

For the past two years I have developed my own Waldorf style curriculum, based off a summer's worth of research and combining free/inexpensive resources. I have an aversion to pre-packaged curriculum and enjoy creating something that's entirely our own. But I am feeling burnt out. I just don't feel like it this year.

After discussing the subject with Husband, I decided to give myself permission to buy a few things that will ease some of the creative pressure. I tend to be really cheap when it comes to buying things that I can or could do myself. But doing so should allow time and energy to focus on other aspects like rhythm, field trips, social activities, handwork, and crafts. 

Giving myself permission was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as deciding what to buy. A naturally indecisive person like myself can get overwhelmed quickly by all the choices! There are lots of free resources that can give a person some ideas. There are a few packages that lay it all down for you: Live Ed, Oak Meadow, Christopherus (K-5 comes in a package, 6 and up is more piecemeal), Little Garden Flower/Waldorf Essentials, etc. I already know that I don't like a scheduled approach (Monday do x, y, and z). That helped to narrow things down. I want a guide, not detailed lesson plans for every subject, every day.

I started with my "go-to" resources: Marsha Johnson's yahoo group, Millenial Child, Bearth Institute, Path of  Discovery (Eric Fairman). From these sources I figured out Step I: What I want to cover this year:
  • First of all we need to review Egypt
  • Greece, which I didn't get to last spring
  • Geometrical Drawing
  • Astronomy
  • Business Math
  • Rome
  • Mineralogy
  • Physics
  • Middle Ages
  • And if I can get it in European Geography
In addition to the above subjects, the Boy is taking a formal Latin class at Lancaster Center for Classical  Studies. He will continue piano lessons with Tina Davidson, and will take a 5 week horseback riding course at River Valley Ranch. I still need to arrange handwork and woodwork classes with our co-op group.

Step II: I purchased the resources I needed:
  • Tales of Ancient Egypt (Green)
  • Roman History and Medieval History (Christopherus)
  • Making Math Meaningful (York) I bought the guide, teacher's work book, and puzzle book
  • String, Straightedge, and Shadow (Diggins)
  • Geology/Astronomy (Kovacs)
  • Ancient Greece (Kovacs)
  • Rome (Kovacs)
  • Earth, Water, Fire, and Air (Kraul) 
  • Compass Drawing (Harst and Weiderhold)
  • Painting and Drawing in Waldorf Schools (Wildgruber)
  • Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics (Field)

I'm using Christopherus's Rough Guide to Sixth Grade, Marsha Johnson's notes, and info from Millenial Child to pull it all together into lesson plans. 

I purchased all my MLBs and a few other supplies from Meadowsweet Naturals

And now it's time for Step III: The actual lesson planning. Without my guides in hand, it's a bit tough to plan too far ahead (I can continue procrastinating a bit longer). I will start with the Egypt review, then move on as more guides arrive in the mail. 

Today's job though, other than can tomato sauce?  Clean up the school room and get everything orderly for that first day. I think I need another cup of coffee and a romp with the puppy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Story Book Baby Shower

Husband's cousin Keith and his lovely wife Emiko are expecting their first baby. We never believed Keith would get married — having a child was unthinkable! But, love will make you do strange and sometimes wonderful things, and now a beautiful new soul will enter our world in a few short weeks.

To celebrate and help prepare the new mom and dad, Husband and I hosted a baby shower. Neither one of us has any experience with hosting a shower, but after 4 baby boys, we have lots of experience as guests! This being our first shower, I had to do a bit of research

I hit the 'net pretty hard (I am so loving my iPad) Martha Stewart's site was one of my first reference points, where I learned that we should have a theme.

I sat on that one for a day or two. I didn't want to do a character theme, not knowing which American characters may or may not have gone international (Emiko is Japanese). And I wanted it to be something that would benefit the baby, not just a theme for  theme's sake.

And I have a really tight budget, so home made and casual were the way to go. We tossed around a few ideas and decided on a storybook theme, asking each attendee to bring a book for baby's library. And after that, the ideas just flowed.

I made invitations based off the Pottery Barn Kids storybook invitation. The  Boy and I made paper flowers to hang from the ceiling. We also made little books to hang along a string, as a banner over the doorways. And I pored through the boxes of books in the attic to find just the right ones to place around the room as decorations. Final touch was a few vases of white and yellow flowers, wrapped in blue ribbon.

Paper accordion flowers

Book banner. Each "page" was made from the pages of a real book.

All the food was book themed:
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: meatballs
Peter  Rabbit: veggies and spinach dip
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: cookies
Willy Wonka: brownies
Heidi: assorted cheeses and breads
The Hungry Caterpillar: fruit salad


We had cupcakes made at Macklin's. Four dozen, 6 different flavors. I made little toppers representing some of the Boy's favorite books.

The take home favor was home made gingerbread men.

The happy parents-to-be

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fresh Air/Friendly Town III: the End of the Tale (Part 3of 3)

Here's a copy of the book we had made for our
Fresh Air child, from  Shutterfly

Miguel has returned home to New York and we all miss him. Maybe not the Boy so much, but the rest of us do. I am surprised by that.

During the week I reworked my management style a bit; I felt like I was constantly after him with a "Miguel don't...." That really isn't a very positive way of parenting. So I switched tactics and we tried to keep him occupied with lots of work and play.

To keep him busy, we had him help around the house. He truly enjoyed working in the yard: watering plants, washing the car, feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, and pulling onions.

When we weren't working, we were running! We took him to an old fashioned tent revival where John and Monika Bailey performed their knife throwing and bullwhip show. It reached the Boy at a very deep level, one of the "the most inspirational speeches I've ever heard," he said. Otherwise, Miguel thought the show was "cool."

All told, over the course of the week we: saw fireworks, roasted marshmallows, danced with sparklers 'round a campfire, caught lightning bugs, went bike riding, ate Italian ice (a first), explored a creek, went to the movies, had a play date with friends, went to an outdoor market, saw a knife throwing show, played with the sprinkler in the yard, ate soft serve ice cream (another first), fed animals at Lake Tobias, and finished by swimming in our neighbor's pool. Plus learned about chickens, cats, dogs, and gardening. No wonder we were all exhausted!

On Monday morning we headed back to the mall parking lot to await the bus. This was after a night of no sleep. Miguel was so entranced with our new kitten that he tried to pack her in his suitcase, I was awake all night listening for distress meows emanating from his room.

As we waited for the bus, Miguel and the coordinator's daughter played together picking up acorns. After a rough and tumble week at our home, in the creek, bike riding, and general outdoor play, Miguel fell and skinned his elbow. It was pretty nasty. Fortunately, having raised a brood of boys, I know to keep a first aid kit in the car. But, his playful mood changed immediately to one of deep sadness and he began behaving as though he didn't want to go home. Then he started to cry. He was the last to board the bus, sobbing all the way, clinging to my neck. It was quite pitiful and touching. 

The Boy and I waved til the bus disappeared, then headed home for a much needed lazy day of doing nothing!

At 5pm I received a call from Miguel. He was crying... He missed us already.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fresh Air Fund/Friendly Town II (Part 2 of 3)

So last night I decided to have a better attitude about stuff. Stuff being having someone's child living in my house. Husband said he pretty much knew I'd be annoyed the first few days of having someone in my home. But, he was willing to go along with it anyway. I guess I'm pretty predictable. After much rumbling, grumbling, and thought I resolved to be a better person.

Wouldn't it be lovely if it were that easy? One of my realizations was that I had wacky expectations. Somewhere in the back of my consciousness I saw this as an opportunity to "help" someone. Miguel doesn't need "help." I shouldn't have a social services agenda in mind. He's not going to leave our home as a Waldorf kid, or a farmer, or with impeccable table manners, or a with a renunciation of all things pop culture. At best, we can give him a fun week in the fresh air, enjoying all that nature gives.

This morning Miguel was up at sunrise so I took him out with me to do the morning animal chores. I'd been hesitant to do so because he doesn't really follow directions well. It's been a struggle to keep the household pets safe from his eager loving. My choice this morning was to leave him in the house with the kitten and puppy or to have him tag along with me. He actually followed directions quite well and was excited to collect eggs. He likes to run barefoot (as do I, but not in the chicken yard— blech); i had to shoo him out of the chicken yard with an admonition to put his shoes on. "But I have my shoes, Mom!" "Miguel, you need to wear your shoes, carrying them won't protect your feet." "Sorry Mom." As he steps in a big blop of chicken poo.

Temperatures here are soaring, like everywhere; after chores we hit up the dollar movie then headed to a local park . Emig park has a nice creek and swimming hole. Miguel loves the water and was fascinated with the little fish. He looks adorable with his swim goggles, doesn't he?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fresh Air / Friendly Town or How I Learned How Rotten of a Person I Am(Part 1 of 3)

On Monday we picked up our host child for a week's visit via the Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Town program. My head was full of hopes that we were able to provide a wholesome experience of country living and that our son develops a life long friendship, that we can each learn from the other's culture. Sounds silly, we're all from the same country. But New York definitely has a different culture than rural Pennsylvania.

We met Miguel (our host child) at the mall, where the coach bus from NY left 11 children for host families in our county. There must have been a bit of miscommunication and some skewed expectations because Miguel's first question was "Are we going to see a killer whale?" We really don't have those in the Susquehanna River or Chesapeake Bay. Sigh. He just got off the bus and I failed him already.

The first night went well, other than a little fear of the dark and too much love of our new kitten. (When she screeches it's because she doesn't like whatever it is you're doing, Sweetie.) We caught lightning bugs, played with the kitty, walked the puppy, and played basketball with the neighbors. By evening's end (midnight) the cat had had enough, I was exhausted, the Boy felt a little lonely, and Miguel was too excited to fall asleep. My mind was spinning trying to figure out what we'd do on Tuesday. I had already exhausted half the planned activities! I'm used to a fairly slow pace but Miguel was running from one activity to the next, faster than I could think up new ones.

Finally, everyone drifted off to sleep. I dreamt of Rumspringa, probably since I was getting up early to deliver a car full of chickens to an Amish meat shop for processing. Restless night.

After returning (from the meat shop) Tuesday morning, with many thanks to the Husband for going to work late so I didn't have to haul two little boys out of bed at dawn, the boys traipsed downstairs for breakfast. Immediately I started hearing "I'm bored. Can we play a video game?" The Boy tried to advise: "Sometimes when I''m bored I play an imaginary game. Mom won't let us play a video game." (He was correct!) This was followed by Miguel: "Can we go to the circus? Can you take us to the pool? Are we going to the zoo? Where's the kitten? I don't like toast. Can you go get the Legos?" With barely a breath in between.

It was kind of a rough day. Too much love on the kitty, some arguments between the Boy and Miguel, and that fast paced switching from one activity to the next. Yes, I caved. I let the boys play an hour's worth of Lego Star Wars while I had some alone time. Sigh. Failed again. But both boys were content.

When Husband returned from work, we headed to our high school for the annual third of July fireworks. (Yes, the 3rd of July.) After patiently waiting for darkness to fall, we were treated to an "oooh aahhh experience! Yeah! We succeeded! Sure that the boys must be exhausted we headed home to a bednight snack, and off to bed.

Or, in this case, a repeat of Monday night. "Ma (he calls us Ma and Dad) I need a drink of water. Ma, I want the kitty to sleep with me. Dad, I need music to sleep." around 1:00 in the morning I began losing patience. You really don't want to mess with my sleep, I get grouchy! I tried being sympathetic; it must be hard to be in someone else's home. And such a little boy, too. But our host coordinator said to do life as normal as possible. Treat the kids like a family member. He's probably lucky I didn't. Again, mama gets really grouchy when you mess with her sleep. Fortunately daddy does not. ( But don't mess with his food!)

I'm sure things will improve. If nothing else, I have reinstated "Alone Time" in our home, for the week at least. A wonderful hour where we each retreat to our rooms to nap, read, or just contemplate the ins and outs of our day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fat Uglies aka Cornish rocks

"Hey woman, what's up?" "Not much, what's up with you?" "Well, the kids got some chicks for Easter and we just can't keep them all. Do you want them?" Note: two years ago I would have said yes right away. I've learned a little since then. " Hmmmm, what kind are they?" " Oh, I think they're leghorns. My aunt got them for the kids at Tractor Supply." I've learned some, but apparently not enough for this is how I acquired the fat uglies.

They were delivered during a nasty thunderstorm so the men just stashed them in the garage. The next morning, quarantine pen at the ready, I opened the box to find... not 7 leghorns, but 7 Cornish rocks.

Monster birds, fat uglies. I consoled myself with the fact that someone else had spent the time and cash to brood them. I only needed to finish them off and get them in the freezer. (With the help of Amos Lapp at Lapp's Meat Shop.)

Ugh. So why do I despise thee, O Cornish rocks? Thy greedy disposition and lack of heart and hale. Thy smelly presence and gaping maw. I just think they're gross, that's all.

We raised a handful last year, my first time raising meat birds. Along the way I discovered that these birds don't do well in the heat. They won't get up and go get a drink or find shade. They'll die where they are for lack of a drink with a fount not ten feet away.

Their legs give out under the terrific weight of their burgeoning breasts. They live to eat, following you with their greedy eyes like a bad Jesus portrait, mouths gaping...."Feed me Seymour!"

And they smell. When people emphatically state, "Ew! Chickens smell!" I am convinced it's because they've driven by a farm of these noxious birds.

So today, after approximately 10 weeks of loving care, I have delivered my fat uglies to Amos Lapp's shop, open Tues, Friday, and Saturday.

Yes, we could process them ourselves, but for $3 a chicken, Amos and his boys do a great job. I have also found myself to be a bit squeamish. The last time I processed them myself I found that I couldn't eat them. I cooked them, everyone else ate, but I stuck to the veggies at the table. So I guess those birds got the last word that time.

Monday, May 7, 2012

When Girls will be Boys: How to tell a Rooster from a Hen

My companion Denial has been hanging around a good bit, lately. I so want things to go my way, and when they don't, Denial comes over for a stay.

Today's realization? Puffin is a rooster. Darn! Darn! Darn! Her/his hackle feathers have been coming in as a pointy roo pattern, but I thought that *maybe* she would just be a little different. Then I noticed a few green and purple iridescent feathers peeking through the black and white. Beautiful, *sniff* reminds me of her papa, Jack Sparrow. Well,l today was the final eye opener. Beautiful green sickles. Denial has left the homestead, laughing all the way.
Jack Sparrow, proud papa

Puffin, day 1

Puffin has been a single chicken since hatch...the only chick to hatch from my first attempt. So, she/he has been completely spoiled, as far as you can spoil a chicken. Hand fed, petted, lots of treats. He lives with the goats rather than in a hen house with the other chickens. He has been as friendly as a chicken can be. And now she's a him and I have a dilemma. I have two good working roosters; I can't keep three.

Puffin hangin' out on my shoulder as we toast marshmallows over an evening fire.

Husband holding Puffin, doing his raptor impression.
Husband says we should eat Archimedes, the most beautiful roo, who also happens to be an eensy bit aggressive. (He seems to dislike my calves. I dislike them, too, but no need to attack) Then we could keep Puffin. But, I wonder if Puffin would make a good free range cock? Have I spoiled him too much? He is kind of a mama's boy. And he's kind of a 'fraidy cat chicken, unless I'm around. Then he looks to me for protection! (I really think I just answered my own question.)

*Sigh* It changes everything when they grow up to be something other than what you wanted them to be. Denial got me this time, but he won't be invited back for a long while. Or is that Denial again?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kitchen Screwups: From Disaster to Delicious!

On Easter Eve (that's the Saturday before Easter) I awoke feeling like I had been hit by a truck. I really didn't want to get out of bed — I was sniffly, achy, and really sleepy. But I had to...we'd promised the Boy that we'd attend an Easter Egg Drop (Eggs dropped from a helicopter, really). It was early, cold, and windy, and I was grumpy. Not a good combination, for sure. Not even the magic of coffee was helping.

After two hours in sub-zero weather (ok, it just felt like that) we came home, I collapsed on the couch and after some loving attention from my boys, I eventually dozed off...all the while mentally tracking the numerous things I needed to get done before Easter.

Besides dyeing eggs, organizing dinner, and making other "child-related preparations," I wanted to make cupcakes for Easter dessert. I had something like this in mind:
Cute, right?

Cute, supplies on hand, easy to do. Or so one would think. (One who was thinking clearly, would think.)

I awoke from my all-day nap, groggy and congested as ever, but decided to get to work. It had to be done now or else it would never get done. 

I melted chocolate and spread it on a cookie sheet to firm. I diligently sifted dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder, sugar. Then mixed the wet ingredients: butter, eggs, vanilla, milk. I found my favorite natural paper cupcake liners and used the last of them in my vintage cupcake pans. Vintage might be going too far. I've had them since we got married...25 years. Is that vintage or just old?

I carefully blended the wet and dry together,  following directions exactly. I measured out portions so each liner was 2/3 full. And gently placed them in the preheated oven, spacing them out so they would cook evenly.

Within 2 minutes I knew there was something wrong. I heard sizzles and spatters. Not supposed to happen. Opening the oven I took notice of a few overflowing cups. I know I didn't overfill them. So it wasn't a great big deal, right? Closing the door, I allowed my old friend Denial to take over. They'll finish out fine, let it go. 

Another minute or two...Uh oh, now I started smelling smoke. Smoke?! Opening the door again, I thrust an empty cookie sheet under the bottom rack to catch dripping batter. That should fix it. Denial again. Hmph.

See the smoky haze in the background? It got worse!
I meandered over to the dining room table to watch the Boy dyeing eggs. Husband was taking pictures and suddenly said, "Oh My God, look at that!" Smoke was billowing, yes billowing, from the stove. We scattered across the house throwing open doors and windows (It was 30 degrees outside by that time) and pulling down smoke alarms off the walls. I can't stand it when they blare out "Hey lady, you're burning something!" At least it sounds like that to me. 

Then I opened the oven door to this:
There are no words for this...

So denial didn't work, darn it! I pulled the whole mess out of the oven. Husband joked that I would be getting some brand new cupcake pans. But I was determined that all my effort, failure that it was, would result in something edible.

I peeled every bit of cake I could get out and off those pans and dumped it into a bowl. And stared at the mess of crumbs. Now what? Wracking my brain, I seemed to remember something about mushed up cake being used for cake balls. That's it! I'll make cake balls.

"Husband, could you run down to Rutter's and get a can of cake frosting?" "Really, you're going to buy cake frosting?"(I didn't want to waste real buttercream if this, too, was a failure) So he did run to Rutter's. And bought orange juice, too, for which I was so grateful. My, that man must love me!

While he was at Rutter's I scribbled across the recipe page in my Betty Crocker cookbook, "DO NOT USE!!!" God forbid someone else tried this horrid recipe. Don't they test these things?

I added half a can of frosting to the crumbs and stirred it in well. Then, using my hands, rolled out balls of cake/frosting mixture, plopped them on a cookie sheet and popped them in the fridge to solidify. I removed the previously melted, now firm, chocolate from the fridge, broke it up and melted it once again. Once the cake was firm, using two forks, I dipped it into the chocolate then returned the tray of balls to the fridge.

And finally, I turned my attention to cleaning up the enormous mess: crumbs and chocolate everywhere. Burnt crud on the inside of the oven, all over my pans, all over the floor. Sink filled with gross, soggy cake. Ugh. I scrubbed and swept and scrubbed some more. Then turned on the oven's self cleaning function to finish off anything left in unreachable corners. While the stove was doing it's thing, and keeping the house a toasty temperature, I read over the recipe again. It's a basic yellow cake recipe...supposed to be easy. Where did it go wrong? Oh my, it called for 3 teaspoons of baking powder, not 3 tablespoons. Mea Culpa. And a Happy Easter to All!

And they were edible, too. Disaster fixed.
Happy Easter from the Boy and his mama.