04/21/14

An Announcement

I went to the doctor’s office and heard a little heartbeat today.

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My blog has been dormant for the past few months, but God has been busy creating.  And so in this season of new life, it seems fitting to tell you all that we are expecting a baby!  We are eagerly anticipating Baby’s arrival in late October.

We are feeling blessed by God and loved by family and friends.  Thanks to those of you who have already lavished us with your support, prayers, and well-wishes!

04/5/14

Yeast Project

Welcoming Thomas for a guest post this weekend.

bread picture small - Copy

We decided to do this yeast project after I forgot to put the yeast in bread.  First we looked at the directions from sciencebob.com.  The website said to get a bottle and fill it with about one inch of warm water.  Then it said to add one packet of yeast and swirl it.  After that we needed to add a teaspoon of sugar and swirl that.  Finally we put the balloon on the bottle and put in in a warm spot.  Here is a cool timelapse of the twenty minutes that we left the bottle in a warm place:

How does this work?

The yeast eats the sugar and releases a gas called carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is the same gas that we release when we exhale.  Yeast does not have to eat sugar. It will also eat flour or sugar-related things.  The carbon dioxide makes holes in whatever the yeast is in, as seen below.

This bread has yeast in it.

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Holes

This bread does not.

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No holes (well one or two not from yeast)

After the twenty minutes were up, we took a drop of the yeast solution out of the bottle. We looked at the solution under a microscope.  Here is a picture of the solution taken by focusing the camera lens in the microscope view:

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This was a fun project, but I hope I don’t forget to put yeast in bread again!

01/12/14

An Interest-Led Learning Expedition

Our sailing sloop, Infinity

Our sailing sloop, Infinity

History credits Christopher Columbus with opening the “Age of Exploration.”  We studied Columbus in the fall, and while the results were not as epic as the beginning of an age, our study did open the way for more exploration.  Our learning expedition kept us engaged up until the holidays, and now it seems that we have moved on to other areas of study.

The decision to study Columbus was mine.  I admire those teachers and homeschool parents who provide stimulating environments and provocations and then gently guide their students to take the initiative in project-based learning.  I have never become one of those teachers or parents.  My students, and now my children, have always seemed to need just a little bit more direction to keep them on track.  As I homeschool my boys, I always try to have areas of study waiting in the wings, but I also have plenty of flexibility to follow that study wherever it may lead.

Such was the case with Columbus.  I had planned to start some reading in early American history.  It just happened to be October, near Columbus Day, and I just happened to have some good children’s books on Columbus.  I did not merely set these books out.  I sat down and read Meet Christopher Columbus by James T. deKay with Jack, and I gave Thomas reading assignments, complete with a study guide for Where Do You Think You’re Going, Christopher Columbus? by Jean Fritz.  Of the two books, I like Where Do You Think You’re Going? better because it gives a more balanced view of Christopher Columbus.  In his final writing assignment, Thomas was able to conclude that, “although he was a good sailor, Christopher Columbus was not a good leader.”  Jack’s book focuses only on the first voyage to the Americas, but that was enough for him.  Indeed, it was Jack whose interest was really piqued by our Columbus study.

Studying the Santa Maria

Assimilating what we’ve learned

Soon Jack was busy drawing pictures of ships.  We read about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, and even more ideas started percolating.  (It is so fun to watch Jack think because he is quite transparent.  Thomas is a little harder to figure out.)  After he had finished writing his assigned report about the Pilgrims, Jack wrote his “Yellow Pod and Green Pod” story.  It’s rather a compilation of things he learned from Columbus and the Pilgrims, and I have included it here.

Jack's ship pictures

Jack’s ship pictures

Of course, it was only a matter of time before we had to start making boats.  We used a You-Tube tutorial to make origami boats, but Jack was a little disappointed that they were not seaworthy for very long before becoming waterlogged.  We also used a large box from a friend to make our own sailing sloop.  It is pictured above, and though also not seaworthy, it was fun to make.  We even learned some sailing terms in the process.

Jack tried reinforcing our origami boat with duct tape.

Jack tried reinforcing our origami boat with duct tape.

Thomas engineered a rudder for a small cardboard ship model.

Thomas engineered a rudder for a small cardboard ship model.

I tried to find more library books about sailors and ships from the same era, but I had trouble finding very much at Jack’s second grade reading level.  I did find a book about Ferdinand Magellan.  I also checked out Pirates Past Noonwhich is part of the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne.  This became Jack’s first independent chapter book.  He read it in a matter of days, and he has been hooked on the series ever since.  To date, he’s read about ten more Magic Tree House books.  They are a perfect fit for him.  He is building reading fluency and confidence, he his learning a lot of facts, and he is fostering an enjoyment of reading.  In my estimation, these are all good things.  Jack has also spent quite a bit of his allotted computer time on the Magic Tree House website, and he’s taken to carrying a notebook in his backpack just like the “Jack” in the series.

I was looking for Jack to do his chores, but I ended up unloading the dishwasher myself!

I was looking for Jack to do his chores, but I ended up unloading the dishwasher myself!

It is actually a Magic Tree House book that may determine our next area of study.  Shortly after reading Pirates Past Noon, Jack read Eve of the Emperor Penguin.    Much dramatic play ensued, with Jack in the lead role as “the Little Blue Penguin.”  I can’t be sure, but I think a polar expedition may be in our near future.  I’ll keep you posted . . . .

"Captain Jack" in the Infinity.*  I'll share some of our boat-making process next week.

“Captain Jack” in the Infinity.*  I’ll share some of our boat-making process next week.

*The idea for Jack’s pirate/Halloween costume came from his reading as well, but not from Pirates Past Noon.  This past summer he was immersed in the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant.  In one of the books, Henry dresses up as a pirate.  Thus, our Halloween costume, which also works very well in a cardboard boat!

 

01/5/14

A Post for the Twelfth Day of Christmas

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas.  The tree is coming down, the decorations are being stashed in the attic, and the music will soon be switched over to non-holiday fare.  In advance of all this end-of-Christmas activity, I’ve put together a little pictorial review of our holiday.  Some of the photos are mine, but many of them are David’s.

This Christmas . . . .

bedroomcurtainsI made curtains for our bedroom.

snowflakeornamentWe decorated our tree (after we finally got it).

roswellThe boys played with other Buffalo Suzuki Strings students at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

tomviolin

jackcelloThey also played for the Sunday school program and Immanuel Lutheran Church.  Jack loved his harmony ending to                         “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

outsidehouseWe had plenty of snow and cold weather.

candlesWe baked cookies and ate dinner with friends.  We let the candles burn down as we talked long into the evening.

babyjesuslightWe heard again about our Savior born in Bethlehem, and we sang songs to worship Him.

newtonchristmasSanta brought us presents.  Newton was a bit perturbed.

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jackjerseyThe boys were quite pleased.

bavarianinnWe went to Frankenmuth to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

tomsledGrandpa and David took the boys sledding.

jackcouch2We refurbished the loveseat.  Jack tested it out while reading large portions of the children’s Bible.

christmascheerWe listened to hours of Christmas music and ate copious amounts of good food.  We had a very Merry Christmas.

We hope you did too.

01/4/14

A New Year’s Resolution and Bible Study Plan

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I wasn’t planning any New Year’s resolutions this year.  It’s not something I typically think about.  Then, after the whirlwind of holiday preparations and travels, I found myself with no pressing obligations on New Year’s Eve.  I sat down with this luxury of time, and laid out a Bible study plan for the boys.  Truth be told, this is something I should have done earlier, and we haven’t really done a good job with a dedicated Bible study time this homeschool year.  I’ve made it my resolution to do better.

The plan I laid out focuses on the book of Luke.  It seems natural to focus on stories from the life of Jesus during the time between Christmas and Easter.  I chose the book of Luke because David is teaching it in one the Bible classes I am attending right now.  I thought this current study might be of help to me when I teach the boys.

For the first time in the boys’ experience, we are incorporating actual Bible readings into our study.  Some children may be ready for this step earlier than mine were, but I did not want to rush this.  I want them always to feel that the story of their salvation is accessible to them at their level.  For each week, my plan is to use a children’s Bible or storybook on the first day, to use Tom’s NIV Bible on the second day, and then to review the story on the third day.  (The English Standard Version would actually be our version of choice, but both my favorite Bible and Tom’s Bible are the New International Version, so that’s what we are using.)

We are also doing memory work each week.  We work on this together, and if we don’t learn all of the longer passages in one week, that’s okay.  We review often, and eventually we will know all the passages.  Some of the memory work is from Luther’s Small Catechism (Concordia Publishing House, 1986), and the rest is from the NIV Bible.  I’ve included alternate Bible verses for the catechism weeks just in case anyone else wants to follow the plan and prefers only Bible verses.  (Certainly, the sequence of Bible stories and verses is applicable for Christians of any background.)

We began the New Year with the story of Anna and Simeon, and then I planned through the first week of Pentecost.  For me, planning is half the battle, so I think we’re off to a good start.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  If any of you decide to try the plan yourselves, you can let me know how it goes.  If all goes well, I’d like to flesh out the plan into an actual Bible study curriculum, so your feedback is welcome.

nativityornament

For the Week of January 1:  In the Temple with Simeon and Anna

Luke 2:21-39

My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people.  Luke 2:30-31

For the Week of January 5:  The Boy Jesus in the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

The Fourth Commandment:  Honor your father and mother.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Ephesians 6:1

For the Week of January 12:  John the Baptist and Jesus

Luke 3:1-16 and 21-23

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  Luke 1:76-77

For the Week of January 19:  The Temptation of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

The Sixth Petition:  And lead us not into temptation.  What does this mean?  God tempts no one.  But we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, may not deceive us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.  Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2:18

For the Week of January 26:  Jesus Calls Peter, James, and John

Luke 4:38-5:11

“Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  Matthew 4:19

For the Week of February 2:  The Man Let Down through the Roof

Luke 5:17-26

The Fifth Petition:  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  What does this mean?  We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them.  We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.  So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.  Psalm 103:2

For the Week of February 9:  The Centurion’s Servant and the Widow’s Son

Luke 7: 1-17

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

For the Week of February 16:  Jesus Calms the Storm

Luke 8:22-25

The sea is his for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  Psalm 95:5

For the Week of February 23:  Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

Luke 9:10-17

The Fourth Petition: Give us this day our daily bread.  What does this mean?  God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.  Psalm 145:15-16

For the Week of March 2:  Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration

Luke 9:18-23 and 28-36

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2

For the Week of March 9: Mary and Martha and the Parable of the Sower

Luke 10:38-42 and Luke 8:1-15

The Third Commandment:  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.  Psalm 119:105

For the Week of March 16:  Zacchaeus and Matthew

Luke 19:1-10 and Luke 5:27-32

The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  Luke 19:10

For the Week of March 23:  Jesus Enters Jerusalem

Luke 19:28-48

“Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Matthew 21:9

For the Week of March 30:  The Last Supper

Luke 2:7-34

While they were eating, Jesus took break, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take eat, this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, “Drink from it all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”.  Matthew 26:26-28

For the Week of April 6:  Jesus in the Garden and Peter’s Denial

Luke 22:39-65

The Third Petition:  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  What does this mean?  The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  John 6:40

For the Week of April 13 (Holy Week):  Jesus’ Trial and Crucifixion

Luke 22:66-23:55

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16

For the Week of April 20 (Easter):  Jesus’ Resurrection

Luke 24:1-12

Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!  Luke 24:5-6

For the Week of April 27:  Easter Evening

Luke 24:13-49

“Stay with us for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”  Luke 24:29

For the Week of May 4:  The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Luke 15:1-7

I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  John 10:11

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:27-28

For the Week of May 11:  The Prodigal Son

Luke 15: 11-31

Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  Joel 13:34

For the Week of May 18:  The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-27

A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  John 13:34

For the Week of May 25:  Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:27-36

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31

For the Week of June 1:  Jesus’ Ascension

Acts 1:1-11

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always to the end of the age.  Matthew 28:19-20

For the Week of June 8:  Pentecost

Acts 2:1-47

Do you not know that you body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  1 Corinthians 6:19

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Wishing you God’s blessings in the New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/31/13

It’s Not “All Right”

One morning in November, I woke up compelled write a post that had been percolating for a year and a half.  On that day, much  to their delight, I left the boys to their own devices, and I sat down with my laptop.  By evening, “The Introverted Speaker” was complete.  (If you haven’t read that post, you might wish to do so now.)  I clicked publish, sent the link to people who might care, and thought I was done with the whole process.

I was not done.  Instead, the floodgates of emotion were opened even wider.  Granted, my emotional flood control infrastructure is not all that impressive.  I probably need the Army Corps of Engineers to shore things up a bit.  Sometimes, though, I think it’s a good idea to let the current take me where it will.  That’s what I did back in November, and I wrote down, in rough form, what I discovered. Now I find myself on the fifth day of Christmas, in that peaceful lull before the new year begins.  The presents have been unwrapped, the miles between here and Grandma and Grandpa have been traveled, the Lego has been assembled, and the house has been tidied.  I can sit near the glow of the Christmas tree, and edit the words that tumbled into a word document in the days before Advent.

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niagaraicicle2

In “The Introverted Speaker,” I reminisce about the morning I became convinced that my speech was no good.  As I wrote that paragraph back in November, I tried to picture myself in the classroom across the hall from the cafeteria, and I tried to remember how I felt:  I was sitting in the corner farthest from the door that morning, away from the couch and the overstuffed chair.  This was back before the internet, and we were working with these tangible things called newspaper clippings.  The assignment was to cut them, paste them, and turn them into a broadcast of sorts.  Extemporaneous speaking was not my forte, but on a typical morning, I could have pulled it off.  That morning was different.  My eyes were on the newspaper clippings, but my mind was on my already written and rehearsed speech.  This was the speech I would take to competitions all semester, and the one I had decided was doomed to fail.  I remember that sometime during that class period, I started to cry, and tears tend to smudge up newspaper clippings.  What I remember most though, is feeling paralyzed.

I hadn’t remembered that before.  I hadn’t thought about feeling paralyzed one morning during my senior year of high school.  When the memory of paralysis flooded my senses back  in November, the feeling was all too familiar.  I recognized that paralysis as something I have been experiencing for much of my adult life.  I will be thirty-nine on Thursday.  The past decade of my life has been marked by anxiety and depression.  These two conditions, taken together, cause paralysis, an inability to function.  This has been my experience and my struggle.

My condition is improving, and I have reason to hope that my next decade will be better.  Even so, this memory of paralysis causes emotion to well up inside me.  It is a new link between my teenage years and my recent past.  It is part of my story, and it puts words to what I have been feeling.  I can say, “Look.  This is how I have been feeling, except now there is no one to tell me it will be all right.”

That’s what they told me.  I don’t remember the exact words, but Tracy and my coach told me that my speech would be fine and everything would be all right.  I believed them because I could.  I was a teenager living in a lovely small town, attending a good school, and getting good grades.  My worries consisted of whether or not my speech would take me all the way to the state finals.

I don’t believe them anymore.

niagaraicicle3

When your baby is born with a hole in his back, it’s not “all right.”  When you spend four weeks in the mental ward of the hospital because you really just wish you did not exist, it’s not “all right.”  When your relative is diagnosed with cancer, it’s not “all right.”  When wars are raging, people are starving, and little girls are sold into slavery, it’s not “all right.”

In The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle refers to the not-all-right of the world as the “battlefields and slums and insane asylums.”  These are the result of the fall of humanity.  Indeed, there has been much that is not-all-right since our fall into sin.

Certain things can be made “all right.”  A scraped knee can be kissed, a teenager can be consoled, and even the hole in a baby’s back can be fixed by the skilled hands of a neurosurgeon.  What about the other things?  What about the “battlefields and slums and insane asylums”?  What will make these all right?

Christmas.

babyjesus

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Isaiah 40:1

In the midst of our mess and despair, a baby was born.  God came.  He saw that we were not all right, and He came to save us.  He was born in a dank, dark, dirty stable.  His earthly parents fled with Him to Egypt so that He would not be killed along with all the other Hebrew baby boys.  He grew up, He began His ministry, and He was executed on a cross.  It was not “all right.”

It was not “all right,” and yet,  we are comforted, because on that cross He took all our sins, all our mess, all our despair upon Himself, and He washed them away.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  Isaiah 40:2

Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, and rose victorious on Easter morning.  Our hope is in the resurrection, when we know that everything truly will be “all right.”

Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth…I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more….The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  Isaiah 65:17, 19, 25

In the meantime, we struggle with everything that is not-all-right.  It is part of our human condition.  We struggle, but we have peace.  We know we have a God who loves us enough to give the gift of His Son, and we share that love and peace with others.  We console the teenager, we kiss the scraped knee, and we use our talents for the benefit of those around us.

Never tire of doing what is right.  2 Thessalonians 3:13 

Tracy and my coach did what was right, and in doing so, they made a day a little more “all right” for a teenager in a small town high school.  We do the same, and even in our sinful human condition, we can make things a little more “all right” in our fallen world.

frankenmuthriver

Then we can go to bed and night, and pray, certainly in the words of the apostles and prophets, but also with the words of Harry Connick Jr:

I pray one day my heart will see

The light of God’s eternity

And know that Jesus died for me.

Now close, my eyes

So I may rise

At blessed dawn of Christmas day.

babyjesusoutside

 Notes:

1. Quote from Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season (New York: The Seabury Press, 1977)

2. All Bible verses from the New International Version

3. Lyrics by Harry Connick Jr. “The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day” (EMI Music Publishing)

4. Nativity photos by John David Duke Jr.

5. Nighttime photo also by John David Duke Jr.  The miles between here and Grandma and Grandpa’s house are the same miles between here and the lovely small town of Frankenmuth, Michigan.  While we were there, we were able to visit with my speech coach and his wife.  After a happy visit, we braved the Michigan cold to snap this picture down by the Cass River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/12/13

Thanksgiving Report 3: Pilgrims

It is December 11.  Theoretically, this is a time of preparation for Christmas, not a time for writing about Thanksgiving.  Rest assured, we are preparing for Christmas, and a “White Christmas” at that.  In fact, Western New York weather is so intent on creating a “Winter Wonderland” effect, that the boys were unable to get the Christmas tree today as planned.  They braved the lake effect snow, headed south to East Aurora, and found the driveway to the tree farm under two feet of snow, with conditions deteriorating steadily.

photo by Thomas

photo by Thomas

photo by Thomas

photo by Thomas

They decided to come home.

With no tree to decorate this evening, I decided to finish my Thanksgiving series.  This last post is actually a showcase of Jack’s work.  He read about the Pilgrims this fall, and wrote a report about them.  Concurrently, he worked on an imaginative story.  He calls it “The Yellow Pod and The Green Pod.”  I like to call it “The Pilgrims Go to Mexico.”  It is interesting to me because I can see that he is working with certain concepts, and yet he doesn’t quite understand them fully.  For example, he knows that ships carried people across the ocean, and that smaller sailing sloops were used for trading up and down the coast.  (I just learned that myself after reading The Winthrop Woman.)  He also knows that fresh water is important.  Instead of including a “spoiler alert,” I’ll let you read on for yourself to see how these concepts play out.  By the way, the “pods” are the ships.  I don’t know why he calls them “pods.”

“The Pilgrims”

by Jack Duke

mayflowerscale

A Pilgrim is someone who goes on a long, long journey.  The Pilgrims could not worship God in their own way.  They tried to get to Virginia, but they got to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Before winter there were 102 Pilgrims.  After the winter there were 50 Pilgrims.  By the end of the summer, they had eight houses. 

Native Americans helped the Pilgrims in the summer.  In October the Pilgrims and the Indians had a big feast!  They had deer, berries, grapes, dried plums, nuts, and turkeys!  The feast was to be thankful for their food.  They had pumpkins, squash and beans too.

“The Yellow Pod and the Green Pod”

This book is in 1852.

by Jack Duke

scaleyellowpod

One fine day, the Yellow Pod and the Green Pod were going to north Mexico.  The people on the ships were going to live there.  It was a smooth ride.  They got to north Mexico safe and sound.

They gave some people who needed ships their ships for two sailboats.  They were going to need sailboats to go places to trade things.  They made ten little wooden houses.  The kids played tag, and run around the house, and hide and seek.  One day they got a great trade: a log for a gun.  Then one day they went to Florida in their sailboats to get some more water.  When they were home, everyone had lots of water.

It was summer at last.  Crops were growing.  Everyone was happy that it was summer.  They had sailed for that long, long time for a better life.  The place was not so full because they had made their own town.  They made lots of friends there.  They had a way better life in north Mexico than in England.

THE END

P.S.  For my non-local readers, let me explain lake effect snow.  East Aurora is south of Buffalo, and the City of Tonawanda, where we live, is north of Buffalo.  If you look on a map, you will see that Tonawanda is actually north of Lake Erie.  Alas, this means we do not always get the lake effect snow.  This is frustrating for the children, the young at heart, and anyone who doesn’t have to drive regularly.  You saw the pictures from East Aurora.  Here in Tonawanda, we have about an inch.  We’re hoping for more, and I think it’s on it’s way…

11/29/13

Thanksgiving Report 2: Weather

snowberries

We have snow!  The snow began late on Tuesday afternoon and continued on and off through late Thanksgiving night.  We have about four inches on the ground, and Jack has been over the moon with excitement.  He went outside early on Wednesday when there was still just a dusting, and I think he gathered all the snow in the driveway to make snowballs.  Both boys have been outside several times since.  I just keep tossing their snow clothes in the dryer so they are ready for the next round.

Today we went to our friends’ land to go sledding.   The setting was so peaceful, away from the malls and the crowds.  The sun was sparkling on the snow, and the sky was a brilliant blue.  We saw fresh deer tracks in the snow, and we added ours as we tromped up and down the hills.

sled1

tomsled

 

David got in on the action and took some video:

Tonight we will be thankful for winter come to our section of the country and for generous friends who share their winter beauty us.

11/28/13

Thanksgiving Report 1: Allergen-Free Edition

thanksgiving

For our 2012 Thanksgiving celebration, I cooked much of the meal for my relatives.  It was fun, and apparently successful, as I received some requests for recipes.  The only problem is that I don’t always cook with recipes.  Often, I will peruse the internet or the Wegmans magazine, and then rely on some mysterious kitchen alchemy when I actually make the dish.

This Thanksgiving, I was not cooking for a crowd.  Dinner was just the four of us at home.  With the luxury of time and some ambient lighting for pictures, I decided that today I would try to pay attention to what I was putting in the pot.  The following is our 2013 Thanksgiving menu.  It is almost all allergen free (if your allergies are the same as Jack’s).  You’ll notice that allergen-free pumpkin pie didn’t make the cut, but we did have a yummy chocolate pie in its place.

Thanksgiving 2013

Turkey:  Sometimes we go all out with a locally raised fresh turkey and the larded turkey recipe from America’s Test Kitchen.  This year we had a small 48 cents/ pound grocery store turkey.  I just salted the inside, stuffed it with apples and onions, and roasted it at 325 degrees until it was done.  (I covered it with foil for the last hour of roasting.)

Mashed Potatoes:  I use soy milk and Earth Balance spread.  I also use a little bit of tarragon.

Fancy Gravy:  See recipe below.

Corn

Roasted Brussels Sprouts:  See recipe below.

Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce:  Jack has inherited his grandfather’s taste for cranberry sauce.   Grandpa G. would serve it at every meal if he could, but we only indulge in “cranberries from a can” occasionally.

A Pomegranate:  I took David with me shopping late on Monday night . . . and we came home with a pomegranate.  This was a last minute addition, and we just ate it plain.  It lent a nice contrast to the turkey and gravy.

pomegranate

Brown and Serve Rolls:  Jack could not eat these.  I offered to make him cornbread, but he said it was not necessary.  (I’m glad, because I didn’t really want to make cornbread.)

Lemon Meringue Pie:  This was Tom’s request.  I have never made a lemon meringue pie, allergen-free or otherwise.  (Is it even possible to make an egg-free meringue?)  We bought this in the freezer section, and Thomas seemed to enjoy it.

Chocolate Pie:  Wheat-free, dairy-free, and egg-free, but still really good!  I also made coconut whipped cream for the topping.  I am still relying on a cornflake or Corn Chex crust for this.  Once I figure out a good gluten-free crust, I think the recipe will be blog-worthy.

jackpie

It was a good dinner, and we were reminded to be thankful for the bounty in our pantry, in our freezer, and on our table.  We also paused to thank God for freedom, especially  our freedom to worship Him without persecution.

Now, without further ado, here are two of the recipes my relatives requested:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1-2 pounds Brussels sprouts

(Last year, I made 2 batches of 2 pounds.  This year, I just made one batch with 1 pound of Brussels sprouts, and 2 carrots.)

2 cloves garlic

Olive oil (About 1/4 cup, enough to coat the vegetables.)

Salt and Pepper

2-3 tablespoons butter or margarine  (I use Earth Balance.  If it weren’t for Jack, I would probably use real butter.)

2 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar  (You don’t need really good balsamic vinegar for this.  We keep two jars.  The “good” jar is for fresh salads.  The grocery store brand is for cooking.)

Wash the Brussels sprouts and pat dry.  Peel off any outside leaves that don’t look good.  Cut the smaller sprouts in half.  Cut larger sprouts in thirds or quarters.  Peel and slice carrots if you are using them.  Peel and mince garlic.  Toss vegetables and garlic in a bowl with olive oil.  Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees.  Stir about halfway through.

While the vegetables are roasting, measure butter or margarine and honey in a microwave-safe bowl.  Melt in the microwave and stir.  Then stir in 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar.

After the 20 minutes, take the vegetables out of the oven.  Stir the vegetables.  Pour the butter/honey/vinegar mixture over all.  Return to the oven for 5 more minutes.

You can also try this recipe with other vegetables.  The roasting time will vary depending on the vegetables you use.

brusselssrpouts

Fancy Gravy

1 small onion

2 small to medium apples

About 1 dozen baby portabella mushrooms

Olive oil

3-4 tablespoons cornstarch  (I did not get the cornstarch right the first time.  I only used 2 tablespoons, and that was not enough.  I think I would recommend starting with 3.  If you have to use more, mix it with some cold water or broth before adding it to your gravy.)

Salt and pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Penzey’s Balti Seasoning to taste  (This is a sweet curry spice blend.)

About 3 cups turkey or chicken broth  (Last year, I used homemade turkey broth.  This year, I only had homemade chicken broth so that is what I used.)

Slice the onion.  Peel and slice the apples.  Wash and slice the mushrooms.  Place all three ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, salt and pepper, and sweet curry spice, and set aside.

Coat the bottom of a saucepan generously with olive oil.  Heat on medium high.  Add the onions, apples, and mushrooms, and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes.

Add the cornstarch and spice mixture, and stir to coat the onions, mushrooms and apples.  Add the broth, and turn heat up to high.  Stir until mixture comes to a boil, and then stir for one minute more.  Ideally, the gravy will be the desired consistency, and you can turn the heat to low until you are ready to serve.

If the gravy is not thick enough, you can add more cornstarch.  Just be sure to mix the cornstarch with a little cold water or broth before adding to your hot gravy.  Otherwise you will get lumps.  Add the cornstarch and cold liquid to your gravy and bring to a boil again, boiling for about one minute before checking for the desired consistency.

We serve this gravy over the turkey and mashed potatoes.  It is also good with leftover turkey and rice.  The gravy can be used with chicken, although I prefer it with turkey.

inprogress

We are indeed blessed.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

 

 

 

 

11/15/13

The Introverted Speaker

It has been almost a year and a half since I finished Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  The book piqued my interest, and I wrote a post about it.  I went so far as to think that introversion would have been a good high school speech topic.  Although I was a bit dismayed to come up with this topic about twenty years too late, the irony of the idea did not escape me.  Why was I, a shy, highly sensitive, introvert, thinking fondly of my time on the high school speech team?  I thought I should write some more about that.

Those were my intentions back in June of 2012.  The lavender and roses were blooming, and I took pictures in the garden.  Then life went on, winter came, and spring.  The lavender and roses bloomed again.  Now they are snug under their blanket of fall leaves, and I really should be blogging about “How to Roast Brussels Sprout for Thanksgiving Dinner” or something like that.  But no, today, I am blogging about an introvert on a high school speech team.

How does an introvert participate successfully on the high school speech team?

lavender

Many introverts are able to give effective speeches.  Susan Cain is a prime example.  Her introversion drove her to write a book on the subject, and to date her related TED talk has elicited over 5 million views.  How is this possible?

First, there are some introverts who are not necessarily afraid of public speaking.  I think I might be one of these.  Giving a prepared speech is much different than say, mingling at a party.  There are clear roles for a speaker and an audience.  You stand and speak.  They sit and listen.  When you are done, the audience (hopefully) applauds.  You smile, thank the audience, and sit down.  This seems much safer, to me at least, than mingling at a party.

Second, although many introverts and even a number of extroverts are afraid of public speaking, they can train themselves or receive training to overcome this fear.  They are probably still nervous, but the fear is not debilitating.  They can speak effectively on a subject that is important to them if they have had time to prepare.  This training and support is helpful even if debilitating fear is not an issue.  Susan Cain suggests that it is especially helpful for introverts to get the training they need to make public speaking easier.   It is this training, I believe, that made my high school elocution success possible and my high school years something I can think of fondly.

My training came in the form of a coach.  I woke up this morning thinking of him, and that is why I am writing today about introversion and high school instead of Brussels sprouts and Thanksgiving.

My high school coach sought me out at the end of my freshman year.  He wanted me to sign up for debate in the fall.  It seems that academically minded students do well on debate teams, and I fit into this category.   The only problem is that in a debate you have to speak and you have to make eye contact while you do this.

I signed up for debate beginning in the fall of my sophomore year.  It changed the course of my high school career.  Oh, I probably would have earned the same grades, but I wouldn’t have had the same experience.  It was definitely a change for the better.

At the beginning of tenth grade, I wasn’t really scared about speaking in public, but I wasn’t good at it either.  Picture a shy, awkward, underclassman.  That was me.  Now picture a high school teacher and coach willing to spend time helping this shy, awkward, underclassman because he believed in her.  Picture this coach simply talking to the student after school to encourage her to look him in the eye.  That was my coach and teacher.   Now picture a classroom, across the hall from the cafeteria, with an old couch and an overstuffed chair and all the desks pushed askew, as a safe place for like-minded students to congregate and feel accepted.  That was his classroom.

I loved that classroom, and I spent many hours there over the next three years.  I came to it early in the morning for “zero hour” debate and speech classes.  I usually returned to eat my lunch there with friends.  After school, I would often come back to practice before going home.  My high school was relatively small, five hundred students in all, and almost everyone on the debate team was also on the speech team and maybe in theater as well.  During the fall semesters, I participated in debate alongside my dependable partner and childhood friend, during the spring semesters, I gave informative speeches, and when the opportunity arose, I dabbled in theater.  I made good friends, and I had fun.  My speaking abilities improved, and I started bringing home trophies and contributing to our team victories.  I had an identity, and I liked it.

Concordia University, 1994 My high school dabbling allowed me to play the part of Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe during college.

Concordia University, 1994
My high school dabbling led me to play the part of Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe during college.

My teammates, my coach, and I were not all alone in the high school world.  We had our assistant coach, Tracy, who was as capable as she was kind.  We had our parents, and mine were certainly supportive.  My parents let me drive the second car so I could go to school early and come home late, often picking up or dropping off a friend along the way.  My mom helped me fine tune my writing, and my dad helped me make my visual aids.  We had other teachers.   The small school phenomenon meant that students who were in debate, speech, and theater, were also likely in the performing arts group if they were musically inclined.  Our eleventh grade English teacher was also our performing arts director.  He provided us with meaningful opportunities and inspired us to do our best.

If you, Dear Reader, were a member of this high school support group, thank you.

Dinner Theater 1992 Speech and performing arts often overlapped.

Dinner Theater 1992
Speech and performing arts often overlapped.

Most of the trophies I brought home are gone now.  Those that are left are somewhere in the attic.  But tucked in my jewelry box next to a lock of my firstborn’s hair, I have something better:  One day, after an event, our coach sat down with a legal pad and wrote little notes to everyone who had participated.  My note said Deb-nice job again.  The fact is, I hadn’t given a particularly stellar performance at this event.  I hadn’t brought home an award.  It didn’t matter.  I still got a note.  My coach still believed in me.  I kept that note in the pocket of the skirt I was wearing that day until I “grew out of” my teenage clothes.  It is well-worn and wrinkled, and now it is safely tucked away with my keepsakes, much like the lavender bushes are tucked away under the fall leaves.

nicejob

Encouragement is a valuable commodity, and encouragement given to a teenager is especially precious.  One morning during the winter of my senior year, I arrived for our zero hour class in particular need of this precious commodity:  I was convinced that the speech I had worked so hard on was no good.  We were given an in-class assignment that day and uncharacteristically,  I couldn’t do it.  I just sat there, teary-eyed,  paralyzed with self-doubt.  My coach kept me after class, and he and Tracy asked what was up.  They told me everything would be all right and sent me on to my first hour class in a somewhat better frame of mind.  I never did quite as well as I hoped to with that speech, but my coach and Tracy were still right.  I did well enough, and the world did not end when I didn’t make it to the final round of the state tournament.  Everything was still all right because I was part of something bigger.  I was part of a team, and I was valued and accepted, imperfections and all.

In retrospect, my early morning breakdown was perhaps a foreshadowing of the depression and anxiety that would descend during part of my adulthood.  For a few years that paralyzed feeling became all too common.  Perhaps, if as an adult,  I could have continued my visits to the classroom across from the cafeteria, I would have fared better. . . .   That, of course, is fantasy.  The high school is far from my current home.  It has been remodeled, and the classroom, as it was, is no longer there.  My teacher and coach has retired and is hopefully fishing in relative peace and anonymity.

I miss him.

He took a shy, introverted student, and he taught her to make eye contact and deliver a speech.  More than that, he gifted her with confidence and a sense of self.  He gave her a place in the high school world.  This thank-you is probably far too public for someone trying to go fishing in relative peace and anonymity, but I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted to share this part of my story.  It is much more interesting than Brussels sprouts.