Saturday, October 24, 2009

Peanut Butter

Have you ever noticed the tiny threads that tie your life together? The little things that weave into wholecloth, like when your five year-old does or says something and you just know his Grandpa did or said exactly the same thing when he was five? The constants that cut across time and space, and sometimes give you deja vu?

Well today, I am making the case that peanut butter is one of those things.

Consider: peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. Just-picked apples spread with peanut butter. Peanut butter and cinnamon sugar toast. Reese's peanut butter cups... which, by the way, make outstanding s'mores. See how peanut butter is part of the very fabric of life? (At this point, I hope you are not allergic to peanuts!)

As the weather turns, I get more and more in the mood for comfort food, which usually means beef stew, minestrone, and good bread. But recently, the only comfort food I crave leads back to that peanut butter thread. I've been making Pad Thai, and oh! it is good.

Now, I have no idea what Pad Thai made by the Thai people would taste like, but my version has all the right tastes - noodles, veggies, eggs, soy and fish sauce, and of course, peanut butter. I'd like to share the recipe with you, because I thought that maybe you could use some comfort food in your day.

The recipe adapts easily to use what I have on hand, and if you need to change up the veggies or seasonings based on what you have on hand, then go ahead and do it. Oh, and if anybody actually knows what Pad Thai tastes like, if you would make this and then report back as to how close it actually is, I would really appreciate it.

Pad Thai for Four

Mix together the following in a small bowl:

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

3 Tbsp lemon juice

3 Tbsp ketchup

1 Tbsp brown sugar

3 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp fish sauce

1/2-cup peanut butter, chunky or smooth, or somewhere in between. It doesn't matter.

Set the sauce aside.


Slice a large onion into thin strips, and chop the strips into 1-inch or so pieces.

Shred one large carrot.

Finely slice half a head of cabbage - our favorite is Chinese cabbage, but really any kind will do.

Whisk four eggs well.

Bring water for not-quite-one-pound of fettuccine or spaghetti to boil (or, cook the whole pound and set aside some plain noodles for non-daring children).

So now, the stage is set.

In a large pan, heat 1-2 Tbsp oil over med-high heat. When the oil ripples, add the onion and cook 5 minutes or so, until it is tender, adjusting the heat as necessary to cook the onions without burning them.

Add pasta to boiling water; cook until they're done and drain in the sink (your goal: to have the pasta finish at the same time that the veggies and eggs are finished).

Add the carrots and cabbage to the onions, and cook until the cabbage is wilted and to your liking.

Here is my favorite part of this whole recipe: when the veggies are done, push them to the sides of the pan, add the eggs into the middle, and scramble them. You'll inevitably end up with some of the veggies in the eggs, and some of the eggs in the veggies, and it's just so delicious.

If the pasta needs more time, just take the veggies off the heat. Then, when the pasta has drained, add it into the veggies, back over low heat. Pour on the sauce, and toss until everything is thoroughly mixed. Serve hot - this makes great leftovers, if you happen to have any.

Happy cooking! Think of how many threads you weave together as you make this, or whatever favorite comfort food you love. I really believe that this is how generations, families, and friends tie their lives together.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Do You Homeschool? Last Call...

I've gotten such a great response to the Why Do You Homeschool? study, first posted here back in April. Responses came in from coast to coast, as far south as Florida and as far north as Alberta, Canada - even from distant places around the globe like Okinawa and Australia!

In the six months that I've conducted the survey, your stories have made me laugh, cry, and cheer out loud. So, I want to get them out for others to read, too (if you have privacy concerns, you should know that all respondents will remain anonymous). I'm closing the survey at the end of October and will then get to work writing a paper about why we homeschool.

And I'm hoping that in these last few weeks, I'll get enough survey respondents to bring us up over one hundred. Combined with the survey of the northeast I did last year, we're pretty close - and it'd sound so cool to say, "Many of the one-hundred-plus respondents felt..." Doncha think?

So, if you'd like to take my seven-question survey about why you homeschool, please email me at whywehsatyahoodotcom, and I'll send it to you. If you already have, thanks again; I've enjoyed getting to know you!

Happy Homeschooling -

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sewing Up Some Fun

Halloween around here is kind of a big deal. So, I was excited to find a book of how to make costumes in a nearby library; I just bought it at Better, because it's the coolest book ever. It gives straightforward directions for making about 75 different costumes, some of which are pretty darned complicated.

I feel like Harry Potter must have felt when he started to use the Half-Blood Prince's potions book - suddenly, I'm making complex things like tunics and hats, with ease and very little clothes-making knowledge! I'm a quilter, so I know my way around a sewing machine, but any clothing I turned out before this book came into my life was unwearable. Truly.

However, I'm not the only one making costumes this year! Luke browsed for a while, chose to be Robin Hood - and asked me to teach him to sew.

I only realized later how much I'd been hoping that at least one boy would want to learn this skill... I'm not going to have any daughters, and sewing is such a cool thing to be able to do in any case that your gender shouldn't matter.

He did really well, and loves it - no surprise, since there is a small element of danger in using a sewing machine. Plus, it has similar appeal to some of our outdoor tools (it's a Huskvarna, and they also make things like chainsaws), and it has some pretty cool features that Luke got to try out, like making different stitches, winding a bobbin, and going in reverse.

Finally, at the end of all his hard work, he's got the important parts of a Robin Hood costume! I did one seam on the hat, because it was a complicated bit of sewing, but besides that, Luke did all the sewing and helped with the pattern pinning and cutting. Independence in a nine-year-old is a nice thing, that's for sure!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Soul Restoration, Part Two

Lately, my soul has been feeling kind of scraped up, as if it has taken a few punches. I think it started back in the spring, with the six weeks of rain; since then, every time the sky clouds over, I cringe and worry that it'll be December before we see the sun again.

And, I feel like I didn't get enough summer. I know that sounds whiny, but I find myself unwilling to put on socks, or dig out the winter clothes, or just give in already and let fall come. As if I could single-handedly keep fall at bay, through mental resistance. This is weird, too, because fall is usually my favorite season.

So, arguments with hubby have escalated, disputes with the kids end more often than not with me shouting as my eyes bug out of my head; everything seems a much bigger problem than it would, ordinarily.

And then, there's the food. We spent this summer in the grip of a huge tomato blight, and so many other locally grown favorites had trouble, too: the eggplant, the peppers, the strawberries, the cherry tomatoes, the tomatillos, the basil, the cilantro... and the list goes on.

So, that's been my underlying mindset - worrying, sadness, fear of what's happening to our corner of the world. My soul, the place inside me where joy and light live, has spent these last months with a shadow across it.

Until recently. I think it was right around my brother's wedding that I started feeling better. Also, each day brings rosier, more beautiful trees and weather that has cooled gradually; one week, I can still wear sandals, but I'd better find a sweatshirt. The next, we need another blanket on the bed. The next week, I actually want soup for dinner, with nice warm biscuits served alongside. It's like this gentle, lovely autumn is cosmically trying to make up for the recent abysmal spring.

And, because I am me, food plays a huge part in the restoration of my soul. Eggplant minestrone, our first soup of the fall, cheered me immensely, inside and out; here's the recipe, in case you want to try it.

When one of the hens started laying, that was a big strike against the shadow on my soul.

The egg from our girl is in the lower-left corner; in the House of Worrying, I fretted that the hens weren't getting enough time outside the coop, semi-free-ranging in their chicken tractor, but I don't worry about that now. The egg, alongside those we get from a local farm, is such a happy, bright orange color that it is clear it came from a happy, bright chicken. The shadow recedes a little more!

And, my friend Shannon loaned me the best book of bread-making ever, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I already loved baking bread, but this book makes it even more fun. My banner is the result of experimenting, with the book as a guide: Brioche au Chocolat, as good as you will ever get in a pastry shop (I know, tooting my own horn... it is THAT good.)

Candles help, too. What is it about candle flame that cheers me all the way through?

I think the shadow finally got gone this weekend, spent apple picking and corn-mazing with friends and relatives. Here are the boys and their cousins at a nearby farm, hamming it up for the camera:

So now, it is with a thankful heart and a restored soul that I look forward to autumn and winter, warmth and love... I hope you're having similar good thoughts and a nice fall, too.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interesting Reading

If you haven't seen it yet, the Carnival of Unschooled Life is up over at The Expanding Life. Some favorite posts: Exploring The Universe and What's Up With Us. Both are in the Life at Home section of the Carnival, which I guess just shows you what kind of mood I've been in lately. I'm feeling very curl-up-with-a-good-book-and-a-cup-of-tea, I guess, and I love to read about what families are doing while hanging out at home.

I also got wind of a great article about homeschooling, Confessions of a Homeschooler, the first in a series of articles at Salon online about homeschooling. Author Andrew O'Heir is the working-outside-the-home dad in a homeschooling family, and at least five times while reading this article, I laughed out loud at some question or thought that has come up for us, in our homeschooling family. It's a fun, thoughtful take on this crazy (in a good way, of course!)life, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Soul Restoration, Part One

I've written before about my concerns for Luke, our wonderful, sensitive, fragile boy who sometimes seems a bit too sensitive and fragile. Recently, my worries resurfaced when a friend mentioned that he seemed to be having a down sort of week. My initial answer to her was, no, he's been fine - but then I thought about it. He's fine when hanging in a small group, or reading, or horsing around with Owen, but put him out on a playground, with hordes of kids, or at pick-up baseball, again with lots of kids, and he just goes to pieces. He'll pull off by himself, cry, ask to go sit in the car, anything to get away from the overwhelming noise and motion of fifty children and umpteen simultaneous games of tag.

You'd think I would have noticed, right? Well, no. I really didn't, and putting the guilt I feel about this aside, looking at the problem head-on, I think I know why: it is because Luke used to be more vocal in his displeasure. A lot more vocal. No one can miss a kid who screams bloody murder in public, right? But his new habit of going off quietly allowed me to ignore his pain. I knew where he was, but paid no attention to his state of mind.

Or more precisely, the state of Luke's soul. I am not particularly religious, and I use the word soul in the sense of spirit, of a person's true heart center. But when my friend brought up the sadness she saw at these big gatherings, I realized that I needed to do something.

The solution? Old Sturbridge Village. With friends.

The animals we came across really helped.

So did the potters.

Poor Ben, I have pestered him almost ceaselessly since we got home about how we might get ourselves a pottery wheel - or, build one maybe. (Anyone know how we might acquire one, or create one?)

And the cool thing is, our day restored more souls than just Luke's.

A beautiful fall day, when the trees are just beginning to turn, spent in the company of friends, was healing for me, too, in a way that I didn't even realize I'd needed.

I know that this can't be the whole solution for my son; one day, one small outing, can't 'fix' it all. But I'm looking at this day as a beginning. In the weeks and months ahead, we'll play, visit, go on field trips, just be, in small groups... perhaps we'll try the occasional big-group gathering and hope for the best.

Truthfully, this what we have been doing all along - it is my mindset that has changed. This visit to Old Sturbridge Village marks where I really start thinking about my children's 'socialization.' They must know themselves well, pull back when they're getting overwhelmed, dive in when it feels right. What is life for, if not this?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

We have an egg!

It doesn't seem that long ago that they looked like this:

And now, they are all grown up...

And somebody's even laying eggs!

It's the littlest one there, in the front of the carton. I guess we won't be buying too many more cartons of eggs!