Tuesday, July 22, 2014

curry potato salad

At our latest church potluck, I stumbled upon a goldmine.

(The way I write about church potlucks, you probably think that’s all our church does. And it is.)

(Kidding! We do other things, too. But we do like to eat. During the summer we meet at a park. The kids get to play and the grown-ups talk and supper clean-up is a snap. Yay for potlucks.)

Back to the goldmine. Seriously, that’s what it was. It was gold (colored) and I got the recipe and made it myself (the “mine” part). Bonus, unlike a real goldmine, this one is affordable.



It’s a curry potato salad and the first time it touched my lips, I swooned. Actually, there was an abundance of swooning going on—everyone at our table was eating it and swooning, or so it seemed. (One might say they were “sweaning,” which is swooning combined with eating, see?) My husband even went back for seconds and then had the audacity to refuse me a bite. So I stole his Triscuits.

The salad is a cinch to make. It’s mostly just potatoes with mayonnaise and a scary-huge amount of curry, plus eggs, cilantro, onion, and vinegar. I’ve eaten it for lunch, two days in a row. And the kids, never huge potato salad fans, eat this one without fuss. Sometimes they even take seconds.



Curry Potato Salad
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe.

3 pounds new potatoes
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup mayonnaise (plus more, probably)
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 medium onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
5-6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into wedges

Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Cut into wedges while still warm and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and the vinegar. (There is no need to peel the potatoes, though if that’s your preference, peel away.)

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, curry powder, and remaining teaspoon of salt.

Add the onion, cilantro, eggs, and mayonnaise mixture to the potatoes and toss to combine. (I found I needed a good bit more of the mayonnaise than called for.) Taste to correct seasonings.

This same time, years previous: half-mast, a free-wheeling education, and braised cabbage.

Monday, July 21, 2014

the quotidian (7.21.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


I should make this more often: cheesy herb pizza.


Spiraling out of control.


Nine batches down.



The dish-washing stork.


Cuddle cats.


A new hat.


One round of puppy shots down.


Getting their puppy fix on.


The de-worming death squeeze.


Fencing, country-style.


Proving a point in a random conversation about the Titanic.


Happy snowman apple: nature provided the body and children added the face.


Completion.


This same time, years previous: Saturday nights, a tale of two children, statements, in my kitchen, how to beat the heat, shrimp with coconut milk, picklehead, zucchini parmesan frittata, the sex talk, and salvation's chocolate chip cookies.      

Thursday, July 17, 2014

this new season

Our new evening ritual is to gather in the yard with the puppies while the sun goes down. We sit in the grass, giggling at their antics. My older son stretches out full-length on the ground, making himself into a human puppy playground. The puppies yip, growl, and chase the cats. They have a penchant for ears and shoelaces. I take pictures. We visit. It’s peaceful.

***

As a rule, summer is our active season. Come September, our schedule loosens and lightens—not necessarily because we’re doing homeschool stuff, but because everyone else is in school. No longer is there the option of day-time swimming lessons, week-long camps, or play-date marathons. Come autumn, there is a cultural moratorium on daytime activities—at least for children—and life slows. So with an end in sight, I do my best to embrace the summertime crazies. Usually I succeed.

Except I’m noticing a shift. My children’s activities, particularly for the older two, are getting more involved. They are becoming invested in out-of-the-home stuff. And rightly, wonderfully, so. But it means my role is evolving from Director of Daily Life Together to Facilitator of Individual Interests. In other words, we’re splitting up. We’re moving in different directions.

And it’s busy.

I’ve always claimed busyness is a shallow invention created to mask our inadequacies and boost our self-worth. Because if we’re busy, we wrongly reason, then we must be valuable.

Life has seasons, sure. Some buzz with activity. Others, less so. But a consistently frenetic lifestyle is self-cultivated. It's our responsibility to set the pace.

This is what I say. This is what I believe.

And yet, these days, more often than not, I am feeling like I have less control over our Busy.

It used to be that I spent my days orbiting the kitchen table, giving orders, doling out food, cleaning up. Life was chaotic and full, but not calendar-schedule busy. Our days were free. They were mine for the dictating and structuring.

Now, I am no longer chained to the table. With the kids’ increased independence, my husband and I can go on runs without fear (for the most part) of them clubbing each other to bits. Because the children do tremendous quantities of housework, sleep in, and entertain themselves for hours on end with Legos and dystopian novels, I have more time to devote to writing, my own out-of-the-home projects, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Except, I'm not the only one with projects and interests—the kids have them, too.

And herein lies the rub.

We can’t all be going six different directions all the time. Physically, it’s not possible. We are a one-van, one-income family living in the country. And emotionally, well, emotionally it’d be crazy stressful. We have to pace ourselves.

Except . . . I don’t know . . . we didn’t exactly pace ourselves starting out. It was more like a pell-mell sprint into parenthood—four children in six years. The way we set this gig up, change isn’t incremental. It’s all or nothing, baby (insert crazy lady cackle).


It used to be when the kids were little, I fled the house, gasping for breath. Now it’s the children’s turn to fly and I’m left standing by the fridge, staring at the full calendar magnetted to its side, pencil in hand, trying to catch my breath.



Time flies.
Babies fly.
Breathe.

This same time, years previous: roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, bacon-wrapped breadsticks, what's it worth?, popcorn with coconut oil, and cooked oatmeal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

win-win

“I don’t do anything I don’t want to do.”

That is what I said at our last Sunday potluck. The group gathered around our picnic table was having a conversation about home education and self-directed learning (initiated by Yours Truly), so my statement wasn’t completely out of the blue. Nonetheless, it was still kinda far out.

Right away, my seat mate took issue, “Well, I do! I do all kinds of things I don’t want to do!”

“Yes, yes,” I said, “Me, too. But! I do them because I want something bigger.”

I hustled to explain. “Take volunteering, for example. I say no to all volunteer opportunities I don’t want to do. When I say yes, it’s because I find the work meaningful and interesting. I want to do it. This doesn’t mean I always enjoy the work involved. In fact, I might detest it at times. But because I chose the task—nobody coerced me into it—I am motivated.”

“Okay, yes. When you say it like that, it’s the same for me, too,” my friend agreed.



A couple weeks ago, I had a stretch of several days with just my older son at home.

“How about I teach you to cook?” I suggested. He’d observed me in the kitchen so much, he already had a good sense how things worked. He could cook a handful of basic recipes and be well on his way to self-sufficiency.

He wasn’t overly enthusiastic with my plan, but he said he’d do it.

The first day he made pizza dough, baked hash brown potatoes, and deviled eggs. The second day, baked brown rice and Shirley’s sugar cookies. And that was pretty much the end of the lessons because, he said, he didn’t like cooking.

Part of me was mildly exasperated. Cooking was so much fun! Don’t be a lumpy! Seize life by the horns! do something! But another part of me couldn’t be bothered enough to much care. He is smart. The kid can figure out cooking on his own when he wants to.

Now, if I had needed his help, I would have pushed the issue. In our family, working together to run the house is non-negotiable. I don’t give a fig if the kids enjoy scrubbing the kitchen floor or not, JUST DO IT BECAUSE THE FLOOR NEEDS TO BE CLEANED.

But the cooking lessons weren’t necessary. I was going out of my way to help him accomplish my agenda. My rationale wasn’t exactly logical so I dropped the issue.


My mother made me learn to sew when I was a child. I hated it. Still do. I can’t stand the feel of fabric, and just the sight of threads and bobbins makes my hair curl.

I’m being melodramatic, but only slightly. The sick feeling of working on something that I positively hated has stuck with me all these years.

My mother maintains that sewing is a valuable skill (it is) and that everyone should know it. Regarding that latter point, I disagree. I don’t know how to sew—because I’ve intentionally forgotten—and I’m not walking around in my Birthday Suit. Somehow, I’ve managed to keep it covered (pun intended).



In an article by Sandra Dodd, she writes that the ideal conditions for learning are humor, music, and fun. Yet so often “learning experiences”—in school, home, wherever—are pretty far removed from these conditions. Even as a relaxed homeschooler, I often find myself slipping into the “just buckle down and do it” mode with my children. Tears and temper tantrums, while not the ideal, are par for the course. Learning isn’t easy. Just do it and you’ll be better off.

But wait. Is this true? Is learning through suffering really the way to go?

Science tells us that heightened feelings of distress cause the frontal lobe of the brain—the inquisitive, creative part—to shut down, and the hypothalamus—the primitive, life-saving fight or flight part—to kick in.* This means that in situations where we’re stressed, nervous, anxious, fearful, and worried, our minds aren’t exactly open to creative insights. In other words, pressurized learning situations (of the sort that aren't self-initiated and self-directed), no matter how well-intentioned, are not conducive to learning.

As a life-long learner, my goal is to discover what brings me happiness and satisfaction and then do more of those things. When I view learning through a pleasure-and-fun lens and not a suffer-because-I-know-what’s-good-for-you lens, the process completely transforms. No longer is there fact-cramming for arbitrary reasons, such as, It is October and you are nine years old, so time to conquer two-digit division. Instead, the starting point is question-based.

What do you need?
What brings you joy?
What do you have to offer other people?
How can I help?

When approached this way, education is liberating.



My son—the one that doesn’t have a fire under his butt—has expressed interest in working. He’s driven by money and, I think, by the rush that comes from rising to the occasion and proving himself capable in the adult world. As this is his one expressed interest, we’re opting to let him run with it. What’s the point in holding him back to do mother-mandated learning? Maybe a sweat-for-cash curriculum is his best bet right now? So starting this week, he’ll work two days a week for the same guy that works with my husband.

When my son—a huge grin breaking across his face—filled me in on the news of the just-hammered-out job arrangement, he tentatively followed up with, “And what about in the winter? What if he wants me to work then?”

“That would be fine,” I said.

“Really? Wow. I didn’t expect to win that quickly!”

I just smiled. No need to tell him just yet that we’re both winning.

***

*I'm no expert. The point is: when people are stressed, the parts of the brain that govern open-mindedness and rational thought shut down and instinct takes over.

P.S. The Sandra Dodd reference is from Chapter 18 of Natural Born Learners, edited by Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko and Carlo Ricci.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.16.12), in the woods: forts, ticks, and pancakes, Jeni's Best Ever Vanilla Ice Cream, simple bites: in the pits, pasta with roasted tomatoes and summer squash, counting chicks, Banana Coconut Bread, and Red Beet Salad with Caramelized Onions and Feta.    

Monday, July 14, 2014

the quotidian (7.14.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


A delivery for a neighbor.
(This was not a drop-and-run. We were being nice.)


A Beet Story 
My younger daughter committed a no-no, picking garden produce without permission. 
Her consequence: she had to eat what she picked (kind of like you have to eat what you kill). 
I showed her how to prep and roast the beets. 
She was to eat one before every lunch and supper until they were gone, which she did. 
(Except for a few that the rest of us filched.)
The end.


The cereal monster.


Now Dobby's in on it, too.


A Bûche de Noël: easier to make than pronounce. 
(She's 13!!!)


Sour Patch Kids: exquisitely wrapped.


My favorite: sold.
(Waaaah!!!)


This same time, years previous: the time I sat on a dead mouse, roasted carrot and beet salad with avocado, splash, soft and chewy breadsticks, vanilla buttercream frosting, roasted cherry vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate, peas with prosciutto, tangential thoughts, and zucchini relish.    

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

the puppy post

Y’all. I have gotten so many (in other words, more than one) request for “more puppy pictures please!” and so, without further ado, eat your puppy-loving hearts out, people!













I tell you, these puppies have had more visitors than any of my babies ever did. I’ve heard that in order to be properly socialized, puppies should be exposed to a wide variety of people in the first couple months of life.

This is what the dog kennel looks like on any given day:


I think we’ve go socialization covered, no problem.

***

This past weekend, Charlotte gave us quite the scare.

Over the course of a day and a half, she stopped eating and started drooling and eating dirt. She developed a stiff-legged gait (kind of dragging her hind legs), her eyes glazed over, and she became lethargic. We spent Sunday morning researching on the Google (we were skipping church anyway, but no one needs to know that) and attempting to tempt her with tuna, beef, eggs, and cheese. She didn’t bite (literally). I conferred with the vet hospital. We were pretty sure this was eclampsia, or a calcium deficiency, but was it an emergency? If not yet, when would it become one? Could we wait till the morning?

And then she started with the shakes. Trembling all over. We took her temperature (after another quick visit with Google)—no fever. And then she started the pacing, and the shaking worsened. That did it. Off to the vet went Charlotte, my daughter, and husband.

Five hours later, they were home. Yes, she had been suffering from a severe calcium deficiency. (At its worst, her muscles were jumping a half-inch out from her body. I read that sometimes the tremors are so severe that they actually cause a fever.) They had given her an injection and some saline for dehydration.

On the way back, my husband purchased two cases of canned dog meat (which we have never, ever bought) and TUMS. Upon hearing our tale of woe, some neighbors gave us an enormous bag of unwanted liver they had stashed in their freezer.

Over the course of the evening, Charlotte’s appetite gradually returned. At first, my daughter had to blend the meat into a sauce so she could lap it up, but by bedtime she was wolfing it down and desperate for more. She has continued to eat voraciously and is, we think, completely back to normal.

As for the puppies, we increased their feedings of gruel to alleviate the strain on Charlotte, and she has been able to continue nursing them (and Luna) throughout the day.

All is well, whew.

***


Puppies For Sale!!!

Three rounds of worming.
Two rounds of puppy shots.
Well socialized and positively adorable.
$125

Ready for pick-up after August 7.
(Pre-ordering with a $50 down payment encouraged.)

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.8.13), let's talk, the quotidian (7.9.12), zucchini skillet with tomatoes and feta, simple creamy potato salad and French potato salad, peanut butter cup ice cream, and tempero,    

Monday, July 7, 2014

the quotidian (7.7.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


For the baba ghanoush.



Chocolate mint from a friend: the tea concentrate was so intense it tasted like peppermint oil.


Heads and tails.


I told my daughter to pick the zucchinis. 
The flowers were her extra touch.


She foraged the berries from the back of the property and made us a pie.



The cousins came! With donuts! 

How To Disperse A Dozen Donuts Among Seven Children And Two Mamas 
1. Cut each donut into fourths. 
2. Line the children up from smallest to biggest and hand out plates. 
3. Each time through the line, every child chooses one piece. 
(4. The mamas get to pick a donut whenever they want.)


Luna at the milk bar.


Listening to Harry Potter on the only tape deck we have.


Prepping the work crew with a speech via the sauce stomper-turned-mic.


With thanks to my honey: our kick-butt canning set-up. 
(Not to toot our horn or anything, but seriously, TOOT-TOOT.)


I read longer if they rub my feet.


This same time, years previous: let's revolutionize youth group mission trips! please!, our 48-hour date, French yogurt cake, grilled flatbread, butchering chickens, in their words, red raspberry lemon bars, the green-eyed monster and me, putting beliefs into practice, playing make believe, and raspberry lemon buttermilk cake.