11 December 2013

The Imperfect Perfection of Handmade Gifts

Dear Lissy,

Your sweet Grammy Julie has been in the arena for the last two months showing God strong through the trial of breast cancer.  The Holy Spirit spoke a verse into her life after a  kind-hearted nurse took a few extra moments to wrap her in heated blankets at a time that she felt cold and vulnerable.  I wanted to purchase a piece of art with that verse for her as a memorial of God's lovingkindness.  Unfortunately, Psalm 91:4 is almost never done in the King James, the version she "hears" when God speaks.

Sarah at Joy-Filled Days created this tutorial for a watercolor earlier this year, and I decided to use her project to create a custom piece of art.  My painting didn't come out anything like Sarah's, and I made a few slips with lettering.  I was going to throw it out and start over:  The watercolor was obviously done by an amateur, the verse was crooked, and I even included a grammatical error for good measure when I capitalized "trust."

Daddy convinced me otherwise.  All mommas see gifts from their children through a lens of love.  My handwriting is familiar to my momma, and will be cherished more than a friend's calligraphy or computer lettering.  The painting itself isn't going to improve until my painting technique improves, something that won't happen before Christmas. Yes, I could drag the photo into Inkscape and make a perfect version of my watercolor attempt that would be truly Pinterest worthy.  But in a world of computers, the imperfect perfection of something handmade is dear.  Daddy also knows that my Mom has portions of Scripture (almost all of them hand-lettered or decoupaged or cross-stitched by friends) hung on almost every wall. This little birdie will be right at home.


15 November 2013

One Quick Tip: Pinkeye (Conjunctivitis) Home Remedy

Dear Lissy,

Pinkeye (conjunctivitis) ran through our family this week, and the doctor decided not to call in a prescription for us.  Sigh.  I went with an old remedy of 2 Tbsp raw honey in 3 cups green tea.  We bathed our eyes with the solution, and it cleared up the pink eye in about 24 hours.  I don't know if the pseudo-honey at the grocery store would  work as well or not -- the bees are fed HFCS to produce it, so it's an entirely different product.

Normal recovery time is 72 hours, so 24 hours was a  pretty substantial improvement.  Matt and Nate were through the pinkeye by the time the doctor's office would have seen them on Monday afternoon for Urgent Care.  You, Daddy, and I got it midweek, but the honey and green tea solution worked so well, we decided it wasn't worth the trouble of a doctor's visit.  Breastmilk will always be the best choice for treating pinkeye, but if that isn't available, the honey/green tea solution worked almost as well.


25 October 2013

Operation Hygge House

Dear Lissy,

In one short week the darkness of Standard Time will descend over New England.  The cold already has us in it's grip.  Sadly, we can't hibernate, so this year I'm determined to make our home a "hygge house".  Pronounce that "hue-guh" and imagine you're in Denmark.  Cold.  Dark.  Happiest nation on earth, and not surprisingly the creators of hygge.

Hygge: (hue-gah), noun.  Convivial coziness, " "fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of- coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm baby love." (NPR's Clare O'Neill)

In the summer, hygge is embodied by friends and family gathered around a campfire roasting sausages.  When winter settles over the mountains, hygge moves indoors to light candles, kindle a fire, simmer a stew, brew the coffee, and let the conversation flow.  Or not -- Danish hygge is just as well embodied by a tromp through a snowy woodland with a friend and a thermos of cocoa.  In short, hygge is about replacing the warmth and light of the sun with the warmth and light of relationships.  A hygge house is inviting and embracing, even if it is a long, cold, dark night.

Du er min lille hyggelig pige,

18 October 2013

Cheap Tricks: Keeping Littles and Campers Warm While They Sleep

Dear Lissy,

Stay toasty-warm in a sleeping bag on the cheap by layering an auto sunshade shiny side up between you and your sleeping pad.  For very cold nights, slide it right into your bag.  This is also a great alternative to an electric blanket for babies and toddlers.  Place the sunshade (again, shiny side up) between the mattress cover and mattress.

Stay Warm,

17 October 2013

God's Gift of Intimacy in Marriage

Dear Lissy,

Marital intimacy is a sensitive and beautiful topic.  I'm not willing to put information like this out on the web or expose an area of our own marriage that is sacred to me. And let's face it, this is a pretty awkward topic for a mom and daughter to discuss.  However, intimacy is an important part of life as a married woman, and one that deserves careful thought.  Two books (by the same authors) top my list for this topic. Both books are the result of inductive Bible study, not simply tacking verses onto the authors' own ideas.   Dillow and Pintus speak in a warm, friendly tone throughout both books, and dose their advice liberally with a sense of humor and personal examples.  The books are just plain fun to read.

Intimate Issues is authored by and written specifically to women.  I recommend Intimate Issues as a study before marriage, and then as a resource once you are married.  The chapters deal with twenty one common areas including. . .
  • Can I be godly and sensuous?  
  • Intimacy when you have littles that are draining your batteries.  
  • Body image and intimacy
  • Help for when you're no longer in love or caught in an emotional affair with another man.
  • How to avoid boredom and inspire passion
I've used this book in counseling as much as personally over the years. Intimate Issues is a great resource for a godly girl who has worked very hard to keep herself pure until marriage, and is nervous about transitioning to a role where sensuality is expected.  Their "Gourmet Delight" Couple's Night In plan at the end of the book is fun and a little bit cheesy, but easily transformed to suit your own style.  I doubt too many husbands are going to complain about an evening of great food and intimacy.

Intimacy Ignited: Conversations Couple to Couple: Fire Up Your Sex Life with the Song of Solomon is written by and for couples and can be used as a (very steamy) Bible study.  Intimacy Ignited is appropriate for any stage of marriage from newlyweds to empty nesters rediscovering their bond.  Problems that may interfere with intimacy such as abuse and p*rn are not addressed in this book.   Like Intimate Issues, be prepared for warmth, humor, and a whole lot of inspiration to thoroughly enjoy God's gift of intimacy.

While hundreds of books have been written on this topic, these are far and away my favorites.  Far too often physical intimacy is rejected or neglected by wives, and we are the losers every bit as much as our husbands.  Intimate Issues and Intimacy Ignited will help you keep the flame burning brightly throughout your married life. 

Much love,

05 October 2013

Professor Horner's Bible Reading System Tutorial

Dear Lissy,

Nothing compares to immersing yourself in the Word of God when you are seeking to keep God's power and presence at the forefront of your mind. I've written half a dozen letters (filed under the Devotions tab) detailing various Bible study and reading methods that I've used in different seasons of life. My "default" mode for the past several years has been Grant Horner's Bible Reading System.  I've mentioned Professor Horner's system several times before, but I recently had a fellow blogger from France asked me how I kept on track. Professor Horner's system is a bit overwhelming, especially the first time a few of the bookmarks fall out of your Bible.  I used a checksheet for several months, but found it awkward.  Post-it notes ripped my super-thin india paper pages, but Bookdarts were a perfect fit.  I'll warn you:  Bookdarts are highly addictive.  You may want to buy a tin instead of a sleeve.

A good quality cover on your Bible is a must.  Professor Horner's system involves reading 10 chapters a day.  I rarely have time for all 10 at a single sitting, so my Bible moves around the house and into my tote bag.  Right now it's on my laundry folding counter up in the classroom. 
My daily driver is a Cambridge Pitt Minion.  The letter I wrote on how to pick a Bible is here.
I keep my current plan written in pencil in the front flyleaf of my Bible and slide a Bookdart down as I read each List for the day.  Notice, no paper to fall out of the Bible! If you're just starting, go through at least one full cycle of Professor Horner's original plan before you start changing it up.

Next, I've gone through each book in each list indicating at the end of that book which book should be read next.  In this case, List 5 skips from Job to Ecclesiastes.  I also make a notation at the beginning of the first book in each list.  List 6 begins in Psalm 1.  The annotations were time consuming, but they allow me to read instead of spend time wondering where to read next.
The page I'm reading from in each list is marked with a Bookdart.  Notice that nothing protrudes from the side of the pages -- the bookdarts are flush with the edge of the page.  My system isn't marked 1-10.  I'm used to the reading order after several years of this system, but I can also peek back at the flyleaf if I forget.
Unlike a bookmark, a Bookdart shows you exactly where you left off your reading.  I know at a glance that Psalm 127 is the portion of Psalms I'll read today.  I read one chapter from each list, moving the Bookdart to tomorrow's portion as I go.

Here's a closeup.  Even though Psalm 127 and 130 start just a few lines apart on the same page, I can see that Psalm 127 is the passage for today.
The backs of Bookdarts are rounded, so there's no chance of confusion.  These thin, light metal markers are secure even on my india paper pages but slide on and off easily without leaving marks.
Don't underestimate the power of having a basket with all of your quiet time tools together waiting for you.  I like this particular spot because the morning sun comes in through one window, and the afternoon sun through another.  Being as solar powered as a cat, I know a sunny spot will draw me like a magnet.
Meinheld, the fellow blogger I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, created a different method for keeping her place using simple Post-it flags.   Her post is auf Deutsch, but she offered this simple English explanation:
"Yes, the system is easy. I always put the green tab with the list number on the right side that way I only move it every other page. The red one always goes on the next chapter to read. No more writing things down. When I am done, I put the ribbon bookmark of the Bible to the next list to be read since I not always do the 10 lists."
Here's a peek at her French Bible. . .
Visit Meinheld's trilingual blog, God's Fingerprints In My Life for more pictures and her in-depth explanation of how she uses Post-its.
Wishing you many happy hours with the Lord in His Word!


Linked up at Titus 2 Tuesdays

04 October 2013

French Apple Cruller Bites

Dear Lissy,

I don't deep fry often, but these little French cruller bites require only my smallest saucepan and 2 cups of oil.  We're officially on autumn vacation for a week and decided to celebrate in style by whipping up a batch.  You'll recognize the dough from making Cheese Gougeres:  this is simply another incarnation of choux pastry.

Apple French Cruller Bites
 from Micheal Ruhlman's book, Twenty

In small sauce pan, heat to 350 degrees.
2 cups peanut or canola oil

Bring to boil in second small saucepan:
 4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup water

Reduce heat to medium and stir in:
1/2 cup flour

Continue stirring for 1 minute, and then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
2 eggs

Once mixture has cooled so it can be handled, add:
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped

Spoon mix into quart Ziploc bag, and trim off 1/2 inch of one bottom corner.

Pipe 3 inch lengths of pastry dough into hot oil, cutting with scissors.  My smallest saucepan will hold 6 cruller bites.

Drain on paper bag lined with paper towel.

Roll in sugar mixture:
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup sugar

These "donuts" make almost no mess and take very few ingredients -- a perfect little snack for a special day.


Linked up at Homestead Barn Hop #130

03 October 2013

Portrait of a New England Wife

Dear Lissy,

This little gem is to encourage your heart and put a smile on your face:  you are a New England girl, through and through!

Marmee from Little Women, a beloved wife and momma in the New England tradition.
 I've been reading old newspapers from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (1833) and came across this:

"It has been said that a New England girl makes the best wife in the world - and we think, says the Lowell Journal, that any New England man will cheerfully admit the truth of the above saying after studying domestic life of other countries. New England wives are faithful and affectionate - instances of conjugal infidelity are of rare occurrence among them - they make excellent mothers - are frugal and methodical in their household arrangements - shine in a drawing room, - and appear to great advantage when superintending the economy of the kitchen. Such a wife is a jewel, and no wonder she should be sought after, far and near. The Southern gentlemen, while they strenously oppose the Union of the States, evince no repugnance to an Union with the rosy cheek lasses of the North."

29 September 2013

Frankenstorm Prep

Dear Lissy,
A monster hurricane-Nor'Easter combination is bearing down on us as I write.  We have the usual emergency preparedness kits, but I wanted to give you a few ideas about easing life for your family and yourself during a 72 hour to week long power outage.

Fill the bathtubs.
We use far more water than we realize, and it's a shame to use drinking water to flush the toilet, do dishes, or simply heat a pot of water to clean up.

Know how to draw water off your hot water heater.
Chance are you have about 40 gallons of potable water sitting in your water heater.  A simple spigot makes it easy to refill pitchers and gallon jugs.

Pre-cook your meals.
It's pretty simple to keep food  cold for 72 hours with only a cooler or even in the fridge.  It takes only minutes to reheat a meal over less-than-stellar heat sources like a grill or woodstove.  For this storm I cooked off

  • 6 pounds of chicken, 
  • A ham (this is the most versatile since it can be used at any meal)
  • A steak 
  • A batch of meatballs
  • 2 dozen eggs
  • Rice pilaf
  • Barley pilaf
  • Spaghetti
  • Rotini
I have fully stocked the fridge and pantry with canned and fresh fruit and veggies as well.  Instant pudding and a bag of chocolates provide a few treats for morale. 

Have "comfort" snacks available.  
I normally hate the idea of manipulating emotions with food, but favorite snacks, drinks, and a few extra sweets will go a long way during a tense time and can be taken to a shelter if necessary.  I like to stock up on cheese sticks, beef jerky, granola bars, graham crackers or celery with peanut butter, fresh fruit, carrot sticks and dip, and nuts. We almost always have Gatorade powder on hand, but Kool-Aid or Mio works well, too. Nothing decompresses tension quite as well as mom yelling "OH, NO!!!!  The power's out!!!  Quick!!! We NEED to eat ALL of the ice cream before it melts!!!!"

Have all the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away.  Iron a church outfit for each person if there's time.
One time during a hurricane I was already 3 loads behind and then had 4 days worth of laundry before the power was back on.  Never again!!!

Fill the car with gas.  Check the oil, wiper fluid, etc.
Gas pumps need electricity to run and for payment, and gas prices always rise following a storm.  It's a win-win to just fill up.

Bring sleeping bags, pads, and cots into a "safe" common room in case you have to move in the middle of the night.  It's no fun to have to search for those items in the dark.

Bring flashlights and batteries to a central location.  
Camping headlamps are a great choice since they're hands free.  We've tried to purchase flashlights and lamps that use a wide variety of battery sizes.  We also have candles and Kerosene lamps.

Have games, books, crafts, and coloring sheets available.
Even teens can get into crafts and coloring if there's no power!  

Keep your mood light and upbeat, even if you're tense.  Your kids (and animals!) pick up on the fear and tension.

We're optimistic that Sandy won't hit us too hard, but we can manage well for up to a week if the need arises.


18 September 2013

Raised Waffles

Dear Lissy,

For years my waffles were little more than corrugated pancakes.  Yummy, but definitely not worth the extra time and clean-up. We enjoyed them when we went out for breakfast, but I only made them at home a couple of times a year.  About 10 years ago I discovered yeasted waffles while cooking through Shirley Corriher's massive tome, Cookwise:  The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking.  These waffles are feather-light with a crispy crust and a creamy interior -- the waffle incarnation of Krispy Kreme donuts, if you will.  I also like the flavor and health benefits of a batter that ferments for 8-12 hours.  Raised waffles are best served hot off the iron.  If you plan to hold these waffles warm, do so on a cooling rack set over a cookie sheet in a low oven -- they turn to mush on a plate.  I tend to serve these when we're not all sitting down to eat at once.

 ***If you're reading along with these letters to my daughter, do yourself a favor and do-si-do over to Smitten Kitchen for Deb's gorgeous writing and drool-worthy photos of this same recipe she calls, Essential Raised Waffles   Her readers left dozens of comments praising their favorite waffle irons, too.***

Raised Waffles
This recipe is older than dirt, but this version appeared in Cookwise in 1997. 
Makes 4 -6 waffles
1/2 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
1 pkg (2-1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
2 cups warm whole milk (115 degrees F) 
1 stick or less butter, melted
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (9-1/4 oz)
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp. baking soda 

Sprinkle the yeast on warm water in a very large mixing bowl and let stand 5 minutes.  Add the milk, butter, sugar, salt, and flour and beat until smooth.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.  Seriously, it's ok.  They won't have a wonderful malty flavor if you pop the bowl in the fridge.

When ready to cook the waffles, beat in the eggs and baking soda.  The batter is very thin, and most waffle irons will require 1/2-3/4 cup batter per waffle.  Cook until waffle stops steaming, which is more than one complete cycle in our waffle iron.  Serve immediately.

Waffle irons vary dramatically -- always read reviews before purchasing.  We prefer classic waffles to Belgian style, and I recommend the $30 Cuisinart WMR-CA Round Classic Waffle Maker. You can often pick it up for about half that price if you catch a sale and use a coupon at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Happy Waffling,

14 September 2013

First Things First: Evening Routine

Dear Lissy,

The day has finally come, Dear Heart, that I am writing to you now, not some mysterious future-Lissy.  The very first thing I want to teach you is that a well run home starts the night before.  We're going to start punching out this list before bed each night, lickety-quick! We'll start this list around 7:30 since your bedtime is 8:30.  At first it may take the whole hour, but pretty soon you'll be even speedier than I am, I'm sure.

Go through tomorrow's calendar with me and help me write my to-do list.  Gather any items needed (5 min) (Robot club, grocery sacks, library books, things to return to people at church, etc.)

Tidy the family room (3 min).   I know, I know -- your brothers and Daddy are still up.  We'll do the best we can so you get in the habit now.
  • In winter, shake the coal stove and fill the hopper. Turn the thermostat knob on the back down as low as it will go, and then back up 1/2 turn. Check the ash pan and have one of your brothers empty it if it's full. Make sure the coal hod is full for the morning.
  • In the summer, turn the A/C up to 74 or just to "Fan 3" if it's a cool night.
Put the house to bed with me (5 min).
  • Lock the doors and turn off the outside lights.  Make sure Harley is indoors first!
  • Close the blinds (and drapes in the winter) in each room.  If tomorrow is supposed to be warm, leave the windows open and the blinds up just a bit to let in the cool night air.
  • Pick up any odd bits of clutter as you move through each room and deliver them to their proper home.  I bring a laundry basket with me for this purpose.
  • Check the washer and dryer to be sure they're both empty.  Fold up and put away the last load if you forgot it earlier.
  • Give the kitty her nighttime handful of chow and refill her water dish so she doesn't wake anyone up at odd hours.
Tidy the kitchen and set up breakfast (10 min).
  • Drink a large glass of water.  Get in the habit now of doing this every night before bed.
  • Put away the pots and pans.
  • Unload the dishwasher if we ran it after dinner.
  • Reload the dishwasher with the cups and plates from evening snacks. Rinse out the sink.
  • Set the table.
  • Pull the breakfast bread out of the freezer, and set the eggs out to warm to room temperature overnight.
  • Clean up the coffeemaker and set it up for tomorrow.
  • Refill and refrigerate water bottles.  Freeze Daddy's water bottles (full in the summer, half-full fall and spring). Pack the dry items in his lunchbox (chips, granola bar, snacks, napkins, flatware).  We'll make his sandwich and add fruit and veg in the morning.
  • Give the counters and table a final wipedown.  If any food is out, make sure it's tightly wrapped and put it away.
  • Top off Harley's water bowl.
Set out your outfit for tomorrow (3 min).  Don't forget your hair pretties, shoes, and jewelry!

Wash your face, brush your teeth, and brush out your hair (5 min).  Put away your brush and hair pretties and hang your facecloth to dry.  Rinse/wipe out the sink when you're done.
Take a shower then tidy the bathroom (10 min).  You only need to wash your hair on Mon, Wed, Sat; but you're old enough now you need to shower every night.  Don't make this into a half hour production, darling. . .keep it quick!  If you want to soak in the tub or take a longer shower, do it before we start our evening routine.  If you've already showered after your workout, you can skip showering now.  Before you leave the bathroom, look around and make sure it's clean and ready for the next person.

Say goodnight!  Find out what time Daddy needs breakfast, and if he's working a double shift and needs his dinner packed along with his lunch tomorrow.  I'll show you how to look this up on the Google calendar, but I usually ask him, too.  You should have a few minutes left to read, and now is a great time to review your memory verses, too.  Lights out at 8:30, though. . .you need your energy for tomorrow.

We'll start doing the evening routine together until you have it memorized and can do it every night by yourself.  Once you've mastered it, we'll move on to a morning routine. 

I love you to the moon and back,

11 September 2013

Home Management Evaluation Form PDF

Dear Lissy,

We're studying The Knights of the Silver Shield in literature this week.   I first discovered this favorite tale of bravery as a little girl in one of my grammy's storybooks.  I can still see the cover and all the illustrations from the trials of Sir Roland in my mind's eye.  Now that I find myself "guarding the gates" as a full time momma, I appreciate the truths of the silver shield even more.  Google books has scanned this fairytale from Beaupre-Miller's Our Book House:  The Treasure Chest so it can be enjoyed by generations to come.  I hope you'll take a few minutes to read it again after you've read this letter.

How do I know how well I'm managing our home?  No enchanted stars appear on my calendar after a long day.  If I rely on feelings, I'm in big trouble.  I rarely finish a day and feel like I've nailed this whole mom thing.   If I wait for comments or compliments from our family, I'm going to be disappointed most of the time, too.  My work is only noticeable when it's neglected.   I developed a Home Management Assessment Rubric many years ago to help me look at my work record objectively instead.   I don't use this to judge other people's housekeeping -- it's just for me.  I go through it with the Lord a couple of times a year and set goals for the upcoming year.   I'd encourage you to use this as a starting point to create your own assessment, not as a golden mom standard.

 As always, relationships are the focus in our home.  This rubric primarily measures my home management (or lack thereof), not my role as wife and mom. I hope this blesses you as you learn to keep your own home, Sweetie.


Linked up at Raising Homemakers Homemaking Link-up #140

Ranch Dressing Mix

Dear Lissy,

Ranch dressing is a food group at our house, so I've always made it from scratch to save a few cents.  After a friend raved about this recipe, I decided to give it a try.  It is far and away the best ranch dressing I've ever made or eaten.  It doesn't require a single fresh herb, either.  Buy the spices in bulk to maximize the savings.  The mix will just about fill a quart mason jar, and makes up a little over 7 gallons total.  We make it up in 3 cup batches for home use, but when you need to cater an event you'll appreciate the ability to make the larger amount.

09 September 2013

Busy Day Banana Bread

Dear Lissy,

It's fall, and I should be making apple cakes and pumpkin bread. But alas, I had four dead bananas lingering in the fruit basket.  All the other ingredients are in my pantry.   I actually make this banana bread instead of just thinking about it like I did with my old recipe that required copious amounts of sour cream. I use a bundt pan rather than two loaf pans, which keeps the bread moist enough to eat without any kind of spread. In a pinch, a little buttermilk glaze will dignify this humble bread to dessert status. 
**Busy Day Banana Bread can be sliced and served easily while warm**

Banana Bread
from the kitchen of Mrs. F.

Preheat oven to 375 (350 for a dark pan), grease and sugar a bundt pan OR two loaf pans.
In a large bowl, cream together on medium speed:
2-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup oil
3 eggs, unbeaten
1/4 cup buttermilk
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
In a medium bowl combine:
3 cups (15 oz) flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
Stir into wet mix until just moistened.
Fold in
4 mashed bananas (1-1/2 cups)
Pour into greased and sugared pan.
Bake 50-60 minutes or until pick inserted in center of bread comes clean.  Cool slightly; remove from pan.  Cool 10 minutes and drizzle with glaze.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. buttermilk 

 Easy and economical, banana bread is a year round staple.  Bundt style breads also make a nice gift for a housewarming, new baby, or grieving family.  Happy baking!


Linked up at Homestead Blog Hop #126 
and Raising Homemakers #139 

04 September 2013

5 Essential Skills to Streamline Meal Preparation

Dear Lissy,

When I set out to write you this letter, I tried to write the whole system I use to manage the pantry, shopping, and meal prep.  Yikes!  It was a book, and very overwhelming.  I analyzed it for a couple of days, and found the five essentials that make this system work for me.  Moms make meals look effortless, but the minute we're out on our own, it's panic time.  Dial the stress down a notch by mastering these 5 essential skills.

01 September 2013

Kindergarten at Home

Dear Lissy,

I consider the privilege of teaching each of you to read among the greatest experiences of my life.  Kindergarten is a precious and exciting time with your child, and one I wouldn't have outsourced for the world.  A year before I began schooling Nate, I attended a couple of home education seminar sessions that gave me a great deal of confidence heading into my first year of being a teacher-mama.  You, my little bean, were tucked away in my tummy at the time waiting to make your appearance second semester.

We used a file folder system to stay organized and begin teaching  independence.  It worked well, but the Sue Patrick Workbox system (originally designed for a child with severe autism) is a much more thorough and elegant solution that has revolutionized home education.  The first video is an Australian mum showing how the workbox system works when used almost exactly as written.  The other two videos she created on the support systems for the boxes are wonderful, too, and give you an excuse to listen to her lovely accent a little longer. 

The second video is an American mum showing her customized workbox system for a K-4 Student.  Workbox style systems were a key part of home educating for us in the lower grades.  They instill good work habits and attitudes in the student and help mom stay organized.  Don't be scared off by the expensive supplies in the videos:  the original system is very economical to set up.


In Kindergarten through third grade, most of the new material needs to be taught one-on-one.   The workbox system takes this into account by providing "work with Mom" stickers for boxes that need to be done with Mom instead of alone.  Most of us are in our late twenties or early thirties by the time we teach Kindergarten, so here are a few reminders for teaching wiggly little bodies!

Little kids are physical, and need physical prompts that school is in session.
  • You dressed in a school uniform, a white polo and khaki pants or skirt, during school hours.
  • We set up a desk and bought you supplies that could only be used for school.  That is where we had school every day.  Siblings were never allowed to use your desk, books, or supplies
  • I was dressed.  This was haaaaard once you were born and I'd only had a few hours of sleep.
  •  Boys often need to run a few laps up and down the stairs before beginning school to release extra energy.  You needed to have your love tank filled up with a long cuddle.
  • We began with the pledge and Bible class every morning, and finished by picking up our desks and snuggling together for read aloud time on the couch.
Strict physical routines free Mom to be a fun, encouraging teacher.  Sloppy routines can cause Mom to nag, give up, or be "mean".  
  • Mom decides when the school day starts.  I preferred a clock time, but many mums use a cue like baby's morning nap.
  • You sat in your desk chair facing forward with your feet on the floor and your bum in the chair while you worked.  This small discipline pays big dividends.
  • Have a routine for putting away one subject box and moving to the next.  Consider adding a fun action song or finger action routine at the top of each new workbox to manage the wiggles.
  • Mom should not use social networks or her phone during school time.  If necessary, put a cheery sign on the door to let drop in visitors know it's school time and you are unavailable.
  • Other siblings should be napping or well occupied.  If they are old enough for workboxes, they'll want their own.  I was very, very lucky to have a bathtub for you to play in right next to the classroom while I taught your brothers. 
  • Children received one chance to do their best work.  If you were deliberately sloppy or fussed, the paper went to Dad to review with him when he got home. Dad made sure that was a rare occurence.  If they simply weren't able to do the work well, Mom praised the good parts and retaught the challenging parts the next day
  • Mom doesn't need to hover during worksheet time.  Teach the concept, have them "teach" it back to you, and then let them finish the paper on their own and move to the next box when it's done.
Radiate a spirit of cheerful urgency and keep the school day fun.  
  • Move quickly enough the kids are just barely able to keep up your pace.  Down time equals behavioral problems.
  • Use vivid language from their world to explain new concepts.  The lines for writing and numeric notation should be referred to as floors and ceilings.  If a letter is crossed or connected, instruct them to give the character a belt "right at their bellybutton." 
  • Only teach one skill at a time, and use songs, jingles and rhymes whenever possible.  Don't try to teach time if they haven't mastered the numbers 1 - 12.  Teach them how to line up a ruler to a line before you teach them how to measure. Educational websites and Pinterest have dozens of ideas for every skill under the sun.
  • Use goofy cheers or silly physical antics to reward success.  I screamed at the top of my lungs for perfectly traced letters.  Matt and I elbow bumped when he counted by 10's or wrote a hard letter.  I did happy dances for all three of you to celebrate various milestones.
  • Put their best subject first and hardest second.  They should never know that one subject is harder for them than another one.
  • Invest in a good set of home education games and learn how to use them. Free printable resources are all over the web.  You were especially fond of the Dover sticker books that had a background scene to which you added stickers to make a picture.  The Bob Books series have a finger puppet stage included.  Make it and play with it as you work through the books.  I prefer real games over computer games for Kindergarten.
  • When the work is done, the day is done.  Kindergarten rarely takes over an hour a day.
  • Express your expectations in positive language.  If a child is dragging and daydreaming, a cheerful "Let's see how quickly and neatly you can get this done!" while setting a stopwatch is far more motivating than "Prunella, don't dawdle -- get back to work or we're going to be here all day."  I drew clouds around well-written letters during handwriting.  We'd then make ambulance noises (bee-boo-bee-boo) and take our pencils over to help another "broken" or "hurt" letter look all better again. Switch to a favorite colored pencil for corrections. We didn't do every letter, just one or two so I knew you knew how to make it properly.
  • Keep a digital file (Pinterest is currently a great resource) of fun ideas for teaching particular topics like holding a pencil correctly or learning diacritical marks that each of your children will have to learn.  Not all kids learn the same way, and you may have to try a few different techniques before one clicks.
Don't skip science, history, art, and music.
A classic workbox system utilizes 12 drawers.  The purpose was to encourage Mom to include some of the extra material that students love.  We all have a tendency to do just the required subjects and promise ourselves we'll get around to that trip to the pond or a messy art project later.  Later becomes never, and the student misses out on enrichment that would have created a deep love for school.
  • Take tours or watch videos to learn about civic helpers and career positions for social studies.
  • Pond studies, a class pet, gardening, star gazing, and spending time helping mommy make healthy meals are all ways to pick up science and health.  Mrs. D bought your brothers little aquariums and filled them with water and frog eggs from her pond for us.  We checked out library books about frogs and watched them go through their whole lifecycle.
  • Put a CD in the workbox along with paper and markers and have your child "draw" the song.  Pick up a game or phonics curriculum that teaches famous works of art and music. Find and use a book that ties great artist's works and methods into kid projects.  Don't get stuck cutting, coloring, and gluing everything.
Kindergarten is a time of discovery and enjoyment.  Get your kids excited about school and learning now while they're young, and it will pay off for years to come.  If you establish good habits in Kindergarten, 1st through 3rd grade routines will be a snap to keep up, too.


29 August 2013

Ten Things I've Learned About Life, The Universe, and Everything: Reflections At 42

Dear Lissy,

I'm celebrating a birthday this week, which invariably causes me to pause and reflect.  Below are a few lessons I've learned since turning 21 half a lifetime ago.  In one way or another, these are truths I either didn't know or didn't apprehend until I was much older.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will help you through a rough patch in your twenties or even thirties.

God may change your platform, but He never changes your purpose.  
(I Cor 10:31)

Every day is a battle.  
Endure the hardness.  Care for your armor.  Communicate regularly with your CO.  Know your sword. Learn your enemy.  Keep rank. Obey orders. 
Proverbs 31:10-31 is filled with verbs normally reserved for narrating battles.  Remember that others around you are likely weary, wounded, and scarred, just like you, and act accordingly.   Don't whine about the battlefield accommodations here on Planet Earth -- you won't even remember them once you're home.

People cannot change;  they can only make exchanges.  
The great exchange, of course, is salvation, and that is impossible outside of God's grace because the value is ludicrously unequal.  Isaiah 40:31's renew carries the idea of exchange, too. If you ever get the chance to study Biblical Psychology, it's the Put off-Put on principle.   On a much more mundane level, we can't change bad habits or routines, we can only exchange them for better ones.  An exchange typically implies equal value:  figure out how to make the new habit or routine worth more to you than the old one, and you'll succeed. 

If anyone else can make you bad, sad, mad, or glad; they're in control, not you.  
Meekness (strength of purpose under the direction and control of the Holy Spirit) and a quiet heart -- still, confident,  and peaceful no matter the circumstances --  are signs of the power of God on our life.  Precious little can disrupt the woman who's life is characterized by those two qualities. 

The wealthy do three things the poor do not:  Plan, Invest, and Give. 
This is true in every arena from  money to relationships to spiritual fruit to emotional stability.

Doing precedes understanding.  Understanding precedes passion.  Passion precedes expertise.  Expertise exhilarates and empowers.
Just start.  Just do it.  Even if you can't wrap your head around the "why" and especially when you don't feel like it, do it. Understanding will dawn with the doing.  Passion will bud with completion and success.  Pretty soon you're an expert, and there's nothing you'd rather do.  This progression is true across a wide variety of disciplines from math to music to personal devotions.

Information excites, but connections inspire.
Most of us need inspiration more than information.  Information may excite or delight when presented well, but it will rarely change beliefs or behavior.  In contrast, seeing how that information connects to and impacts other things I already know, believe, and do will inspire me to exchange the new information for old bits that aren't working well. Ultimately that exchange will affect my beliefs and actions.

Right relationships are more important than being right. 
Your relationship to God is the most important relationship to keep right. Barring heresy, it's almost always better to nurture a relationship and concede a point graciously.  It's even better to value your relationships so highly you never engage in an argument in the first place.

Positive choices bring satisfaction, negative choices ignite cravings and feed addictions.
Bad choices may bring pleasure, or even happiness, but they'll never satisfy.  You'll always want more.  Good choices satisfy.   Positive decisions may hurt or be uncomfortable initially, but they still bring a certain satisfaction.  It's true with the simplest things in life (food, sleep, purity) as well as the more complex and eternal decisions.

A biblical marriage -- one man and one woman committed to God and each other for life-- has almost limitless power in this world and the next. 
Like the humble atom, a marriage holds tremendous potential.  God chooses to call the wife "help meet" with the same word (ezer) He uses to describe Himself.  That word is only used in those two situations:  a wife and God.  An unfaithful wife, by comparison, is compared to leukemia.  I don't think we understand by half our own power and position.

I blew in on a tropical storm over four decades ago, and we've got another good one blowing tonight. I wish I were up at the lake and could watch the thunderheads and lightning move across the water. Instead, I'll unplug my poor 'puter and head to bed.

Hugs and kisses,

P.S.  I've also learned that salted dark chocolate is one of the best ways to satisfy a sweet tooth.   That didn't make the cut, but it is good to know!

28 August 2013

Cheap Eats: Graham Crackers with Chocolate Frosting

Dear Lissy,

We're neck deep in the first week of school, and our car's been out of commission for a full week.  It looks like it could be another week before we're back on the road, so I'm having to do some creative things to come up with lunch treats.  And protractors.  But I digress.
Graham crackers filled with chocolate frosting are a New England treat dating back at least 75 years.  This chocolate frosting recipe, named "Chocolate Joy Icing" by the trusty old-fashioned Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, uses a handful of pantry ingredients to make a silky-smooth icing that resembles the filling in Little Debbie treats. 

Chocolate Joy Icing for Graham Crackers
from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook
Makes enough "for a small cake", or about 10 graham sandwiches
In a medium bowl, sift together:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup soft shortening

3-1/2 Tbsp. very hot water
Beat with electric beater until smooth, fluffy, and easy to spread.

Mom's notes
  • Icing starts out dark, thin, and lumpy, but quickly thickens.
  • Yup, it's got raw egg.  We're daring like that around here. The egg yolk is the single most important ingredient, so don't try to sub it out. It's easy to find egg free icing recipes anywhere online.
  • "Shortening" in the 1950"s refers to any solid fat:  Crisco, butter, margarine, or lard.  I have yet to make lard icing, but you never know.
  • Use coffee for up to half of the water.
  • Spread graham crackers thinly with peanut butter before adding icing for a yummy twist.
You and your brothers are the fourth generation of our family to love these funny treats as an after school pick-me-up.  Have fun keeping the tradition alive!

Love you, Sweetie,

25 August 2013

Don't Be That Friend

Dear Lissy,
I read a fantastic article about mom friendships this morning, and it got me thinking about what I wanted to leave you for a legacy on this topic. This is a letter from deep in the drafts, and hopefully I'll add more during the coming year.  Friendships are one of the most beautiful gifts God has given us here on this earth.  I prefer to have a handful of close sister-friends in which I invest one-on-one time, but I have a wide circle of people who are dear to my heart that I keep in touch with via e-mail. 
Available framed or as greeting cards here.
 There is only one kind of friendship I have ever ended, and I've been on both sides of the problem. Maybe because we're New Englanders, I rarely see outright hostility. Our drama tends more to the cold war variety, and is rooted in imagining the worst.   I've found that the closer we are in age and circumstances, the more likelihood there is for imaginations. Imaginations can cripple a marriage, too.   I'm not too concerned what a 22 year old single guy thinks about our homeschooling curriculum, but if Dad or another home schooling mom questions me, I start wondering what they're really thinking.

We usually don't judge others who are weak in areas where we're strong. . .
I like to cook.  I cook a hot breakfast and dinner for our family every single day.  I really don't care if you're eating candy corn for breakfast, or heading through McDonald's drive through three times a week.  I'm more than happy to eat whatever you care to serve if I come to your house for dinner.  I don't expect you to whip up a dinner party for 8 -- let's make Ramen cups and enjoy a movie with the kids.  Jokes about my cooking skills or lack thereof don't phase me much, because I'm comfortable and confident with that skill set.

. . .but we assume others judge our weak areas when they are strong.
A friend who has a spotless home just dropped by.  My porch rug and mud mat inside the door are furry and dirty and covered in crushed leaves.  My Webster is still leaned against the porch railing drying off after a major cobweb expedition yesterday.  Cue rogue imaginations:  "They must think I'm such a slob!  I bet that's why he hurried away so fast. . .he must be grossed out."   Ugh.

Now the twist:  We respond to our friend and gossip to others as if they've actually judged us and found us wanting. We pass over the months, or even years, of encouragement and love.  We ignore the areas that we're stronger and they struggle. We go cold when the topic comes up in conversation with her, but eagerly compare notes with other friends we know struggle in our same area.  We mentally divide our mutual friends into "hers" and "mine." We begin judging her weaknesses to make us feel better about our own.  We end up doing the very things we imagined and despised in her.

Don't be that friend.  Don't be the one who imagines she's being judged, and then retaliates against her innocent friend.

What's the real problem?  Pride.  If you start getting frustrated with a friend who's better than you at being a wife, or mom, or cook, or housekeeper, or gardener, or fitness expert, STOP.  
  • Has that friend ever expressed anything but encouragement and hope for you in this area?  Are you thinking true things she's actually said, or things you imagine she must be thinking when she looks at your life?  Are you listening to gossip from another friend's imaginations?  Are you shifting your disappointment in yourself onto her so you have someone to fight?  Have you talked to her and believed what she said, not what you thought she might be thinking?   
  • Have you taken this area to Jesus?  Have you repented of any sin that's causing your troubles?  Have you shown him the pride that's making you miserable?  Have you asked for His cleansing, grace, and help in this time of need?  Have you memorized Philippians 4:8?  Have you read through King Saul's life story and seen how this ends?
You will have at least a time or two during your life that someone really does gossip, backstab, or condescend, and I've already written about that.  This letter is about being a good friend, and realizing how easily pride can tank a relationship that has the most potential for sanctification and companionship.

Love you forever, like you for always,

21 August 2013

How To Write Lesson Plans for A Real Book

Dear Lissy,

I'm busy getting together our schoolwork for next week -- this is just a little break while I wait for AAA to rescue me again.   Anything from A Beka and Saxon comes in neatly numbered lessons. . .easy-peasy.   I purchased daily lesson plans for Apologia for a song, and they are worth every penny.  But I'm charting my own course for two non-academic courses this year:  FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) and Bible. 

So how do you choose a real book and use it for a class?


Choose a book that's well-designed for teaching.
Given unlimited time, almost anyone could write a fantastic course with modules that incorporate books, websites, and hands-on experience.  For our purposes, I want a single book that lends itself well to working through from beginning to end as the backbone of my course.  
  • I look for interesting and relevant subject matter woven into every chapter first. I don't want to have to teach through three months of filler or preparatory information.
  • The material must be roughly organized from simple to complex.  I do not have the time to jump around between chapters.
  • I prefer books that review material and re-use key skills. I love books that have a single page summary or mnemonic that highlights all the major points. 
Choose a book that will delight and inspire your child, but also fits your own philosophy and experience.
Our first project in cooking class is making our own bacon from a pork belly, but they'll also learn how to saute a chicken breast and make a simple pan sauce without a recipe before the year is out.  The personal evangelism course is going to require your brothers to master the use of 111 gospel verses by the end of the year so they can work seamlessly with the Holy Spirit in an individual's life. They're nervous about that, but they're eagerly anticipating loading up a USB drive with material that will help them navigate apologetics and discipleship.
If a book matches your philosophy and your children's personalities, it's probably a winner.

Ok, so now I have my book, what am I supposed to do???


Figure out the big picture using the Table of Contents.
Skim read the entire book in an hour or so, and then turn back to the Table of Contents. Pencil into the margin what month you plan to cover each chapter.  With real books, it often makes sense to skip a chapter (or two or three) if they don't fit into the core concepts or time frame for the course.  I don't have to spend class time on the chapter, "The Reason for Evangelism," because we are doing this course at the boys' request.  They'll read it for homework, but their motivation level is sky high because of their attempts to share the gospel over the last year with their robotics group.   

Divide the first month's work into weekly segments.  
After penciling in a basic schedule for the year, I want to have a rough idea of how much material I plan to cover each week.  I place a little W1, W2, etc. into the margin at each start point for the first month. I don't do this for the whole year until I have a good feel for the pace of the course.   If the material goes faster or slower than anticipated, I can easily adjust after the first couple of  weeks. 

Divide the first two weeks into daily segments.
The first two weeks of school can be hectic as we settle into new routines, celebrate birthdays, and usually end up with last-minute Labor Day plans.  I take the time to go through and pencil the day number and record any homework assignments into the margin beside each day's material. I also make a list of supplementary material during this time.   I don't do this for more than a couple of weeks until I have a good feel for the course.  In some courses, I don't go through and mark daily work until the break week before the new session.

Dive in!
Even if I haven't had time to go through the whole book and make seamless plans, I jump right in on Day 1.  There's always time to re-adjust when I catch my breath during break week.  Done is better than perfect.

Keep Good Records
I'll be re-teaching these courses when you hit high school, and I don't want to have to redo work.  I keep careful records of time, assignments, any glitches, and supplementary materials I used.  I also need to be able to give proof of course for high school transcripts as a home educator.

With a little passion, creativity, and planning; real books can become one of the best textbooks available.

Lovin' you,

15 August 2013

Why We Don't Have The Cheapest Grocery Bill on the Block

Dear Lissy,

There's a LOT of pressure on moms to keep the grocery bill impossibly low.  Because the grocery bill is a variable expense, husbands, friends, popular bloggers, and even our own conscience pushes us to drive the number ever lower.  In our current economy, I've seen numbers as low as $12 per person per week, with $20 being about average for frugal families.  For comparison when you read this letter, the June 2013 USDA Thrifty Food Cost for the individuals in our family is pushing $40 per person per week, with the Liberal plan coming in just under $80 per person per week.

I'm reasonably intelligent, a good cook, and very motivated to save $$$ as a full time mom.  So why are my grocery numbers hovering closer to $30 per person than $20?

13 August 2013

Practive Parenting: Principle #3: Children Are A Welcome Part of the Family

Dear Lissy,

We've had a quiet couple of weeks before the rush and excitement of a new school year.  Matt has been fighting with Lyme disease, and all of us got knocked flat with summer head colds.  I wanted to continue my thoughts on proactive parenting with a principle that could have easily been #1:

Children are a welcome part of the family.

09 August 2013

A Day in the Life: 2013

Dear Lissy,

Today is a bit of a time capsule letter.  I'm going to share with you what an ideal day looks like in my life.  Now that you kids are older, I see many more ideal days than I did when you were toddlers. My school year and summer don't vary a whole lot anymore, either.

The Big Picture:
  • Get myself and the other people in the house ready for the day by 8 a.m.  Our morning routine includes devotions, getting dressed, eating a nourishing breakfast, and tidying up after ourselves in the bedrooms/bathrooms.  I have a "thing" about moping around in PJ's until mid-morning, as you well know :-)
  • Daily chores by 10 am:  Laundry, tidying up, swiping bathrooms, meal prep and cleanup.  My workout falls somewhere between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m, too.  You and the boys often join me.
  • School or Project pretty well finished by 1 pm.  I assign 1-2 hour projects during the summer.  These may be pruning trees, working on a household maintenance project, or just helping me punch out our weekly chores so we can get to the beach or go on a hike.
  • Weekly chores/errands before 5 pm.  I've moved my days around periodically to meet our family's schedule.  Currently it looks like dis. . .
    • Monday:  Kitchen deep cleaning, reorganize pantry/fridge/freezer, grocery shopping, prepping/storing food for week, baking.
    • Tuesday:  Office day - anything paperwork from planning school work, bills, taxes, or even preparing a Sunday school class.
    • Wednesday:  Cleaning Day (sometimes swapped with Friday)
    • Thursday:  Mending/alterations and garden projects. 
    • Friday:  Town day - library, errands, quick grocery stop for weekend needs, thrift/salvage store
    • Saturday:  Family projects, Sunday prep including car cleanout.
  • Dinner
  • Projects:  Sewing, baking, school prep, research/video classes, pre-reading for lit classes.

5 am:  Coffee and devos.  I currently alternate between Professor Horner's plan and adding to my What Do I Know About My God? notebook.  This is the only quiet alone time I get all day now that the boys are in high school.
6 am:  Make Daddy's breakfast and pack his lunch.   Daddy is so not a morning person!   A hot breakfast helps him wake up and prepares him for his very physical job as a contractor.  His lunch takes a bit to pack, too, since he's often gone through dinner time and needs enough food for the whole day.
6:30 am:  Wake up Daddy for breakfast.  Computer check-in time for me (Reader, G-mail, Facebook)
7 am:  Start a load of laundry, unload dishwasher, morning visit with kids during school year, get dressed for walk/workout. 
7:45 am:  Switch laundry, make sure kids are doing "Morning 5" and on track for school day.  In the summer I head out for a walk before you all are up.
8:00 am:  Bible class (Still walking in summer)
8:30 am school /9 am summer:   Tidy kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms while helping with school work.  Finish up laundry.
9am school year:  Go for walk/workout, make sure expectations are clear for work to be done while I'm out.  Gardens/outdoor projects during the summer.
10 am:  Breakfast:  Poached egg, a couple of Jones natural sausages, and fruit. I'm not hungry at all when I wake up, so I eat breakfast late.   I usually am not hungry again until dinner time, but I might have a snack late afternoon.
10:30 am:  Shower, dress, make-up.  Work on weekly chores, keep checking on kids' school or assigned project in summer.
1 pm:  Tidy kitchen, start supper prep, double check all school work.
1:30 - 4 pm (5 pm summer):  Errands, friends, downtime. Grocery shopping, library, piano practice, blog letters, etc.  1:30 - 4/5 is my "evening".  I may even nap if I've had a late night.
4/5 - 6:30 pm:  Prepare dinner, eat, and clean up kitchen.  Kids are doing a quick pick up through the house and yard while I prepare dinner.
6:30 - 7:  Computer time - Gmail, facebook, etc.
7-9:  Project time (Mon - Wed):  Baking, sewing, processing fruit or veg for preserving.  The boys are at robots during this time for a big chunk of the year.  We have church on Thursday night, family fun time on Friday night, Sunday prep on Saturday.
9 pm:  Final house check, good night to Liss, set out breakfast, set up coffeemaker
9:15 - 10 pm:  Read or watch a T.V. program, get ready for bed, good night to Matt
10 pm:  Lights out.


27 July 2013

Sock Bun Alternative for Fine, Silky, Layered Hair

Dear Lissy,

I love the soft waves created by the wildly popular Sock Bun. I also like the fact that the sock bun is appropriate for a quick run to the park or grocer's.  
But when I tried to roll my shoulder length silky-fine layered hair into a sock bun, it was an epic fail.  Bummer.
I discovered another method by accident and refined it:
Claw clips are easy to find, easy to use, and inexpensive.  Anything that holds the coiled chignon in place will work, though.
  1. Rub a dollop of volumizing mousse through freshly washed hair.
  2. Dry front/bangs as normal, but leave back and sides damp.
  3. Style bangs and short front pieces. Back should be just barely damp through at this point.  Use a spritz of water or a quick shot with a hair dryer if necessary.
  4. Pull sides and back into a  high ponytail just above the tops of your ears, but centered on the back of your head.  Do not use a band.
  5. Twist hair until it coils back on itself.  You're essentially making one giant pin curlMake sure the ends of the hair are coiled around into a curl.  (My grammy, a hair dresser back in the 1930's, taught me the trick of twisting hair into a pin curl instead of just rolling it.  You get a more natural curl that way, and the pins won't leave marks.)
  6. Place a claw clip snugly over the chignon you created.  You may have to smoosh the bun into more of an oblong shape for it to fit.
  7. Use bobby pins to position styled front pieces.  Be careful of making weird ridges in the damp part of your hair.
  8. Give the chignon a shot of hot air from your blowdryer, and then leave it in until it's completely dry.  
  9. Remove claw clip and bobby pins and finger comb hair.  A pomade will help define the curl and eliminate frizzies. Give the whole style a shot of hairspray.
  10. On rainy or hot, humid days I return my hair to the chignon and claw clip after it's all dried until I want it down and then just shake/finger comb it out.

25 July 2013

One Quick Tip: Keeping Meat Fresh

Dear Lissy,

I buy all of my meat for the week when I market on Monday.  It's a no-brainer to cook off the ground beef for Sunday's lasagna and toss it in the freezer, but what about those pork chops for Thursday night?  Or the 5 pound tray of chicken breasts I'll be using all through the week?  Enter Kosher salt.  I've been reading through Twenty preparing for the boys' cooking class this year.  Ruhlman offers an ingenious solution to avoid the dreaded slimy meat:

Sprinkle fresh meat with Kosher salt as soon as you get home from the market.  It will keep all week in the fridge without getting slimy.

I tend to cook off or pre-form ground meats and freeze them, but any cuts of meat work well with this technique.  Don't try this with table salt:  it will overseason the meat.  It is tempting just to toss the wrapped meat into the fridge or freezer, but a few seconds spent salting is worth the hassle.

It's a crisp, breezy, 52 degree morning, and I need to get the fall bean crop in the ground. 

Love ya bunches!

18 July 2013

A Poem For The Hard Days

Dear Lissy,

We are all people in need of change living with other people in need of change.   You are not stupid or naive for defending your man and helping others see the best in him. 


Never think she loves him wholly,
Never believe her love is blind,
All his faults are locked securely
In a closet of her mind;
All his indecisions folded
Like old flags that time has faded,
Limp and streaked with rain,
And his cautiousness like garments
Frayed and thin, with many a strain --
Let them be, oh let them be.

There is treasure to outweigh them,
His proud will that sharply stirred,
Climbs as surely as the tide.
Senses strained too taut to sleep,
Gentleness to beast and bird,
Humor flickering hushed and wide
As the moon on moving water,
And a tenderness too deep
To be gathered in a word. 

 ~Sarah Teasdale, as quoted by Elizabeth Eliot in Let Me Be A Woman

Love you forever, like you for always,

15 July 2013

Oven Fried Boneless Chicken Breast

Dear Lissy,

Hot, hot, hot today!  The car ate another starter coil over the weekend, so I'm *patiently* waiting for Daddy to get it fixed.  I can't grocery shop, but a little butcher shop and a tiny market are within walking distance, so I'm making due. I decided to do oven fried chicken tonight even though it trashes the kitchen.  I like to do this recipe in three stages, but it can be done all at once if you aren't home during the day.  I prepare and marinate the chicken right after breakfast clean up.  After lunch, I bread the chicken and pop the tray into the fridge until it's time to bake it off.  This leaves very little clean-up after dinner when I'm tired, and makes dinner prep time much shorter, too.

Prepare the chicken

 The chicken breasts I get from the butcher look like they came off birdzilla.  The whole two pounds of meat was only three breast portions.  Meat that thick will take foreva to cook and get tough in the process.

Cut 2# boneless skinless chicken breasts horizontally and pound them to 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick.

This may feel a little scary and weird at first.  Press the chicken breast firmly against the cutting board, and use a sharp knife to carefully slice it horizontally into two pieces of equal thickness. Use the smooth side of a meat mallet to pound all the pieces to uniform thickness.  I like to pop a piece of Saran wrap over the chicken while pounding to avoid splatters.

Secondly, cut the chicken into portions.  

If you have little kids, cut the chicken up into nuggets or strips.  For people who can wield a knife and fork, cut each portion into palm sized pieces.

Marinate the chicken in buttermilk for 2-3 hours.

Place all of the chicken into a ziploc bag and cover in buttermilk (1-2 cups).  Refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  This step is optional, but chicken breast can be tough on free range or larger birds.

Drain chicken and pat dry before breading.  If the chicken isn't very dry, the coating will not stay on through cooking.

 Prepare the breading

Station #1: Pie Plate

3/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp. granulated garlic
2 tsp. parsley
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Place each dry chicken portion into the flour, and press firmly to coat it with seasoned flour.  Flip and flour the other side.

Station #2:  Mixing Bowl

Whisk together:
2 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Pour in:
2 cups buttermilk
Mixture will become a thick, foamy texture. 

Dip chicken in egg foam making sure it's thoroughly coated.

Station #3: Pie plate

8 oz Italian Flavored Panko Bread Crumbs

Pour a layer of  Panko (1/2 cup)  in the center of the dish. Place the egg coated chicken portion onto the bed of crumbs, and sprinkle more panko over the top.  Press hard to create a firm coating.  Place breaded chicken on station 4, and shake plate to create another base of Panko for the next portion. You may have to add a bit more fresh Panko.   It's fine to have lumps of egg/panko mix -- they'll flatten out when you press the Panko into the chicken.

Station #4:  Cooling rack over a jelly roll pan 

Place the breaded portions onto the rack until they go into the oven. The chicken needs at least 30 minutes to set the coating.  The breading will adhere to the chicken better if the portions are breaded a couple of hours in advance. Cover with Saran and refrigerate until 30 minutes before cooking.  

Baking Off

  • Pull the chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before baking off.  
  •  Place an empty 1/2 sheet pan (or two rimmed jelly roll pans) into the cold oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.
  • When oven is at temperature, remove the pan(s) and pour 1/4 cup bacon drippings or lard into pan. Carefully tilt to coat bottom of pan.  If you don't have a thick layer of drippings, add more.   Oil will work in a pinch, but the chicken won't be as crispy.  Return pans to oven for 1 - 2 minutes to bring up to temperature.
  • Carefully remove pans and place on heatproof surface. Quickly lay the chicken portions into the pan, leaving at least 1/2" between each portion of chicken.  Pat down any breading that lifts.
  • Return chicken to oven and bake 7-10 minutes or until bottom is dark golden brown and crispy. 
  • Remove pan from oven and place on heatproof surface.  Using a thin, flexible metal spatula, flip each piece of chicken.  The first few times I made this recipe I lost some of the coating.  The quick, confident scrape and flip motion is a lot like making pancakes.
  • Return pan to oven for another 5-7 minutes until chicken is dark golden brown and crispy on the other side and chicken no longer has any pink in the center.
  • Remove from oven and let rest up to 10 minutes tented in foil.  Serve warm with honey mustard or ranch.
  • Because this chicken is boneless and skinless, the coating will tend to lift off during cooking and flipping. To reduce the chances of a breading failure. . .
    • Make sure the chicken portions are patted completely dry before dredging in flour.
    • Let the chicken stand in the coating for a couple of hours before baking off.
    • The pans and oil need to be piping hot.  Work quickly getting the raw portions onto the pan, and get it back into a 400 degree oven as soon as possible.
    • Use a thin, metal spatula and a quick confident "scrape and flip" motion.  Only turn the portions once.
    • If chicken is going to sit after being cooked, transfer it to a wire rack so it doesn't get soggy.
 Love ya, my little chickie,