Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Off to a Rough Start

This has not been one of our more productive weeks. My husband is on a business trip, which never helps, and Monday I took my very favorite cat, Twink, into the vet. He hasn't been feeling well. He's lost weight over the last two years, and at his checkup in December, was diagnosed with kidney "issues." He started taking some probiotics, which seemed to be helping, and I went back to pretending he was fine.

Last week, I noticed that his normally pink nose and lips were white. That's not a good sign. So, Monday afternoon we were off to the vet's office to see what was going on. They repeated his bloodwork to find that the numbers (which I can't list for you, or explain well) had doubled or tripled into a much worse range - in just a month. The doctor could fee that one kidney was larger than the other, and told me that Twink had lost another 3/4 lb - we were trying to get him to gain weight. We decided that he would spend 3 days at the vet's office receiving IV fluids in an attempt to flush the toxins from his system that his kidneys aren't processing. If that helps, we will start him on another medication and see where to go from there. I left the office feeling like he'd get better, but I have to say, thinking on how quickly he's gone downhill since December, I have my doubts.

Then, Tuesday morning, Emma woke me to tell me that her cat, Thomas, was limping. This was no slight limp; he didn't want to put weight on his front foot and was holding it up while she held him. Off to the vet we went again, to discover that he had a wound on his foot and was running a fever, so he got to stay and have his foot operated on, cleaned out and stitched up. This is not turning out to be an inexpensive week, can you tell?

To make things even more interesting, Isaac is on quite a tear these days. He throws a LOT of tantrums, for reasons I do not understand. He seems to be tired most of the time, even when he's had a nap (which he tries so hard to refuse, even when he desperately needs the extra sleep). I can only surmise that he must be growing again, this 5 year old who is already the size of your average 8-9 year old boy.  Good thing I bought his clothes big (so when he agrees to wear them, they will fit).

How do we homeschool during weeks like this? Well, to be honest, it's not been my best teaching week. I've been letting the girls do what they can independently. Monday, we did manage to read our poem and some of Robin Hood, I think. I can't recall if we read the Hobbit. Today, I did school with Isaac while the girls were upstairs reading. I've been avoiding thinking about the cats by reading my own book. At about 11:45 pm I remembered to make the Jell-o for making our cells tomorrow, and even made an extra one for Isaac. I got the kitchen mostly cleaned up and the dishwasher is running, so we won't have a mess to face in the morning. Now, I'm sitting here typing, because I do hate to go to bed by myself. No worries though - pretty soon Isaac will join me! Ha!

All right. I'm mostly just complaining, and I do apologize. I wanted to let you know, in case you're in need of encouragement, that not every day goes as planned, and somehow, my children still learn things. :-)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me!

One thing I love about my sister, is that she doesn't mind when Christmas gifts are a little late. That's a good thing, because I still haven't sent anything to her family. I have some knitting projects that I'm frantically working to finish. Hopefully they will all be done for the twins' birthday in another week or so.

Anyhoo, my gift was the only one that wasn't shipped from Amazon. My sister mailed it after Christmas. It arrived this week, and I was so excited! One of my "love languages" is gifts, so I'm fine with presents whenever they might arrive.

She sent me some lovely Christmas ornaments, a nifty little clock, and some KISS Pez dispensers. That last item is a little strange, I admit, but I used to be a huge KISS fan before I learned better. My brother-in-law found those for me. It was pretty funny to open that box.

My very favorite thing, though, is this little owl nesting doll, or matryoshka. I love nesting dolls, and have a small collection. I bought my first one as a child in Frankenmuth, Michigan, at Bronner's - my very favorite store in the world, where it's Christmas all the time. Here are a few of my dolls:

The tallest one I have is about 7 inches high, and has 7 dolls. My very best friend, Michelle, brought it for me from Alaska. Isn't she pretty? (I apologize for the quality of the picture. I'm not quite sure what happened.)

My favorite is one that my mother-in-law gave me. She's decorated with wood burning and gold, which makes her unique among my little collection. She has 10 dolls, and the largest stands about 5 inches tall. The smallest doll is about the size of a chick pea. The girls named the tiny one "the teeny-teeny."

My sister sent me the smallest nesting doll I've ever seen, and it is painted to look like an owl. Here it is next to a small spool of thread:

And here it is next to the smallest doll from the lovely blue Alaskan matryoshka:

And here is the smallest owl, standing next to the "teeny-teeny."

I was amazed by this tiny doll! It even has a face. In addition to matryoshkas, I also love tiny things. Do you know what I mean? I have a miniature tea set that was a gift from my aunt when I was a child, and the tea cups are about 1/4" tall. I don't know how I still have all the pieces, but I do, and I love it. See? Tiny things.

My girls loved to play with the nesting dolls when they were little. They got some of them out yesterday when I was taking these pictures, because Isaac wanted to play with the little owl dolls, and I wouldn't let him. Emma, who is 12, said, "These are our childhood toys, in my opinion." I giggled. They did love them, but they might have a few other toys around the house. It made my heart smile to see how happy they were to see the dolls, though.

And, lest I end this post on a completely self-indulgent note, there are some lovely picture books about matryoshkas. One is called The Littlest Matryoshka, by Corinne Demas Bliss. It tells the story of the smallest doll in a set, who is swept off the table and has many adventures before she finds her way back to her sisters. Another is The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, written in the style of a fairy tale with strikingly beautiful pictures. Both books include a bit of history about nesting dolls, in case you'd like to earn more. And, just for fun, click here to go to a page with printable nesting dolls you (or your child) can color. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Loving Legos!

Last night, we went on a family outing to the closest Lego store, about an hour away, to build their monthly free kit. We learned about this monthly opportunity when the kids and I trekked down there in November, seeking Christmas gifts and hopefully pieces to make Christmas ornaments from this site (we didn't get the ornament pieces; we have to special order those). I confess that I wasn't thrilled to drive all the way down there, but Todd came with us, so that made it all right. I learned from another mom in line that the mall we visited is the main tourist attraction in North Carolina, beating out the beaches, the Outer Banks, the mountains, and everything in between. Isn't that a disturbing thought?

When we arrived, the line from the door was a rather lengthy snake that looped around the kiddie rides in the middle of the mall hallway and back past another store. I should have expected that, I suppose. The good news was that once it hit 5 o'clock, the designated start time, the line moved quickly. It was REALLY long when we got there and we only waited about an hour, including the 15 minutes we were early.

The kit for this month was a cute little igloo with penguins. Each child got to build one.  Well, the age range is from 6-14 (although they were quite lenient). "Big" Lego-loving children, like Todd, just got to help the little people.

We also had little gift boxes they'd given us on our previous visit, one for each child, which we were allowed to fill for free from the brick wall. If you've never been, each Lego store has a wall filled with containers of various Lego pieces, and the pieces change over time. Isaac had a wonderful time filling the little boxes - that's how he kept busy during the hour wait to build our little kits. We also have a refillable container from the Lego store, and Todd filled that one. He still loves Legos and was impressed with some of the pieces he found. He said he chose the "higher-end specialty pieces," and said he would go back on a regular basis to refill the little bucket. He even said we could make this a monthly family thing!

Isaac asked me to take his picture at the store. I think he likes it there. :-)

We had dinner afterwards at Steak n' Shake, which is one of our favorite places to eat. There isn't one close to our house, so we usually only get to stop there when we're on our annual trip to Michigan. Everyone was excited to find one closer to home.

Isaac looks a little manic. Apparently all that time in a Lego store can affect one's brain.

This morning, all three kids spent quite a bit of time poking through the Legos, making random things. I love watching them do that. Isaac loves to build cars, and he has elaborate explanations of the things he makes. I do not have the "Lego gene," if you know what I mean. Todd does, obviously, and Isaac seems to have inherited it, too. In addition to building, Isaac has been sorting pieces into plastic bags. He loves to put just about anything that will fit into plastic bags. I get a kick out of watching him.

Have you been to the Lego store for the monthly kit? What did you think?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Got Poetry?

Happy New Year! I am a little slow in getting my New Year started. :-) Todd's parents were here for Christmas, and we all had a nice time. When they left, we all got sick. We've spent a week recovering from a rather strange virus. I think we're all getting over it now, but we certainly needed a week to get better.

As I look forward to starting school up again, I'm considering what changes might need to be made. For one thing, my girls need a bit more supervision in their school work. I have not been as on top of everything as I should, so we're behind and have some catching up to do.

Our Charlotte Mason co-op went well last semester, so Sara and I are considering adding more to it. She asked if we might like to learn Latin together, and perhaps add in Plutarch. Her boys love Plutarch, but we tend to forget to do it, so that would work out really well, I think. I would also love to have someone else helping with Latin. I'm a little intimidated to teach it, which is why we haven't started before now.

One thing that's on my heart is reading more poetry. We need to read a poem every day, but we have not been doing that. We studied Emily Dickinson in our little co-op, and that was wonderful. It helped me see that poetry doesn't have to be hugely complicated or hard. I found this great poem by Billy Collins on the Poetry 180 website:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

I took an "Introduction to Poetry" in college, in indeed, it did seem as if the instructor wanted us to "beat each poem with a hose" and be able to define every nuance and identify any potential instance of symbolism.

Now, I am not good at literary analysis. I love to read poetry, but I do not enjoy trying to figure out "what the author meant." It's not that I don't like to think; I do. However, I believe Billy Collins' poem, above, describes more accurately how Charlotte Mason would have approached poetry.

She said this:

He should have practice, too, in reading aloud, for the most part, in the books he is using for his term's work. These should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance. Quite young children are open to this sort of teaching, conveyed, not in a lesson, but by a word now and then. - Vol. 1, p. 127, emphasis mine
"Words are beautiful in themselves. . .they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour." That quote, right there, inspires me to read more poetry with my children, and for myself. We've made a good start with our co-op readings, but I hope to add even more into our homeschool, and our lives. I am not one for New Year's resolutions, but this is one thing I'm determined to do.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

What's Cooking at Your House?

Do you like to cook? I do, but usually feel like I don't have time to do anything terribly fancy. I have my standard recipes that my family likes and I don't tend to veer too far from them. The exception to that rule is my love for most kinds of Asian food. The down side to living in a more rural area is that there are not as many restaurants - no Indian places, and there is one good Chinese place but it's not all that convenient. So, I'm learning to cook the things I like myself.

One limitation, as I mentioned, is time. The kids all have lots of activities, most of which take place in the late afternoon, so I'm not often home during my normal dinner preparation time.

Enter my trusty crock pot! Todd's parents very kindly gave me a new slow cooker for Christmas, and I love it. I've already used it for salsa chicken and it did a great job. Today, I decided to try a recipe from Slow Cooker Revolution from America's Test Kitchen. My friend Mary recommended this book to me, and I'm trying to add in a recipe from this book now and again.

Tonight's experiment was Thai-Style Chicken Soup. Here is the recipe:

2 onions, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used regular)
2 (14 oz.) cans coconut milk
2 stalks lemon grass, bottom 5 inches only, bruised
2 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick (I actually had big carrots this time, but normally I would just throw in a handful of baby carrots)
3 Tbsp fish sauce
10 cilantro stems, tied together with twine (had no twine, it wasn't hard to fish them out)
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed (I had chicken breasts)
8 oz white mushrooms, trimmed or sliced thin
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice from 2 limes (I had reconstituted)
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp Thai red curry paste

Garnishes (I didn't have these, but you might like them, so here you go)
1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves
2 fresh Thai, serrano, or jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin
Lime wedges, for serving

1. Microwave onions, garlic, ginger, and oil in a bowl, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir broth, 1 can coconut milk, lemon grass, carrots, 1 Tbsp fish sauce, and cilantro stems into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt & pepper and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

3. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces. Let soup settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. Discard lemon grass and cilantro stems.

4. Stir in mushrooms, cover, and cook on high until mushrooms are tender, 5 to 15 minutes. Microwave remaining can of coconut milk in bowl until hot, about 3 minutes, then whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and curry paste to dissolve.

5. Stir hot coconut milk mixture and shredded chicken into soup and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with garnishes.

I liked this soup! I am excited to taste it again tomorrow, because soup is always better on the second day, don't you know. It has a nice, fresh coconut flavor, which I appreciated, but I know my husband didn't care for it as much. He's also not a fan of mushrooms, so I made sure I didn't get any in his bowl. The kids all ate it without complaining, so that was good. It didn't seem to be a terribly hearty soup, which makes me wonder if I didn't have quite enough chicken. Also, more carrots would have been fine.

This is not a "throw everything in and walk away" slow cooker recipe. It was great for a lazy Saturday, since we weren't going anywhere and I was home to do the extra steps. This is not one that I will probably do during the week. 

It was fun shopping for this recipe. I got to go to the local Asian market, which I love to do. I had never seen lemon grass before, nor had I ever purchased fish sauce. If you've never used fish sauce, and you're considering this recipe, I will warn you that it doesn't smell very nice. Also, the mushrooms took quite a bit longer to soften up - more like 25 minutes. I got pre-sliced ones, so that may have been why. Also, because I didn't use low-sodium chicken broth, I found that I didn't need to add extra salt when I served it.

If you try this, you will have to let me know how you like it!