Seven Quick Takes: not quite back-to-school

ONE: Are your friends/family sending you lots of first day of school photos? We have been getting them, and the traffic patterns around the neighborhood have definitely changed. I rode my bike to the clinic this week, and the traffic to the campus (it hosts both a middle and a high school) was backed up a full mile. Two cars almost hit me as they crossed the bike lane to get to the drop off lane. Everyone is a little out of practice.

We don’t start school again until next week. Jonah will head back for his senior year of college (!) and we’ll do a family road trip (first one in 3 years, since the Year of too Many Road Trips) to take Owen to college next month. I’m elbow-deep in school prep.

TWO: We went back to the beach this month, for the first time in years. It was wonderful. Sam didn’t open his computer all week. I barely cooked at all (remember this gem from the Onion?) and came back refreshed to try some new recipes. Which is good, because it’s peach and tomato season.

Last beach trip:

This beach trip:

THREE: Peach season! I think the easiest way to preserve peaches is to wash them, slice them in half, remove the pits and freeze them like this on a tray. Then, once frozen, they are easy to pop into bags. I like them in halves for lots of recipes, but for smoothies I will often quarter them. I don’t take the skins off. They add fiber and make everything pretty.

For lunch today, I’m planning to make this Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad from Half-Baked Harvest. Our herb garden is in its prime, and I have lots of fresh herbs to go with all the heirloom tomatoes and peaches.

Also, I’m planning to make this Peach Salsa from Natasha’s Kitchen. And Peach Upside Down Cake from Taste of Home.

FOUR: This is the time of year that we rearrange desks. Our rule is that kids can’t have screens (phones, computers, TVs, DSes, etc.) in their bedrooms. This requires lots of desks on our main floor, and we shuffled people around and cleaned spaces up.



FIVE: This year, I’m going back to using BraveWriter‘s Arrow curriculum for my eighth grader. It’s a literature-based writing curriculum that has everything I need (grammar, mechanics, good books, great discussion questions.) They choose great books, and it’s flexible enough to adjust it for each student’s unique needs.

SIX: Turns out I don’t have seven takes today. But I have this awesome photo of the beach to leave with you. Happy end of summer, friends. May there be fresh peaches and tomatoes in your day.

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

7QT: Instead of the news

One: It’s been hard to write this year. There is so much terrible news, and all of it is much more important than anything I have to say about school or local food. When I finally get over it to write something and schedule it to post automatically Monday morning, something terrible happens (looking at you, white supremacists who overran Charlottesville, and nutcase in Barcelona) and then my response appears to be some links about the upcoming eclipse.  There are many thoughtful, wise responses to the state of our nation and world.  I’m sorry that you won’t find them here.  Read them first, and then when you can’t take reality any more, you can pick up some sheet cake and come back here to read about something less distressing.

Two: Welcome back. While you were gone, I’ve been organizing our books.  Every year I  pull out the ones I want to have handy to assign for school.  I’ve been putting it off this summer because… well, see #1 above.  (It’s not just writing that’s been hard.)  But school starts on Monday, and I’m running out of time. I began yesterday by going through all the shelves and pulling out the books I need. Now I have to make room for them in a convenient spot, which involves moving those books somewhere else.  Anyway, it quickly became overwhelming.





Three: So instead of finishing the task, I moved on to the abundance in the kitchen.  It’s August, which means melons and corn and tomatoes and peaches. Hallelujah. A God who made the peach is Someone I can get behind.


I used to spend a hot, August afternoon sweating over the canner with these beauties. No more. Now I wash them, slice them in half to remove the pit, and freeze them on parchment paper. (The peaches, not the pits.) It takes about 10 minutes and involves no heat. Then, when the peaches are frozen, I throw them in bags.  In the winter they are perfect for the cobblers and smoothies that are the antidote to the February blues.

Four: While I’ve been working hard (or running to escape the news), the children are struggling with boredom. Poor things. I feel so sorry for them.

Five: Phoebe has taken to writing a newspaper.  I was nervous about this at first, until her first two articles were Tips about the Eclipse and Tips for Going Back to School. A girl after my own heart.

Six: Moriah has been coping by baking. Alas, that enables my coping by eating. After days of double chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars and flourless chocolate cake (she has been limited only by the egg production of our hens), I begged her please to make something that could count as lunch.  “Here,” I said, “use all these gorgeous tomatoes to make some sauce.”




Seven: Teenage boredom for the win. Now if I could only talk her into helping me with the books…

When you can’t take the real news any more, check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

We have cabinets!

Sam went by the house last night and confirmed that the cabinets were going in.  The cabinets have been the hold-up for almost a month.  Now that they are in, we can move on to sinks, toilets, appliances, and carpet (and 50 other things I can’t even remember.)


Look at all that sunshine… in the dead of winter.  Hooray!

No pantry in sight, though.  Where am I going to put food for four hungry children?  The kitchen was advertised as  a “chef’s kitchen” (some fancy upgrade) but most chefs I know actually keep ingredients in the kitchen. Once again, we see hype failing in the face of reality.


It’s four weeks  three weeks and five days but who’s counting?

Not me.

Rest Time

It’s “Rest Time.”  At our house, that generally means the children skip off gaily to their rooms so I can “rest” (or clean the kitchen and pin things on Pinterest I really have every intention of trying but never get around to, like exercise).


Anyhow, it’s official.  Our house is on the market.  I have a hard time articulating not just the stunning fact of it after nearly having a break down the last time we sold our house, but it’s only been two hours and so far I’m feeling okay about it.  I’m okay until I think of moving away from our neighbors and the appalling necessity of keeping the house clean when some of my children do nothing but move from room to room, leaving a national disaster area behind them in each room.


I was banking on my neighbor’s cleaning lady’s applying herself to the scum on my cupboards, but she got a different job and (gasp!) wasn’t swayed by my invitation, as appealing as it must have been.  So I called a chain cleaner, begged for clean cupboards, and welcomed two smiling women who showed up at my door this morning with buckets full of supplies.  I reiterated my priorities: cupboard, cupboards, cupboards, the rest of the kitchen, and the bathrooms (in that order).  We did school (that’s my real job, right?) and I tried not to cringe thinking of these two young women scrubbing my mess.  Two hours later, they were “done” and the cupboard above my stove was still disgustingly sticky and crusted with dust and grease (don’t judge me, please).  The front of the microwave was clean, but the whole underside was still utterly disgusting (remember, you said you weren’t going to judge me).  I pointed the greasy cupboards out to them, and they worked another 15 minutes before I let them leave.  They hung around a bit, probably waiting for a tip, but I couldn’t bring myself to tip them when they really had done a poor job.


So anyway, here I am at rest time, writing you and smelling the burning off of all noxious waste inside my oven.  SweetP has been down twice to ask for “very sticky tape” so she can make Julie an umbrella.  I am a little afraid to see where else the very sticky tape will end up, but tape is one of the great babysitters in the western world.  It’s right up there with teenage neighbors and shaving cream, so I’m going to take a nap and deal with it later.

I should have been a plumber

Okay, the title of this post is a little crass and self-satisfied.  But here’s what happened:

Our kitchen faucet stopped working.  For awhile (which could be as long as a year but who’s counting) the faucet has been finicky.  It would drip if you didn’t have it shut off just so.  I can work with that: I’m touchy myself sometimes.  But then one day it wouldn’t swivel laterally back and forth between the two sides of the sink any more.  And then a week later, the handle fell off into the sink.

Whoops.  Maybe I should have taken the first signs as signals to fix it before something bad happened.

I tried without success to reattach the handle.  It would stay, but then when you tried to use it, the handle fell into the sink with a loud crash.  On further examination, I realized the stick (which comes out of the ball and onto which the handle attaches) was snapped in half.  Aha!  I called Delta, and they mailed me the new part for free.  Meanwhile, the faucet handle was falling into the sink with a crash every 4.2 seconds.

The parts arrived; I called our usual plumbing company.  They sent out a technician I’d never met before.  He was young.  Like, maybe twelve.  After ten minutes of looking at the faucet, he declared it couldn’t be repaired and that I needed a new faucet.

But I have the parts sitting right there on the counter! I wanted to cry.  Nope, he said.  It’s done.  He had no idea why it wouldn’t swivel anymore, but it was dead.  Could not be resuscitated.  He could install a new faucet for me for only $750.  (Well, $698-824, depending on which model.)

Thanks for coming, I said.  I paid him for the service call and got him out of the house before he could see the steam coming out my ears.

What happened to fixing things?  I have noticed this trend in many areas.  Everything is cheaper to replace than to repair.  But that’s why the landfills are overflowing.  They’ve told me the same thing with my watch, a TV, a vacuum, a computer, shoes, a car…

Obviously, I had no confidence I could fix it myself, or I wouldn’t have called the plumber in the first place.  But I couldn’t do worse that he had.  If I couldn’t fix it, I’d just get a new faucet, right?  I pulled out the home repairs book and opened it to the faucet page.  I opened the little packages that Delta had sent us and tried to match up the pieces.

I have to say it was a good 12-15 tries before I had the water coming out the actual faucet and not from the joint of the handle.   But once I scraped off [what I think was] the old, disintegrated O-ring and replaced it with the new one, the faucet even starting swiveling again.  Almost like new.  Like a newly repaired faucet.  One that doesn’t have to go to the landfill yet.

Anyone need a drink of water?

P.S. The plumbing company is sending me a refund.

Advent, Week 2

We’ve been continuing with school, and adding in a few Christmas/Advent read-alouds: Geraldine McCraughrean’s The Jesse Tree, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, A Christmas Carol (Jim Dale’s wonderful reading on CD), Christmas in the Barn, King of the Stable, and King Island Christmas. I’m still waiting for a few more I found at Better World Books.  (And thanks to Elizabeth Foss for the picture book recommendations.)


Peppermint Bark happened. The children are very motivated to help when they get the crumbs at the end.  (I am including links to everything today, lest you are mislead to thinking I have any original ideas.)


I picked up Dorothy Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday (the sequel to Gaudy Night, so you know it was dangerous for me). Somehow we managed still to get school done.

And our homeschool group carolled at nursing home near us. Joy to the World.  No more let sin or sorrow reign. Amen.


Now I’m trying to figue out how to share with my children what happened in Connecticut.

I’ll leave you with my favorite prayer from the Book of Common Prayer.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. 
Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Applesauce Tutorial

It’s November… applesauce time.  Evie asked me how I make my applesauce.  It’s sort of a moving target, but here is this year’s version.


I like to use a combination of apples. This year, Fujis and Braeburns were in season, so I used a box of each. (Two 20 lb boxes yielded 2 deep dish pies, 6 small tarts and 10 quarts of apple sauce.)

I love the red pot and my friend Jerusha’s red apple painting together.

Start by washing your apples. Put your jars in the dishwasher, or wash them in hot, soapy water and keep them in hot water in the sink. I have tried so many nifty apple peeler-corer-slicers and am always disappointed. This year I peeled them by hand and then let the kids use the apple cutter to core them.


I keep the slices in water until I have a bowlful just so they don’t turn brown. Sprinkling them with FruitFresh will do the same thing for a higher price. When you have one big bowlful, add 1 inch of water to your pot and add the apples. Then turn on high and cover. Keep an eye on it and stir it frequently so it doesn’t burn. Then you can start on the second pot of apples.


Once they’re boiling, they will cook down fairly quickly. Keep stirring, uncovered now, and keep an eye on them. When I can mush them with the back of a spoon, I put them through my food mill (seen below).


Before I start putting them through the food mill, I boil my (never before used) lids and (previously used many time) bands in boiling water. They’re in the smaller pot in the back. Also, notice by wide-mouthed funnel (red, to the right). This has become my favorite canning tool, the one I would replace immediately if it disappeared. It allows me to fill my jars without burning my hands or making a big mess. Love it.


Once I have a whole pot of mushed apples, I pull my hot jars out of the dishwasher to fill them. I leave a centimeter of room, put on the lid and tighten it just till it’s fast. Then I invert the jar. Please don’t take my word for your food’s safety: follow the Ball manual or the guidelines in Putting Food By. But I have only ever had one bad batch, and I know it was because I didn’t keep the apples boiling while I waited to fill my jars. And I knew it right away because the lids popped off. No one died, but botulism is a serious disease, so don’t take chances.


After 5 minutes (or when I remember) I turn my jars right side up. Usually the lids “pop” down right away, much quicker than my jam does. I leave them on the counter for a day (or until I’m tired of looking at them). And then I try to keep my kids from eating all my applesauce before I’ve actually put them away.



Ever have one of those days?  So do I.  My “day” was really two days, beginning with the trip to the dentist in which I discovered I was the WorstMotherEver.  Or at least, winner of the Award for the Mother of the Children with the Worst Oral Heath Ever.  That’s what I get for telling myself, “Brushing their teeth is a life skill, and I really need to give them more independence in this area.”  Not so much.  And then I stepped on M’s glasses.  Oops.

I wonder how much of my funk comes from the icky residue of the one hundred conversations I’ve had with the kids this week proposing situations in which some stranger tries to lure them with candy and they are supposed to run away screaming, “THIS IS NOT MY MOM!” at the top of their lungs.

The second day, I got up to find that 3 school lunches had sat on the counter all night, rendering all the cheese and turkey and yogurt incompatible with [human] life and had to be thrown away.  I was in such a hurry to get Sam to the airport that we broke two glasses– shattered on the kitchen floor– and I was so hoarse that my “NOBODY MOVE!” (which normally causes all the children to run around like crazy people asking what’s wrong) was too quiet, and one child walked right onto the glass.  I threw hard-boiled eggs and more yogurt and tortillas and second apples into the lunches.  We dropped the children at my friend’s house for carpool, and we hauled our sorry selves to the airport.

When SweetP and I came home, there were dishes everywhere, which I couldn’t wash because the sink was full and the dishwasher was still full and the child whose job it was to empty and get the ball rolling was away at his once-a-week school.  Laundry piling up. I borrowed my neighbor’s preschooler (SweetP’s BFF) so I wouldn’t have to feel bad about not playing with her and contemplated the state of my home.  My first question was what the sticky stuff on the counter was.  Top possibilities were 1) pediatric mouthwash from the dental-goodies bag, or 2) some kind of sap that leaked out of the nature sample SweetP picked up last night at the park and left on the counter so we could Cherish Nature.

Anyway, while I was in the midst of this, I read my blogroll, and Auntie Leila had the very post I needed.  And then my friend Elizabeth shared this post she wrote… anyway, I was encouraged enough to step away from the computer and wipe away the mystery substance on the counter.  It was start, at least.

At last I made it to school to pick the children up.  The principal gave me an odd smile as I walked in.  I got J first, who told me, “Mommy, I am so hungry because the egg you packed me was rotten.”  He cracked it open, and forty innocent homeschoolers flew, retching, to the trash cans.  Principal’s odd smile now explained.

But when I dropped her children off, my friend said, “Could you take these baguettes home and eat them?”  A bad day was salvaged by French bread dipped in olive oil.  And now whenever I’m feeling like Safety Mom and want to remind my children what natural gas smells like, I can just say, “Remember the lunches I packed you that day?”

Baby Steps on School Planning

Isn’t this guy awesome?  Look how his little leg pouches are totally full of pollen.  (Probably if I had allergies I wouldn’t appreciate this photo quite so much.)  I’m still learning how to use my new camera, and I found trying to get this shot in focus was hard, between my trembling hand and the wind moving the sunflower.

I’m starting to think concretely about school for this fall.  I think I’ve already bought most of what we need– I have our math (Singapore primary and NEM), our history (Genevieve Foster’s The World of William Penn and The World of George Washington), our writing (Classical Composition from Memoria Press), and a lot of our literature– already on the shelves.  I have a list of a few more titles I’d like to find used.

I’ve written out the actual expectations for what “a clean _______” looks like in hopes that it will minimize the number of times we have this conversation:

Me: Why are there dirty socks all over the floor?

Kid: Are there?

Me: Look down.

Kid: [looking down, apparently for the first time] Oh.  I didn’t know I was supposed to get the socks off the floor.

Now the expectations clearly state, “Put all dirty socks in the laundry basket.”  It may shift to, “But I don’t WANT to touch the dirty socks!” but at least they won’t be able to say they didn’t know they were supposed to clean them up.  I still want to revisit when we do our given chores, and I haven’t decided how frequently we’ll rotate.  Each child doing their certain chores for a month has worked well for us, so that they have a chance to work toward mastery before we switch… and it eliminates the protests from an interruption in the routine shortening one person’s turn at a dreaded chore, since they all think a month is way too long for ANY chore.

I’d still like to make a sewing area at the top of the stairs– my friend Ruth suggested it when I said I wanted a small space (so it wouldn’t spread everywhere) that wasn’t in my bedroom.  We have a small shelf atop some built-in cupboards, and I think it will be just right (or at least better than any other option we’ve tried) for making a sewing nook that is accessible to the kids.

Also, I’d like to find different baskets for our daily work.  And I need to make a specific plan for SweetP’s projects, so I’m not scrambling by Thursday wondering what I should set out for her for the day.  I’d like to have 2-3 activities planned for her each day in different combinations of content (like specific books to read, or a cooking project) plus skill (like cutting with scissors, or lengthening her attention span).   Any predictions on how long my grand preschool plan will last?  Two weeks?  A month?

What are you changing up for the fall?

Making Meals Ahead

Sometimes I feel like I can’t be as helpful to others as if I were more mobile.  For example, it would be great to go clean the house of someone who just had a baby.  But really, bringing my four kids into a house with a newborn would be terribly germy and dangerous.  But I can make meals to share.  And when I was a new mom, the meals others brought us were such a blessing.  But what to bring?

I think my favorite meal was a roast pork tenderloin with new potatoes and green beans… but I can’t quite whip that up and deliver it at 10 am.  So instead, we like to bring:

Mini pizzas. 

I precook the crust for 7-8 minutes before I put on sauce and toppings.  (The precooking keeps it from getting all soggy.)  Then they can cook them at 375 until the cheese bubbles.

Creamy chicken enchiladas.  (Any enchiladas, really.)  My friend Lori is so smart: she lines her pan with foil and then freezes them, and then she can just hand over the frozen foil-wrapped enchiladas and keep her pan.  Brilliant.

Breakfast Burritos.  These are great, because you can freeze some for yourself, too.  Any breakfast food, really.  When SweetP was born, my friend Lori brought me cinnamon rolls and a breakfast casserole.  I ate it for days, for every meal.  Yum.

Cookie dough, frozen in balls.  Or individually wrapped muffins.

What are your favorite dishes to share?