Monday, June 30, 2008

Twelve Days of Summer...

Day 5

Today's book is Homeschooling and the Voyage of Self-Discovery by David H. Albert. It's a book of essays that aptly describe why we homeschoolers do what we do - plus, since it's a grouping of short pieces, you can read about one idea in a sitting and then ponder it until you get a chance to read the next one.

Today's picture:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Twelve Days of Summer...

Day 4

Today's book is Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This book started us on the path to pastured meat, and Pollan is a great writer.

Today's picture:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Twelve Days of Summer...

Day 3

Today's book is Kids Have All the Write Stuff by Sharon Edwards and Robert Maloy. Homeschooling or not, this book will help you enjoy writing with your children!

Today's picture:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Twelve Days of Summer...

Day 2

Today's book is Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Many, many times while reading this book I felt like Kingsolver and her family are living life like we soooo want to live.

Today's picture:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Twelve Days of Summer...

In favorite books and pictures!

Day 1

Today's book is The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. I've read it several times, and return to it whenever I feel hopeless about humanity; it never fails to help me feel better.

Today's picture:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Equilibrium Restored

After several days of feeling off-kilter, giving Official What-Happened statements, having the car appraised to show the (lack of) damage, filing accident reports in quadruplicate, and flinching constantly while driving, I think I'm more or less back-to-normal.

In no small part because of friends, family, and support from this very blog - through writing it, and also knowing that people read it, and comment.

So, thanks - future posts will be sunnier!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Look Both Ways

Dear God. (You know it's bad when an atheist invokes a deity.)

Deep breath -

Today, driving through the town in which I grew up, a boy riding a bike failed to look both ways before riding out into the road. He rode right in front of my car.

He's okay, my fender hit the back end of his back tire, and he was knocked off balance. Rather than being thrown from his bike or something. And there was no oncoming traffic at the moment, so when he landed in the middle of the street, he was in no danger from the other lane.

All the way home, after the police and EMTs assured me that it wasn't my fault, after I saw the boy head home on his own two feet, his Mom riding his bike beside him, I thought about randomness.

What if, for instance, he came out from behind that parked car a split second earlier, giving me less time to react? What if I'd leaned over at just that moment to adjust the radio?

What if I'd taken the most direct route to our destination, and never even turned onto that road (wouldn't that have been nice.)

Dear God.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Beautiful Place

I was so impressed by the grounds at my alma mater, UMass Amherst! Here's a sampling of the gazillion pictures I took there.

Here, some of the incredible plants I saw while wandering the campus:

I came upon this mural and sculpture near the Campus Center - and I was so surprised! How do you spend 2 years of your life at UMass and never see this?

A goal of mine while visiting was to find Durfee Conservatory, which I used to love to wander through. It's just as cool as ever, even after a tremendous downpour:

The whole place just made me say, "ahhhhh."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Now is the Summer of Our (Homeschooling) Heart's Content

At the Marathon, there were more than 80 presentations, so I knew I wouldn't get to most of them.

But oh! The ones I did get to were outstanding. The two that really stand out were about very different subjects: Social Justice and Puppetry.

The social justice one was actually a symposium consisting of two presentations, one by a former, beloved professor of mine, Dr. Cynthia Rosenberger, and a colleague of hers. They did a self-study with their pre-service teachers to find out their own racial biases and inquire into how those biases might be passed on to the children they would eventually teach. It was interesting and I'm sure not a question asked by enough teachers.

The other presentation in the social justice symposium was by a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, Dr. James Francisco Bonilla. He spoke eloquently about the myth that people of color aren't interested in the environment, and touched on several interesting books and articles that discuss the two seemingly diverse issues of the environment and racism (and classism, and sexism...) together.

I left Rosenberger and Bonilla's presentations' feeling hopeful that we in this country can work through our problems - which wasn't how I felt when I walked in!

The last presentation I attended was playful, fun, and illustrated how puppets and puppetry can translate into big gains in literacy - as well as problem-solving, creativity, and conflict resolution - for children.

Presented by Judith O'Hare of You and Me Puppets, I was so excited about the prospect of puppetry that we've already put some of her ideas into practice.

Another super-nice thing that happened at the Marathon was that I tracked down the authors of Kids Have All the Write Stuff, a favorite book of mine for fostering writing in young children. Sharon Edwards and Robert Maloy were every bit as enthusiastic in person as their writing suggests (as was their fellow math presenter, Adam). I went home inspired to get my guys writing everything from grocery lists to joke books!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Malfunctioning Microwave Mathematics

It will come as no surprise, I'm sure, when I tell you that the Stone Age Techie microwave is from the... well, it's ancient.

It's got to be at least 8 years old, and up until recently, has worked like a charm. But a few weeks ago, the middle numbers on the keypad died, leaving us with no zero, then no 2, no 5, no 8.

When it was just the zero, it was no big deal - I could figure out how to get around it pretty easily. Need 3 minutes? Okay, hit 2:59. But then the 2 and 5 went, and so you can see how complicated it's gotten.

Hopefully, the rest of the keypad will keep working; a whole new dimension has been added to microwaving, even involving Luke in mental computation as he tries to figure out how long to microwave popcorn, or tea, or reheat frozen muffins.

It'd be a shame to have to buy a new one, just when we were having so much fun with this one!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Balloons, Again

I got a comment from Dale, the Balloon Dude when I posted a few weeks ago about all the ways that making balloon animals is learning. We have had such fun with our little balloon animals kit, I just had to post again about this topic.

I went to Dale's web site and found a video about
how to make a balloon ball - when we make ours, I'll post a picture of it.

If you've never made a balloon animal before, you should try it; it really is learning, and it's lots of fun too!

Monday, June 9, 2008

First Day of Freedom

Last week was Owen's first without preschool, and we celebrated our new all-homeschool, all-the-time status with a trip to a favorite old haunt of mine:

A reservoir - or, more specifically, a huge big rock that juts out over the reservoir, a place I used to bike to when I needed to sit and think starting from about age 12 or so.

Luke called it a 'rock playground.'

Could I imagine any possible world in which he would be biking here, in a short 4 years, when he's 12? No; sadly, it's a different world we live in now. (Although Lenore Skenazy's trying to change this!)

But the place is still here to explore, still in its' beautiful, pristine condition, just the way I remember it.

Thank goodness.

Friday, June 6, 2008

CSA Week, Part 4

Notes from the Third Year – Eggplant: The Final Frontier

Late October, 2006

We were finally able to get over the eggplant hump this year! It started when my mother-in-law helped me to make eggplant Parmesan, with my homemade sauce and some excellent Romano cheese. Once we’d crossed the barrier, and realized that eggplant is good, a whole new world opened up – now, I’ve got eggplant stored in the freezer in little breaded rounds, for eggplant parm, and baked and mashed, to add to pizza topping or turn into a wonderful, tangy dip called caponata. Oh, eggplant, eggplant, where have you been all my life?

This is the year that our family hit its’ stride where the farm is concerned. While we liked the farm from that first season, now it’s just plain fun!

To start with, the boys are at great ages this year. Owen, content to eat a snack while Luke and I pick a few pints of beans, or cherry tomatoes, or whatever, then happily plays alongside his brother, getting tremendously dirty and dusty in the good farm earth. At each pickup, we seek out the farmer because both Luke and Owen adore him – he’s gentle and kind, very nice to the kids – and, as Owen will tell any passerby, “Farmer John has big boots!”

Luke enjoys the weekly excursion, watching the animals and birds, and checking out interesting old tractors and stuff, but I think Owen’s got the farm in his blood. At barely two, he’s walking all the trails with us, he’s eating vegetables like they’re going out of style, he just loves the whole farm atmosphere. It’s neat to see, and makes our share worth every penny – as if it wasn’t already.

This year, the shares include sunflowers and zinnias for cutting in addition to the veggies. This has turned out to be one of the best ideas yet. About a year ago, we moved from a house with a lot of flowers, many grown especially for their cuttings, to a house with almost nothing but grass, and a few straggling daylilies planted, unfortunately, in the shade. Until I could bring home flowers that I had selected and cut, I hadn’t realized how much I missed this little bit of nature inside our home.

Also this year, for the first time we had to supplement our farm takings with veggies bought in bulk from local farmers. This was not because our share yielded less, but rather because we’re eating more – I had very few tomatoes to turn into sauce, no carrots after early October, no leeks, pumpkin, or squash to last into winter. I remember feeling swamped with vegetables back when we started in 2004. Now, I find I must supplement the farm share with more produce! I hardly recognize myself anymore – imagine me, an eater of peppers, and eggplant, and many other healthy foods.

And so, it seems, we’ve come full circle – instead of pushing to have us join the farm and not have a garden of our own, my job this year will be to convince Ben that, in fact, we need both.

February 20, 2007

“…And, if we put in a garden, we’ll get a head start on some of our favorite greens, like Mizuna lettuce, and we’ll have lots of our own tomatoes to turn into sauce,” I finished breathlessly.

“We’ll put in our own garden, for the low, low price of…?” queried Ben, that little smile on his lips once more.

“I don’t think it will cost much, just the wood for the raised bed really, and the seeds,” I replied.

“Okay, Karen, on one condition -” What would it be? Did he want to try our own garden for a single year only?

“…I want to build the frame.”

Gosh, I love this man.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

CSA Week, Part 3

Notes from Year Two – Loving the Farm

March, 2005

Here’s a moment to be proud of: at dinner tonight, I ate three slices of onion-and-pepper pizza! I know, lots of people eat onion-and-pepper pizza every day, but for me, this was a first. It was really good! I’m going to keep trying peppers, I’ve made it my goal to like them by the end of this growing season. Fingers crossed!

Mid-August, 2005

Halfway through our second summer at the farm, and we are loving it, if possible, more than last year. The greens weren’t as terrifying this spring, because I know how to store extra for the off-season. The tomato haul hasn’t been as good this year, because of the relatively cool weather, but we’re getting enough to eat and enjoy, and keep some for tomato sauce – also, I got Aly’s awesome tomato sauce recipe, so now I have two fresh-tomatoes-into-sauce recipes which end up tasting fantastic, but very different.

And why, I wonder, have I had such a low opinion of sweet peppers? Especially the “ethnic” peppers, they are just bursting with yumminess. I’ve been tentatively using peppers to cook with – Al’s sauce recipe calls for a few peppers – but it’s really Owen who convinced me that peppers are the way to go. That kid, at age one, eats a grown-up serving of them, and begs for more. Even Luke will nibble at them, if they are served with ranch dressing for dip. Ben, a lifelong sweet pepper lover, thinks I’m silly, but this has really been a revelation for me. I’d never even thought to give stuff like chopped up peppers to Luke when he was small – I wish I had, he’d probably be less picky if he’d been exposed to stuff like that as a baby.

Now, if I could just get over our eggplant aversion; the farm is exploding with eggplant. I haven’t felt pressure to take any - whatever we leave on the table at the farm goes to local food pantries and homeless shelters – but so far, all I’ve managed is to bring home an eggplant, chop it in half, brush it with oil and balsamic vinegar, and roast it. This was suggested by a fellow shareholder at the farm, and sounded good - in theory. But when it came out of the oven, I couldn’t bring myself to taste it; maybe it’s a texture thing, I don’t know, I just don’t like the look of eggplant. Yet – if I can master peppers this year, who knows what will happen in future seasons!

Because, it looks like we’re committed to the farm for the forseeable future. Ben agrees with me that it’s worth the money, and we are all eating - and feeling - well. Luke and I are both approaching healthy weights, and are rarely sick, even with colds – I think it’s because we’re eating good stuff for our bodies. And it tastes great too!

I love coming to the farm now, although it can be tough going to the field with the two boys to pick, say, a pint of cherry tomatoes. Owen will squirm to get out of the sling, and Luke just wants to stay in the car, he’s so tired after a busy summer day he often falls asleep on the way to the farm, and can be extremely bearish. I get to come on my own sometimes, and then, the farm is so peaceful and relaxing! I’m looking forward to next year when my boys are a bit older, and hopefully a bit more independent, so that we can enjoy our farm visits to the fullest.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

CSA Week, Part 2

Late September, 2004

There is a definite sense that the summer is winding down now. Although the tomatoes are still in profusion, we’re seeing more root vegetables, like onions, something called celeriac that kind of looks like a giant turnip but tastes exactly like celery. Weird but good! The greens have returned with a vengeance, too, but I’m armed now: I’m cooking them till they wilt, and then freezing them so that we can enjoy them in soups, stir-frys, and stuffed calzones during the lean winter months, when I’ll have to buy produce from the grocery store again – an idea that seems positively criminal!

Late October, 2004

The season is over, and I’m so bummed! We’ve collected our last pick-up, small compared to the 20-pound tomato takes of high summer, but still a nice farewell: 3 sugar pumpkins, 2 stalks of Brussels sprouts, some hardy greens like kale and mustard, and a big bunch of Swiss chard.

My mind is already turning to how I’ll convince Ben that we must do this again next year. My arguments are as follows:

1) This was such a learning year! Next year, we’ll already know the routine, and we’ll have some idea of how to process the veggies, so we’ll be quicker and more efficient at it.

2) We won’t have a new baby next summer – a huge advantage, as we can look forward to far more sleep than we’ve gotten since July. Also, we can expose Owen to the great farm veggies from his very first tastes of solid food, which has to be good, right?

3) We’ve been eating so well, trying new veggies and recipes. Overall, Ben and I have eaten probably five times the veggies we’d ordinarily eat, and Luke has gone from zero servings to… well, some servings a week, maybe 2-5.

4) Luke’s improved eating will be a cornerstone of my argument to sign up for the farm next year. In just this, his fourth, summer, his diet has dramatically improved, he’s spending time at the farm and learning where vegetables come from, how they’re grown; imagine the gains he could make if we do this again!

How could Ben say no?

Interlude – December, 2004

“To get the early discount, we have to sign up by December 31st, and I know that you didn’t want to do this again this year, but…” I ended somewhat lamely.

I’d just presented my arguments to Ben, who’d kept his face impassive except for the little smile playing at the corners of his mouth. This smile, reserved for moments such as these, when I’m trying to convince him to change his mind in my plow-ahead, talk-really-fast-and-then-he-can’t-interrupt way, got bigger and bigger as I gained steam.

When I finally ran out of breath, Ben paused for dramatic effect and then said, “okay, we can do it again.”

“Really? No objections? Just… okay?”

“Sure, I think it was a really good thing for us to do. It wasn’t always easy, but it was really worth it. Didn’t you feel better because of our diet? I know I did…”

“Well, good! So, okay, I thought I was going to have to fight you on this, I’m so glad we’re agreeing on spending the big bucks again this year.”

“Well,” Ben replied, “you get what you pay for.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Happy CSA Week

Community Supported Agriculture found us 5 summers ago; last weekend, Ben and I put in our volunteer hours at the farm in which we have a share. And, we got the good news that this week we start picking up veggies - the season is finally, finally beginning!

To celebrate, this week I'll be posting journal entries about our CSA experience; hope you enjoy them.

Community Supported Agriculture

February 20, 2004

“We both know that I won’t be able to do much in the garden this summer, there’s a good chance I’ll end up on bedrest with this pregnancy, too. Aly and Mike are signing up for a farm where they go pick up veggies from June through October. All organic, the farm’s first year, and they only ask for 6 hours of work over the whole season! I can get that out of the way while I’m still in my middle trimester, and then we’ll be eating well until late fall,” I said in a rush to my skeptical husband.

“For the low, low price of?…” Ben asked; as sole provider, it’s his prerogative –and burden - to worry about money. Not that I don’t worry about money, but I think it’s a daily, perhaps hourly concern for Ben. Whereas, if I’m worrying, my thoughts tend toward “what if something happens to Ben or Luke? What if we’re in a car accident?”, I think Ben’s what-ifs are more like “what if health insurance goes up more than my cost-of-living raise?” “What if I lose my job?” “What if we can’t afford to pay Luke’s college tuition in 15 years?” We’re a team, Ben and I – he worries about money, and I worry about nearly everything else.

Currently, I’m concerned about my family’s health. We’ve got a new baby on the way, our 3 year-old is too heavy – as is his mother, even when not pregnant – and we do not get enough fresh vegetables in our house. Five months into this pregnancy, I’m craving salads and fresh, crisp vegetables – never in my life have I wanted green food so badly. I’ve started dreaming about it, and the fare available at the grocery store looks so wilted and sad compared to the vibrantly colored, delectable cucumbers, arugula, and lettuces of my dreams.

Also, right now it is the dead of winter. The cold, frozen, snowy landscape, normally a favorite of mine, is this year causing me to feel trapped, as though I can’t breathe. Perhaps this is because my activities are limited by my pregnancy; another reason may be that my horizons this year are limited by the demands of a wonderful, but sometimes trying, 3 year-old.

In my mind, I see Ben, Luke and I taking almost inexpressible joy from fresh vegetables grown at a farm twenty minutes away from us. I see Luke helping Mommy and Daddy choose tomatoes, and then playing in the dirt with other kids, hot and sweaty in the summer sun. This Community Supported Agriculture farm that our friends are buying into represents more than just food to me. It symbolizes health, wellness, and life – qualities that I will not allow to be overcome by worries about money.

“Well, it is kind of a lot – four hundred seventy-five dollars – but it’ll be so worth it! We’ll try new vegetables, we’ll all eat better – maybe Luke will try some new ones, too…”

“Karen, if we do this, it’s only going to be for this one season, right? It’s not only about the money, you know, it’s about our garden too. I like growing tomatoes and green beans, I like having a garden, I don’t want to get out of that for long.”

“Okay, one season if you want – but give it some thought, all right? It’s expensive, but I really think it’s worthwhile. Imagine, picking up a bunch of veggies every week! Doesn’t that sound neat? I want to sign up soon, so…”

“Let me look at our money situation again, and think about it.” Ben, ever the triple-checker. Well, at least he didn’t say no outright, I though to myself. Now, hopefully, it’s all over but the screaming!

Notes from Year One – The Vegetables Require Maintenance

Early June, 2004

Well, if we joined thinking it was going to easy, we were mistaken! Our first few pickups have consisted of more greens than I’ve eaten in my life to date. Here’s a sampling of a typical early season week’s pickup:

1 large bunch each: Kale, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens

½ pound each: Arugula, Vitamin Greens, Mizuna Lettuce

1 pound Tak Choi

1 small bunch each: Radishes, Baby Turnips

I’m good with the radishes and arugula – and I think I can figure out how to use Mizuna lettuce – but what do I do with kale or collard greens? What the heck is tak choi? Everything needs to be washed, I never put the salad spinner away, I barely use up all these veggies before a week has gone by and it’s time for the next pickup! What have I gotten us into?

Early July, 2004

Two things have helped improve our vegetable share experience: one, I got a CSA cookbook – Asparagus to Zucchini – a kind of vegetable bible for those of us insane enough to join a CSA. Two, the warming weather has changed the make-up of our share. While we still get some arugula and choi (I tried that cooked in a beef stir-fry last week, and I have to write the recipe down, it was great), we’re also getting more familiar vegetables, like broccoli, summer squash and zucchini– not all favorites, but I’m working with them. Best of all are the spring peas, sugar snaps, and green beans! I’m all for stuff that can be eaten raw, with minimal preparation, after so much rinsing, washing, and spinning - not just for dirt but the occasional bug.

On the way home from picking up the share last week, Luke ate as many spring peas as I could open for him (not easy, I was driving). My son, who’s never eaten a green thing in his life, likes peas! Thank goodness.

Soon, Ben will have to stop and pick up the share on his way home from work; I’m barely able to get behind the wheel, I’ve got so much baby bulk in front now! Actually, I think it’ll be good for Ben to pick up the veggies at the farm; it’s like time slows down there, or something. With all that’s going on elsewhere in his life, he could use a little quiet time. Hopefully, between driving up that dirt road next to the hay fields and nibbling on some beans or cherry tomatoes on the way home, he’ll be able to forget about the pressures of home and work.

Just a few weeks until we’re the parents of two. How do I feel about this? I don’t know… I’m worried, of course, about Luke, and being a good mom to both, and how will this baby be, and why oh why did we decide that a second one would be a good idea? But I’m also kind of excited to meet the new little guy – who will he look like? What will his temperament be? I’m going to miss the baby aerobics going on inside; I’m very grateful that my uterus, while not perfect, could get us this far. Just a little longer…

Mid-August, 2004

We are snowed under with tomatoes! I’ve never seen so many tomatoes in all my life, more than one family could ever eat. Fortunately, I got a fantastic recipe for roasted tomato sauce from the radio, so I can make sauce and preserve some of this fantastic bounty. Too bad Luke and I hate sweet peppers, Ben’s been bringing home lots of them, too, and as he’s the only one who eats them, we’re giving away quite a few to friends and family. We’ve also gotten loads of basil, carrots, hot peppers, tomatillos, cukes, leeks…the list is endless.

I’ll say it again: these vegetables require maintenance. Thank goodness our pickup is Thursday night, it gives me the weekend to sort them all out, blanch beans (just before Owen was born, Ben picked seven quarts of green beans!), chop up and freeze basil, or turn it into pesto. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into!

As a special treat, I got to do the share pickup all by myself this week – the first time I haven’t been connected to baby Owen since his birth one month ago. He’s a little cutie, looks just like Luke did except that his hair is strawberry blond instead of jet black. He’s a tougher baby than Luke, who slept through the night in the hospital, his pediatrician made me wake him up to nurse at night. But Owen can’t help it, hopefully as he gets older he’ll figure out when he should be awake and when he should be “sleeping like a baby” – a term that is really a cruel joke, as every parent of a newborn knows!

I took advantage of my alone time at the farm; I snuck my Newsweek magazine with me. Once I’d loaded all the veggies into the car, I sat in the front seat, overlooking the fields with the sun getting lower behind the trees. And while I read my magazine, and breathed in the fresh air, I ate – fresh-picked cherry tomatoes.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a candy bar as much as I enjoyed those tomatoes.