Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pioneer Living

It's tradition at their elementary school that the 2/3 graders visit the local historical museum to learn about daily life for pioneers. Jared was really excited about the trip because they'd finally get to see Inside the Log Cabin. I didn't go along, but I heard the following report from a Very Reliable Source.

When they entered the pioneer log cabin, the tour lady invited the children to look around carefully and observe ways this cabin was different from their houses. One child raised his hand and pointed out the ladder to the sleeping loft.
"Yes, good job!" the lady said. "We don't have ladders in our houses anymore to get into the upstairs. We have stairs."
Jared raised his hand. "Actually, I have a ladder in my house."
The lady smiled at him. "But you don't use the ladder to get into the upstairs, do you?"
Jared nodded. "Actually, we do. That's how we get into my bedroom."
Nonplussed, the lady looked around at the adults. My Source nodded. "He's telling the truth. He does basically have a ladder up into his bedroom."
The lady continued. "Pioneer children slept in lofts like this one," she said, pointing up. "Don't you think it would be unusual to sleep in a loft like this?"
Jared raised his hand. "I sleep in my attic."
The lady stared at him for awhile, maybe uncertain whether or not to believe him. Then, she continued. "Well, children, do you see any other things that are different from what you have in your houses?"
A child pointed to the wood burning stove. "That's right," the lady said. "In pioneer days, people used these to heat their homes."
Jared raised his hand. "We have one of those."
The lady raised her eyebrows. "Okay, but you probably don't use it to cook your food like pioneers did."
"Actually, we do. Sometimes. My mom makes soup on it in the winter and my dad likes to cook on it too."
The lady eyed my Source. He shrugged. "They probably do," he said.
The lady continued, talking about chores and how hard pioneer children had to work to bring in enough firewood to keep the house warm in cold months. Jared raised his hand. "I help bring in firewood at my house."
At this point, the lady just led the group outside, where she showed them trees
with sap-collecting buckets.
The children listened attentively as she explained how syrup is made from sap. Jared's teacher leaned in close to the lady before they moved on. "Jared's dad collects sap too. Just thought you should know."
I do not know how she responded to this little tidbit.

So there you have it. Apparently, we live like pioneers. Who knew?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Lesson Learned

I've been nagging Jonah all week (yeah, I know it's Spring Break) (yeah, I know I'm mean) to study for his upcoming AP World History test. But I have to add this note: he stresses out about these tests, and his teacher Kindly Gave them extra time by setting the test after break. So WHY shouldn't he take a few hours here and there to study and prepare for the essay questions?
Today, after I nagged him once again to stop procrastinating (this morning, it was building darts out of thorns and printer paper), he asked if he could invite a few friends over to study. Why not? I thought. Why not indeed.
This is what I pictured: while I finished up a project upstairs, Jonah and his well-mannered friends would sit around with binders and highlighters, politely asking: "What do you think are the impacts of globalization and industrialization in 19th century China and Japan?" or "How should we best discuss the geological and cultural impacts of silver mining in Central and South America?" You know, stuff like that.

Clearly, I don't know my son or his friends very well. Here's a small sampling of what I overheard:

"Wow, Jonah. You already most of the (15 page) packet done? Wow. We haven't even started yet...." (Jonah sighed. He was hoping they'd be able to help HIM with a few answers.)
"Jonah, your binder is really cool. You're so organized." 

And that, folks, is about all they said about AP World. Here's what came next:

1. Jonah showed them all the neat birthday presents and gadgets he has acquired since they visited last, complete with full explanations and demonstrations of how each works.
2. Jared popped in and out of the conversation, just enough to be annoying.
3. They had a lengthy Nerf Gun battle.
4. I'm pretty sure I heard someone say: "Jared, just stand still. Right there. We promise this won't hurt" at least once.
5. I heard a lot of that snickering sound teenage boys make when they have just done something a) painful, b) embarrassing, c) disgusting, or d) all of the above.
6. They ogled an Army Surplus catalog.
7. They tied fishing line to one of Lauren's old baby dolls to make a marionette named Cody (who is currently watching Star Wars VI with Jared while Jonah's at a movie with Clint). time Jonah asks to invite a few friends over to STUDY, I think I'll make sure those teenage boys spend at least twenty minutes doing what they're supposed to be doing before the inevitable mayhem begins.
Hmm...yeah. Maybe I'm a little too optimistic.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

What I'm working on

Today we have another snow day, and I'm hoping it's our last! To keep winter at bay, I'm embroidering this bird, which will decorate the front flap of a new messenger bag soon. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

How Not to Cut an Avocado

As I held my (very sharp) chef's knife over the pit of a halved avocado, the silky green flesh winking up at me, I had a thought: You know, one of these days I'm probably going to cut myself as I whack a knife into the pit to remove it.
I can't remember whether I physically shrugged that little pearl of wisdom off, but I know I did a mental shrug and a wink to boot. Nah, I'm not going to cut myself. How silly is that.
Then, with a wickedly sharp swish, I dropped the knife and a jolt of pain spun through my body.
Here are three things you should know right now:
1. Clint is very keen on keeping our knives sharpened.
2. I was holding the avocado in the stupidest possible fashion--cupping it as I should have been--but with my thumb sticking up at least an inch above the edge of the avocado.
3. I have awful aim.
I must have cried out. I'm pretty sure I tossed the knife across the counter (thankfully injuring nothing else). And I looked down at the rush of blood--far too red, far too bright--welling from the cut in my thumb.
I dashed to the sink, turning on the water, squeezing my thumb and watching my blood drip down the drain. That's when Clint and the kids rushed into the kitchen. Now, if you don't know Clint well, you need to know this: he is a man who knows about bodily injury. He once got a fish hook stuck in his back while cleaning the shed--and he tried to make me remove it  by pushing it the rest of the way through. He almost chainsawed his leg off and then walked up to the house holding his leg together to calmly ask for a ride to the hospital. His hands have had many intimate encounters with power tools, and once, as the doctor was stitching him up, he said, "Huh, I've never seen anyone with skin this tough on his hands. The needle (tug tug) doesn't even want (tug tug) to go through it at all." And Clint just sat there. I am not saying my husband is clumsy or foolhardy! No, when a guy works with dangerous tools as often as my husband does, the likelihood of injurious encounters grows exponentially.
So, back to me: as I wailed at the blood flowing into the sink, he took charge of the situation. He stood beside me and bent over the wound. "Let me see how deep it is," he said. He pulled the edges of the cut apart gently, and that is when I remembered that I had felt something Very Wrong when the knife hit my thumb. As in, I thought that maybe the blade hit my bone. Suddenly, I could feel my heart battering against my ribs and tingles shot up and down my skin.
"I think I'm going to pass out," I breathed.
"What?" he asked, still staring down at the skin he was pulling apart. "You only lost a tiny bit of blood."
"No," I said. "I feel sick. I think I'm going to..." And then the tingling got worse and my scalp started to buzz. I was going down.
So, like any veteran fainter, I did the smart thing. I crouched down beside the sink, getting as close to a prone position as I could, while Clint continued to fiddle around with my thumb. I'm pretty sure he just sighed at me at this point.
That's when Jonah showed up with the bandaging stuff. Clint wrapped my thumb in several layers of intricate bandages and then released me.
I sat on the floor, holding my injured hand to my heart. I could feel it throbbing in a separate rhythm of agony, but I didn't dare to look at it for a long time. When I finally did, I saw that my bright blood had already stained the bandage. "Don't you think I need stitches?" I asked, my voice charmingly tremulous.
"You're fine," he said. "It's not really that bad."
Not that bad! It was awful! I almost fainted. He has no sympathy.
I had to lie down on the couch while Clint and the kids finished making dinner, and afterward, they pressed me back toward the couch to lie down while they cleaned up. I felt faint for the rest of the evening, suffering from heart palpitations and flashbacks of that awful knife descending toward my innocent thumb. (Oh, and I also hosted the first meeting of the Boozy Girls' Craft Night, which was going to be a blog post but I'm not even really sure what happened once everyone showed up. That's what ibuprofen + wine can do.)
The next evening, Jared wandered into the kitchen as I was chopping carrots for dinner. "You should be careful with that knife, Mom," he said. "You might cut yourself again."
Yeah. Thanks, smartie. Momma already thought about that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Science Fair Project: How Much Help to Give

When Jared brought home a note from his teacher last month about the upcoming science fair, I sighed a motherly sigh. Because you know what I thought: Oh great, a project for ME to do. One more thing on MY list. 
But then as Jared and I spent time talking about the project, I began to reshape my thinking. This was HIS project, not mine. It did not need to become a big chore for me; instead, it should be a learning experience for him. 
I think many of us parents have fallen victim to this issue: we want our children to do well in all things, and if the project is going to be publicly displayed, we REALLY want our children to do well. So, we help them study for tests and we help them with their homework and we help them with  their science fair projects. But when does helping become doing? Where do we draw the line? When does it become the parent's project instead of the child's project? 
Clint and I usually gave Lauren and Jonah broad strokes sorts of help when they did their science fair projects in grade school, but neither of them had to do one when they were this young. Second's a young age to tackle something this large.
So finally, after much discussion and a false start (you can't wait till the week before to plant your seeds if you want to measure whether a seed can grow in a sideways or upside down pot), Jared settled on his project: Which Brand of Bubble Gum Has the Longest-lasting Flavor? A project perfectly suited to a seven year old.
Jonah generously volunteered to be Jared's "fact checker|" by chewing a piece of gum too while Jared performed each of his gum trials --to ensure complete scientific accuracy--and helping Jared with the timer. After a two days of assiduous chewing (they took lots of breaks to rest their tongues and jaws), the results were tallied and it was time to start on the display board.
To save on printing costs, I drew block letters for the categories, and we had Jared color them. Then, he had to write out his explanations (with a bit of coaching). 

When we got done writing all the important information, Jared thought the board looked a little boring. So, he decided to add bubbles made of colorful paper. I suggested using my circle punch and handed him a pile of gum-colored scrap paper. He added a little touch with marker to each one to make it look like a true bubble.

We talked about how he should make his chart to show the data. (He noticed how much data sounds like dada and repeated the word over and over as he worked on this section.) He decided a bar graph would be best, so I drew the lines and labelled it. He filled in the information.

He did a great job on much of the poster, but the "Conclusion" portion of the project was difficult for him: WHY did some gum flavors last longer--and why were all of the longer-lasting gum brands packaged in such "boring" packages? We broke it down on a table like this and talked for a long time. He got frustrated. He looked off into space. I asked leading questions. I called in reinforcements (Clint). Finally, Jared was able to state this:

Which basically sums it all up, doesn't it?
And here's the finished poster. I will be the first to admit it will probably not be the most beautiful poster at the science fair, but you know what? Jared did most of the work, and because of that, I think it's pretty close to perfect. When I asked him what he learned from this experience, he said these wise words: "I learned about gum." Exactly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Homemade Granola

When you have to get out the door in a hurry, cold cereal is an easy choice for breakfast, but so many of the choices are high in sugar and low in health benefits. A few years ago, Clint and I started eating a bowl of bran flakes with a sliced banana and a sprinkle of granola on top for breakfast each mornin. It's hearty and nutritious, and the bran flakes complement the granola well. We found a yummy and inexpensive brand of granola at Aldi, and we stocked up on it. Then, a few months ago, I went in to resupply, and it was gone! Completely gone. I bought a different kind and when I was at the register checking out, I asked the cashier where my favorite granola was. She said Aldi was discontinuing it. Bad choice. Very bad choice.
I complained to Clint, and he said, Why don't we just make our own granola? I had thought about it before, but it seemed like it would be more expensive than store-bought once we added all the nuts and dried fruit and stuff. But he reminded me: the kind we liked best just had coconut and almonds, aside from the oats and stuff. 
We decided to try it. After testing several recipes, we found our favorite on Martha Stewart's website (here). We tweaked it a bit, though, using the ingredients we already had. Here's how I made my granola this time:

Boil together:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup syrup (we've used honey too--it makes the granola taste better, I think, but we didn't have any)
1/2 cup brown sugar

Mix together:
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped almonds 
(NOTE: You don't need to use all of these nuts. You can use any kind you want--just make sure the total nut + coconut quantity is about 2-3 cups)
(SECOND NOTE: Do NOT add dried fruit at this point! It will burn in the oven and taste awful. Wait till your granola is done baking and then add it in. Learn from our mistake.)

Pour melted "syrup" over the dry ingredients and mix well.
Spread on a greased, rimmed cookie sheet and bake in a preheated (325 degrees) oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring every ten minutes of so.

Here's the granola before it's can see how pale the oats look.

When it's done, the oats will look golden brown and the nuts will be fragrant. Let the granola cool on the baking sheet, and then crumble it into small pieces. Store in an airtight container. It keeps for a few weeks--if it lasts that long!
And of course, an extra bonus: your house will smell delightful as it bakes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow Day Project

When I got the call yesterday afternoon that we had another snow day, I rejoiced. Another day to spend at home--another day to sleep in--another day to snuggle with my kiddos--another day to make stuff. Sigh. Life is most definitely good around here, even if it is blasted cold. 
So, Jared and I decided a snow day was a great day to make some snowflakes to decorate my branch. I cut a plethora of small squares of printer paper (4 inches square) and we began cutting.

Jared is very serious about his business. He stuck with me for a good long time, making maybe ten snowflakes. Lauren and Jonah popped in for a bit and contributed a few snowflakes apiece, but Bubs was in for the long haul. And of course, I took the best scissors for the task, so he even had to deal with the frustration of cutting thickly folded paper with those scissors they make for preschoolers. (I didn't tell him his scissors were awful, though, so he probably didn't even realize what he was missing out on...)

Soon, we had a snowstorm on the counter top...

And then, after we had made them all, I had a moment of near-panic, for I realized I had lent out my spool of baker's twine to a friend so she could truss up her roast beast for Christmas dinner--and I didn't have it back yet. But, never fear: plain old thread worked just fine. And soon, I had a little snow storm hanging over my favorite reading chair.
The birds don't seem to mind the cold up there either...