Friday, January 27, 2012

baking success

A few weeks ago I read a novel called Friendship Bread. While the story was entertaining, the recipe at the back of the book that the story was premised on sounded intriguing so I xeroxed the recipe and started my own batch of sourdough. After 10 days, I mixed up a batch for pancakes and found that they didn't have enough "lift" to be able to get a spatula under. I threw the whole mess away after a very long cleanup of my kitchen. 

This morning I gave another recipe a try, a No-Knead Artisan Bread that has people raving. I copied an article about it in Mother Earth News in 2009 and decided to finally give it a try. With public and private school cancelled for the day, I let the kids sleep in (Will slept until 10am) and with the only noise being the sleet rattling on the windows, mixed up the simple dough. After a 2 hour rise, I shaped a small round loaf, let it sit for an hour on the pizza peel, and slid it into the oven. The result was a small perfect loaf of bread that looked like it came from a fancy bakery. It was gone in a matter of minutes after I cut off a slice and we made another loaf, which disappeared just as quickly as the first. It seems I have found the perfect bread, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside. The master recipe seems to be only the tip of the iceberg so I will be checking this one out from the local library and seeing if I can even make perfect pancakes with it as well. 

3 cups warm water
1 1/2 TBL yeast
1 1/2 TBL salt
6 1/2 cups flour

Pour warm water into a large bowl, add yeast and salt, then mix in the flour all at once until it is uniformly moist. Cover loosely and let rise for 2 hours. Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel and sprinkle the dough with flour, pull off a grapefruit size piece. Gently stretch the dough around to form a round ball and place on the peel, leaving it to rest for an hour. Preheat the oven to 450 F for 20 minutes with a pizza stone on the center rack and put a pan on the bottom rack to hold water. Slash the top of the dough with a very sharp knife. Slide the bread dough onto the stone and pour 1 cup of boiling water in the pan below. Quickly shut the oven door and bake for 30 minutes or until the bread is brown and sounds hollow when you thump on it. Allow to cool before slicing. Refrigerate the rest of the dough covered for up to 2 weeks. 

I'm just about to go into the kitchen to attempt to make pizza with this dough, which I usually make in the bread machine and tomorrow am going to try my hand at sticky caramel rolls.    

(update: for pictures of my pizza, bread, and cinnamon rolls: baking success #2)

upside down prayers

Every evening before bed we all kneel in a semi-circle before a small crucifix and pray for a quiet night, ask each of our patron saints to pray for us and say the Our father, the Hail Mary, and the St. Michael prayer. We used to recite many more prayers, but with the little ones flopping about and two exhausted parents, eager to get children in bed, we have pared our family prayers down to the basics for the time being. Julia Ellen wanders about, first sitting on my lap with her little hands folded just so, with thumbs crossed, and perhaps taking a breather on Will's lap, before clambering up on the big blue armchair, where she flips herself upside down and positions her hands again in prayer. I have learned to close my eyes at this point so I don't start a contagious giggle fit. 

Yesterday while waiting for Mary to emerge from her elementary school gym class, I was flipping the radio back and forth between Glen Beck and EWTN. The Catholic station had just started praying the luminous mysteries of the Rosary, so I flipped it back to Beck, but Julia Ellen piped up from the backseat, "Hail Mary, Amen. Hail Mary!" so I quickly switched stations and we spent the next 10 minutes listening and praying along with the radio. Julia Ellen might not assume the most pious pose when we pray, but she does recognize the words and obviously loves praying and going to Mass.      

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reason #897 to homeschool

 The federal government is quietly collecting massive amounts of personal information on all children, starting at age 5. Over time, the files available on each US citizen will be able to be used in Orwellian ways we can't even begin to imagine. 

Privacy experts say the problem is that states collect far more information than parents expect, and it can be shared with more than just a student’s teacher or principal.“When you have a system that’s secret [from parents] and you can put whatever you want into it, you can have things going in that’ll be very damaging,” says Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “When you put something into digital form, you can’t control where that’ll end up.”
According to a 2009 report by the Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy, some states store student’s social security numbers, family financial information, and student pregnancy data. Nearly half of states track students’ mental health issues, illnesses, and jail sentences.Without access to their child’s data, parents have no way of knowing what teachers and others are learning about them. US News

My favorite comment:

Just like the old Soviet state schools. They're coming to your neighborhood too. Data collection, personal information on the parents and family members. YOU can't see what they put in there, can you? GESTAPO sounds pretty familiar too. Revolt people. Don't furnish information, give the wrong SSN, and make sure you kid tells you what the teachers are asking them. Raise hell with your school board and get in their faces. Make them squirm and sweat. 

There is more. The College Board is experimenting with requiring digital DNA ID cards for students taking the SATs. (But somehow it is discriminatory to ask for a photo ID to vote)

It begins with mandatory pre-registering at a student’s home school with official legal ID documents only.
“All of that is uploaded to an I.T. system of wireless connections called the ‘CLOUD,’” Dr. Hayward said.

The student’s unique digital DNA code is created and assigned to an ID card with covert authentication marks printed onto it. Proctors can verify instantly with a simple UV light and smart phone scan.

“Now you can compare the image on the phone with the image on the ID card, and the image of the student,” Dr. Hayward said. CBS

Does this remind anyone else of the rumblings of a totalitarian state? My favorite comment:

Since they are now wanting to collect student academic data in a permanent record maybe they can just compare what they think a student’s score should be to what the results are and then surmise that a student was someone else! In fact, why have an SAT at all? Just tell every student what they can do with their life and what they will achieve like in the Soviet Union. Obama and his minions need to go before we are all treated like caged animals. Life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not DNA identification, strip searches on planes, etc. This country has gone to the dogs – and taxpayers are forced to subsidize these dogs who receive generous Federal benefits. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

things I've learned this winter...

1. If the snowplow truck is coming, quickly run to the other side of the road.  (luckily I didn't have to learn this one the hard way)

2. Stacking wood is much easier in September than in December when you have to kick the pieces because they are frozen to the ground or in January when they are hidden under a layer of snow.

3. Your body can't differentiate any temperature under 0 F.

4.  Even "real Mainers" get excited when the daylight lasts until 5pm, as opposed to dusk at 3:30pm in late December.

5. Maine really does look like the cover of the LL Bean catalogue, the trees all beautifully flocked with snow, the ice fishermen in their little huts, the skiers in their adorable hats. Swooshing through the woods on my cross country skis, with the snow gently falling I feel like the cameraman is just behind a tree ready to put me in an advertisement. 

6. Wool mittens keep your hands warmer than fancy gloves. 

7. The basement is going to be 60F no matter how much oil you use trying to heat it so you might as well bring all the schoolbooks to the living room and work on the floor in front of the wood stove. 

8. The best way to feel warm is to eat hot soup, drink hot cocoa, and read aloud books about really cold winters, such as Julie and the Wolves or The Long Winter.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I never got a push present...

despite delivering 6 children, some completely without drugs, but I am "pushing" for a pair of .25 to .50 ct. sapphire earrings if I don't get into an accident between now and Spring. This being my first winter driving in the snow and ice, with no 4-wheel drive, I have hinted enough that I deserve some sort of prize if I make it to May without running off the road. 

The other morning I almost lost my sparklies when a yahoo in a big truck came racing up behind me, but the joke ended up on him when he gunned his engine and almost slid right off the hill. Slow and careful, that's my plan for the next 10 weeks so I can collect. 

Weather forecast: another 4-6 inches starting tonight. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I think I broke my tailbone

It was my own fault and now I have to buy a new sled to boot. 

All afternoon yesterday I took turns taking little children down the toboggan and one of the plastic sleds while racing the others down our very long downward sloping backyard. The intermittent rain made a thick crust of ice over the snow, adding more speed to each run. Everything went well until I got the brilliant idea of building a little mogul so we could catch some air. Timmy and I went racing down the hill, and on the third try hit the bump head on. We both went flying, Timmy landing on the soft snow and my fanny coming down firmly on the front of the sled. My impact extended a small crack halfway down its length. I still hurt this morning and now have to shop for a couple of new boards at Walmart. Will and Mary instructed me on which style to purchase, but I'm afraid if they go down any faster then they will go right into the woods and hit a tree. No, sledding might not be the smartest or most dignified thing for a mommy to do, but it is certainly more fun than washing dishes or vacuuming.    

Friday, January 13, 2012

snowed in

Yesterday we experienced a rather small blizzard and everyone stayed nice and cozy inside around the woodstove as the wind blew in from the north. The kids attempted to sled down the hill, but gave up after 20 minutes, the snow just blew down their collars and up their noses. I went out in my parka with fur edges (thank you Melinda for the useful hand-me-down!) and shoveled 1/3 of the driveway by hand so Tim could pull into the driveway after work. I doubt I would have finished before it got dark (4:30pm), but thankfully, the lady next door who was snowblowing her driveway came over and completed ours. We certainly are going to drop off some fresh baked lemon bars and ginger cookies today as a thank you. We have a snowblower attached to our lawn tractor, but I haven't got a clue as to how to work either machine so the handy snowshovel is the only way I can clear snow. A snowblower can't be any more difficult to figure out than a huge tractor, but learning to drive and mow on a beautiful sunny day in June is far different than learning to manipulate the blower direction in the blinding snow at 20F. 

Due to the kid's public school classes being cancelled we started the day off very leisurely, I didn't even know that Will was still home until 9:30am.  All the children finished their schoolwork, including Will, since we just pretended he was still being homeschooled. The rest of the day we watched movies, visited with the neighbors, read books, and played on the computer. Today will likely be much of the same, sans Will, but at some point I will bundle them all up and send them outside to sled and build forts. 

Almost all their schoolwork is already completed, lately they have started wanting to do their work "early" by sitting down in the evening and finishing page upon page of phonics, math, and spelling. It does make a rather long day for me since yesterday morning they did school and then last night were at it again to complete today's assignments. But I'm not going to complain since I didn't have to track down a single child to stay on task. It certainly is freeing to know that besides a few subjects, all we have to complete today is practicing the piano, leaving the whole day open to bake, clean, snuggle near the warm woodstove, and gaze upon the winter wonderland outside. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

quilting again

After at least a 12 month hiatus, I set up a little sewing area in the schoolroom downstairs and Tim has almost finished putting together my quilt frame. I have several tops that need to be quilted, but the project I'm working on now is a t shirt quilt for another homeschooling mom's son. I made one for her older son a few years back, but have really enjoyed putting this top together. Susan sent along some lovely baseball fabric, enough for the sashing and outer border (and I mean just enough). 

Perhaps I can solicit other orders in our area, there must be dozens of greeks and jocks at the local college with dresser drawers overflowing with t shirts that they would like made into a memento of collegiate days. It is so exciting to open the box of shirts and contemplate different layouts, which leads to the nervousness of them cutting apart (after all, you can't put them back together), and gradually progressing to a neatly finished top. Next I will piece the backing and roll each part onto the frame and slowly quilt it all together. A contrasting binding and a small label on the back will result in folding the completed project into a box and mailing it back to the sender. It must seem almost miraculous from the other end, sending a box of old shirts and receiving a warm colorful bed covering with memories from past years gracing the cover. I'm happy to be quilting again, especially with enough room to spread a project out on the floor to admire my efforts.     

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Will's first week

After a week of waiting outside in the van to drive Will home, helping him a tiny bit with his homework, buying yet more school supplies, and reminding him about 10 times every evening that just because he started private school doesn't mean he can stop playing the piano, I have to say that we are doing/have done a more than adequate job homeschooling our children. The rest of the year in pre-algebra should be easy since it all seems to be a review of what we have covered so far this year, the teachers have been very impressed by his work ethic, and he proudly boasted at having the largest necktie collection in the 7th grade (his new tie featuring the planets was a big hit with the science teacher). 

 Will's first ever "first day of school" picture

Will's "away" school attendance has been a major change for everyone in the family and there is a touch of jealousy for his being around other kids, getting special foods for lunch, and the attention he receives at dinner (after all, I know what everyone else did all day). Tim has to leave earlier for work to drop him off and I have to take an hour out of every afternoon to pick him up. But the main purpose of this endeavor, keeping Mommy sane, is being accomplished. My mornings are spent more pleasantly than they have in years and some days the other 4 children are finished with their work by 11am. 

I have to say that our homeschooling curriculum is much, much more rigorous and authentically Catholic than the top-notch school he is now attending, which is why we are still supplementing his courses at home and of course still homeschooling all the younger children. Do I feel guilty for putting him in school? Maybe a little, but every family has to reevaluate the academic choices that best work for each year and each child. Parents constantly have to say no to opportunities due to lack of time, interest, or energy. Every kid can't be simultaneously involved in the arts, music, academics, sports, Scouts, volunteering in the community, field trips, home economics, trades, and the hundreds of other options available to school age children. 

Homeschooling Will has been a wonderful experience, a heady challenge, and a daily search for the truth. Whatever his future academic career might include, I do not regret for one moment the 8 and 1/2 years of homeschooling my boy.        

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

(almost) wordless Wednesday

My bet is that this guy who lives in our town would likely be voting for Rick Santorum over Barack Obama...

Also check out the totally awesome 6th anniversary edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling.

Monday, January 02, 2012

tutor your own child, who would've thought?

One of the books I recently checked out from the library is titled How to Tutor Your Own Child, by Marina Ruben, a tutor at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at how homeschool-friendly the author seems to be, after all, homeschooling is simply tutoring in a classic sense. The authors covers organization of materials and time, effective methods of instruction, what parents can learn from homeschooling methods such as lapbooking and Susan Wise Bauer's cycle of instruction, mnemonics, putting information in front of children via Frank Gilbreth's painting Morse code on the ceiling a la Cheaper By the Dozen, using new technology, and the ethics of helping vs doing the child's work for them. Despite the liberal slant (promoting NPR as "high quality news"), this book gives many ideas to both public school, private school, and homeschooling parents. 

I was tickled to find so many of the things we do as part of our daily lives, such as reading aloud, making time lines, going on field trips, having multiple library cards (we have cards to 5 libraries in Maine) mentioned as ways to boost grades and inspire learning. That said, I was instantly inspired to pick up some new laminated placemats for the kids featuring maps, money, and a diagram of the solar system (actually I have been meaning to get new ones to replace our damaged ones, but serendipitously happened to find some at Goodwill on Saturday). In addition, we have spent this past week of vacation reading aloud several big kid books (the little ones are already read to every night), including Julie and the Wolves, The Incredible Journey, and by Maggie's insistence, The BFG

Most homeschoolers are familiar with many of the methods and ideas presented in this book, but if you happen to see it on the library shelves, pick it up for a little boost of inspiration for yourself.