24 August 2008

I can do it!

This has been quite a year for growth for me. I have learned that I am capable of so many things I never thought I could do. I have planted a garden, actually harvested food from it, made jam, tried my hand at water bath canning, and today I even scheduled the upcoming school year. I am still working out in my own mind why I think myself so inept. I have always had a terribly low self-esteem, and I am not completely sure why. Perhaps because I have always lived my life as an outsider. Perhaps because I am naturally a pleaser. I don't know. I have lived a pretty bizarre life by most standards, so people often have trouble relating to me and my experiences, and I to theirs. But I will try not to dwell on the wherefores for long. Ultimately, they are proving irrelevant.

I just noticed this newly found self-confidence today. Public school starts tomorrow and of course we homeschool. So Caitie has gone back to her dad's for the year, and Moira and Lauren have both started asking about starting lessons. My history with providing lessons is spotty, at best. The first year I took Moira out of public school, no reporting was required since Kindergarten is not mandatory here. The next year, I had to submit a curriculum with my letter of intent, but I wanted to "unschool", and use no formal lessons. I came up with ways that her learning might take place over the next several months and qualified my submission with the statement, "We reserve the right to adjust this curriculum as needed to best meet the needs and interests of our child." I worried all year that I didn't do enough, teach enough, show enough to her. In December, I had gotten myself so worked up that I found a curriculum that I liked and bought it. We started the lessons in January, which complicated things. I decided to just do what we could and then we could finish the rest of it the next year. Then when I was filling out the evaluation paperwork at the end of the year, I read through the sample and saw that I had done plenty. My one-page paper was nearly two pages long so I had to edit it down.

The next year, we started again with the curriculum pretty much where we left off, but by now we didn't have enough to finish the year. I did well with giving lessons regularly until we ran out in December. The rest of the year ended up being mostly unschooling. I was feeling better about it though after having gone through it all once and passing. I think that is a significant statement. I have been viewing homeschooling as a test for me to prove I am good enough to teach my child, instead of viewing it as educating my child and to hell with the system, which has enough faults of its own. She did fine at her year end evaluation, even with no formal lessons after early December.

Today (homeschooling year 3.25), after the girls asking if they could learn Spanish (a language I studied in high school and college, but haven't really used in 12 years or so) and if we could start lessons tomorrow, I sat down to schedule and coordinate their lessons. I picked up the curriculum overview (which I had actually not read since I bought it two years ago, instead diving straight into the syllabus) and read up on grade 3. Lauren will be doing 1st grade this year, and I think I will repeat it again next year so that she is on track with the lesson content. If she struggles with 1st grade this year, I will repeat her Kindy year, or maybe I will combine them together and stretch out 1st grade for her. When I looked at my chart and lessons and planned projects (not too many, I was realistic), and field trips (I may have planned a bit too much financially, we will see), I looked at it and felt confident. I can do this. It isn't going to be terribly difficult. The hardest part will not be the lessons themselves (which I have feared in previous years), but maintaining the discipline to do them every week, establishing the household rhythm that lends itself to learning. Finding the link for the curriculum showed me that the author actually did what she swore she wouldn't do - write syllabi for grades beyond first. My first thought was, "Whew! I can get a syllabus and know I am doing it right." Then I thought, "No, I don't need someone to tell me lesson by lesson. I just read up the overview and I can do this myself. I don't need to spend all that money."

That is what I have been feeling all summer about various different projects - I can do this! And I daresay, you can too, if you want to.

19 August 2008

Fun in the Kitchen

I have been busy in the kitchen these last two days. On Sunday, I attacked my kitchen to-do list. I made laundry soap, sausage seasoning, sauerkraut, ground some rye into flour and started a sourdough starter.

Then yesterday I made some plum jam with my mom. I had picked half a bucket of plums from a generous neighbor and wanted to try my and at canning. My mom had never canned either, so we found a recipe here. It is a highly detailed recipe. I think the most precise measurement on it says to use equal parts plums and sugar. Of course, it forgets to tell you to sieve the puree (who wants pits in their jam?). Using this recipe and Sharon's instructions on water bath canning, we got some yummy jam. It took us a while, and since we didn't have anything useful like a jar lifter or a funnel, we made a big mess. The jam kept spitting out at us as it boiled while we tried to get it up to the 220° jelly mark on my candy thermometer. We gave up at 215° and said, "Well, if it is runny, so be it." It gelled up beautifully, though. The hardest part was getting the processed jars out of the boilng water. Since we had no jar lifter, I used regular tongs to pull the empty jars out after sterilization, but they weren't strong enough to lift the filled jars (and I couldn't stick one side of the tongs into the jar and lif tthem up sideways, either). We made four jars, and the first three I lifted out using two wooden spoons pressed tightly around the rims. The last jar I just reached in with my already wet hot mitts and grabbed it out.They sealed almost instantly, so I think we managed okay.

Last night before going to bed, I had more plum puree that I wanted to make into fruit leather. Of course, I had no parchment paper or plastic wrap or wax paper, so I looked in my food drying book. It suggested using brown gift wrap. I don't think I have ever seen brown gift wrap, so I was trying to decide between cutting open a paper bag and using wrapping paper. I decided the wrappig paper was more slippery, so I used that. I spread out my puree and slid my three trays into the dehydrator and went to bed. This morning, only one tray had dried, the other two had started to dry around the edges only. Of course, now I can't get the paper off the leather. I got out a cookie sheet and spread the undried puree from the other two trays on it and stuck it in the oven with the pilot light on. I plan to make bread later today, so perhaps the leather will dry better then. If I had been fully awake when I pulled out the cookie sheet, I would have greased it with either butter or more likely coconut oil. Oh well. I still have more plums.

Moira wants to make a plum pie today. I am ready to get rid of the ever-present fruit flies. The plums aren't even very old, but if one leaks at all, the flies are there. I also found some cherries I had brought home last week in my fridge, so maybe today I will try making some cherry jam.

15 August 2008

Birthday socks that don't fit

When we went to Panteria in May, Cait saw some striped knee-high socks she wanted. Unfortunately, we had spent the last of our money (and then some due to miscalculating on my part), but I mentioned she had a birthday coming up. She said she would like some in pink and army green. So I bought the yarn for these socks and attempted to get an entire pair of knee high socks knitted in secret in 2 weeks. I got one done and gave it to her on her birthday, promising to get the second one done as soon as I took a breather. She tried on the sock and the foot fit fine, but I had added too much for her calf (she doesn't exactly have curvy legs, my little bean pole) so it kept sliding down her leg. I made the second one up with this in mind. When it came off the needles, she tried it on and loved the fit. So I ripped the leg down on the first one and re-knit it to match the second one. I finished the first one again and told her to get the second one so we could see how they looked together. But she had washed the second one, so it shrank. My lesson: Only use sock yarn for socks. She finally pulled it on and of course the first one now fit well but was bigger than the second one. I suggested she wash the first so they would both be shrunk the same and we would see how hard it would be for her to wear them. Getting one sock on after that was a 5 minute ordeal. Sadly, we had Lauren try them on, and they fit Laurne like a charm. I only used half of the yarn I bought for the socks, so I have two choices: I can either knit them up again, but larger to allow for shrinking, or I can buy new sock yarn and knit them in the same size, and find some other project for the Knit Picks Pallette yarn. The colors are Petal and Clover. Christmas is coming up and I want to start knitting on all those projects so I have a hope of getting them done on time, but I want to replace Cait's sock, since that means she now has no birthday present.

Another letter to my Congressman

Even though my Congressman doesn't seem to read my emails, I am not giving up. I have written a new one with a practical band-aid solution for him to consider. If you would like to copy this and send it to your Senator or Congressman, please feel free.

Dear Mr. Hodes,

I am writing to you today to suggest a simple way to help folks control their heating costs this winter. My idea is to replace current thermostats with ones whose range is 40-70 instead of 55-90. It would be like the revision of speedometers in the 70s. If we include education on the benefits of wearing layered clothing and keeping our thermostats lower, we can reduce the amount of fuel needed to keep people warm this winter. A lower highest temperature will also help prevent accidental adjustments to high temperatures. Bumping the thermostat or a child's playing with one will no longer be able to turn one's home into a tropical jungle at 90 degrees. I would like to see Congress provide incentives to companies to make these low-range thermostats and encourage homeowners to install them.

Since the technology already exists, there should be no expensive retrofitting required for their manufacture, and most homeowners are competent enough to replace a simple thermostat, and if they are not, it is a simple matter for their energy company to do so.

Thank you for reading my idea.

Judy Anderson

01 August 2008

Dinner will be served at the sound of the smoke alarm

Yes, it happened. Or it would have if it hadn't happened so many times before. I was making a new recipe, Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce, from Nourishing Traditions and I set the oven on fire. Yes, literally, the oven itself was on fire. The recipe called for broiling the chicken, which I did. I apparently need to clean my oven though, because I noticed smoke pouring out of the burner that is over the vent. I opened up the door and saw flames licking the ceiling of the oven. I pulled out the chicken and turned off the oven, but the oven continued to burn. I couldn't really throw anything like baking soda or flour onto it because it was on the ceiling not the floor, and gravity would have asserted itself. So I waited for it to burn itself out, then stuck the chicken in again to finish broiling. It couldn't reignite since its fuel was all gone, so I figured it was safe. However, the smoke alarm did not actually go off. The house was thick with smoke, but I had unhooked the smoke alarm some time back. I decided to do that when it went off the day after I cleaned the oven. The oven was sparkling clean and still it smoked up and sent off the smoke alarm. Maintenance laughed at me and said I should keep a better eye on my food. But my food was fine and the oven was clean, so I just disconnected the downstairs smoke alarm. The upstairs one is still on. Later in the evening when I was taking the laundry off the line, I heard another smoke alarm going off. I was glad I wasn't the only one. I think I need to clean the oven now. The dish came out well in the end and was quite good.

In other news, we have expanded the garden. We reclaimed 10 square feet from the weeds (which were tall enough to obscure the children when they lay down) and planted more food and some flowers. We each planted 2 square feet. Cait and Lauren each planted nothing but marigolds, I planted beans, Moira planted cilantro and radishes, and Rowan planted beans and lettuce. Half of my lettuce has bolted, so now I get to figure out how to save those seeds. My peas, cucumbers and tomatoes are all fruiting. I have two each broccoli and cauliflower starting. My potatoes flowered and were lovely, I'm not sure what is going on with my onion, though. The strawberries are spreading like crazy, and I think it might have been a bad idea to plant them in the middle of my plot where I did. My watermelon plant finally has 3-4 true leaves, but isn't exactly thriving.

Oh, and a tree decided to land a mere foot from my garden, a big tree, no less. It took several days before maintenance came and cleared the fallen tree away, and they took down a half-dead tree as well. They let me have a bunch of the smaller diameter wood when I asked for it. I asked for the whole tree actually, saying I would have my mom bring over my dad's old maul so we could split it, but the chainsaw guy took it himself to burn in his own woodstove this winter. Fair enough, since I have electric heat anyway. But at least I know have "just in case" firewood to burn in our "just in case" woodstove. You know, just in case. Can't you just picture it? In the middle of some blizzard when the power has been out for a few hours, all we need do is pull the tarp off of the stove, tip it upright (it is currently on its side for some unknown reason), make sure the empty stovepipe outlet is not pointed toward the wooden patio fence, and fire it up. We can sit around the stove outside on the patio, drinking cocoa, cooking our dinner and keeping warm as the blizzard rages around us and we get all wet because instead of snowing on us, it is now raining on us since the snowflakes melt as they get near the stove. Everyone else will be shivering inside while we stay toasty outside in the blizzard. C'mon, it'll be fun! No? Well, it does conjure up a funny image.

What the kids have been up to lately

What a week it has been. Jenny asked for an update on the kids, so I will start there.

Cait has turned 12 (OMG!) and has taken up jewelry making with beads. She would like to sell some stuff on Etsy and is saving money to get all the tools she needs to do it right. She is also blossoming into a young woman, and has discovered her own bioweapon - BO. Whew! I commented to her the other day that she was a bit ripe and we should pick out a deodorant for her when we went grocery shopping. Her response? She took her baby brother's hand and rubbed it in her pits and said, "See, Mom? He's the one who is stinky!" What a ham! He, of course, thought it was funny.

Moira has spent this last week at Girl Scout Camp, in a program called Chocolate Chef. She sent us a lovely (short) letter mid-week. It read, "Dear Mom and Dad and Girls, How are you? I have 2 3 4 5 friends. Do you miss me? Love, Moira." It was so sweet.

Lauren has gotten comfortable enough in the water this year that she now swims out deeper than she can touch and does not panic. I am so proud of her! This time last year we had a hard time just getting her into the water instead of playing up on the shore.

Rowan will now go up to her chin in the water, but is not yet swimming. She also has her first loose tooth. I think she is the same age Lauren was with her first lost tooth, but 4½ still seems so young to me.

Eirik is still not talking any more than Mama and Dada and No. He is happy to walk out up to his neck into the water and no longer clings to me with a death grip when we go out to my chest height. He also ripped the refrigerator lock off so he can now freely open the fridge. I also discovered that he can open the back door and unlatch the patio gate. So now I need to get another padlock so he doesn't run off.

The kids are all doing quite well. Lauren is looking forward to lessons starting up in September. Cait has mixed feelings. She shocked me a couple weeks ago. She asked if she could still live with us even when she was grown and had a family of her own. We told her yes, she will always be welcome in our house, though we suspect she will want her own space by then. We decided we will have to build her a house next to ours when that time comes. Of course, that means we have to find some land and a house for ourselves first.

I read Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer as part of Sharon's Post-Apocalyptic Book Club. It is written in diary format from the POV of a 16-year-old girl. It was a great read, and when I was done, I suggested that Cait read it, which she did. She says she enjoyed the book, proven by the fact that she spent probably 6 hours a day reading it.

Moira has been reading anything she can get her hands on. A lot of Secrets of Droon, the Sisters Grimm, etc. She even began The Fellowship of the Ring, but I think it was a bit too much for her because it is now back on the shelf.

So that is what they have been up to lately. Enjoying the summer, nearly daily swimming (at least when it isn't thundering) and playing with the kittens (named Mini and Salem) who are now 3½ months old.