homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pot bound

pot-bound (adj) of a potted plant : having roots so densely matted as to allow little or no space for further growth.

Gee. Ya think?

Free to a more nurturing home: baby variegated spider plants, now rescued from the Mother and establishing roots.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Apron Collection: Mini Me

My kids help in the kitchen. A lot. For the most part, we share equipment...but they have a few things of their own. T has a sharp cutting knife that's easy for him to handle, and a new spatula for flipping his eggs. C has a kid-sized rolling pin and a whisk that I'm constantly scolded for using without asking. And they each have their own aprons.

Here is C in his; a darling gingerbread print. I made this from a 1/2 yard remnant and a package of bias tape. It's a simple full-bib "butcher" style, and is happily donned for helping with everything from bread dough to cookies and beyond.

It's going to be bittersweet when he outgrows this.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Berry Fun

All puns aside, this was one of the silliest things we've done in a while, and the mess (and -gasp!- wasted food) was totally worth the memory we'll have.

Have a fun-filled weekend, everyone!

Food Friday: Guest Chef!

It was a busy week (see? Again...blogging Friday on Saturday. Why must you nitpick!?), and I stuck with the tried-and-true in the kitchen. But C had a food adventure, and unlike some of his past efforts, this one turned out pretty well.

My four-year-old was helping me make scones for breakfast and enjoyed greasing the cookie sheet so much that he asked for more surfaces to prepare. Distracted, I handed him a shallow pie plate. When it was nice and buttery, he asked for something to cook in it. Um...let's see, we had some leftover potatoes from the previous night's dinner...

With only a little gentle steering from Mom, he added ingredients to make "spicy potatoes". (The spices in question? Parsley, paprika, salt, pepper. I managed to convince him that the curry powder, cinnamon, and lemon pepper might not be the best choices.) He chose and grated some cheese, and I helped him prepare the milk mixture.

Voila! Scalloped Potatoes!

Don't let him know he didn't invent this recipe. He was so unbelievably proud of his creative talent. :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Apron Collection: Side of Slaw

This apron makes me think of a diner waitress.

The bright color, the bold black-and-white accents, the roomy square pocket (sized right for an order pad, and embellished with vintage buttons)...

This just begs for an extra cuppa and a slice of pie, don't ya think?

It carries some food stains from the original owner, but that doesn't detract from the charm. I'm not sure of the origin, but I don't honestly think that this did see commercial service because it's sized wider/fuller...more for practical use than the "barely there" coverage of typical diner uniforms. I could be wrong, though...and I'd like to hope that maybe this apron has just as interesting a past as I imagine for it.

Extra apron fun! A friend just directed me to a terrific crafty blog: Sumo's Sweet Stuff. Oh and they just happen to be currently hosting an apron giveaway! I know...too perfect, right? Not only do I obviously need more aprons (shut up) and would certainly be a graciously appreciative recipient, but come on...this fell into my lap on Apron Monday? I am surely destined to get my hands on one of the gorgeous aprons offered by sponsor Flirty Aprons.

Oh and just in case I don't win, I want yinz to note that URL for future gift shopping for yours truly. :)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Food Friday: Yogurt

I found another Lazy Person recipe! Like the One Minute Ciabatta, this is a little something for which the major contribution of the chef is not skill, but patience. Put it in a container and then ignore it? For HOURS? Even OVERNIGHT? Oh, I am so all over that.

What prompted this experiment was twofold. First, Someone Else did a little grocery shopping. Now while in theory I should be ecstatic about the magically-appearing groceries, the reality is that since as the default cook I am the most intimately in-tune with the fridge and pantry around these parts, I become righteously protective of my role of Food Acquirer. And each attempt at kindness by others seems to just support the old adage that a kitchen requires one chef. (Okay, that too many cooks spoil the broth, but grant me some license here...that sounds goofy in context!) We had a full gallon of milk. And someone brought home...another full gallon of milk. Seeing how half of our household doesn't even use the stuff (lactose sensitivities), that's a lot of freaking milk staring at me, daring me to use it before it goes bad.

Also, the last time I purchased yogurt, I picked up a container of "plain". Why? I have no idea. I mean, no one eats the plain! It tastes like...plain yogurt! Maybe I imagined I'd use it in a recipe, who knows.

So one day I was staring at my fridge and thought: milk...yogurt...OMG I can try what my friend Robyn did!!

And so I did.

I followed this tutorial, which is so easy my four-year old could do it (okay, with a little help telling time). My first potential obstacle came up when I realized that I had only 2% milk and not the preferred whole. Never fear! Substitution Woman is here! I also had a half-pint of heavy whipping cream taking up space (overpurchased for a previous recipe).

I replaced one cup of the milk with the cream, crossed my fingers, and started the heating process.

Two and a half hours later, I had what looked like buttermilk.

Rut roh. Is that good or bad? Did I mess up horribly with the cream? Curses! Oh...well...let's keep going and hope for the best. I mixed in my starter (unphotographed, but it was "plain" Stonyfield Farm) and noticed my second potential liability. Although the starter yogurt had live cultures, it was also ultra-pasteurized...a warned no-no with the milk. Bad with the yogurt? We would see.

After an overnight sit, the mix had thickened considerably...but not enough.

It had the consistency of...salad dressing? It was definitely thicker than a beverage-quality liquid, but quite pourable. It barely clung to the spoon at all. The tutorial had warned that the final product would be thinner than store-bought, but this seemed wrong.

So I found a second tutorial and fetched some cheesecloth to strain the batch.

Another few hours, and I had one quart of whey (saved for near-future adventures, let's hope!) and one quart of real, textured yogurt!

It is not at all as thick & sticky as the Greek yogurt pictured at the second tutorial blog. It's precisely what I expect when I peel back a foil lid. Heaven!

This week has been a celebration of black raspberries.

OMG we pick enough from our small patch to make a pie ever day. In fact, I made THREE pies on Tuesday...that's how happy I was. So you can well imagine what my first mix-in was.

The flavor seems a little sour to me...but then, I have a lingering head cold which seems to make most things taste a little "off". All the same, I "cheated" a bit and added a small amount of table sugar. I know, not very authentic of me. But it took just enough of the edge off to make it taste "right" and not too sweet.

Success! And other than the time investment, this is so ridiculously easy. It's definitely going into the permanent recipe file.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Enough is enough

The beauty of a custom-tailored education is that the level, pace, and emphasis can be precisely matched to the student's age, ability, and interest. The trick is keeping mindful of that. Already I'm often tempted by the "should" whispers urging me to introduce material or skills simply because that's what his age-peers are doing in school. I find myself asking: Is it relevant? Is he ready? Is he engaged? and trying to keep my focus on the student, not a curriculum.

It happens even in conversations.

Yesterday T and I were working in the garden and he asked, "Are there wild peas?"

Wow. What a great question! My mind started spinning with information about the history of agriculture, cultivation, natural and hybrid selection, domestication, genetic mutation, and the like. And he was asking about peas, for goodness sake! The ghost of Mendel was screaming at me to rush for the nearest whiteboard and scratch out a Punnett Square!

But, um. My kid is six. And all he wanted, and needed, to know at that moment was whether it would be worth the adventure to go foraging in the woods for the same type of plant food he was enjoying in our garden.

For now, all I provided was a brief, "Probably not. The peas we plant in the garden are a different kind than their relatives that once grew wild...and I'm pretty sure they didn't grow naturally around this area anyway."

And we went on with our day.

Sigh. Mendel, your time will come. Just not yet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Grade Expectations

Questions directed toward my children about their schooling still throw me. I realize that many (if not most) adults simply do not know how to relate easily to children, and often fall back on the one guaranteed cultural frame of reference: schooling. I also know that many of these people (strangers, friends, or otherwise) do not expect to be thrown a curveball to an innocuous social exchange. When a waitress asks how you're doing today, she really doesn't expect to hear a litany of complaints unrelated to your business together. It's a rote exchange: "How are you today?"/ "Fine, and you?" "What grade are you in?"/ "Second." People (including me) just don't know how to react when the answer is a little less predictable and a lot less definable.

I hope that time will make me more graceful at handling these social situations. I'm pretty good at acting cheerful rather than defensive, but some of the questions people ask my kids are so based on "school" assumptions that I sometimes don't even know how to answer them without giving a full-out informative lecture on the many types of home education and my personal reasons for choosing this for my family. In most cases, neither of us is up for that kind of discussion, and I often find myself wishing I could just feel comfortable lying.

But I don't. I answer.

A few days ago, a store clerk asked my son, "What grade are you in?"

He shrugged.

"Well, are you still in school or are you out for the summer?"

I could see that he was uncomfortable (not with the line of questioning; he's just generally shy with any direct address by adults) and jumped in. "We're homeschoolers. We don't keep a normal school year. But if he were in school, he would have just completed his kindergarten year."

Which is true and not-true. He's the same age as a kindergartener. But we haven't "done" kindergarten. He's done some stuff that's way beyond a typical curriculum. And missed a lot of other stuff that the other kids did cover. What we do is so far removed from the mold of school that it's difficult to draw parallels.

And after all, grade levels are a system of classifying groups of students, by both age and experience level. There's no need if you aren't in the system. He's in a class of one.

All of this goes through my mind and I try to articulate it on the spot, and people invariably get confused. Either they try to clarify and get it so wrong that I end up explaining even more, or they make assumptions and I have to remind myself that I don't want or need to have this conversation and it might be best to escape by giving them something, anything, to which they can relate.

"...and Everything *Meh*"

There's nothing WRONG with this apron. It's simple, classic, and gets the job done.

But. It's not particularly flattering. (Neither is my hairstyle or the wry smirk, but I was in housecleaning mode. I can't always be gorgeous, people!) Nor does it offer more than basic coverage. And it's thin.

The only thing really in its favor is this lovely (late '70s/early '80s?) bit of kitchen kitsch:

but I would like that more if it weren't a machine job. I believe I inherited this from an aunt. Appearances suggest that this was a hostess giveaway. I could see this being a gift at a Tupperware party or for sending in Betty Crocker box-tops or free with the purchase of a food processor.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What "life learning" looks like

It's sometimes difficult (and uncomfortable) to field questions from well-meaning, curious people who hear that I'm homeschooling my kids and assume that we use a "school at home" model. We're not that predictable. We're not predictable at all. We have no routine, no schedule, no plan. The kids are young and much of my motivation is to NOT push rigid academics this early.

But learning is not exclusively a result of "teaching". We do learn. And often, it looks like this.

The kids and I were on an outing yesterday (amusement park, woo!) and during the day my husband left for a weekend business trip. When we got home, we discovered this on the dining room table.

I cannot tell you how overjoyed, touched, and just plain geeked out I was about it.

And so was Theo.

My current approach is not to "teach", so much as it is to scaffold, to strew, and to encourage a joy of both discovery and investigation. We got strange looks at the public pool a week or so ago when an older gentleman overheard my 6-year-old announce, "I have a hypothesis!". Yes, you might recognize that he's parroting a stock line from Dinosaur Train. But what's important here is that he used the term, and the process, correctly. And with joy. Scientific investigation isn't a chore to him; it's an adventure. He wasn't content to just passively experience something that day; he had a burning curiosity about the how and why, and took the first step toward understanding it.

Those are skills that lead to success in life. Rote memorization will help you pass an exam, but the navigating real knowledge involves skills, and risk: the ability and the courage to ask, "what if?". These are the gifts that I am choosing to nurture, because they will serve him well. And he won't get them from a worksheet.

Food Friday: Fresh Greens!

(yes, late again. Sometimes I do things which are not blogging.)

Have I mentioned how much I love gardening season?

I don't understand all of the focus on a fall harvest. Okay, if you have a grain crop that takes that long, it's certainly worth celebrating. But for me, the joy starts with the first sweet peas and raspberries. Then there are several months of salads that were literally growing only minutes before serving. And don't get me started on canning in the heat of August. THAT is a party worth attending.

Welcome, food production season 2010! Arugula, leaf lettuce, spinach, purple basil, and cilantro...all from my own backyard. A few other ingredients to round it out, and Voila...


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Scenes from our week

This is T, going to the garden on his own to look for ripe raspberries. I stayed up at the house, but watched with a zoom lens and a bursting heart. :)

And look what he found while he was down there. The season's first peas!

Chalk people. Always a good time.

Yes, they are practicing casting. Inside a water-filled inflatable boat.
Don't kid yourself; we are all about imagination and creativity. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reversible Apron = Twice as nice

Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated by the concept of reversible clothing. One garment; two looks. Genius!

Yup. I have an apron like that.

On one side, a solid background with a print pocket. Pretty.
Ignore the dog head. She took my posing as an indication that I wished to play.

On the other: not only the reverse, but surprise! A layered skirt!
 See? I told you I don't iron. 

Instead of merely lining two fabrics back-to-back, the creator of this garment (estate sale find) simply kept the first and used the second as an overskirt. I really like the look of this.

Of course, this apron illustrates the paradox of the reversible garment. Namely; if you switch the garment so as to hide a stain or spill, where does that soil go? An apron is designed to protect your clothing. While the "presto-change-o" possibility of doing a quick re-tie as guests arrive (to hide the cooking mess and present a lovely hostess) is tempting, it also means that the cooking mess? Is now up against your clothing. Probably not the best idea.

At any rate, while I do find this to be one of my more attractive aprons, I do not use it very much. The ties are short. No, my waistline is not too big. Shut up.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The roses of success!

I'll be honest. Although I love roses and have grown them at several of my homes, I am not much of a horticulturist. I don't know when or how to prune and I never fertilize. I only know the name of one of my plants. I'm a laissez-faire landscaper; I kind of just plant them in a likely place (at least I know what type of soil they prefer) and hope for the best. I'm rarely disappointed.

Where I live currently, however, is a deer zone. Do not get me started on the deer. Their numbers suggest not so much a "population" as a "plague", and they eat Everything. They mock the fences, they cross the repellents. They saunter down the center of residential streets with a dismissive backward glance like members of some smug adolescent gang, daring you to try something. Seriously, they're a problem.

And every year they eat my damn roses. Sometimes they don't even give the poor plants a chance to bud. Other times, the buds will appear and I'll get all excited, and then the next morning I find closely cropped stems in their places.

So imagine my surprise when this happened!

Is it the newly-acquired dog territorial markings keeping them away? Are they finding better vittles elsewhere?

I don't care. I have roses.
Oh, and here is the inspiration for the post title. I've been humming this song for days. :)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Food Friday: Chocolate Crepes

Oh, yes. A worthy culinary adventure. Not only are these little desserts gorgeous and decadent, but they are insanely simple to make.

A quick whir in the blender makes the batter. Then a hot skillet plus a flip,

and Voila! Crepes.

The recipe that I used, from Molly Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest, suggested filling the crepes with either marmalade or chocolate. Naturally, I chose chocolate.

I also attempted to go all frou-frou fancy food-bloggy and try for some style in presentation. I drizzled the plates with heavy cream, as suggested in the recipe,

but by the time I got the plates to the table, the crepes were pretty much perched in puddles. Alas.

Still, a delicious success! Next time I may get creative with filling. I'm thinking mashed bananas + chocolate. Or marshmallows? Peanut butter? of next week we'll have fresh-from-the-bush black raspberries! Mmmmmmm.

There was an also-ran food adventure this week, from the same cookbook. I made a loaf of Cottage Cheese Dill Bread, a savory quick bread. I took plenty of nice photos of the process, including a pretty shot of the local eggs plus local honey

but the dough was less photogenic, as it was thick and sticky and reminded me of a tonsil infection. (Sorry if you have a weak stomach, but seriously--look at those individual curds. Don't they remind you of pus? Is it just me?)

It was moderately less unattractive after baking

but although it wasn't an unpleasant flavor, it's also not something I feel any urge to make again on purpose. Meh.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oh no she didn't...

Oh, yes. She did.

I am NOT this woman. I swear. I only iron napkins and/or tablecloths if we're expecting particularly "we need to impress them" company. For everyday use, I just fold them wrinkles-and-all and no one complains. But last night I got out the iron and board, preparing to press some sewing. And in true procrastinator fashion, instead of doing my intended task, I did a vaguely related one.

The sewing is still sitting, untouched, in the project basket. But my linen napkins look fantastic.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Puppet Show

A story in pictures.