Tuesday, 31 August 2010

This Week's Tuesday Folder

What other use is there for a bowl with a straw?

Wow!   Busy week and we aren't even on the back-to-school merry-go-round as is everyone around us!
I made tremendous progress this week toward better organization in my home.   More clutter is gone!   We were also able to give friends a piece of furniture from my parents' house.    I am so happy that it did not end up with strangers.   We already have so many pieces of my parents' furniture that we treasure.  I think we'll be able to park the car in the garage again in a week or two!

Saturday, I received a high compliment.   As I was showing a friend around our home and telling stories about pieces that belonged to Mama, she said, "I wish I could have met your mom."   Then, she turned to look at me, and said, "but I know you, so I guess I have met your mom."   Thanks, Megan.   

I have an azalea plant!   I grew up with huge, old-fashioned azalea bushes on our farm.   Spring and Easter were marked by their regal blooms.   Here, I cannot grow azaleas in the ground because the combination of our soil and water burns the plant.   A few days ago, our friend and E's godmother, Nancy, showed up at our door with a gorgeous dwarf lilac-colored Encore azalea.   Ah, a little touch of the deep south right at my front door!

My laptop is my connection to the outside world and it's not faring well, I'm afraid.   It's only two years old, but it's also the family computer, so it's gone through some hard use.   Here are some pics of the lengths to which I go just to stay connected!
The power cord has to be propped up in order to maintain contact.

 We closed on my parents' Texas house and we've accepted an offer on the Louisiana farm.   What a blessing that this was not a long, drawn-out process.   It will be much better for our family when we only have our own home to look after.

T has added new words to his vocabulary: bird, shoe, stop (yes, that would be exclusively for use with C).   I'm impressed with how distinctly he pronounces them.   I guess that's due to the example of older siblings!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Tuna Casserole & Lemon Jello Salad

This was one of my mom's favorite meals to serve for company because it was easy to assemble.   She wasn't Catholic, but many of my dad's associates were, so she liked to make this for them on Friday nights.    She worried about what Catholics could and couldn't eat because she didn't want anyone to feel uncomfortable or offended.  

There is something about both recipes being served together.   They're just better together!   Also, add my mama's homemade rolls for the complete effect.  

Tuna Casserole
2 cans tuna (preferably packed in oil), undrained
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 small cans chow mein noodles
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 cans cream of mushroom soup

Combine tuna, celery, green pepper, green onions, and noodles.   Heat milk and soup together and pour over other ingredients.   Toss lightly.   Place in ungreased 13x9 pan and bake 25 min. at 375.

Lemon Jello Salad
2 pkg. lemon jello salad
1 small can crushed pineapple
6 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 cup Cool Whip
1 cup mini marshmallows

Dissolve jello in 3 cups hot water (no cold water).   Heat pineapple and sugar until boiling for 1 minute.   Put in marshmallows.   Stir until marshmallows melt.   Set in refrigerator until about firm.   Fold in Cool Whip, nuts, and cheese.   Molds beautifully.   If using a Tupperware mold, you can "grease" it with mayo first for easy removal!

Cherry Yum-Yum

A friend of mine asked me to bring this to lunch this weekend.   It's one of my favorite easy dessert recipes and it was my mom's standard "company" dessert.   My dad ate a dessert like this when he was on a judging team trip and my mom searched until she found a recipe that tasted the same.   Look for the premium cherry pie filling that does not contain high fructose corn syrup for better flavor.

4 cups graham cracker crumbs (I prefer Great Value graham crackers to any other brand for crumb crusts)
2 sticks margarine or butter, melted
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 envelopes Dream Whip dessert topping mix (with the marshmallows and jello on the baking aisle)--there  are two envelopes in a box
1 cup half and half
2 cans cherry pie filling

Combine cracker crumbs and margarine.   Line 13 x 9 dish with half of this mixture; press firmly into place.  Do NOT bake. 

Blend cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth.

With a mixer, whip topping mix with half and half until peaks form.   Fold into cream cheese mixture.

Spread 1/2 of this mixture over cracker crumbs and top with both cans of pie filling.

Add remaining cream cheese mixture and spread over pie filling.   Top with remaining crumbs.

Refrigerate overnight.   Approx. 15 servings

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Recipe: Horseradish Meat Loaf

My first recipe post--and it's not a pie recipe!   This is well-liked, especially by children; I have shared it many times!   Don't let the horseradish scare you!

This is one of my favorite recipes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Southern Living's Homestyle Cooking.   It's a collection of S. L.- tested recipes from community cookbooks.   I've made a few additions and changes after making this many, many times!

2 lbs. ground beef (I prefer 1 lb. gr. turkey & 1 lb. gr. beef)
3/4 cup uncooked quick oaks
1 large onion, finely chopped (I like to chop the onion and bell pepper in the food processor)
1/2 cup bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish (not sauce)
1 1/2 tsp. salt (for extra flavor, use garlic salt for part of the salt)
1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 cup ketchup
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
2 tsp. spicy brown mustard

COMBINE first 9 ingredients in a large bowl; stir well.   Form mixture into a loaf and place in a 9 x 5 loaf pan.   I prefer to make mine free-form, on a greased baking sheet.

COMBINE 1/2 cup ketchup, br. sugar, 1 Tbsp. horseradish, and mustard in a small bowl, stirring well.   Spoon the sauce over the top of meat loaf.

BAKE, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 1 hour and 15-25 min.  Remove to a serving platter.   Yield: 8 servings

Finished product: tender, moist, with just a bit of crisp on the edges (end pieces are best) with a sauce that has just a slight bit of tang:

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A Heart for Teaching

 As long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher and a mommy.   When I was a child, I tried to teach our dog to read.   Any given afternoon, you could find me at my little chalkboard, with my dolls lined up in a row.   When friends came over, I was the teacher and even sent them home with homework.   I used to decorate my room like a classroom, including changing my door decor according to the the holidays or seasons.

Some of my high school teachers were disappointed in my decision to go into education.  I remember one who just shook his head, and walked away, saying, "What a waste."  While at college, several English professors tried to lure me to the English department, but I was steadfast in my decision to teach.   Upon graduation, my first teaching job was a dream job, particularly well-suited for a wide-eyed, idealistic first-year teacher.   I taught Exploratory Math at a middle school in south Louisiana.   In my interview, the principal described the job as follows: "This is a brand new class.   There is no other class like it in the state.   I want every seventh grader to take this class in addition to their regular math class.   I want it to be fun, I don't want them to feel like they're in math class, and I want to see test scores go up.   There will be no textbooks for this class.   You will have to design the curriculum and find the resources to teach it."   I nearly floated out of the office, I was so excited!   For three years, I had a blast designing & teaching a manipulative-based program from scratch.   Then, we moved so my husband could do graduate study.   I was fortunate to have great experiences here in middle and elementary school before I decided to stay at home after my first child was born.

Over the past six years, though, I lost my heart for teaching.   There were three pregnancies, deaths, ...lots of life happening all around us.   This summer, though, my heart for teaching returned and I am so happy.   I'm ready to teach again.  We  have decided that instead of sending our children off to school so that I can go to work and teach other children,  I will just teach my own.    Let me explain. We are supporters of public schools.   We are not homeschooling because we are anti-public school.   They are a vital part of our country and it is through them that the majority of children will pass.   It is necessary that good public schools be available to create an educated and responsible citizenry.  There are incredible teachers in this area who are using great materials to teach thorough state objectives.   My husband sees it as part of his personal mission to help all children have access to a good education.  

We have several primary reasons for choosing to educate our children at home.   First and foremost, we are Catholic and we desire that our children have a Catholic education which integrates the faith and Church history into all aspects of their curriculum.   Accomplishing this through homeschooling is simply the most cost-effective method for us to do that.

Secondary to our faith, we want our children to be taught at a slower pace in which concepts, especially those in mathematics are taught thoroughly with the goal of true understanding, not just memorization.  For example, in mathematics, my curriculum is manipulative-based and paper and pencil are used to share and describe learning, not as the means to learn.     One of the major problems with math instruction in the U.S. is that students don't really understand concepts, but instead, learn rules or algorithms to get answers to written problems.   That works for a while in elementary school, but as they move toward pre-algebra and algebra itself, their mathematical foundation is exposed as being one built on sand.    Posts concerning math instruction and curriculum design will be numerous on this blog as I am a total curriculum nerd!
We believe every parent should be able to choose the schooling which works best for each of their children.   At this point, homeschooling is our choice, but we do not know what tomorrow holds.   Our children seem well-suited for instruction at home, but that may change as they get older.    We can see them attending school when they are in high school so they can participate in extra-curricular activities.

So, for us, school will begin September 7.   I always wanted to start school after Labor day and now I can.   I am busy organizing the house and working on my curriculum.   I am designing my own based on the state's objectives, or the TEKS.  I am so excited about our first real year of home schooling and I am very happy to have my teacher's heart back!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Tuesday Folder

I've noticed other bloggers have posts which serve as summaries of their weeks.   I can see a need for that, as there are lots of things I want to post, but don't necessarily want to do a separate post for each.   So, I'm going to have the Tuesday Folder.   You see, when I taught elementary school, we sent students home with their weekly folders on Tuesdays.   That way, we had plenty of time to mark and record Friday's tests and the parents didn't have to deal with folders during the busy weekend.   So, here goes my first blog "Tuesday Folder."

Part of the Plan
I've joined a health club and have a personal trainer.   I'm doing individual sessions for a month so I can build a schedule and routine for fitness.   Since I am so motivated by thrift (sounds a little nicer than I'm cheap), I know I will be more faithful to my fitness routine in order to get my money's worth.  I need to have one-on-one guidance since I've had back surgery.   I don't think I'd qualify for any of the local boot camps.   It's been great so far and my trainer is great!

A New Old Kitchen
This summer, we've been sprucing up our kitchen.   It was an original 1964 kitchen, except for a newer stove and dishwasher.   It even had the original Formica gold-speckled countertops!    Most people would have walked into my kitchen and thought, "Gut it!,"   but I was delighted.   However, the countertops had started to peel and the seams were coming apart.   So, we've had some work done: new counter tops (with accents of my vintage green), new tile floors (in all wet areas in the house), new doors throughout the house, and a new tile back splash in the kitchen.   It all looks wonderful and is still in keeping with the age and style of the house.   Plus, the majority of it was done while we were in Louisiana.   No struggles to keep little feet off freshly-laid tile floors!   Now, I'm trying to decide how I want the cabinets painted.   That will have to wait for cooler weather.  
We finally have a proper back splash.

What a Charm-A

C has several distinct speech patterns, although they are starting to lessen and I know they'll soon disappear.  Our favorite: all words that end with -er, end with a long A when C pronounces them.   So, we go to Krog-A to buy wat-A, and maybe some beef for a hamburg-A.   And then there are her Ls.   Her favorite explanation for why she can or can't do something, "Because I'm wittle, huh, Mama?"

Royal Mail
We got back from Hemphill and I was ecstatic to see a book package in the box.   I could hardly contain my joy when I saw the Royal Mail air mail sticker, and then I noticed the address was from Essex.   My book of authentic tea time recipes, The National Trust Book of Tea-Time Recipes by Jane Pettigrew  had arrived!   It's divided by regions and it makes me want to shell out the big bucks for the tea set that matches my Wedgwood china.   Well, just for a minute.  Then, I go back to daydreaming about the day I find that teapot at a garage sale for $10--and then I get them down to $5.

How old IS that kid, anyway?!

T is weaned.  Since Sunday, he has not nursed to nap or go to sleep at night.   This will be much better for the family, but it always makes me a little sad.

A New Vacuum Cleaner

We finally had to give in and buy a new vacuum cleaner.   I enjoyed it tremendously for several days until T managed to get a C battery stuck in the hose.   It's at SEARS now and we're waiting to find out if we can get a new hose under the warranty.   Clean carpets are overrated anyway.

Other Kids

The kids' inflatable pool finally came out of the box yesterday.   It's only been a year since we bought it.   C's LeapFrog My First Computer came out of its box a few days ago.   It was from Santa Claus.   After spending the day in the pool, E said, "Mama, we buy things and they last, like 1 or 2 years and then we take them out of the box, but other kids get things and they take it right out of the box."   Yes, I know, but think how you're growing in the virtue of patience--with your mother!

Mother's Helper

For the first time ever, I had a baby-sitter come over a few times this summer to watch the kids while I cleaned and organized closets and other things.   She  came Thursday and it was wonderful.   The kids love Miss Katie and she is a great role model for them.

The Feast of the Assumption
My centerpiece for brunch.
I love being Catholic!  This year, we were able to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption at brunch with friends, including C's godparents.  Brunch is becoming my favorite meal for company.  Besides tea time, is there any meal more lovely than brunch?

Morning Fun

Why run through the sprinkler when you can sit?

This morning was not as oppressively hot as what has become normal lately.   The kids actually wanted to stay outside and play like they used to do. 

C's "googles"--one of my headbands

That Book & This Look

It has been quite a weekend.   I've said my good-byes to the lake house and in doing so, said another good-bye to Mama.   My last memories of that house will include my three precious children laughing and running around in circles until they collapsed .   I left with a feeling of peacefulness and for that I am blessed--and thankful.
 As we drove home, I felt as if we were truly beginning a new chapter in our lives.   My children have had a very distracted Mama for a while.   For the past five years, I've been responsible for my father, who was in a nursing home with dementia and Parkinson's,  and my parents' two homes, one in east Texas and one in Louisiana.  My husband, family, and friends were there beside me, supporting and encouraging me, but I fear my children didn't get the Mama I wanted them to have.  I know most mothers feel that way.

So, as the first step, it finally happened.   I took THAT book off the shelf, the one that had been sitting there for far too long.   I won't go to the extreme of saying it had been taunting me.   I've read too much Mr. Hawthorne and Mr. Poe to casually throw around the idea of being taunted!   THAT book, to which I refer, is A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot.   A few year ago, when I started reading it as part of our mom's group, I was so inspired by it.  I was ready to run right out and implement it all and I did.   And I failed miserably.   My failure did not lie in the fact that it didn't work.   I failed because when it wasn't a success, I didn't turn to God.   Instead, the book went on the shelf where it remained unless someone asked to borrow it.   Oh, I still recommended it to people, always with the disclaimer that it was far too intense for me and that I just wasn't ready for it.  And maybe I wasn't, but I needed to do something different from what I was doing.

When I just had one child, even when I only had two, it wasn't so difficult to, as the cliche goes, fly by the seat of my pants, with spontaneity and whims, but little order.   Which brings me to This Look.

I found this picture in Mama's cedar chest.   It was the place where she kept all those keepsakes nearest to her heart.   My heart melted as I looked at the look of love--a mother's love--on her face.   And I cried.   I cried not out of loss or sadness, but because I knew the context of that picture.   There my mother sits, captured on film, with This look, at my brother and sister.  In 1960, my mother, who loved children, and dreamed of being a mother one day, gave birth to her first born, my brother, Greg.   The doctors weren't sure Greg would survive the day.   He was born with severe brain damage and was medically fragile.   It wasn't a named condition at the time.   Over the years, Mama asked questions of doctors.   She had what she thought was the flu during the pregnancy and the drug she was given would never be given to a pregnant woman today.   After Mama died, I found a letter from a doctor who said Greg had been given genetic testing and had a chromosomal defect.   Regardless, Greg was a special boy and as such, Mama gave him special care.  

When Mama died, one of her sisters, Pat, the one closest in age, told me that Mama had to feed Greg every 2 - 3 hours because he could not eat normal amounts of food, or table food, for that matter.   That means that even at night, she was awake to feed him.   I can't tell you how many times I thought of Mama as I woke to feed a hungry infant.   An infant whose hunger would pass and who would grow and mature to the point of no longer needing to be fed during the night.   I remember Mama telling someone how horrible it was when Greg had a spinal tap done.   She wasn't allowed to be with him and she had to sit in the waiting room, where she could only listen to him scream. 

But fatigue-- from round-the-clock feedings, mounting medical bills, a husband who was away with his job often, a meager budget from my father's salary as an instructor, with the prospect of living on a graduate stipend for years, trying to maintain normalcy for my sister, who was three years younger than Greg, geographic separation from family--none of that shows in This picture.   Instead, it's This look.   I remember that look.   I sometimes looked up and caught that look on my mother's face as she gazed at me.   My mother was a busy woman and I don't have memories of her playing with me.   But I have memories of her being with me, a lot, and talking with me.   And I remember her face, close to tears, each year on the first day of school.   And I remember her beaming face, as I got off the school bus on the afternoon of the first day of school.   I was truly wanted and truly loved.    We all were.   She wasn't perfect, but she didn't allow herself to be consumed by self-pity or bitterness.

Then, there's me.     I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, I'm an orphan, ....well, I'm DONE.   D. O. N. E.--take her out of the oven boys, 'cause she's done, DONE.    I have gone through a difficult time, but I'm tired of defining myself and my life by it.      Time for less focus on me and more on my loaves and fishes that God could miraculously use to feed all those with whom He has entrusted me--my family, my friends, my neighbor, the stranger.   My loaves and fishes that I clung to for too long.   And now I have reached that point of peace, where they are no longer mine, but God's, and I need to offer them to Him.   So, I will take what I can from That book,  to bring some much needed order to my life.    Let's face it, I've got strength on my side.   Genetically, I come from strong, pioneer stock, and well, on my adopted side--through the waters of Baptism--there's no wimpy line there either!   Through obedience to my vocation as Wife and Mother, and the discipline necessary to live out that vocation, may I die to myself and all my selfish inclinations, that I might live as God created me to live, both here on earth and one day, with Him, for eternity.    I'm not expecting perfection here, just more order and peace!

Instead of self-pity, more of This look, love, in the midst of trial or just simple inconveniences--to be cast upon my husband, my children, my neighbor, my friends, the stranger--and most importantly upon my God, the love of my life.   And may it be from That Love that all my love flows.      

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Final Good-bye

This weekend, we head to my parents' Toledo Bend home.   It was the last place they lived and it was the place where Mama died.   Until one month ago, it was filled with their remaining belongings, which means many memories.   Mama is buried in Oklahoma, so I don't get to visit her grave very often.   The house on the lake is the place I go to feel closer to her.   Each time we pull into the driveway, I remember how she would have all the lamps on, with the blinds open.   The house just looked so warm and inviting, especially after the three-hour drive, usually after a day of work, on a Friday evening.   When we first arrived, she always had a home-cooked meal, which usually ended with a homemade pie.   Joey once mentioned he liked pie and after that Mama always made sure she baked at least one when we visited. 

Then, sadness overcomes me for a moment, as I think of how much she would have enjoyed seeing us pull up, five instead of two.   How she would have opened the door and raced out to pull tired grand kids out of the van. How she would have smothered them with kisses and hugs.    How happy she was on the one visit we made with E., three months before she died (they visited us, sometimes several times a month).  As quickly as the sadness comes, though, my mind shifts to what Mama would probably tell me.   Don't dwell on the past and sadness; you have your children to think about and care for.   Then I smile, and thank God for the mother he gave me and the wisdom she shared.

So, this weekend, we make our last real visit there.   The house is physically empty now; only the memories remain.   Mama's cedar chest, once full of family photos, her wedding dress, our baby clothes, love letters, and my homemade offerings, is now empty and sitting in our bedroom.   The closets, which once held rows of starched and perfectly ironed blouses and shirts, are now empty, except for a few empty hangers.   The round table which we ate at in Natchitoches, is now the main eating spot in our home.   The memories remain, though.   When I look at the kitchen sink, I always remember Mama bathing a six-month-old E.   Then, I thank God that is one of the few moments we have on video.   I always hesitate for a moment as I approach the hallway.   This is where Mama collapsed.   This is where Joey and Amber cleaned before I entered the house after Mama's accident.   Two memories, one horrible, the other beautiful, and again, thanksgiving to God for the people he has placed in my life.  The girls always want to walk down to the dock, soon after arriving.   I remember Daddy taking us down to check on the current depth of the water and to watch for minnows.  

I approach this weekend, with mixed feelings of dread and excitement.   I know selling the house is the only thing to do.   It's an actual house, not a camp, and it is not good for a house to sit empty.   We could never go often enough to maintain it.  I dread saying good-bye to this physical place which stands for Mama.   I dread not being able to physically walk in that place where she walked and lived.   At the same time, I am excited.   As my friend, Gina, always says, "I'm excited to see what God is going to do!"   I'm excited about the growth that has occurred in me over the past six years.   I'm excited that Mama would be proud of the positive changes in me that are a result of all I've faced since she died.   And again, I am thankful for all God has done and the good he has brought out of tragedy.

And so it begins...

At the suggestion of a mentor and friends, I join the world of blogging.   I intend to use this blog as a journal of sorts.   It will be a place to share memories and put my thoughts in writing.   I expect it will include anecdotes about my children, recipes, journal posts about homeschooling, and remembrances of special people, places, and times.   I don't imagine many will be interested in this simple blog, but I welcome any kindred spirits who might find something of interest here.
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