What are my children becoming?

There was a child went forth every day, And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became, And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.  

The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe bird, And the third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf…”

– Walt Whitman

I picked up a book recently that I’ve had on the shelves for a long time and started reading it.  It’s called “Last Child in the Woods,” and I have to admit that the reason I’ve put it off was that I was afraid it would be too upsetting.  And it is a little upsetting, but it’s also, thus far, a pretty incredible book- it has certainly made me remember fondly my days of tree-fort building and woods romping.  The basic premise of the book is the fact that kids today don’t play outside.  They don’t.  I can vouch for this.  I’m SURROUNDED by children in my neighborhood, and I haven’t seen many of them all summer.  None of them are out building tree forts or doing any romping.  I don’t think it’s good for them, and neither does the author of this book.

If I allowed it, my son would play Wii all day long.  I do not allow it- let’s just get that clear right now.  But he would.  I have a live-in, electronic babysitter anytime I want her.  I’ve noticed, however, that if he plays Wii or watches TV too much, he can’t go to sleep that night.  The author of “Last Child in the Woods” believes that nature is an effective antidote to the things, like ADHD, that plague many of our children these days, and I think he may be on to something. I worry that our current addiction to all things electronic is doing more harm to our kids than we realize.

I say that as I sit in front of my beloved Mac, of course, and believe me- I have no intention of giving it up anytime soon!  I also realize that our kids are what have been called “digital natives,” which is to say that they were born into the world of electronics that can give them instant access to everything in the entire world 24 hours a days.  I don’t think we need to keep them from it entirely, but I do think we need to be careful and limit their use of it, and especially we need to counteract their 2D experiences with real-live, 3D, outside playing and getting dirty time.  It’s kind of like hitting the reset button, or, to use electronics terminology, doing a reboot on their little brains.  Or at least that’s been my experience thus far.

The Walt Whitman poem really struck me- the first object is what he became?  Yikes.  There are days from this summer when a poem about my son would read instead, “Sponge Bob Square Pants became part of this child, and Wii Sports and Skylanders…”  That can’t be good.  I’d rather he became an early morning bike ride or a visit out to water the garden.  Or morning devotionals and a healthy breakfast with NOTHING turned on!  I’m ready for the structure that comes with the school year, that’s for sure.  We’ve all needed our down time, but I for one have had enough of it.  Especially since this has been one of the rainiest summers that I can remember.

I’m ready to start back to school, you can tell.  Is it really only July?  Sigh.

But anyway, I highly recommend reading this book.  And then I recommend shoving your kids outside to play.  Like mine, they probably could use it.

 

Louv, R.  (2005).  Last child in the woods:  Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, North Carolina:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Homemade kefir.

I started writing this blog thinking I’d be writing a lot about homeschooling and our adventures, but, silly me, I started it in the summer when we’re not DOING homeschool.  Or, should I say, when life gets to be the school instead of our set curricula.  Which is just as important.  Plus, we’re saving up for our big adventure this fall, so we haven’t really been on any adventures lately either.  So, instead I end up writing about one of my favorite things instead.  And that of course is food.

I try to keep my family living as natural a lifestyle as possible, without being too extreme about anything.  Extreme is not my style.  But, there are perhaps some odd things that I do, or at least they may appear that way to others.  One of those things is making homemade kefir.  If you were to look in my pantry right now, you would see a jar of what appears to be lumpy milk.  It’s not.  It’s fermenting milk.  Big difference.  Sounds delicious, right?

Actually, it is delicious.  It’s a bit of an acquired tasted, I admit.  It can be pretty tart, which I happen to like, as I’ve always liked plain yogurt.  Sometimes I let it sit in the pantry too long and it gets too tart even for me .  The fermenting time, you see,  seems to depend on the temperature around it.  In the winter, it takes longer to be ready, while in the summer it goes much quicker.  The dogs get the too-tart batches, and they love it.  But, when I get it right (which is most of the time- it’s pretty much a no-brainer), it’s tangy and thick, and chock full of B vitamins and probiotics.  I’ve read that there are 11 different beneficial bacteria, and billions of them per tablespoon.  You can sweeten it up or use it as a base for smoothies, which is the only way I can get my kids drinking it.  My homemade kefir is the reason I make the weekly trek to buy our milk straight from the farmer- delicious, rich stuff from Jersey cows that is unbelievably good just on its own.  And by the way, here’s a terrific website on how to make kefir,  just in case your interest is piqued:  http://www.rebeccawood.com/food-as-medicine/kefir/  Trust me, it isn’t hard.  If you’ve made homemade yogurt before, you worked too hard.  Kefir is MUCH simpler.

And these cultures are pretty unbelievable.  They grow like crazy, and I end up begging people to take mason jars filled with it to try for themselves.  It’s not that I intend to be a kefir evangelist- I just can’t bear to throw away the yummy  and nutritious goodness that they provide.

So, anybody want some kefir grains?  I just happen to have a few billion.

Summer food. Part II.

So, this is my basket, partially emptied, after yesterday’s farmers’ market and then a stop at my community garden space for tomatoes and herbs.  I know I’ve said it before, but I really, really love summer food.  I go a little overboard on vegetables this time of year.  But how could I possibly help it?  Look at that stuff- gorgeous AND tasty!

And there’s something about buying food at the farmers’ market.  First of all, I’ve been going for so long that I know lots of the people there and thus it’s a good opportunity to chat.  Sometimes the kids tag along, and when they come we also bring Annie, the dachshund, which means that lots of people have to stop and pet her and tell her how cute she is.  She loves that.  But really, I prefer to go alone.  That sort of entourage just slows me down, and when you’re talking about fresh figs and eggs straight from the farm, you can’t afford to mess around.   Also, when I go to the market I get to pull out my trusty basket with the leather handles that I dragged back from France 13 years ago, which I bought in order to better shop at the farmers’ markets there.  You can see I’ve been obsessed with buying fresh food, straight from the folks who grew it, even before I became enamored with Barbara Kingsolver and her book on eating local, or with Michael Pollan or Alice Waters.  Even before I knew the politics or the environmental impact or the importance of local or organic, well, I’ve just loved good food.

And so this week, for the shocking sum of $23.00, we have not just good but amazing food.  Two heads of crispy romaine and a few gorgeous zucchinis, blueberries, herbs, Anaheim peppers (to roast for spinach enchiladas!), corn, and little purple potatoes.  I felt industrious after my morning in the fresh air, and came home and put the blueberries up into preserves already (though we ate plenty as well).  I wish I knew how to can beyond that, but I don’t yet.

I did not, however, buy eggplant, even though it looked lovely.  That’s because I’ve managed to grow more eggplant than I know what to do with.  I’m running out of new and interesting ways to cook it, and, I can’t believe I’m saying this:  I’m getting a little tired of eggplant.

Funny how the story of this family so often comes back around to what we’re eating…

Le Trieves.

I wrote this during last summer’s trip to France.   Early June 2011, Le Trieves, France…

When we travel, we mostly like just to wander.  We have a loose itinerary in our heads- “Maybe we’ll head to the beach if we get a sunny day,”- but often, we just pick places, read a little about them, usually in the car on the way there, and go.  Yesterday was one of those sort of days.  We wanted to see Lyon, and it was only about an hour and a half away from where we were staying, so off we went.  We thought we’d come through Grenoble on the way back, and intended to find dinner somewhere within that town.  Lyon was a nice enough city, and we saw a beautiful cathedral and had a delicious pastry at a salon de the in the old part of the city.  We left town during the 5:00 rush hour, a bit of poor planning on our part, and were thankful to be out of the city environment and back into the more rural areas of France.  Then we came to Grenoble, and, well, it just wasn’t good.  You know those depressing looking multi-story tenement sort of apartment buildings?  They were everywhere.  Despite the fact that we were entering the French Alps and that the scenery had become pretty incredible, we took the first roundabout to turn back around and ditched.  We pulled over and picked a new route, a small road that would wind us through the Alps back towards Provence.  We figured we’d find a small town and head towards the center at around 7 pm and hope for a decent restaurant.  At the very least, we’d have a good view.

What we came across was well beyond what we had hoped for.

The first town we decided to stop in was closed.  Yes, I do mean that the town was closed.  After all, it was Wednesday, as the lady at the gas station explained…  Yet another mysterious French way, I guess?  Anyway, we continued on to the next town, a little place called Le Percy, where a hand-lettered wooden sign promised that there was in fact a restaurant.  And just maybe it would be open.

So, into Le Percy we went.  Imagine a tiny town- no, a hamlet, perhaps, because there couldn’t have been more than ten houses and a church.  The restaurant turned out to be in the same place as the library, back behind the church.  Naturally, everything was made of stone, though not in the Provence way- I suppose more in the way that is appropriate to Le Trieves , which is where we apparently were.  We had to stop and ask where the place was- it was so tucked away and hidden.   And there, in a low, arched-ceilinged building, was Le Café de la Plage.  I can’t explain the plage (beach) part, because we were decidedly in the French Alps.  But it looked like it was going to do just fine:  the day’s menus were written on chalkboards, along with the wine list and the desserts, including a crème brulee du moment– I love that- “of the moment!”  As though the chef just looked to see what was the tastiest flavor he could toss in with some crème and cook it up… But more on that in a moment.

And so we began.  A demi-pichet of red wine, which turned out, of course, to be delicious.  The menu du jour for 22 euros, consisting of a salad with octopus ceviche on greens with chopped peppers, started us out.  It was amazing.  This is not a favorite of mine, octopus, but still,  it was amazing.

And then.  And then:  There was the second course.  The young waitress told us that the chef had just, umm, well, shall we say, retrieved the pigs from the farm that morning to make that course- a roti de porc with tiny baby potatoes, carrots, and tiny zucchinis in a delicate sauce.  And crusty, brown, flavorful bread to mop up that delicious sauce with.

And though I hate to leave the thought of that pork, I must go on to dessert, because it deserves its own page:  the aforementioned crème brulee,  flavored with vanilla and studded with fresh raspberries.

Finished off with those tiny little bitter coffees that the French adore (and so do I).   It was perfect.

We were surrounded by people who very clearly knew each other and had for a while (two bises here instead of the Provencal three), but we felt welcomed.  We stepped out of this lovely little place after a mere 2 and a half hours, and the cool evening air of the Alps felt refreshing after so much sitting (and feasting!).  Cows with bells around their necks looked at us with disinterest from behind their stone fences, and we listened to and absorbed these peaceful sounds for as long as we could before we had to hit the road again.

And what a journey it was, through the Alps in a magical part of France where tourists really don’t often go.  If you haven’t tried it, I recommend that you do.  Tout de suite.  I’ll give you the address if you’d like.

Stand at the crossroads and look.

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

I came across that verse this week in my morning devotional time, and it really spoke to me.  I just love the visual it creates in my mind.  And doesn’t this picture look like an ancient crossroads?  Sort of?  Perhaps it’s because I feel a bit as though we are standing at our own crossroads right now, and I want to be sure to choose the right path.  It’s a little scary, because I know we are choosing a less traveled road.  But that doesn’t mean others haven’t walked it before, or that it isn’t a perfectly good choice of paths.  Just a little less popular, perhaps?

Or maybe the reason I’m feeling this way is because we finally did it, just this week.  Found and committed to a house in France, where we are going to spend this winter.  Actually put the money down, which makes it all the more real.  It’s something that the Pilot and I have talked about doing for years.  We planned it for our kids and for our family before they were even born,  so it’s a pretty big deal to us, and it’s almost here.

Yikes.

So much planning has to happen before we leave!  The dogs have to get their “passports!”  The frogs have to find a new and loving home (I’m not so attached to them, so that is beyond fine with me)!  Stuff has to get packed!!  Oh no- the fish!! What to do with the fish that my son loves so much?!  And don’t even get me started on what I need to do for lesson planning for the kids for the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR.  I can really get myself worked up when I think about it too long.  My soul sure could use some rest…

I think I need to take a few deep breaths.  Or perhaps a glass of red wine might help?  After all, France!!  One must practice, n’est-ce pas?

It still seems unreal.  And it probably will until we’re there.

Why we homeschool (among other reasons).

Teachers, who used to be artists and masters of their craft, are being reduced to victims of a system that only values the regurgitation of disconnected facts, one day of the school year.  When that one day speaks volumes of a district, school, and individual teacher’s capacity, survival instincts kick in and even the most well intended educator will find themselves filling a bucket but not lighting a fire” (Edwards, 2012, p. 3).

I edit and grade  Educational Leadership masters student papers at a university (you know, in my spare time as a homeschooling mom) and sometimes those papers can be painfully bad.  But more often, they are pretty good.  And then, sometimes you come across a jewel, and the paper I took that quote from was one of the latter.  Truly a gem.  And the woman who wrote that is an experienced veteran of the world of public school.  I’d say she pretty much knows what she is talking  about.

These are the things that struck me about what she wrote:

Filling a bucket but not lighting a fire.   That says so much, at least as far as I’m concerned.  When you can light that fire, that love for learning, you can go far.

Regurgitation of disconnected facts.  As a person obsessed with connections, with story (one of my very favorite words), those disconnected facts just feel so, well, disconnected.  And I like for things to make connections and make sense and build upon each other.  The more connections you can make with what you are learning, the more likely you are to take it in and make it a part of you.

I know better than to think that’s all that is happening in our public schools.  There are some great teachers out there, some real fire-lighters.  My kids have both had some of them.  But it’s getting harder and harder for these good teachers to be good, when they have to focus so hard on the standardized testing that is required.  I’m also not against standardized testing- but I am against testing that is the focus of an entire year.

We pulled our son out of public schools for many reasons, but one of the big ones was that he was losing his love for learning.  Or, as Ms. Edwards put it so beautifully in her paper, his bucket may have been getting filled, but his fire was definitely not getting lit.  And that is a shame.

I think though, that we may have managed to rekindle a spark in him.  I’d like to think it is my amazing skill and vast experience as a teacher that did the trick (have I mentioned that I have no experience as a teacher?).  But I know the truth here.

Sometimes you just have to make sure you’re not in the way too much as God works.

 

Edwards, N.  (2012).  College readiness.  Unpublished paper,  University of Texas at Tyler.

Peach pie!

I’ve been cooking gluten-free for my kids for 3 years now.  I’ve gotten really good at it, and really, nobody around here has missed it.  Mostly.  I just can’t do gluten free pastry.  I know it’s possible.  One of my favorite blogs says so.  Apparently it isn’t possible for me.  But we went to a party this week, and I took a pie.  It gave me an excuse to dust off my favorite pie crust recipe, and I must say, it is an awesome recipe.  I made a blackberry pie for the party, and then had two crusts left over, so this is what I made today.  It’s funny how proud of myself I am about making a pie!   I don’t even know if it tastes good (though I’m pretty sure it does- I tasted a few peaches as I was cutting them up and they were delicious) but it sure looks nice.  In my Emile Henri pie dish I bought in France 12 years ago…  Good thing my kids don’t really like pie, so they’re not missing out!

And, this is a recipe I can share because I didn’t get it from a  magazine or a book.  I got this one from a dear friend many years ago, and she is no longer with us.  It’s called “Never-Fail Pie Crust, and in my experience, you really can’t mess it up.  So, in her honor, perfect pastry for all!!

4 cups flour

2 t salt

1 T sugar

1 3/4 cups shortening (the non-hydrogenated stuff works just fine)

1/2 cup water

1 T vinegar

1 large egg

Mix flour, salt, and sugar.  Cut in shortening, mix well.  Mix water, vinegar, and egg with a whisk and add to the other ingredients.  Mix well.  This makes 4 crusts and keeps well in the refrigerator (I’ve even frozen the extras).

That’s it.  Remember not to overwork it, ever, because you will develop the gluten and have a rock hard pastry.  I think you could in fact fail if you did that;)  As for what to put inside, well, anything goes.  Just bake it at 350 for an hour, and for best results, cover the edges with aluminum foil to keep them from browning too quickly.  And everyone will be so impressed with your pastry chef abilities!

Bon appetit!

A rekindled love for quinoa!

I haven’t mentioned this before, but we eat (mostly) gluten-free around here.  In fact, my inspiration for starting my own blog came partly from the fact that when we found out my daughter needed to be gluten-free three years ago and I felt overwhelmed and pretty clueless, I stumbled across a fabulous blog:   http://glutenfreegirl.com/ that really helped me figure out what to do and how to cook amazing things that also just happen to be gluten-free.  Now, nobody in my home has celiac disease, though it was suspected and we’ve been checked for it.  Celiac is a horse of another color, and I can only imagine how hard that is.  My daughter is merely gluten intolerant, and we follow the GF lifestyle mainly as an alternative treatment for ADHD for my daughter (and by the way- we have had amazing success with that.  But that is another subject).  Which is why we can and will cheat on occasion when we are in France- sometimes the consequences are simply worth it.  Not to mention the fact that we homeschool now and so nobody is pushing us to medicate… Which is also another subject.

But back to quinoa:  when I started having to explore cooking with alternative grains, this quickly became a favorite of mine.  So much so that I cooked it all the time and then became really, really tired of it.  However, I revisited it this past week because of a recipe I came across, and my love for quinoa has been rekindled.  This stuff pretty much rocks as a cold salad!   And it’s simple to make, too:  you can even cook it in a rice cooker just like you would rice.  To make a salad with it, you simply let it cool off after cooking and then add in your chopped vegetables:  cucumber, cilantro, peppers, and avocado are just a few I’ve tried.  I’m thinking of a black bean and corn mix with red peppers and some kind of spicy vinaigrette for next time.  Even the Pilot has been eating it, though it could have been because of the super-garlicky olive oil dressing I loaded on.  The kids, however, are not going for it, but that’s okay.  I didn’t really expect them to.

I have to say that being forced to try grains besides wheat has actually been one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  It has expanded my skills as a cook and introduced me to flavors I wouldn’t have found, and even to a community of amazing cooks and writers that I would never have known otherwise.  Who knew teff or almond flour could make such delicious baked goods?  Or that sorghum flour works great in a roux?  And that many of these grains have a lot more nutrition than wheat anyway?  Not me, before, but I do now.

I just love learning new things, ESPECIALLY  when it comes to food!